“They Shall Take Up Serpents” Mark 16:17-18


  Have you been wondering if global warming would make an encounter with rattlesnakes more likely in our neck of the woods?  Me too!  Wrong question turns out.  There has long been a resident population – and bites and deaths – but they’ve all dwindled significantly due to loss of habitat.  In fact they’re protected in many Iowa counties.

  Timber, Prairie, and Massasauga rattlesnakes live in Iowa with the first by far the most prevalent, though still far from ubiquitous. Sylvan being the preferred nature of their environment, the fact that logging is here no longer a major industry provides a clue as to their demise.

  Many of the trees harvested to make all of the paper we waste grow in the thick forests of the south and around them writhes a healthy population of crotalids.  As you probably know, some of these find there way into church.

  Snake handling as worship seems at first a wacky way to try to meet the Lord, but upon reflection one realizes it has sure thing potential.  Anyway, the practice has an American past far older than the collieries of Appalachia.  Snakes play a role in religious observances of most if not all Native American tribes.     

  The Snake-Antelope dance of ancient Hopi tradition for example, was undertaken to summon a divine rain.  Once every two years, the head priest would initiate the proceedings by gathering snakes, purifying them in a bath of yucca suds, and then lead secret rituals as prologue. 

  Then, during a late summer public spectacle, with the snakes in their mouths, dancers would circle the central plaza four times before releasing them. Soon thereafter they’d be gathered up again by priests to be sprinkled upon with cornmeal by women of the snake clan.  Serpents’d be then set free in the four directions on their mission to send back rain.

  Think I’d rather go thirsty.  Here in Iowa there have been more than seventy recorded deaths from snakebite with the last having occurred in Bellevue in 1944.  Most victims seem to have been young, old, or infirm because most assailants were Timber Rattlers which are not among the most venomous of serpents.  Bites survivable.

  But painful, serious, and no joke though and likely accompanied by some tissue morbidity**.  So, deep in a remote wood one warm summer day should you find a viper attached to your leg don’t try to cobble together an old fashioned snake bite kit, ie sharp blades and suction.  They do more harm than good.  And waste time.

  Nope, get yourself to a hospital and anti-venom.  Rattlesnake venom is largely comprised of digestive enzymes which will foment and seethe until neutralized.  Dr Brother tells me that Fougera’s CroFab** is the only widely available efficacious treatment and that adequate dosage is probable not far away.      


*cf posts of 1.15.10 and 8.7.09 for more about snakes.  The latter has a photo of me holding a Timber Rattler

**Notice in the photo above, guy on the right is missing an arm.  No way to tell, but…

***www.crofab.com – Watch the video


One Response to ““They Shall Take Up Serpents” Mark 16:17-18”

  1. Yvonne Caruthers Says:

    Did you see the recent report of the preacher who died handling a rattler last weekend? Many stories on it if you google it, but here’s one:

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