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[music  |  Trace Adkins   "Rough & Ready" ]

Snake handling was an outgrowth of the Azusa Street revival. In 1910, after reading in Mark 16:18 "they shall take up serpents? and it shall not hurt them," former bootlegger George Went Hensley, aka "Little George," took a rattlesnake box into the pulpit. He reached in and lifted out the venomous viper, showing his faith to take God at his Word. He then challenged his congregation to do the same. News spread throughout the hills of Grasshopper Valley in southeastern Tennessee. Before long, others joined in the handling of rattlers. The practice continued for ten years until one of the faithful died of a snakebite. Hensley moved to Harlan, Kentucky.

Ambrose J. Thomlinson, a travelling Bible salesman and founder of a Church of God of

Prophecy (a new Pentecostal denomination), ordained Hensley into the gospel ministry. For the next ten years Hensley preached and demonstrated snake handling. While on a preaching tour, he discovered his wife and a neighbor were having an affair. Hensley attacked his friend with a knife. Fleeing to the hills and turning his back on the faith, he rebuilt his whiskey still. A short time later, the law apprehended "Little George" and sent him to work on a chain gang. But Hensley executed a brilliant escape to Cleveland, Ohio, where he remarried and resumed preaching the Oneness Pentecostal message. Before long, he was again picking up serpents and heading back to Kentucky. Hensley?s fame spread far and wide. He married and divorced four times.

In 1928, the Church of God in Prophecy revoked Hensley?s license to preach and forbade all its members from further handling of snakes.

Snake handling did not return to Grasshopper Valley until 1943 when Raymond Hayes, one of Hensley?s converts, conducted a revival there. The outcome was the founding of Dolly Pond Church of God with Signs Following. Located on the spot of the first snake handling service, Dolly Pond Church is considered a hallowed site...


When a person is bitten in a religious ceremony, it can signify one of five things:

1. That the person has sin in his/her life. If discovered to be the case, the faithful members shun the sinners.
2. That the person handled the snake without being under "the anointing" of the Holy Ghost. Since God promises no protection to the unanointed, snakes are prone to bite them.
3. That the person lacks the faith to handle the serpent. Handling snakes without faith is presumption.
4. That God is testing the handlers to see if they will deny the faith when they are bitten.
5. That God is a healer. One of the ways to know this is for him to heal the victim of a venomous snakebite (see Acts 28:1-5).

In each case, the embedded poisonous fangs reveal something about the handler or God.


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