‘Praise the Lord and pass the rattlesnakes’ – a tragic case of hiss and hearse!

Wolford pictured handling a rattlesnake during a service at the Church of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka, W.Va., in 2011. Photo Lauren Pond/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

A “FLAMBOYANT” Virginian pentecostal pastor who believed that the Bible instructed Christians to handle serpents as a test of their faith in God — and that, if they are bitten, their trust in God alone would heal them – has died as a result of a rattlesnake bite.

According to this report, Mark Randal “Mack”Wolford, from West Virginia, whose serpent-handling skills were profiled last November in The Washington Post Magazine, hoped an outdoor service he had planned for last Sunday at an isolated state park would be:

A ‘homecoming like the old days’, full of folks speaking in tongues, handling snakes and having a ‘great time’.

But it was not the sort of homecoming he foresaw. Instead, Wolford, who turned 44 the previous day, was bitten by a rattlesnake he owned for years. He died late Sunday, and now stands in line for a Darwin Award, which recognises individuals who contribute to human evolution by self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool by putting themselves (unnecessarily) in life-threatening situations.

Randall and other crazy believers in serpent-handling cited Mark 16:17-18 as the reason for their practice:

And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

The son of a serpent handler who himself died in 1983 after being bitten, Wolford was trying to keep the practice alive, both in West Virginia, where it is legal, and in neighboring states where it is not. Last Sunday started as a festive outdoor service on a sunny afternoon at Panther Wildlife Management Area, a state park roughly 80 miles west of Bluefield, West Virginia. In the preceding days, Wolford had posted several teasers on his Facebook page asking people to attend. On May 23 he wrote:

Praise the Lord and pass the rattlesnakes, brother.

About 30 minutes into the service, his sister said, Wolford passed a yellow timber rattlesnake to a church member and his mother.

He laid it on the ground, and he sat down next to the snake, and it bit him on the thigh.

A state forester, who was not authorised to speak on the record, said park officials were unaware of Wolford’s activities.

Had we known he had poisonous animals, we would have never allowed it.

The festivities came to a halt shortly thereafter, and Wolford was taken back to a relative’s house in Bluefield to recover, as he always had when suffering from previous snake bites. By late afternoon, it was clear that this time was different, and desperate messages began flying about on Facebook, asking for prayer.

Hat tip: Terry Sanderson

UPDATE: Yesterday’s earthquake in Italy claimed the life of parish priest in the town of Rovereto di Novi. He was said to have been killed by a falling beam when he went back into his church to save a Madonna statue.




41 responses to “‘Praise the Lord and pass the rattlesnakes’ – a tragic case of hiss and hearse!”

  1. Buffy says:

    And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

  2. AngieRS says:

    And good riddance. It’s a shame he didn’t pass it around to the numpties in Northern Carolina as well.

  3. David Lawson says:

    These pentacostals really should realize that the last 12 verses of Mark where these lines are mentioned weren’t originally in Mark. The earliest copies of Mark that we have simply finish with the women fleeing the tomb after a man told them to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. The fled the tomb and didn’t say anything to anybody for they were afraid. That’s were it ends.

    The last 12 verses were added later because scribes copying them decided it couldn’t end there. But then, even if they were originally in Mark, it certainly wouldn’t make it true anyway.

  4. Angela_K says:

    Perhaps Mr Walford should have tried talking to the snake first.

  5. AgentCormac says:

    Guess the prayers they were pleading for went unanswered, then. What a surprise!

  6. remigius says:

    Is the snake OK?

  7. Matt Westwood says:

    I think that, rather than make snake-handling illegal, it should be made compulsory in all churches. And mosques. Those whom God / Allah / FSM desires to keep alive he will spare. The ones he loves best, and can’t wait to meet them in the afterlife, he will cause to be bitten. That way everybody wins.

  8. Ivan says:

    Fangs for posing this, Barry.

    *picks up coat and leaves*

  9. The Woggler says:

    Just goes to show you can’t trust a slimy animal. Which is probably why the rattlesnake bit him.

  10. Stuart H. says:

    They say never work with children or animals. Well, that’s one less pastor working with animals…. if only kids came equipped with poisonous venom!

  11. Don K says:

    The poor snake. What a bitter aftertaste.

  12. tony e says:

    I read an article a while ago, I think by James Randi, where he mentioned that the speaking in tongues routine was a fairly new invention dreamt up by opportunistic clergy in the last 150 years.

    Feel sorry for the snake.

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  14. barriejohn says:

    …if only kids came equipped with poisonous venom.

    It’s “Pentecostal”, folks, as someone has pointed out before; and his name is Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford!

  15. barriejohn says:

    Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford: Mark mad “rock-and-roll” flaw

  16. barriejohn says:

    @tony e: Traditionally, it was assumed that, as “tongues” means languages/dialects, “speaking in an (unknown) tongue” was a supernatural ability to speak an unlearned language. If you read the NT passages with this in mind, it makes perfect sense. As Paul says, what would be the point of preaching to a small group in their own tongue, if the majority of the congregation hadn’t the faintest idea what you were on about? When he says that it is better to show love than to speak in the tongues of men and of angels, he is obviously making a point using metaphor, rather than claiming to be able to speak in what these idiots claim to be “the language of heaven”. (BTW analysis of what they “say” shows it to be complete gibberish.) A woman in the assembly which I attended got the “Second Blessing”, and caused a lot of trouble, as they all tend to. Her departure was engineered in a way which made me feel very uncomfortable: I was asked to preach on the subject of “The Holy Spirit”. The elders knew what would happen, as there is no evidence in the NT of this experience which they claim to have had, and she walked out! She always claimed that “The Holy Spirit” came upon her as the result of prayer and meditation, but her daughters confided in a Christian woman who lived oposite that “Mummy used to sit in the kitchen going lahlahlahlahlah“!!

  17. Broga says:

    The snake should be nominated for an award.

  18. tony e says:


    Cheers for the additional information.

    I’ve never heard the phrase ‘second blessing’ what does it mean?

  19. Python the Magnificent says:

    I find the state forester’s remarks peculiar. Why would ‘they’ have not allowed it? What’s it got to do with them? What about America’s rightly vaunted freedoms? Unless of course it was the snake they were worried about – and that was a pet snake, so none of their business anyway.

    I notice to that his father managed to contaminate the gene pool before he died too.

  20. barriejohn says:

    @tony e: It all started with modern “Pentecostalism”, which involved Christians receiving “The Baptism of the Spirit”, which was supposedly accompanied by “The Gifts of the Spirit” (eg “tongues” and healing). Here is the more orthodox protestant view:

  21. remigius says:

    Apologies for being OT, but you guys have just got to see this…

    Dunno what to say!

  22. barriejohn says:

    The founding father of Pentecostalism is often considered to be a man called Smith Wigglesworth, I kid you not!

  23. Barry Duke says:

    Had a moment of inspiration and changed the headline.

  24. Broga says:

    @Barry Duke: You are doing a great job here but with your inventiveness you must be destined for greater things. I’m still laughing at “hiss and hearse.”

  25. Ian says:

    34% of live births die before the age of 65. I guess this wuz jus’ ordained.

  26. Stonyground says:

    I followed your link and have to say that I am appalled. I do know what to say though. Not one of you vile idiots will make it to Heaven either because it doesn’t exist. You get just one life and you fools are wasting yours.

    I read some of the comments and every single one was disgusted.

    Possibly even worse than this, there is an article over at about a bunch of God botherers teaching primary school kids about the murder of the Amelekites to justify genocide.

  27. Trevor Blake says:

    Figure out why the majority of Christians ignore Mark 16:17-18 and you figure out much more. There was a religion called Christianity thousands of years ago and there may be one thousands of years from now. But the name is most of what they have in common. Christianity is “things I like” to most Christians. It is a hollowed out faith long secularized in deed if not word.

    I’m sure this man’s family and friends will miss him. Let that agony spur them to not do as he did.

  28. jay says:

    “I find the state forester’s remarks peculiar. Why would ‘they’ have not allowed it? What’s it got to do with them? What about America’s rightly vaunted freedoms? Unless of course it was the snake they were worried about – and that was a pet snake, so none of their business anyway. ”

    For better or for worse, most states have laws about poisonous and deadly animals, regardless of religious intent. Animals do escape.

    BTW, a rattlesnake bite will not normally kill a healthy adult if he is treated promptly with modern medicine; I suspect they were expecting his faith to heal him

  29. Lonborghini Funghini says:

    Gotta love a snake like that!

  30. Lonborghini Funghini says:

    And the rattlesnake bit the Pastor in the ass, and lo, the pastor died. It’s a miracle!!!

  31. Pete H says:

    “Grandaddy used to handle snakes in church. Granny drank strychnine. I guess you could say I had a leg up, genetically speakin’.”

  32. Marky Mark says:

    “Is the snake OK?”…LMAO !!

    Only in West Virgina…Just watch a mini series about the “Hatfields and McCoys”. Appalachian mountain folk from W Virginia and E Kentucky that had a feud that lasted generations. At a public hanging of one of the clan a woman asks, “What are the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s famous for?”. Where someone in the crowd replies, “Killen eachother !”.

  33. Marky Mark says:

    Also, in real life these people were really religious…and still confederates after the wars end (American Civic War that is). In a scene in the movie the McCoy wife says to the husband after half her family has been killed, “What the hell you praying for it an’t done us no good”. Not sure if it really happened but I’m glad they put it into the movie as it applies to many to this day.

  34. Marky Mark says:

    Another thing…The McCoy’s were 1st cousins that married, very religious while hating and killing their neighbors…ya think the 1st cousin thing had something to do with it? Maybe the IQ post here was not that far off in relation to religion.
    “Gaud told me to kill him after I preyed real hard”

  35. […] The Freethinker Filed Under: Everything Else Tagged With: 'Serpent-Handling' Pastor Dies From Snakebite, […]

  36. tony e says:


    Cheers for that information.

  37. Mustafa says:

    Mark 16:9-20 that talks about drinking poison and not being hurt if you have faith–is fabricated according to bible scholars and doesn’t exist in original manuscript. You can google it if you don’t believe me.

  38. barriejohn says:

    Oh, yes, of course: the rest of “The Gospel According to Saint Mark” is absolutely kosher!

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