Sunday, August 26, 2007

People and Animals - Updated 2016

Vanessa with Kittens,'09

Click on above image to view entire slide show.

Pigs Feet, '93

Measuring Space and Giving Recognition

             Advocate and push yourself, expanding acceptance of our diverse humanity. Place yourself within a people different than yourself, measuring and seeing your resistance, overcomes differences with mindful participation.  Open yourself finding and making new relationships and associations, and more importantly, giving some people unrecognized—a little focused attention. By simply being with other's, acknowledging equally, and sharing common ground, we create and define a better life together, often it is working on ourselves that makes that difference.

                                                                                                     Shelby Lee Adams

Lincoln, Maw and Shorty, '92

James and Clapper, '06

Chester with Hounds, '92

Homemade sign

Children with Blind Horse, '08

Virgil and Daughter,'92

Sherman with Hog's Head, '92

"We enjoy having you here and having things done we never had before. Ain’t no way we see it any other way, we see it only in a good way. If anything, your pictures help, more than anything. You let the people have the books and they enjoy seeing thereselves in the books and what you write up. They always somebody that’s goin' to be against you in everything, don’t care what you do. Your work is original. It’s real life and it’s the way we live. People away from here, they got all they need in life, they got new homes, new cars. They don’t know what it is to live a poor person’s life. People enjoys livin' from day to day, makin' it on their own, not out here crookin' somebody or stealin' something to make it; just makin' it, surviving on their own. That’s the way mountain people are. We just enjoy doin it, because it’s everyday things. If I go out here today and make enough to survive to the next day, I’m tickled to death. Long as I’ve got dinner on the table for my family. If I tell a man something, I tell the truth. I don’t lie."

Sherman Jacobs
October '07

Sherman, '08

Wade, '05

Paul with Rabbit, '06

Eric with Spike the Rooster, '99

Angelia with Banty Rooster, '03

Gobel with Puppy, '83

Brice and Crow on Porch, '92 [with Puppies]

Cody and Tank, '04

Billy and Bethany with Coon Skins, '04

4x5 Polaroids shared with family showing some of the compositions made before film was exposed.


The Holiness Portfolio

And these signs shall follow them that believe; in
My name shall they cast out devils; they shall take up serpents;
and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt
them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Mark 16: 17—18
King James Version of the Holy Bible

Lloyd Collins, left, holding two rattlesnakes, demonstrating his faith.
[Amateur's photo given to photographer by minister.]

When I first visited a serpent-handling church in 1983, I was invited by the preacher, Lloyd Collins, who pastored his rural church in Letcher Co. Lloyd was around 63 years of age then, a simple, humble country man in appearance. He stood about five feet six inches tall, clean-shaven, and a bit potbellied, with silver-grey hair, scared hands, and bright blue eyes. He had been practicing this religion for nearly 50 years when we met. He was my introduction to this Pentecostal Faith with signs practiced.  There are many Holiness Pentecostal churches that do not practice the signs. A religion in my home county that I grew to greatly respect, a faith that requires a giving of one's self to practice or even witness clearly.

Snake Hunter, 1983

Verlin's First Serpent Handling Experience, 1983
[Verlin is handling two copperheads in photo above, his parents are watching and praying in background.]

                The process of surrender, as these religious devotees believe acknowledges that the ego is not controlling their rituals, freeing them from the bondage of the individuals rational thoughts so they may receive spiritual instructions. The mountain serpent handlers I know surrender themselves to the [anointing-energy-taking in] spirit of the Holy Ghost, overcoming personal will and desires, a meek and humbling connection is made, yet sometimes very powerful and infinitely connecting . In a church service they believe in giving themselves to the Lord's [higher spiritual power] literal biblical teachings to practice his faith and works.

              This religion lives, applies and demonstrates regularly [the signs from the book of Mark] becoming and interconnecting to what they believe is God's greatness beyond ourselves, practiced for others [the sinners] to witness God's power here on earth. They believe each of us has this spirit within. It is up to us to pray for, find, search, discover and practice these gifts, given to all of us from the spirit of God to make ourselves whole with God and humanity.

Hort's Church Sign 

      Surrender to what "is," means that we trust the way life unfolds because events are not meaningless or the result of chance, and we depend on a larger knowing, rather than on what we decide. The serpent handlers share that they believe God speaks to them personally, through the Holy Ghost [spirit] and then they are blessed and given the gift to practice the signs, sometimes only one, sometimes many, most always anointed and blessed by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate to themselves and the world, these signs given.

The Symbol of the Serpent and Signs Practiced

 To the Eastern Kentucky Pentecostal Holiness church members I have spent time, attending services, and talking with, the serpent is the symbol of the devil on earth. In this religion, when one is drawn or moved to take up serpents, they should be  spiritually moved [anointed] and inspired by Jesus Christ and or the Holy Spirit. 
One must be drawn to practice this religion, not coerced or told by another. The drawing power comes from religious study, a personal spiritual calling, and in this faith particularly watching other believers.

One can take up a serpent on faith or in themselves so moved, but only the devoted living within the church doctrines should do so. To the nonbeliever, outsider, and the newly introduced, when attending a service practitioners say, you are seeing and witnessing, the will of  the Lord on this earth. They believe, the church member has been given the gift or sign as the church believes, over the devil here on earth and they are demonstrating the gift, love, and power of the Holy Spirit. Members say,"All the other signs when practiced demonstrate the same almighty love and power of the Lord." That is what the devoted I knew and have photographed would like for us to see. Today with the new media interest, many charlatans practice, practice putting on a show.

There is no serpent worshiping cults, or Freudian views practiced here. I have gone into the woods with the snake hunters and caught wild timber rattlesnakes in our mountains, putting those snakes in my car in a special box. On the same day, taking them into a service myself and I have seen those exact serpents handled repeatedly in services and no one bitten. The fresh wild one's, are what the serpent handlers say they want. 

The Blind Serpent Handler, '87

We cannot be separated from Nature as a whole because we are Nature, manifest in the form of people.

Wayne and Joe Serpent Handling, 1987

Gracie Serpent Handling, '86

"The spirit is something you can't hardly explain. The feeling of the spirit of the Lord can't be explained without you having the spirit in your soul. It is a good feeling - it's a feeling too good to explain! Just like in heaven, you can't even wash the spirit of the Lord out of your hands. The spirit is something great. I've had the spirit in my arms, in my whole body. I've had it so much, I feel so weak I could fall out. I have to sit down sometimes. I feel so weak in the Lord- I'm in the spirit! If you understand the spirit of the Lord, it's not weakness or sickness but meekness in the spirit."

Gracie Holland, Happy, Kentucky

Gracie Serpent Handling, '87
[Two Timber Rattlesnakes]

Student- Marc Culp's photograph taken during the making of
"Gracie Serpent Handling," 1986

Holiness Hands with Serpent and Bible, 1987
[Hands of Ray, Gracie's husband.]

Holiness Man and Family, 1987

 As mysterium, the numinous is "wholly other"-- entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power. Finally, the numinous presents itself as fascinates, as merciful and gracious. 
— Rudolf Otto

Holiness Boy with Serpent Box and Poison Jar, '87

Without a surrender of attitude and mind, the body is always sensing danger. Properly understood these pictures represent a life and religion connected to a universal trust in God. Being blessed to practice this ritual and other signs for no matter how brief a time is a moment you never forget, humbling the participant, knowing and experiencing a part of our connectedness to each other and the divine. Some members of this religion may have the experience of serpent handling or other signs only once in their lives, yet others practice 

Serpent Box, 1986


The Belief and Experience

In making this portfolio I was allowed to witness, invited to participate and photograph the religious who could enter into a truly natural altered [spiritual] state of mind, like stepping into a multi-dimensional space—some believe universally accessible to all those wanting to make the journey. The serpent handlers would say — they were in the spirit receiving from God, and the Holy Ghost, the gift. In an open mental state [overcoming all fear], one can handle serpents and practice the various other signs in many different manners - when spiritually called and anointed. It is the invisible spirit and energy that moves these people so. Together, we have tried to capture in words and pictures something of that spirit. Some would call this an altered state of consciousness.

 Serpent handling is the most popularly known sign or gift practiced. Handling fire and poison drinking are just as incredible to witness and see in person. Demonic possession can be the most perplexing, this healing rite
 [removing evil, often praying for the sick with cancer or tumors] can only be administered and witnessed by the most devout and not always a part of a regular service.

 Each experience, individually and personally called, often happens [so it seems spontaneously] in a member's home, in their yard, and of course in church. The spiritual anointing is the real and powerful experience or blessing, as members like to say. "The sign or signs practiced are the gifts to you personally in the flesh and of this body, for us to witness and see the power of our Lord," preachers instruct.

 The blessed one can be spiritually instructed to take on more signs, depending upon how deep the anointing and the spiritual instructions. Several other members in the same service may each be practicing and observing the Lord's instruction, each differently and all at the same time. This may appear chaotic to the observer, and often is written and reported in this way; seeing someone or many handle rattlesnakes, speak in tongues, holding the fire bottle to their necks and hands, dancing and singing in the Holy Spirit — all at one time, all members moving differently.

 Preachers say, "This is not chaos, this is not just ignorant, Holy Roller's, as the newspapers so often report, but an infinitely and finely tuned spiritual connecting, a devout religion." In discussing after services with the church members, they will tell you, they were following spiritual instructions, and obeying the Holy Spirit. Again, showing us personally, the strength and power of our Lord, working through them. Each inspired member is communicating through the Holy spirit and obeying the Lords will. Minister and 
congregation together practice their faith differently, individually, yet together, and under one church.  

 This energy or spirit, is given and transferred to individual member's and often very unique acts or signs are exercised by a member or a group of members; also an entire congregation can be touched by the spirit, all at once in unison, for a moment or for varied periods of time. All say they are receiving the Lord Jesus Christ and doing his will. When blessings are garnered and experienced, a humbling and fulfilling of the spirit occurs that allows a full feeling of connection to one's brother's and sister's in the church, neighbor's and the world, as experienced in no other way, making this church unique to all it's practitioners. 

Another example: If a non-member stands between two brothers in the spirit that are anointed with the gift of serpent handling, members believe they can pass a venomous serpent [rattle snake, copperhead or any venomous snake], to the non-member and no harm shall come, with that non-member holding the serpent for a matter of time and then passing the serpent on to the member next to him, from left to right or vice-versa. One still has to believe and have the positive energy and trust in everyone around him.

 Serpent handlers say,"You feel that pouring of the spirit coming from all around you, even underneath you and above, so it feels as if you are suspended free above your body, yet grounded and connected deeply to the earth. You feel, suddenly a wholeness and lightness within and without seeing infinitely. " I have been touched by this phenomenon personally and the energy created and released is indescribable, transforming, and profoundly moving; something that stays with you permanently

Members believe that a venomous serpent can bite you and you suffer the bite, your faith holds you true and you shall recover and no harm is apparent. Some still suffer and die from this practice. Which ever is the Lord's will, member's say?  I have seen both, most often with no consequence and I have seen the deepest suffering caused by the bite and venom. When bitten in church, a member may ask to be taken to a hospital, if loosing faith, otherwise they are taken home and prayed for.

I have attended all night vigils in members home's where several church members go in and circle around the suffering member and pray, laying on hands anointing with olive oil, praying together and individually, for the bitten member throughout the night. This can go on for days and members are sometimes left maimed, recover or die. They believe, the Lord can heal in a moment or not. "It is up to our Lord," they say. They also say, "The Lord can provide or not, heal and work miracles. The Lord knows what is best." 

Much is perhaps unexplainable or even believable to the rational mind, yet literally written in the Bible. Verses support their beliefs and practices, as the Pentecostal’s practicing the signs interpret the Holy Bible. This is a religion of deep faith.

Shelby Lee Adams  

Brother Shell Fire-handling, 1987

When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned,
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Isaiah 4  3:2

Sister Bobby Handling a Cobra, 1986
[Photo given to photographer by a church member.] 

Rachel in the spirit at church in Hooverville, 1989

Church Sign

Shelby Handling Rattlesnake, 1986
[photographer Dewey Chapin]

Related Books:
The Cult of the Serpent, Balaji Mundkur, State University of New York Press, 1983; Taking Up Serpents, Snake Handlers of Eastern Kentucky, David L. Kimbrough, The University Press of North Carolina, 1995; Thou Art That and Myths of Light, Joseph Campbell, New World Library, 2003; Salvation on Sand Mountain, Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Addison—Wesley Publishing, 1995; Psyche and Sacred, Spirituality beyond Religion, Lionel Corbett, Spring Journal Books, 2007, The King James version of the Holy Bible.

The recommended books above: For those interested in demystifying and understanding this religion and others related, what some call a stereotype because they do not wish to understand. Learn about this religion whose members practice daily, a very primal and deeply rooted religion. My experiences were from 1983 - 1994. Additional books on historical world religions: Mircea Eliade, Ordeal by Labyrinth, Conversations with Claude-Henri Rocquet; Pathways To Bliss, Joseph Campbell; The Two and the One, The Sacred and the Profane and The Forge and the Crucible all by Mircea Eliade.


Carrie LeeAnne, '03

Donnie with Baby and Cows, '99

Nancy with Parakeets,  '04

Tyler and Sheba, '01

Sheba Asleep, 07

Shithead the Pony with the Noble Family, '03

Larry in Garage, '04

Bert with Guitar, '92 [cat and dog]

Jane with Diddles, '94

The Cock Fighter, '89

Lila and the Goose, '03

Enos holding Snapping Turtles, '07

Tammy with Catfish, '03

Larry with Goat, '05

Eagle's Nest, '04

Freddie with 38-Year-Old Retired Mule, '05

Anne with Pigeon, '95

Reed with Pony and Chicken, '95

Peggy and Albert, '99

Aunt Glade with Tom, '73

Knives, 1997

Grandpa's last Hog Killing in the Rain [color version], 1978
[Film transfered to digital.]

Grandpa's Last Hog Killing, '78

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All photographs and text copyrighted - © 1993-2017 Shelby Lee Adams, legal action will be taken to represent the photographer, the work taken out of context, subjects and integrity of all photographic and written works, including additional photographers published and authors quoted. Permissions - send e mail request with project descriptions.