Serpent Handlers And Salvation In Appalachia

Nov 16, 2017

Serpent handling is a religious practice where individuals hold and wear poisonous snakes during worship services to prove their faith in God.

It is based on a literal interpretation of a New Testament verse which states that true believers should be able to “take up serpents.” The practice is banned in all states except for West Virginia, where a small community of Pentecostals is still working to keep the tradition alive. Photographer Lauren Pond started documenting this community in 2011 through the story of one particular serpent preacher, Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford. While photographing a worship service, Pond witnessed Wolford suffer a fatal snakebite. The incident eventually shaped the direction of both her documentary project and her philosophy as a photographer.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Lauren Pond about her work, and the life and practices of modern-day serpent preachers. Pond is this year’s recipient of the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. She will speak about her work “Test of Faith: Signs, Serpents, Salvation” (Duke University Press/2017) tonight at Duke’s Rubenstein Library at 5:30 p.m.