Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. For a while, E.M. lived in Kentucky and this is a story that she heard there.
E.M.: So when I was living in Kentucky, I… one of my friends… when we were young children… one of my friends said that um said that she knew that one of my neighbors did snake uh would do snake rituals in church and that she heard that from her parents. So she was kind of scared of this lady, um, and when I asked my parents about it, um, I I found out that that lady was a Pentecostal, and that basically in her church they believed that snakes couldn’t hurt them or that that the venom of the snakes couldn’t hurt them, if they believed in God. Um so they would use the snakes during sermons, even, they would handle them quite dangerously, and that even people would get sick or get hurt I guess, but it was an important part of their religion because they said that in the Bible, it says that if you’re a true Christian, snakes can’t hurt you and they belong to you to use them as you see fit.
Q: Did you ever see this practice live?
E.M.: I didn’t ever see it in person. It’s not something commonly done, but it belonged to this particular church that was a very old church, and they had been doing it for a really long time. I heard it from the other kids, and it kinda became a rumor or a scary story we would tell each other that turned out to be true. We were scared of it because it was very different from our own religious practices, like this would never happen in our own churches or anything like that.
Q: Where did you live in Kentucky?
E.M.: I lived in Louisville Kentucky, but this lady was from… I, I believe she was from Appalachia and she had moved there and there were rumors about her, showing there was this big divide between city life and country life in Kentucky.
Performance Context: In Pentecostal churches in some areas of Kentucky.
My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people interpret the Bible in different ways though they all read the same words. In particular, it is intriguing how people make folklore and folkloric practices out of religion. However, the folklore is an extension of the religion and not a true part of the religion itself. Many subtleties in the Bible are interpreted by different sects of Christianity to mean certain things, however, they are never explicitly told to perform these practices (such as snakehandling).
For more information, please see Chapter 3 (Religious Folklore) of Elliott Oring’s book Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, in which snakehandling is mentioned.