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Salvation on Sand Mountain:
Snake Handling and Redemption
in Southern Appalachia
by Dennis Covington

Salvation on Sand Mountain is a story of snake handling and strychnine drinking, of faith healing and speaking in tongues. It is also the story of one man's search for his roots--and, in the end, of his spiritual renewal. Writer Dennis Covington came to this ecstatic form of Christianity as a reporter covering a sensational murder case; Glen Summerford, pastor of the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, had been accused of attempting to kill his wife with rattlesnakes. There, in a courtroom filled with journalists and gawking spectators, Covington felt the pull of a spirituality that was to dominate his life for the next several years. Attending Summerford's church out of curiosity, he soon forged close friendships with some of the worshippers, began attending snake-handling services throughout the South, and eventually took up snakes himself. With subject matter this lurid, Salvation on Sand Mountain could have been a Southern-fried curiosity and little more. Covington goes far deeper. Tracing the snake handlers' roots in regional history, in the deep spiritual alienation of mountain people from the secular modern world they have so recently joined, Covington is more than just sympathetic to the snake handlers; in a profound way, he considers himself one of them. His reasoning is sometimes flawed--when he attempts to find snake handlers in his own family's past, for instance, the result is belabored and unconvincing--but there's no doubt that Covington's heart is in the right place. He's also not without his own brand of sly gallows humor, as in this conversation with the elderly Gracie McAllister: "She'd swore she'd never handle rattlesnakes in July again. She'd been bit the previous two Julys. 'I decided I'd just handle fire and drink strychnine that night,' she said. Good idea, I thought. It always pays to be on the safe side." Covington eventually breaks with the snake handlers, but comes away from the experience a changed man. "Knowing where you come from is one thing, but it's suicide to stay there," he writes. An American Book Award winner and finalist for the National Book Award, Salvation on Sand Mountain is a nuanced, compassionate portrait of an unforgettable spiritual journey.
--Mary Park
The WebBoard Discussion of 1998:
An old Prodigy discussion:

To:                ALL                   Date:    02/08
From:   MXDD10A    DALE SHORT            Time:    10:11 AM

Dear Gail, Barbara & All: Yesterday I picked up my copy of  
Dennis Covington's SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN:              
finding it to be a must-read, especially for anyone wanting 
insight into the Southern soul.                             
  Not only does it contain some beautiful writing, it's a   
compelling narrative and is intensely personal without being
self-serving. One of the truest books about life in the     
South I've ever read. As a jacket blurb says (from a college
history prof of mine, coincidentally, Dr. Wayne Flynt), "It 
is a rare gift to make the grotesque a source of meaning    
rather than ridicule. Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner
possessed it; so does Dennis Covington. I had expected to   
encounter the descendants of Li'l Abner and the Beverly     
Hillbillies; instead, I met the impoverished spiritual      
descendants of the apostles Peter and Paul."                
  BTW, the bookstore owner told me I'd just missed Dennis's 
wife Vicki by about 10 minutes yesterday when I came by. She
told him some people from a film production company were in 
town to talk about movie rights. I hope the book does well  
for Dennis financially. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.  
  >>Dale in Ala.                                            

===============   Reply    1 of Note   16 =================

To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/08 From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 11:19 PM Dale, from your quotes I shudder to think of this book in the hands of the movie makers. Having read several accounts of what these souless devils can do to a man's dreams, I'd say this topic is rather too intimate and tender to trust to such hands. I do hope for financial bliss for Mr. Covington, one way or another, but I'm an eternal skeptic where movies are concerned. Yes, I know, I'm like the old cartoons of the two goats scavenging in the movie theater garbage. Having eaten a film can, one says, "The movie was good, but the book was better." Cathy =============== Reply 2 of Note 16 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/09 From: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Time: 9:14 AM greetings CERTIFIED BOOK JUNKIE copy is on its is a pity you can't send the book via the computer..oh..perhaps one day..modern technology willthink of a way where one of uspurchase a book and we all get in on the action... oops..i don't think you as an author would enjoy that process.. gail..a passionate reader whose mouth as usual is watering to read ..SALVATION ON SAND immersed in THE SWEETER THE JUICE ..shirlee taylor haizlip... =============== Note 17 =================  
To: ALL Date: 02/08 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 11:52 AM Here's a brief section from Dennis Covington's SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN, about an outdoor worship service at dusk when he first hears a member of the congregation "speaking in tongues": *** There were only thirteen people under that brush arbor, but suddenly it seemed like there were three hundred. They were jumping and shouting, and pretty soon Brother Carl was anointing Burma and Erma with oil, and Brother Charles had launched into "Jesus on My Mind" on his guitar, and J.L. and I had our tambourines going. There was so much racket that at first it was hard to hear what Aline was doing over in the corner by a length of dog wire that the morning glory vines had twisted around. Her back was to us. Her hands were in the air, and she was rocking slowly from side to side, her face upturned and her voice quavering, "Akiii, akiii, akii. Akiii, akiii, akiii..." It was the strangest sound I had ever heard. At first, it did not seem human. It sounded like the voice of a rare night bird, or some tiny feral mammal. And then the voice got louder, mounting up on itself, until it started to sound like that of a child who was lost and in great pain. But even as the hairs on my arm started to stand on end, the voice turned into something else, a sound that had pleasure in it as well as torment. Ecstasy, I would learn later, is excruciating, but I did not know that then. "Akiii, akiii, akiii..." The singing and praising elsewhere in the brush arbor had started to diminish. Except for an occasional amen or praise Jesus, the air fell silent around Aline's voice. Everyone was listening to her now. I could not disentangle myself from the sound of her voice, the same syllables repeated with endless variation. At times, it seemed something barbed was being pulled from her throat; at other times, the sound was like a clear stream flowing outward into thin air. Her voice seemed to be right in my ear. It was a sobbing. A panting after something she could not quite reach. And then it would be a coming to rest in some exquisite space, a place so tender it could not be touched without "Akiii, akiii, akiii..." (Continued in next note) =============== Reply 1 of Note 17 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/10 From: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Time: 8:41 AM greetings BROTHER guessed it i have 50pages left to read of SALVATION ON SAND was indeed a surprise when i entered the library and spied this book awaiting my pick certainly appeared quickly...infact i had just left my office and had intentions of running some ridiculous errands...anything beside reading is a waste of time especially when this book was crying out to be read... i quickly departed and as i stipulated read all but 50 pages.... now BROTHER DALE..amazing how you have written about COVINGTON's snake handling experience when i had zeroed in on that particular part....i was awaiting for sometime his adventurous spirit to lead him into the throes of the experience of snakehandling... COVINGTON's descriptions of snakes was not my favorite part....infact snakes are low man on my totem pole...they always scared me to death as a child and proceeded into adulthood....the pictures that were incorporated into the book could have been deleted...i swiftly glanced and shivered as snakes repel me....he had done his homework..and his experiences as a youth in capturing nonpoisonous snakes led him easily into this area of exploration...their are many facets of this book.....the suspenseful part ..i was awaiting COVINGTON and his crew to delve into snakehandling. it was a natural building of excitement or technique or whatever you'd like to term it... i had never read about g knew all about g remembers everything you tell him of 20 years is frightening...ihave learned to capitalize on his abilities... I was drawn into the mysticism and i can understand the trance and spiritualism that can overpower one...i need to finish the last 50 pages and then return for some additional comments ... BROTHER DALE...have you experienced any of these snake handling churches...they appear to be in your backyard... perhaps you have known others who have...pray share... COVINGTON's writing...superb...smooth and easy to digest...APPALACHIAN culture..history.... ..another fascinating element in this short novel of 240 pages.. question...twenty dollars for his book..isn't that a week bit much.... the sensationalism that was portrayed on the DATELINE episode..which incidentally i missed...had no bearing on this expertly written book on a subject that intrigues me... i thank DENNIS COVINGTON for this brief book...a longer book was not necessary...gail..a passionate reader in sunny =============== Note 18 =================  
To: ALL Date: 02/08 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 11:52 AM (Continued from previous note) From SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN, by Dennis Covington: *** ...The sun had set and the electric lights were not yet turned on, but the arbor seemed filled with a golden light. We were swaying in it, transfixed, with Aline silhouetted against the dog wire and the morning glory vines. All but her trembling voice was silent, or so it seemed, until I realized with horror that my tambourine was still going, vibrating against my leg, almost apart from me, as if it had a motive and direction of its own. My hand froze. It was as though I had been caught in some act of indecency. But Aline's voice reacted with renewed desperation, "Akiii, akiii, akiii," and so I let the tambourine have its own way, now louder and faster, until it almost burst into a song, and then softer and more slowly, until it resembled the buzzing of a rattlesnake in a serpent box. It anticipated every move that Aline's voice made, and vice versa. The intimacy was unnerving: her voice and the tambourine, perfectly attuned to one another and moving toward the same end. I was unreasonably afraid that Charles would be angry with me. I didn't yet know the full dimensions of passion. It was much later that I would come to understand what had gone on in that moment. The tambourine was simply accompanying Aline while she felt for and found God. And I mean "accompany" in its truest sense: "to occur with." And nobody could predict when something like that might happen. Through the tambourine, I was occurring with her in the Spirit, and it was not of my own will. I cannot say how long the episode lasted. It seemed to go on for a very long time. J.L. turned the lights on at the end. The men hugged the men. The women hugged the women. Aline and I shook hands. If the snake handlers found anything unusual about our curious duet afterward, they never spoke directly to me about it. But I do know one thing: It was after that brush-arbor meeting on Sand Mountain that they started to call me Brother Dennis. *** A powerful and gorgeous book... >>Dale in Ala. =============== Reply 1 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/08 From: DNBW03A T CANAVAN, JR. Time: 9:52 PM Dale: Fascinating stuff. I have a question, which I hope is not insulting to your southern soul. (or to Covington's book) Is the spirit of this book anything like the Carlos Castaneda stuff of yore? In my earlier, more mystical days, I remember being fascinated by CC for a brief time, and reading your excerpt stirred some old memories. On another topic, I finished Lake of the Woods, and found it an excellent book. Rich and subtle; wonderfully ambiguous. And I marvelled at his use of "Evidence" to deepen our understanding of the character of Sorcerer. But I found myself just a little curious as to what precisely > stirred you to praise which, even for you (an unduly generous soul--is this a southern characteristic?) seems, perhaps not quite overgenerous, but at least ample. I suspect that there are technical devices that you admired and I was too naive to appreciate. If you can spare the time and energy, I'd love to hear what, specifically, you most admired about this (admittedly admirable) book. Tom. =============== Reply 2 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/08 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 11:38 PM Dale--Thanks for posting these. I want to read this book. Am trying to decide if I can wait until it comes out in paperback. As I mentioned before, going to a Pentacostal Church when I was a teen-ager with some Southern friends was an experience that I've never totally forgotten. They also took me to a week of prayer meetings with a faith healer that play around in my memory banks at intervals. I've layed all of the experiences down to rational explanations and the capabilities of the human brain that we've never fully tapped. However, that must not fully satisfy because the mysticism of that experience still fascinates me. The excerpt that Covington read on Fresh Air was equally arresting. Maybe I can compromise and see if the library can get it for me before it's out in paperback.... Barb =============== Reply 3 of Note 18 =================  
To: DNBW03A T CANAVAN, JR. Date: 02/09 From: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Time: 9:21 AM greetings THOMAS... most interested in your interpretation of the ending...and did you actually think JOHN WADE was mad...i didn't at all...this book still crops up into my mind at odd hours of the day....i hope TIM O'BRIEN is on-line and brimming from cheek to cheek....and i understand your feeling about the praise the CERTIFIED BOOK JUNKIE attributed to this book...unduly in your estimation...i couldn't put the book down..and always anticipating the next chapter... gail..a passionate reader who is praying for sun in SAN is now down to good ole praying for decent weather... =============== Reply 4 of Note 18 =================  
To: DNBW03A T CANAVAN, JR. Date: 02/09 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 10:11 AM Tom: Though both books are broadly about mysticism of different sorts, there's no other real parallel I can see between SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN and the Castaneda series. In my memory, Castaneda's mentor Don Juan comes across as a shrewd, calculating practitioner of his arts who approaches what he does on a very conscious and discriminating level. The poor Holiness Church worshipers of Appalachia are painted in Covington's book as just the opposite--childlike, impulsive, naive, irritating but loveable, and in many ways as puzzled about the mechanisms of their spiritual "gifts" as Covington, the outsider, is. It's a book I think you'd enjoy, and because of his candid and highly original approach I can almost guarantee you it turns out to be a very different animal than you think it is, going in. As for O'Brien's IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS, what I admire most, besides the compelling storyline you mention, is how many technical devices he brings into play--not only the brilliantly-conceived scraps of "evidence," but the points at which the narrator himself participates without intruding (an incredibly hard trick to pull off), and the sections labeled "Hypothesis" where the narrative becomes total speculation. Not that any of these devices are completely new, but in practice they almost always seem choppy and distracting to me. The fact that O'Brien can harness so many disparate methods and keep the storyline so whole and organic is like watching an impossible feat of magic--or at the very least, like seeing the guy on the old Ed Sullivan Show who could keep a dozen dinner plates spinning on a row of metal rods without one falling. (Oops; am I showing my age, here?) Hope you'll try SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN, and Pete Dexter's THE PAPERBOY. BTW, is your sailing territory icebound or do hardy souls up there participate year-round? >>Dale in sunny, 12-degree Ala. (where I'm taking a half day off to help my mother get Prodigy installed on her new computer; considering that her phone messages have been known to fill up a 20-minute tape on our answering machine, cyberspace may never be the same.) =============== Reply 5 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/09 From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 10:52 PM Your description of the holiness people as seen by Dennis Covington reminds me of what I've read of the aborigines in Arthur Upfield's books. Upfield spent most of his adult life in Australia and got to know these people very well; he pretty much considered their strange telepathy and their ability to kill by "boning" as real, if unexplanable, facts. The aborigines themselves don't ever try to explain it in his books; they just do it. I found "the mulga wire" (their expression for telepathy) fascinating. All I can say is the bit about there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio. Cathy =============== Reply 6 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/09 From: DNBW03A T CANAVAN, JR. Time: 11:38 PM Dale--Sailing during the winter is for hardier souls than yours truly. There are some who take their sunfish out on Sunday afternoons and race around the buoys. However, even these hardy souls give up when the ice starts to form on the sound, as it is now doing. I see what you mean about the number of different techniques O'Brien uses. I guess it's partly a tribute to his skill that I never noticed some of them; the rest, I suspect, is just my ignorance. Anyway, I have never been able to read a book critically the first time I read it; I'm too busy enjoying it. Tom. =============== Reply 8 of Note 18 ================= =============== Reply 9 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/10 From: MDNT52A JANNE SWEARENGEN Time: 5:49 PM Dale--Mississippi here. Went by the local independent bookst ore yesterday and got two more O'Brien's (The Things They Ca rried and Searching for C) as well as THE PAPERBOY. After your reviews, I couldn't resist. Almost got Snakehandling bo ok, but ran out of money. Dennis Covington will be here to sign in March. I will buy it for that. Will let you know about TP--my husband will read it first. On my way to snowy and cold Baltimore. Catch you guys in a week or so. =============== Reply 10 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/10 From: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Time: 9:33 PM Hi Dale. Reading your posts on Sand Mountain has reminded me of a movie/documentary I saw in a college class. It was an ethnographical study of snake handling/talking in tongue church - black/white film from the 1960s I believe. Parts of the movie are still vivid in my mind. As a professional film sort of person, you might be able to gain access somehow - I think you would enjoy this movie. I can't remember what it was called (I'll have to ask my former boss, who is a former archeologist and former documentary film maker. I'm sure he'll know.) Theresa =============== Reply 14 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/11 From: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Time: 8:35 AM greetings CERTIFIED BOOK JUNKIE...i finished SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN yesterday... yes..i do concur that it is a thorough insight into the SOUTHERN MIND...perhaps not so flattering....i devoured the book....and last night was fearful i would be dreaming of snakes...thank god i was saved... this book is another that will be with me for awhile... i still can't understand DENNIS COVINGTON's snakehandling was too dangerous...and it was quite coincidentally that he experienced snakes as a child...perhaps most kids do...i wouldn't know.. gail..a passionate reader who has snakes on her mind... =============== Reply 16 of Note 18 =================  
To: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Date: 02/11 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 11:15 AM Sister Gail: Isn't SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN wonderful? I agree, his insights into the Southern mind are not all flattering--but then, the truth rarely is. To me, a big part of the Southern experience is not so much the desire to "look good"--considering our history, that's a bit hard to pull off--but to be understood rather than stereotyped. One simple sentence of Covington's that knocked me for a loop is early on in the book when he says that the poor, white, rural Southerner is the only ethnic group in America who is not allowed to have a history. And, I would add, the one safe target for comedians who need not fear shouts of outrage about racism. End of sermon. >>Dale in Ala. =============== Reply 17 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/11 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 11:46 AM Dale--Am still reading KILLER ANGELS (the book Turner's Gettysburg was based on) and am struck by how often the pre-Civil War South is compared to the aristocracy that working class Northerners felt that they had left behind when coming to the U.S. The depth of resentment toward that is the reason expressed by a few for being in the war in the first place. And, admiration for that is expressed by the British observer with the Rebel forces. This is probably something that I should have understood a long time ago. But, I must say that I perceive that same resentment toward perceived arrogance in middle and upper class southerners from my northern friends sometimes. And, I must agree that poor white southerners have no one speaking out for them. I must count myself among the ones who make disparaging comments at times..... Barbara =============== Reply 20 of Note 18 =================  
To: DNBW03A T CANAVAN, JR. Date: 02/12 From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 2:32 AM When I say you can decide to stay mad, I should note there are always a few exceptions - illnesses that seem to have physical dimensions like schizophrenia or autism. In other cases, a patient can be reached only after a regimen of tranquilizers or anti-depressants. But the trickiest thing about mental health work is that a person with a grevious problem has to want to change, and this involves letting go of deeply ingrained attitudes and lifestyles. A psychologist friend gave me a couple of examples from his own case work (aside from my ex, whom I knew about anyway). He had a woman patient who had had constant migraines for years. It seemed to him she almost enjoyed resisting every embroidery of hypnotherapy he could summon. One day he finally achieved something that gave her relief. He offered to give her a tape of the procedure, even a place to listen to it since she didn't have access to a machine. He never saw her again - she was getting some weird psychological benefit out of constant migraines. Another patient called in an apparently suicidal mood. He offered to make space on his calendar the next day. "Oh, no, I can't. I'm going on vacation." Incidents like this are common enough to make a joke. How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the bulb has to want to change. Cathy =============== Reply 21 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/12 From: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Time: 1:12 PM greetings BROTHER DALE... question...HAVE YOU BEEN TO A SNAKEHANDLING CEREMONY... i have not encountered any nightmares yet and am safe to proceed to chat more about this thoughtprovoking book... DO YOU KNOW PEOPLE WHO ARE ACTIVE IN THE CHURCHES THAT SNAKEHANDLING PREVAILS... i have a feeling you have entered this world of snakehandling....i am going to recommend this book to many inquisitive g is having a grand ole time reading HOT ZONE...the current nonfiction bestseller..i am becoming quite interested...SISTER gail..who willnever have anything to do with snakehandling besides reading about it...and thanks for the quotes...yes..i do understand the south moreso ...through the is deeper than just snakehandling...powerful stuff... PAPERBOY is on his way...and do is KELMAN's masterpiece........i am finishing SHIRLEE TAYLOR HAIZLIP's THE SWEETER THE JUICE...for my group interview in MARCH...i wish i were more articulate to share with you my thoughts on many books...however i will be content with being alive here on this planet and doing the best i can...SISTER gail...keep throwing those morsels of wisdom my way...i devour them and become nourished... =============== Reply 22 of Note 18 =================  
To: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Date: 02/12 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 2:04 PM Theresa: I'd love to see the documentary you mention. I've got a source in Atlanta for rental of older films, and I'm sure they could locate it with a title and approximate date. BTW, there's also an interesting documentary that was in theaters for a while in the 1970s: MARJOE, the story of Marjoe Gortner, a faith-healing evangelist. He approached a film crew to accompany him on what was to be his last revival tour, at the end of which he would confess from the pulpit that he'd only been doing it for a buck all these years and that the people who fell for it should get a life. At the end, though, he couldn't bring himself to do this, and the film ends on a moving and bittersweet note. >>Dale =============== Reply 23 of Note 18 =================  
To: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Date: 02/12 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 2:06 PM Gail: I've never attended a snake-handling service but have been at many, many Holiness and Pentecostal ones where people spoke in tongues, leapt over benches, ran laps screaming in the churchyard, lost consciousness, etc., along with the milder pleasures of foot-washing and "laying on of hands." The more violent stuff is unsettling, to say the least. The first time I saw a man fall into the aisle with his hand on his chest, I thought he was having a heart attack. I began racing off to call an ambulance but someone more familiar with the worship service restrained me and filled me in on the procedures. The really amazing aspect is when you've known many of these people personally for years, outside of their church, and have seen them only as mild-mannered barbers, hardware-store owners, florists, etc.--very normal and common-sense folks. A phenomenal transformation takes place, which I don't begin to understand. But their sincerity (most of them, anyway) is beyond question. BTW, did I really hear the High Priestess of the Bay apologizing for her lack of articulateness in BB postings? Nonsense. Your spirited and enjoyable notes are among the most sublime pleasures of CR for me. (And the updates on weather and horticulture are an added bonus.) >>Dale (fan of Gail) in Ala. =============== Reply 24 of Note 18 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 02/13 From: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Time: 11:38 AM greetings BROTHER DALE and the notorious CERTIFIED BOOK JUNKIE...i am relieved that you have not submitted to the life of SNAKEHANDLING ..otherwise in NEW ORLEANS i would be inclined to look at you in a different light...perhaps envisioning snakes all around you....yes..books do take over my life... your experiences were fascinating to say the least...since i am not a church goer...only when i travel to parts unknown around the world ..then i am enthralled with the stained glass...and the architecture of churches...i thrive on stories and books when people are taken over by the spirit... i will be thinking about SALVATION for quite awhile... i would like to recommend a book that is also INTERRUPTING MY LIFE..last night i read 75 pages of THE HOT ZONE by richard preston...A NONFICTION piece that is riveting and written g devoured this book and i instructed him ..please do not divulge the story..therefore i can be surprised....are you aware of this book...what a question..i would bet a million dollars that you are cognizant of this let me know... gail..a passionate reader with a small g but a big heart..awaiting rain here in cold and windy SAN FRANCISCO... =============== Reply 25 of Note 18 =================  
To: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Date: 02/14 From: CUFZ01B SARAH HART Time: 1:00 PM gail, My stepmother read this book in about three hours. She said it was horrifying, not the least because it was non-fiction. I just recommended it to my non-fiction partner, as I think he would be interested; however, since you are also riveted, perhaps I will buy it for both of us... Sarah 2/14/95 10:49AM MT =============== Reply 26 of Note 18 =================  
To: DNBW03A T CANAVAN, JR. Date: 02/14 From: NPVX84A MARIA BUSTILLOS Time: 1:41 PM Dear Tom and Cathy, very stimulating discussion re: the road to madness. I read RD Laing as a teenager and was blown away by the ease with which one might venture down that path (a strangely seductive one as Tom points out--like taking the most frightening dare.) The solipsism of it is a bit offputting though. And the uncertainty of getting back. The Divided Self is a really excellent book. I bet Cathy knows all about it. I've missed you all. Coming in for a landing, I think, very soon; bruised but in one piece. Much love. M. =============== Reply 31 of Note 18 =================  
To: CUFZ01B SARAH HART Date: 02/15 From: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Time: 11:19 AM greetings PRINCESS SARAH... i only read it because it was nonfiction...the descriptions are quite is a departure from our regular will cause you to think... gail..a passionate reader in cold and sunny SAN FRANCISCO where my english primose bring me great joy and beauty...  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 05/07 From: SEZG73A STEVE WARBASSE Time: 1:33 PM I am not quite sure whether to thank you or not for SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN, Dale. I finished it three nights ago, late, but it remains a haunting book for me. A very troubling book for me. And a real page turner toward the end. I have decided to post a little note to you about it in the hopes of thereby purging myself of it. It is entirely too easy to just write off the people portrayed in this book as simply emotional cripples with two or three screws loose. Then again, maybe they are, but if so then there is a perverse logic to their insanity. By that I mean that if one is tortured by spiritual travail, then redemption is something to be obtained at any and all cost. And clearly, redemption is what this book is all about. In fact the book sent me back to the dictionaries to study the meanings of "redeem." These people are obviously not just showing off in some sort of macabre fit of exhibitionism when they risk their lives handling the snakes. That act does something for them, and it seems clear to me, even though I am not a religious man, that they are able to purchase back their souls, purchase back freedom from the pain of this world. I must say that I admire Dennis Covington's utter honesty in describing his own spiritual travail and attempting to describe straightforwardly his motives for and experience in handling the snakes himself. On the other hand this is clearly a cult--insular, suspicious, and cruel--that endorses a near suicidal practice by its members. The book has a lot to say about cults and their appeal to the troubled, although the word "cult" is never used. And that is an interesting aspect of the story. This book sheds a good deal of light on Branch Davidians, a good deal of light on Jim Jones, but Dennis Covington himself does not seem to regard these snake handlers that way, does not seem to appreciate the nightmarishness of it all. Does God really demand that we risk self-destruction, or in fact destroy ourselves, in order to purchase back our souls? That is the most frightening aspect of the book for me--that a man of Covington's intelligence and sensitivity could find himself enmeshed in this--could buy into this proposition. And these pictures! My goodness! That last one by Jim Neel of Aline McGlocklin, speaker of tongues, holding up the rattler in an obvious state of religious and sexual ecstasy (Aline, not the rattler) can hold me spellbound. What torment this nice lady must be heir to that she is driven to these acts! As for me I am now going to try to put this book behind me. Steve 5/7/95 12:33PM CT =============== Reply 1 of Note 19 =================  
To: SEZG73A STEVE WARBASSE Date: 05/07 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 3:23 PM Steve: Glad to hear you've finished SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN. I hope you have more luck purging it from your memory than I have. Pieces of the book--especially the image of Aline's face, in her ecstasy--still strike me out of the blue, at odd hours, and wring my heart. A troubling, troubling book indeed. I can assure you, though, that Dennis's sincerity through it all is as authentic as it appears. I've known him nearly half my life now, and I believe he's congenitally incapable of pretense. Possibly the most honest person I know. And a hell of a writer, as you can see. The folks in SALVATION are definitely a "cult." But let me play devil's advocate (no pun intended) for a second, here... Every day, all over the world, countless people are seeking a "high" (that's essentially spiritual, I maintain) from hang-gliding, stock car racing, and mercenary combat, not to mention cocaine, hallucinogens, and overdoses of alcohol--none of which are boons to longevity, you must agree. We might question their motives or their judgment, but not their sanity. And THEIR pastimes don't even bear the imprimatur of the Almighty. So...if someone discovers they can transcend their earthly existence, find a peace and ecstasy beyond anything daily life contains--lose themselves in the perfect white light that Dennis describes--is there anything QUALITATIVELY different because the medium of escape (endorsed by God himself, as they understand Him) is rattlesnakes and strychnine instead? This is definitely a book I needed to talk about. Mind if I pull up a couch, here, and set the 50-minute timer? >>Dale, CRFC, CBJ, C.D.A. (Certified Devil's Advocate) in Ala. =============== Reply 2 of Note 19 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 05/07 From: SEZG73A STEVE WARBASSE Time: 5:46 PM Doggone it, Dale, you are a hell of an advocate! (Catch that little pun there, did you? Devil--hell. Get it?) Your thesis is legitimate, perhaps, but let us discuss it some more. Hallucinogens, cocaine, and alcohol abuse don't frighten me. (I am not advocating these things, kids. Don't do these yourselves at home--or anywhere else for that matter.) I think that I have some understanding of their appeal. Obviously, Dennis Covington does, too, having endured his own struggle with substance abuse. I also have some understanding of the appeal of induced adrenalin. I can still wax poetic about the experience of a parachute while others stare at me uncomprehendingly. BUT I SIMPLY CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE DRIVE TO HANDLE THESE SNAKES IN THE NAME OF GOD! It is frightening for me to contemplate that which lurks in the human psyche that drives these people to do this. Now why is that? These folks have a mind set that is at the other end of the spectrum from mine. Therefore, I am incapable of fully understanding--don't have the mental equipment for it. And here is my theory. Any thinking, nonpracticing alcoholic can tell us that one thing that marks those who are susceptible is an extreme self-centeredness, a kind of selfishness, if you will. (In fact the whole theory underlying A.A., another cult, is the attempt to slough away this self-centeredness by helping others.) The alcoholic, the user, the death defying thrill seeker all desperately search for their identity as an individual while doing these things. Searching for self. Wallowing in self. But the allure of these things--and make no mistake about it, adrenalin is every bit as much a substance amenable to abuse as the others--draws them on and on until they LOSE their identity as individuals to the thing, whatever it is. No longer Harry, but a drunk. No longer Judy, but a user. No longer Joe, but a mountain climber. One of life's little ironies. Now these people on Snake Mountain are doing something quite different. It seems obvious to me that they consciously seek to LOSE their identity in the religion. From the get-go their objective is to cede their identity to the thing. That is what Aline McGlocklin is doing in that incredible picture. She has successfully shed her identity as an individual. And I find the desire to do that strange and frightening. Every foible that you have listed, including the snakehandling, the hang gliding, and the booze, is potentially physically fatal. But when the conscious objective FROM THE OUTSET is psychic suicide, the purposeful destruction of one's identity, I am at a loss. I cannot understand that. Although, I must hand it to Dennis with his beautiful writing. He brought me as close as is possible to understanding. When he described the white light while handling that huge rattler with its shimmering scales, I was very close-------------------but no kewpie doll. And could the irony here be that in attempting to lose her identity, Aline McGlocklin finds it--that is, finds a different identity that she likes better? An identity that speaks in tongues. (What an incredible scene that was when the tamborine that Dennis is holding begins of its own volition to accompany Aline's speech in tongues!) Steve 5/7/95 4:33PM CT =============== Reply 3 of Note 19 =================  
To: SEZG73A STEVE WARBASSE Date: 05/08 From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 0:36 AM I've often thought about the people who lose themselves as followers of some religious extremism or another - there's quite a lot of that hereabouts - and what I've concluded from knowing them is that THEY HAVEN'T ANY SELF TO LOSE! They honestly seem to be Eliott's "hollow men" (and women); there's nothing IN them that's not Brother So-and-So's ideas. A nicely patterned religious ideology (the drug of choice around here) is a wonderful way to escape from having to THINK, from having to decide who you are when you are alone in a silent room. People like this are the fodder for every maniac that comes down the road. Yes, they have real experiences, if their religion allows it; I don't doubt the sincerity of these people or the highs they get for a minute. It's something that's always seemed peculiarly horrible to me, who have the relentless drive to be ME - a person, an individual, not somebody's wife, mother, or daughter. I suppose knowledge of self may be a scary thing, but I think it's a lot scarier not to HAVE a self. Cathy =============== Reply 4 of Note 19 =================  
To: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Date: 05/19 From: CUFZ01B SARAH HART Time: 5:31 PM Steve and Dale, To expand on what Cathy said...many people are unable or unwilling to take on the scary task of living in this uncertain world and discovering their own purpose. Tolerance for ambiguity is not very high. It is much easier to espouse a 'black and white' definition of oneself; or, to put it differently, put on a costume of identity, be it an alcoholic, mountain climber, or Pentecostal 'called by God.' These costumes come with rules of behavior and emotion; no questioning or discovering required. Much easier, in the long run, than being fully human and living in our ambiguity; however, I find it much less satisfying and real. Sarah 5/19/95 2:09PM MT =============== Reply 5 of Note 19 =================  
To: CUFZ01B SARAH HART Date: 05/19 From: ETJY35A A KENDRICK Time: 9:39 PM Sarah, your post reminds me of something Alan Watts (I've found myself thinking tonight of some books I read about 25 years ago) said in THE BOOK -- "Irrevocable commitment to any one religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world." I always enjoy reading what you have to say. Ann =============== Reply 6 of Note 19 =================  
To: CUFZ01B SARAH HART Date: 05/20 From: YHJK89A CATHERINE HILL Time: 2:15 AM I THOUGHT there was some reason the idea of fear of thinking really resonated with me right now; I had forgotten this group of postings. I came across the thing again in the biography of Judge Learned Hand I'm about to finish. Here is a fragment of one of his letters from around 1950: **** The relief of finding something which will take the place of the "intolerable labor of thought" - with all its attendant sense of futility - makes us the prey of the most obscene and monstrous faiths, from which, if thinking were not itself such a perversion of our nature, thinking would protect us. I believe that your intellectual friends, just because of their habit of "intellectualizing", are the easiest victims of Marx. They have today only two escapes from that world of Trial and Error in which all that we have hitherto relied upon, has come into just suspicion. For we have burrowed so deep, and are so G****d smart in our burrowings, that nobody who is inflexibly reasonable, can be confident of much, if anything. The juster he is rationally, the more unbearable becomes the outlook. One escape is into the bosom of the Holy Mother, and it is curious that over here [many] have chosen that....The other escape is into the hairier embraces of that strangest of all strange deities, the enraged egoist - Karl Marx.....It all comes down, I believe, to whether we have the guts to face the Universe with a consciousness that it is a perpetual question-mark. ******** Cathy =============== Reply 7 of Note 19 =================  
To: ETJY35A A KENDRICK Date: 05/20 From: CUFZ01B SARAH HART Time: 2:22 PM Ann, Thanks for your kind comment--can you tell me about Alan Watts and 'The Book,' about whom I am completely ignorant? I liked the quote you offered, and agree with it. I am always impatient with those who refuse to discuss religion, politics, and other controversial topics because they are so stolidly placed in their own position on the spectrum that they are unable to listen to anyone else. A healthy view would be one of openness and tolerance, a willingness to listen and debate in a nonjudgmental way. This is one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy my time on CR. Hope you stick around! Sarah =============== Reply 8 of Note 19 =================  
To: CUFZ01B SARAH HART Date: 05/21 From: ETJY35A A KENDRICK Time: 10:10 AM Dear Sarah, The complete title is The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, and I'm sure it's still in print as I run across it now and again in either the philosophy or religion sections of bookstores. It seems to me Watts was a professor at one of the Calif. universities, but that may not be so. Watts wrote several books, attempting to make Eastern thought comprehensible to the quite different Western mind. As I mentioned, I read the book about 25 years ago, but parts of it have stayed with me, including the quote. He used a Mobius strip to represent the way seemingly paradoxical beliefs could form a whole. I think Watts used to visit the old Dick Cavett show (which I miss) about the time Truman Capote was pretty much a regular. I miss those talking head conversations! You might enjoy reading a recent book possibly titled Religion in America (a rather Tocquevillian title). I can't remember who wrote it, but it presents an analysis of strong trends in what the author calls postChristian America. Another book which interested me a couple of years ago was one by Garry Wills (and the title of this one escapes me, though perhaps it's Religion and Politics). Wills spoke from his own Catholicism and offered many elucidating comments on misunderstandings between those holding differing religious beliefs. Ann PS: The Book's topic was Zen Buddhism. =============== Reply 9 of Note 19 =================  
To: ETJY35A A KENDRICK Date: 05/21 From: CUFZ01B SARAH HART Time: 5:54 PM Ann, Thanks for the complete reference. As my background (some of it, at least) is in psychology, I'm very interested in Eastern thought as it differs from Western; we are just beginning to stretch our understanding of human issues to include explanations that the 'Easterners' have accepted for years. Sarah 5/21/95 2:37PM MT



Dennis Covington

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