This painting resulted from a 5 year immersive stint documenting snake handling churches in Appalachia.
The years were 1989-1994.
Snake handlers unique—and somewhat dangerous manner of worship is inspired by three verses taken from the Bible’s book of Mark:
16 “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved;
but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
17 “ And these signs will accompany those who have believed.
In my name they will cast out demons, they shall speak with new tongues.”
18 “ They shall pick up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not harm them,
they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.”
Taking up poisonous snakes is an expression, as well as a test of faith.
Passing unscathed through the ritual indicates purity of soul, a manifestation of the Holy Ghost.
Snake handlers are ridiculed by most people in their region. The ritual services occur thrice weekly
and can last up to 4 hours.
Rattlesnakes and Copperheads caught in the hills and kept in the homes of church members are used during services.
Snake handlers are frequently bitten but rarely accept medical aid.
Though Rattlesnake bites are not necessarily fatal, many church members have died as a consequence
of the ritual.
top of page