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Them That BelieveThe Power and Meaning of the Christian Serpent-Handling Tradition$
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Ralph Hood, Jr. and W. Paul Williamson

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780520231474

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520231474.001.0001

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The Experience of Handling Serpents

The Experience of Handling Serpents

(p.132) Chapter 8 The Experience of Handling Serpents
Them That Believe

Ralph W. Hood Jr.

W. Paul Williamson

University of California Press

This chapter focuses exclusively on what it is like to handle poisonous serpents by using a particular phenomenological method, one that allows handlers to freely explore and describe in an open-ended interview what their specific experiences have been in handling serpents. It explains the meaning of serpent handling based on what believers have to say as they reflect on their experiences in the context of personal interviews. Most serpent handling took place during church services at which believers, and often unbelievers, were gathered for the worship of God. The phenomenon of serpent handling usually occurred as congregants would “get in” the worship of the service and participate fully in a focused manner. Serpent handling occurred in situations other than in services at church, and all such events were understood and described by participants from the context of their larger Pentecostal tradition of worship that emphasizes a direct encounter with God—whether experienced inside or outside a regular church service. These encounters involved either a more common experience of feeling God in the body or a less frequent sense of knowing his presence through faith.

Keywords:   serpent handling, phenomenological method, Pentecostal tradition, congregants, believers

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