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Anorak | With The Serpent Handlers Of America’s Pentecostal South: Photos of A Gruesome Death By God’s Sweet Love

With The Serpent Handlers Of America’s Pentecostal South: Photos of A Gruesome Death By God’s Sweet Love

by | 17th, February 2014

Pastor Jamie Coots

 

PASTOR of the day is snake handler Jamie Coots from Middlesboro, Kentucky. Last Saturday night he was bitten by a snake and died. Pastor Coots, who preached at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church in Middlesboro, held the belief that poisonous snakebites do not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God.

Do the snake handlers trust God’s enough to dice with death?  Coots did:

“Takin’ up serpents, to me, it’s just showin’ that God has power over something that he created that does have the potential of injuring you or takin’ your life.”

Many people have died.

In 1995, a woman was bitten by a snake in his church. She refused to go to the hospital. She died on Coots’ couch while church members prayed over her.

 

 

In 2012, Mack Wolford of West Virginia’s Wolford’s House of the Lord Jesus church, succumbed to a yellow timber rattlesnake bite just as his serpent handling father had done in 1983. “His faith is what took him home,” said his sister Robin Vanover.

Adherents to snake handling see the bites as a sign of God’s love, citing the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament:

“And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

It’s not always death by snake. At other times, believers have taken a tincture of strychnine and water.

 

The Rev. Atlas Johnson, 25, Holiness Church preacher, in his mountain cabin, seriously ill from a snakebite in Norton, Virginia, July 25, 1952. Johnson clung to life, still without medical attention which he has steadfastly refused. He was bitten four times by a diamond-back rattlesnake during a snake-handling religious service on Sunday.

 

In 2013, Coots featured in a National Geographic show:

 

 

Coots was the third in his line to handle serpents for divine love. He expressed his hope that his son, Little Cody, would carry on the cult. Said Coots:

“He has been bit five times by cottonmouths, and he has already told me, ‘Dad, I’ll never go to a doctor’.”

 

Snake handler cult is shown during service of the Church of God on Virginia-Kentucky state line at Harlan, Kentucky, Sept. 12, 1948.

 

The congregation listens as Rev. Joe Turner proclaims an emotional message of faith to his people from his pulpit in the Jesus' Church at Camp Creek, West Virginia, April 6, 1973. They are members of a snake handling sect, belonging to the Perfectionist Holiness movement which still flourishes in Appalachia. Snake handling cults have gone underground in many states, but there are a number active in West Virginia where it is still legal.

 

Thomas Burton wrote on the snake handers:

Since most of us tend to seek simple, concrete explanations for phenomena, it is easy to view one aspect of serpent handling rather than the whole and, consequently, either to romanticize or brutalize the people and the practice. One can feel after attending a service that it is completely irrational, wild people running around, falling down, quivering, uttering strange sounds; drinking deadly poisons; taking venomous serpents (giant and tiny ones, coiled, extended, limp, knotted together, rattlers, cottonmouths, copperheads, cobras) and staring at them nose to nose, wrapping them around their necks, wearing them on their heads, pitching them, carrying armloads of them, shaking them, petting them; displaying arms tattooed with snakes, hands atrophied by bites, fingers missing, clothing embroidered and etched with snakes — or feel the same sense of the bizane after going into homes and seeing live deadly snakes in closets and adjoining rooms, pictures framed on the wall of people with handfuls of rattlers, photo albums of disfigured bodies from venom poisoning, or a huge frozen rattlesnake taken out of a freezer by a relative of a person whom the serpent killed during a funeral service for yet another snakebit victim.

 

Rev. Shiloh Collins, 39, conducts his Holiness Church meeting in the front room of the home Forester Asher, where an estimated congregation of about 100 drifted in and out during the evening. Rev. Collins reads from the Bible the passages that prove he should have no fear of snakes in Manchester, Kentucky, July 5, 1959.

 

Apparently serpent handling sprang up during the first ten years or so of the twentieth century in East Tennessee, and certainly from this state it was  widely disseminated.

 

Charles H. Hall, left, of Fort Payne, Ala., and Harmon Hatfield, of Fyfee, Ala., read from the Bible at the Berrien County Courthouse in Nashville, Georgia, Sept. 14, 1961, where Hall is on trial for life in the snake-bite death of Lloyd B. Hill. Hill died after being bitten while handling a rattlesnake during a faith ceremony at the New River Holiness Church in Berrien County in August 1960. Hall was pastor at the time. Hatfield, also charged with murder, is not on trial at this time. Charles H. Hall, left, of Fort Payne, Ala., and Harmon Hatfield, of Fyfee, Ala., read from the Bible at the Berrien County Courthouse in Nashville, Georgia, Sept. 14, 1961, where Hall is on trial for life in the snake-bite death of Lloyd B. Hill. Hill died

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