Unveiling the Hidden Universe of Snake Handling

Delve into the clandestine and controversial world of snake handling as this article unveils the enigmatic practices and beliefs of the Church of God with Signs Following.

Originating in the early 19th century, this tradition has garnered attention for its literal interpretation of biblical passages and unique customs.

Despite being outlawed in Alabama, reports suggest its persistence in secluded locations, shedding light on the independence and negative stereotyping of Appalachian churches.

Explore the history, theology, notable figures, public perception, and legal status of this religious practice, offering a comprehensive understanding of its complexities and controversies.

This article provides a scholarly examination of the secretive world of snake handlers, appealing to those seeking mastery in religious studies.

Key Takeaways

  • Snake handling practice originated in Alabama in the early 19th century and reached its peak in the early 20th century.
  • The Church of God with Signs Following is primarily associated with snake handling in Alabama and bases its practices on a literal interpretation of biblical passages.
  • Snake handling is currently outlawed in Alabama, but it may still continue in secret locations.
  • Snake handlers have gained a reputation for eccentricity among the general public, and media attention has focused on injuries and deaths resulting from handling live poisonous snakes.

History and Origins of Snake Handling

Snake handling has been sporadically practiced in Alabama since the early 19th century, reaching its peak in the early 20th century. Its cultural significance on Appalachian culture is profound. The practice has influenced the religious landscape and traditions of this region, shaping the beliefs and rituals of certain sects.

The Church of God with Signs Following, associated with snake handling, has left an indelible mark on the Appalachian cultural tapestry. The incorporation of snake handling into religious ceremonies and the fervent belief in its spiritual efficacy have solidified its place in Appalachian heritage.

Despite being outlawed in Alabama, the practice may still persist in clandestine settings, highlighting its enduring impact on the region's cultural identity. Snake handling's influence on Appalachian culture is a testament to the enduring significance of this controversial practice in shaping religious traditions and beliefs in the region.

Theology and Practices of Snake Handlers

The theology and practices of snake handlers are deeply rooted in a literal interpretation of biblical passages, shaping their beliefs and rituals. This literal interpretation influences specific practices within the Church of God with Signs Following, including the handling of serpents, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), laying hands on the sick, and even the consumption of strychnine.

The members of this church adhere to a distinctive dress code, with women wearing long hair and no jewelry, while men keep their hair short and wear open-necked, long-sleeved shirts and slacks, all based on biblical passages.

Furthermore, the Church of God with Signs Following operates independently, exercising religious autonomy and evolving distinctly from mainstream denominations, contributing to the unique nature of their theological beliefs and practices.

Introduction of Snake Handling in Scottsboro

George Hensley is credited with introducing snake handling to the Appalachian Pentecostal Church, and James Miller independently brought this practice to the Scottsboro area around 1912.

Scottsboro's religious history is intertwined with the introduction of snake handling, a tradition deeply rooted in the Appalachian region.

The Church of God with Signs Following in Alabama follows the teachings of Miller, sharing similarities with the Church of God and similar denominations.

Contrary to popular belief, snake handling is not common among Appalachian Protestant religious sects.

The introduction of this practice in Scottsboro represents a unique aspect of the area's religious heritage, contributing to the diverse tapestry of religious traditions in Appalachia.

George Hensley and James Miller's influence is notable in shaping the religious landscape of Scottsboro and perpetuating snake handling traditions in Appalachia.

Independence and Stereotyping of Snake Handling Churches

Despite their long history of independence and religious autonomy, independent churches in Appalachia have been stereotyped due to their relative isolation. This negative stereotyping has stemmed from various misperceptions and lack of understanding about their beliefs and practices.

The following factors contribute to the independence and stereotyping of snake handling churches:

  1. Lack of National Denomination: Independent churches, such as the Church of God with Signs Following, do not answer to a national denomination, leading to a perception of being outside mainstream religious structures.
  2. Unique Evolution: Many independent churches in Appalachia have evolved distinctly from mainstream denominations, further contributing to their perceived differences.
  3. Relative Isolation: Stereotyping of these churches has been fueled by their relative isolation, leading to misunderstandings and negative assumptions.
  4. Publicity Surrounding Snake Handling: Publicity surrounding snake handling has led to negative stereotypes about rural religious communities, impacting public perception and understanding.

These factors have influenced the perception and treatment of independent churches in Appalachia.

Notable Figures in Snake Handling Communities

Prominent figures in snake handling communities have shaped public perception and understanding of this controversial religious practice. Despite their influence, these influential leaders have faced controversy and criticism.

Glenn Summerford, a prominent figure in the Church of God with Signs Following, was convicted of attempted murder, tarnishing the reputation of snake handling communities. Additionally, media attention has focused on injuries and deaths resulting from handling live poisonous snakes, further fueling public criticism.

Dennis Covington's book, 'Salvation on Sand Mountain,' provides insight into snake handling practices, shedding light on the eccentricity associated with this religious tradition.

The actions and behaviors of these notable figures have contributed to the negative stereotypes and public scrutiny faced by snake handling communities, posing challenges to their acceptance and understanding in mainstream society.

Public Perception and Media Attention

Media attention frequently focuses on the eccentricity and dangers associated with snake handling, shaping public perception of this controversial religious practice.

The negative stereotypes perpetuated by media coverage have led to misconceptions about snake handlers and their communities.

The sensationalized portrayal of snake handling in the media has overshadowed the nuanced religious and cultural aspects of this practice.

The lack of balanced representation in media coverage has contributed to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about snake handlers and their religious beliefs.

It is essential to approach media coverage of snake handling with a more nuanced and informed perspective to mitigate the negative impact of sensationalized portrayals.

Legal Status and Secrecy of Snake Handling

The outlawing of snake handling in Alabama has led to the practice continuing in secret locations. Despite legal ramifications, hidden gatherings persist, allowing the tradition to endure.

The clandestine nature of these events makes it challenging for authorities to enforce the ban effectively. This secrecy also adds to the mystique and allure of snake handling, drawing participants who are willing to take the risk.

The underground nature of these gatherings not only demonstrates the resolve of the practitioners but also highlights the complexities surrounding the enforcement of such laws.

The allure of forbidden practices often leads to an increase in interest and participation, further complicating the efforts to eradicate them.

The continued existence of hidden snake handling events underscores the challenges in regulating deeply ingrained cultural and religious practices.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Specific Biblical Passages That the Church of God With Signs Following Bases Its Practices On?

The Church of God with Signs Following bases its religious practices on a literal interpretation of specific biblical passages, which includes handling serpents, speaking in tongues, laying hands on the sick, and drinking strychnine. These practices are rooted in Pentecostal beliefs and interpretation differences.

How Do Independent Churches in Appalachia Differ From Mainstream Denominations?

Independent churches in Appalachia differ from mainstream denominations through their unique biblical interpretation, autonomy, and distinct Appalachian traditions. Media portrayal and public perception have contributed to negative stereotypes about these churches, impacting their public image.

How Has Media Attention Affected the Public Perception of Snake Handlers?

Media attention has significantly influenced the public perception of snake handlers, often portraying them as eccentric and dangerous. This coverage has fueled negative stereotypes and focused on injuries and deaths associated with the practice, contributing to a skewed understanding of this religious tradition.

What Specific Incidents Led to the Banning of Snake Handling in Tennessee and Alabama?

The banning of snake handling in Tennessee and Alabama was prompted by legal implications and safety concerns. Incidents of injuries and deaths from handling live poisonous snakes raised public health concerns, leading to restrictions on religious freedom.

Are There Any Known Secret Locations Where Snake Handling May Still Be Practiced in Alabama?

While snake handling is outlawed in Alabama, there are rumors of secret locations and underground gatherings where the tradition may still be practiced. This reflects the cultural significance and the dedication to preserve this unique religious tradition.


In conclusion, the clandestine world of snake handling in Alabama continues to be a source of fascination and controversy. Despite being outlawed, the practice persists in hidden locations, shrouded in secrecy and surrounded by negative stereotypes.

The theology, practices, and history of the Church of God with Signs Following shed light on this enigmatic tradition, while notable figures and legal actions add to the complexity of its public perception.

The mystery and controversy surrounding snake handling in Alabama are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

Our Reader’s Queries

Is snake handling legal in Alabama?

Snake-handling rituals were initially banned in all Appalachian states except West Virginia. To this day, Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee have specific laws prohibiting the use of venomous snakes or other dangerous reptiles in this ritual without a permit.

What church denomination is snake handling?

Snake handling, a practice popular among a small group of rural charismatic Protestants, is commonly associated with the Church of God with Signs Following and other holiness churches.

Is Alabama Snake Based on a true story?

Delves into the tale of a Pentecostal pastor, charged with trying to kill his spouse using a rattlesnake. Inspired by real-life events! Delves into the tale of a Pentecostal pastor, charged with trying to kill his spouse using a rattlesnake.

What does the Gospel of Mark say about snake handling?

In the ESV, it says that believers will be able to handle snakes and drink poisonous substances without being harmed. They will also have the power to heal the sick by laying their hands on them.

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