38 pages • 1 hour readDennis Covington
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Snakes, and rattlesnakes in particular, are incredibly symbolic for this text. While the reptile itself is presented in the unusual context of a religious ceremony, it is also perceived differently than one might expect—as a creature to be held and treasured rather than reviled or killed. As one may expect, there is still an element of fear and caution to be recognized surrounding the creature. Presented by an outsider to the snake-handling church community, the reader can never quite experience the purely holy nature of the practice that some insist comes with snakehandling.
Indeed, snakehandling is a dangerous activity, and one that requires technique and concentration, if not a direct blessing from the Lord. When ecstatic worship is achieved, however, many believe and appear as if they have given up their control over the situation altogether. Snakehandling is a religious practice that, much like Holy Communion or Confession, is not meant to be conducted by the uninitiated. In this way, “taking up serpents” (157)—or handling rattlesnakes within a religious context and generally during a church service—involves a preacher’s blessing over the snakes and connotes communion with the Holy Spirit. In the handlers’ understanding of the Bible, Jesus calls on believers to take up serpents in an event called “confirming the Word” (19).