A portion of the blue ridge parkway, a magnificent scenic road lost in the vastness of the Appalachian forests.
The main street of a town in Western Virginia in the heart of a small Appalachian valley. Most cities suffered from the coal crisis in the 1980s. These valleys have become among the poorest in the country and cities have emptied. People are fleeing and communities are marked by family breakdown, drug addiction and a high rate of imprisonment.
The last coffee shop opened in an almost ghost town. During the heyday of mining, this restaurant could feed several hundred miners every day. Today some elderly people and families who have decided to stay still frequent the Orbie restaurant for its best biscuit and sauce from the valley.
Pastor Jimmy holds a rattlesnake molt
Marylou and Ariel , two friends who grew up in this small mountain valley of the Appalachians, take a smoke break after Chris' service.
They come to his masses every Sunday.
Old Pastor Jimmy, who is a mentor to many pastors, goes into the forest to hunt rattlesnakes.
The garden of a small house in this mountainous Appalachian valley in West Virginia. Here the inhabitants easily show their devotion by planting statues of Jesus instead of dwarves.
Jimmy, pastor and snake handler for more than a quarter of a century, is a true Appalachian. Even if he is not a historian, he is the memory of the tradition of the Name of Jesus for all the other snake handlers, perhaps the most unique form of religion in the Americas that persists in the Appalachians despite laws prohibiting the manipulation of snakes.
Jimmy sits at the entrance of a small cabin built in his garden in which he lovingly preserves the snakes he has hunted in the woods. On the door is part of the text of mark 16. Jimmy the painter uses all media like his clothes to convey the word.
For Jimmy, during a service, when the Holy Spirit comes on him and the anointing is strong, he can see as a blue mist appear. The coming of the holy spirit is the condition for handling snakes during the service. If the spirit does not come, the snake will remain in its box. For many pastors, during the trance related to the coming of the holy spirit, their spirit travels and unravels like the mist in the mountains, or a stream in their veins.
the aunt of Pastor Chris, just before the church service. She plays drums in the church band. Music is an integral part of faith and, when the two guitarists and the drummer begin to play their mix of blues and country music, Chris begins to preach. The music gradually carries Chris to the trance.
when the holy Spirit come on Chris, he begins to manipulate the snake while preaching. Snakes are all native to mountains, rattlesnakes or copperheads. In the basement of Chris church about fifteen snakes are there in vivariums and waiting to be chosen for the next mass. Pastors like Chris love snakes and can therefore have other alien species like cobras but they do not take them out during services to avoid endangering parishioners. Because local hospitals only have serums for native species of the Appalachians.
Chris and other churchgoers lay their hands on those who need healing or prayers. Chris says that by laying hands on parishioners, they can heal (as written in Mark 16). Many members of the congregation claim to have been cured of other addictions such as alcoholism as well as diseases such as lupus and heart problems.
Verlin drove 3 hours from Kentucky to attend Chris’ mass in honor of his brother Mack who died 7 years earlier, the same day, from a snake bite during a mass. Verlin when he handles this huge rattlesnake seems to be somewhere else. He will explain that his mind, his soul is elsewhere, like the mist.
A road after a shower in a mountainous valley of the Appalachians
Ariel and her boyfriend Deon on the benches of Chris’ church during the service. Chris’ church is a Pentecostal church. Deon is a Baptist but he likes to come with Ariel because he is very impressed by the spectacle of snake handling. He confesses that many of his friends make fun of those who handle snakes, but he does not because he considers that everyone has the right to pray as he wishes.
Pamela is Pastor Jimmy’s wife. Pamela is a very pious woman who sings during her husband’s masses. His snake church is somewhere in a forest in Tennessee. We can see the many native Bible paintings made by Jimmy. His works are exhibited in many galleries in the USA
Another city abandoned as a result of the coal crisis. Most people left in the early 1980s.
on the banks of a river flowing through a deep forest
a cobra in a vivarium with a painting depicting a portrait of Jesus in the background. This vivarium is located in the cellar under Chris’ church.
Steve has just been bitten in front of the church by a non-venomous snake. The bite is unpleasant but not serious. parishioners are often fascinated by snakes and come to church with their own snake
During the service in honor of his brother Mack at the most intense moment of the anointing, as he preaches by shouting into his microphone, Chris throws the rattlesnake on the floor and starts walking on it in socks. At that moment, the snake whistles very loudly. The belief is that snakes are incarnations of demons. When Chris walks on the snake it is to show his power over demons. If bitten, he can die in a few hours
Fran is Chris’ sister-in-law. She is the widow of Mack her brother who died 7 years earlier from a snake bite duringthe service. 10 years earlier Mack and Chris had already lost their father to a bite during the service. She cries and begs for forgiveness
When the holy spirit comes, the music accelerates, the parishioners begin to dance, get restless, cry and shout. Vicie is Chris’ mother. Out of literal respect for the scriptures, like Chris, she will start when the anointing will be on her, by drinking the deadly poison, in this case strychnine. Then she will set herself on fire with a molotof cocktail without any traces appearing on her skin. Vicie lost her husband 10 years earlier and her first son 7 years ago today, both bitten by a snake during the service
a parishioner 's handling a non-lethal snake in front of the church before the Saturday evening service
scene of life in a neighborhood in the heart of the Appalachians
Somewhere in the Appalachians.
Chris during the service is very active, shouts, jumps, dances. He rests, sweating during a parishioner’s testimony
Once the snakes for the service have been chosen, they are transported next to the altar in boxes often decorated with religious symbols. This box was specially decorated for the ceremony in honour of Mack, Chris’ brother.
Near the altar, we can see a bottle of strychnine and also a molotof cocktail that will be used just before the snakes leave the boxes if the holy spirit comes on the pastor
Mary during her testimony.
when the trance begins, Steve raises his arms in reverence in front of Chris’ show manipulating the snake
when the spirit is in him, Chris no longer fears the snake, he will dance, run with it, without being afraid of being bitten. When the spirit is in him he feels something indescribable that he calls perfect love, without fear.
7 years later, to the day, at the ceremony in homage to his brother Mack who died of a rattlesnake bite during a service, Chris, as he takes up the huge rattlesnake that his mother and Verlin had just manipulated before him, is bitten violently on his right arm. Like most snake handlers, he refuses to go to the hospital for medical treatment. His hours are limited but He literally respects the words of the Bible in Mark 16 which says “it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and recover”.
At that moment, all the parishioners in trance and crying laid their hands on Chris and begged for divine mercy. Then begins the agony...
Chris, although bitten, refuses to be taken to the hospital. For more than 30 minutes his condition will deteriorate, his blood will clot, his kidneys will stop and he will suffer from an extreme sensation of heat. The parishioners surround him by praying, laying their hands on him and crying. The small group of pastors and friends, Byron, David, Verlin and Glen are around him praying. David turns on a fan to relieve Chris of the heat.
After 30 minutes, Chris will finally blow in Byron’s ear, and he agrees to go to the hospital.
He will survive. But by choosing life, he also takes the risk of losing the trust of his parishioners because he did not follow the divine word that promised him salvation.