Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Hazards of Snake Handling

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the main hazard of handling venomous snakes is, well, the venomous snakes. Pentecostal Christians interpret Mark 16:17-18, "And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover," to mean that the faithful should literally be able to handle snakes without being harmed. However, it doesn't always work out that way. Recently a Pentecostal minister was bitten by a rattlesnake during one of these snake-handling services and killed. Oddly enough, his father, also a Pentecostal pastor, died the same way years prior.

Pentecostal pastor Mark Wolford, 44, hosted an outdoor service at the Panther Wildlife Management Area in West Virginia Sunday, which he touted on his Facebook page prior to the event. "I am looking for a great time this Sunday," Wolford wrote May 22, according to the Washington Post. "It is going to be a homecoming like the old days. Good 'ole raised in the holler or mountain ridge running, Holy Ghost-filled speaking-in-tongues sign believers."

Robin Vanover, Wolford's sister, told the Washington Post that 30 minutes into the outdoor service, Wolford passed around a poisonous timber rattlesnake, which eventually bit him."He laid it on the ground," Vanover said in the interview, "and he sat down next to the snake, and it bit him on the thigh." Vanover said Wolford was then transported to a family member's home in Bluefield about 80 miles away to recover. But as the situation worsened, he was taken to a hospital where he later died.

One of my first vajrayana teachers liked to warn his students, "Don't concretize!" By taking this piece of scripture and reading it as literally true this is exactly what pastors like Wolford are doing. It seems to me that the quote can be interpreted more metaphorically, meaning that those who have faith will remain uncorrupted by elements of the society around them and generally be blessings to those in their presence who are suffering. It also could be implying that the faithful need not worry about exposure to any person or object deemed ritually unclean, akin to Matthew 15:11, "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean" and Acts 10:14-15, "'Surely not, Lord!' Peter replied. 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.' The voice spoke to him a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'"

But then, I'm not a Christian, just a Thelemite who happens to know his Bible pretty well. Maybe the Pentecostals do have it right and all the other Christians who don't play with rattlesnakes are missing out on an essential spiritual practice.

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1 comment:

snakeman said...

It's sad that the Pastor died of snake bite, as well as his father, but his death could have been avoided if he'd taken a snake handling course, and if so he would still be alive today.