A Brief History of Snake Handling


By: Juan R Govea


“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)”

Snake handling or serpent handling is not a habitual practice in most Christian religions, but is slightly practiced as a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches. The practice, dating back to the early 20th century, is mostly practiced in the Appalachian region of the United States.

George Went Hanslet (1880-1955) is more commonly referenced as the originator of the dangerously faith driven practice, which associates snake handling as an evident sign of salvation. Hanslet is familiarly known in the practice by introducing snake handling into the Church of God Holiness, an association of autonomous Christian Methodist congregations, who then founded the Dolly Pond Church of God in Birchwood, Tenn. around the year of 1910.

A 2013 article by National Public Radio gave a rough estimate of about 125 churches where snakes are handled, but also indicated that, “snake handlers as notoriously private.”

All Appalachian states except West Virginia outlawed the snake handling ritual when it first emerged. Snake handlers, regardless of the law prohibiting their practice have rarely been lawfully cited, but have been in extreme cases.
As of today, snake handlers gather mainly in converted building or homes and have a general dress code that they abide by, such as; uncut hair, ankle-length dresses, and no cosmetics for women; short hair and long-sleeved shirts for men.

While the handling of poisonous snakes is obviously dangerous, Kristen Wiley, curator of the Kentucky Reptile Zoo said that by snake handlers familiarizing themselves with their practice have a better chances of not getting bitten.

Jamie Coots a pastor who subsequently died from a snakebite said, “Handlers get bitten all the time, and every few years someone dies.”

Ralph Wilbur Hood a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga said after observing the practice, “If you go to any serpent-handling church, you’ll see people with atrophied hands, and missing fingers. All the serpent-handling families have suffered such things.”


– Information and sources gathered from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_handling

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