Salvation on Sand Mountain:Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia.
By Dennis Covington.
As book titles go itís a doozy isnít it. Dennis Covington is a journalist and writer who hails from a suburb called East Lake in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. This is his account of an assignment that he took on when stringing for the New York Times in the early nineteen nineties. Although a southern boy and raised as a christian, the pentecostal beliefs and methods of worshipping god were foreign to him.........but at the same time felt strangely familiar.
Covington initially went to cover the trial of a preacher and snake handler called Glenn Summerford who was accused of attempting to murder his wife with poisonous snakes but as the trial ended (GS got ninety nine years in the pen.*) Covington became immersed in the lives of Summerford's parishioners and became a part of their small community also attending pentecostal services across Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. And ultimately he bordered on becoming a convert.
Covington describes as well as can be described, the mass hysteria/ possession of human beings by the spirit of Jesus Christ as well as any writer. The services involved amongst other things speaking in tongues, drinking strychnine, and of course last but not least handling very poisonous, very lethal, and monumentally narky rattlesnakes. Add to this heady mix musical accompaniment by electric guitars and tambourines and you have quite the night out.
This is a short but interesting read in which Covington goes in search of his past and details the origins of a religion and a people called in this politically correct world: Appalachian Americans. A people whose origins were in the Scottish borders and the Cheviot Hills of England, and in the new world in which they emigrated to clung to their rural way of life, and even when mining and sharecropping slowly began to industrialise the southern states they survived by closing themselves off from their neighbours who acquiesced to the changes to work and life in general that the 20th century threw at them. This isn't the world of those Armani-suited TV evangelists who make millions, these are people who practice their religion wherever they can, be it in an old disused gas station or condemned building and who find their way to these places of worship from bits of cardboard by the side of the road emblazoned with the name of the church written in marker pen.
A good strange read about religion, family, the southern states of America, snakes, and electric guitars. What's not to like?
*I know all the lingo me.