The Washington Post reports on the death of West Virginian snake handling preacher Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford, who was bitten by a timber rattlesnake and died the day after his 44th birthday. Wolford, the subject of a Washington Post Magazine feature published last November, was an unusual sort of snake handler: open and mediagenic, he’d announce events on Facebook. Less unusual, believe it or not, is the fact that his father, also a preacher, died by rattlesnake at the age of 39.
Snake-handling churches are an interest of mine, though it’s a bit hard for me to penetrate Appalachian culture. I’ve picked up a few books on the subject: Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington, Serpent-Handling Believers by Thomas Burton, and The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith by Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald. I haven’t seen David Kimbrough’s Taking Up Serpents, and there a few books out there whose approach seems to be more theological than sociological. Manny Rubio’s lavishly illustrated Rattlesnake: Portrait of a Predator has a good chapter on the subject as well.