|THE GABOON VIPER|
This week's arts and culture column is couples Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, a book by Dennis Covington, with visit to the reptile section of the L.A. Zoo.
Here's how it begins:
“Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia” (1995) is a memoir by Alabama native, journalist and creative writing professor Dennis Covington.
In 1991, preacher Glenn Summerford was convicted and sentenced to 99 years for forcing his wife at gunpoint to stick her arm into a cage of rattlesnakes. Covington covered the trial, became fascinated, discovered that his own family roots were entwined with snake handling, and eventually came — for a time — to take up serpents himself.
Covington profiles, and comes to feel deep affection for, the poor Southern whites who head up the home-grown, snake-handling churches. “Peculiar and insular, they are people of Scotch-Irish descent, religious mystics who cast out demons, speak in tongues, drink strychnine, run blowtorches up their arms and drape themselves with rattlesnakes.”
A snake handler named Brother Carl Porter explains the underlying “theology.” “The Bible says you’re gonna suffer for your faith. Look what happened to Stephen. I’d rather die of snakebite than get stoned to death. And what about Peter? Didn’t they crucify him upside down on a cross? I’d rather die of snakebite.”
READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.