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Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia Paperback – February 1, 1996
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Salvation on Sand Mountain is a story of snake handling and strychnine drinking, of faith healing and speaking in tongues. It is also the story of one man's search for his roots--and, in the end, of his spiritual renewal. Writer Dennis Covington came to this ecstatic form of Christianity as a reporter covering a sensational murder case; Glen Summerford, pastor of the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, had been accused of attempting to kill his wife with rattlesnakes. There, in a courtroom filled with journalists and gawking spectators, Covington felt the pull of a spirituality that was to dominate his life for the next several years. Attending Summerford's church out of curiosity, he soon forged close friendships with some of the worshippers, began attending snake-handling services throughout the South, and eventually took up snakes himself.
With subject matter this lurid, Salvation on Sand Mountain could have been a Southern-fried curiosity and little more. Covington goes far deeper. Tracing the snake handlers' roots in regional history, in the deep spiritual alienation of mountain people from the secular modern world they have so recently joined, Covington is more than just sympathetic to the snake handlers; in a profound way, he considers himself one of them. His reasoning is sometimes flawed--when he attempts to find snake handlers in his own family's past, for instance, the result is belabored and unconvincing--but there's no doubt that Covington's heart is in the right place. He's also not without his own brand of sly gallows humor, as in this conversation with the elderly Gracie McAllister: "She'd swore she'd never handle rattlesnakes in July again. She'd been bit the previous two Julys. 'I decided I'd just handle fire and drink strychnine that night,' she said. Good idea, I thought. It always pays to be on the safe side."
Covington eventually breaks with the snake handlers, but comes away from the experience a changed man. "Knowing where you come from is one thing, but it's suicide to stay there," he writes. An American Book Award winner and finalist for the National Book Award, Salvation on Sand Mountain is a nuanced, compassionate portrait of an unforgettable spiritual journey. --Mary Park
From Publishers Weekly
After Covington, a writing instructor at the University of Alabama, novelist (Lizard) and freelance journalist, covered the trial of a preacher convicted of attempting to murder his wife with rattlesnakes, he was invited to attend a snake-handling service in Scottsville, Ala. He found the service exhilarating and unsettling; he felt a kinship with the people, for he was only two generations removed from the hill country of Appalachia. Of Scottish-Irish descent, the handlers are religious mystics who believe in demons, drink strychnine and drape rattlesnakes around their bodies. Covington attended other services with Brother Carl Porter; he eventually handled a huge rattlesnake, and recalls that at the time, he felt absolutely no fear. This is a captivating glimpse of an exotic religious sect.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
As a Christian minister from the pentecostal/charismatic tradition, I get (and give) a lot of jokes about snake-handling. Of course the practice is far removed from my world (and shall remain so!),and in my book the only good snake is a dead snake (sorry nature-lovers!). The jokes were good, but I had always pretty much dismissed those who practice such as cultic whackos.
What I found in this book was a deeply touching and riveting experience of an academician, a learned man who reached out to a group of people from a different world in an attempt to understand them, and their ways. In the process this man probed his own roots and his own spirituality, and was able to make a statement about worship.
Covington caused me to let these people into my heart. They are real people, with real lives, who love Jesus Christ with all their hearts. Among them are the sincere, the hypocrite, the wise and the foolish, the charlatan and the genuing article, just like in any "respectable" church congregation in America. The copy I read was a library copy with no dust jacket, and I was surprised to see that my favorite picture from the book graces the cover of the paperback version. That picture absolutely tells the story of the book to me. My wife and I were both captivated by the dear sister who is holding a large rattlesnake. I don't believe I've ever seen pure worship captured in a moment in time like I see in this picture. The raptuous and sincere worship in her countenance is juxtaposed against the sheer terror of the snake in her hands, and it absolutely captures the pure message of the book.
I'll still enjoy a good natured teasing from my more refined brethren regarding my "snake handling" ways as a pentecostal, but each time I consider this sect of people, I will remember that cover picture, and this most profound little book.
_Salvation on Sand Mountain_is a keeper!