Arts and Humanities | Religion


Mircea Eliade describes mythic narratives as telling “a sacred history … [by] disclos[ing] their [Supernatural Beings’] creative activity and reveal[ing] the sacredness of their works” (Myth and Reality 6). Eastern and Western traditions alike rely on mythic narratives in order for insiders to be unconsciously transported to the sacred times and places of those mythic narratives. Christianity is a tradition which is very diverse, though most all insiders are engaged in Christian prayer. The snake handling churches of the Appalachian Mountains include practices of handling snakes, drinking poison, speaking in tongues, and dealing with fire. The followers of these specific rituals of Christianity trace the origins of this practice to the words of Mark 16:18, where it reads, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them...” (King James Bible, Mark 16:18). The constant danger that the snake handlers face through practices are sacred rituals described in an origin that transports the insider into what Eliade referred to as a hierophany. The specific type of hierophany in this situation would be identified as what Eliade calls a kratophany, or a catastrophic and cataclysmic and has the insider experiencing the most severe trauma possible. This trauma displays the ambivalence of the sacred through the main ritual symbol of this tradition, or snakes. This paper aims to explore the danger that the snake handlers are experiencing not only as a religious activity, but also psychologically. It investigates their goal of putting themselves in danger to experience the sacred, and how their rituals and mythic narrative combine to help achieve this goal of a hierophany.

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