Holy Ghost People

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I've long been interested in ecstatic religious traditions -- Buddhists who self-induce trance states; ancient shamanic cultures whose elders ingest hallucinogenic roots or dance for days so that they might travel some interior spirit world; Christian holiness churches where people drink poison, speak in tongues and handle snakes. The latter I find especially fascinating, as it's most closely related to my own religious upbringing (though I grew up a comparatively milquetoast Methodist).

Back in college, I took a great seminar on the subject, and the professor showed us this grainy, old, long out-of-print cinema verite documentary film called Holy Ghost People, shot in a Pentecostal church in Scrabble Creek, West Virginia in the early 1960s. It's an absolutely engrossing (and rare) peek into the hardcore holiness tradition, and features plenty of footage of people who seem to be in the grip of horrible epileptic fits (but later claim to have had a grand old time in church) as well as plenty of snake handling -- a preacher even gets snakebit near the end.

I was thrilled to fing Holy Ghost People on Archive.org a few weeks ago, and took the liberty of editing it down to a slim eight minutes of my favorite excerpts and uploading it to YouTube so I could share it here. So take a look.

Also, we'd love to hear from anyone who's ever been to a service like this -- this film is more than 40 years old; does the footage seem dated?

Also, check out this blog from Floss alumnus Mary on glossolalia (aka "speaking in tongues") -- fascinating stuff.

September 28, 2007 - 4:32am
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