"And these signs shall follow": a cultural and social history of Appalachian snake-handling, 1910-1955

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jonathan Williams (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site: http://library.wcu.edu/
Mary Engel

Abstract: This paper seeks to understand the creation of a distinct snake-handling culture within Appalachia during the first half of the twentieth-century. As Appalachian snake-handlers molded and created this distinct religious culture between 1910 and 1955 they created a distinct identity in an attempt to make sense of the social and economic battle ground around them. This identity resulted from a distinct cultural process rooted within the power struggle between a regional population (Appalachian natives) and external forces (American modernity), as well as a subsequent desire for social stability and empowerment. Snake-handlers inside and outside of the region turned towards fundamentalist Christianity and Pentecostal doctrine as an escape from the pressures from outside forces like industrialization and mainline Christian ideology within America. They handled snakes as a form of protest to the direction of these outside forces—challenging their cultural exploitation by crafting a set of religious rituals that meet their specific cultural and religious needs. This paper approaches the topic of Appalachian snake-handling from the lens of cultural history. It explores the detailed ideologies and power struggles that motivated the creation of snake-handling, and highlights why the movement occurred inclusively within the Appalachian region itself.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Appalachia, Culture, Identity, Pentecostal, Ritual, Snake-Handling
Snake cults (Holiness churches) -- Appalachian Region -- History -- 20th century
Snakes -- Religious aspects -- Christianity -- History -- 20th century
Snakes -- Appalachian Region
Holiness churches -- Appalachian Region -- History -- 20th century

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