Serpent Handling (07:15)
Evangelical Protestantism dominates Appalachian culture; at The Church of Jesus’ Name in Tennessee, the preacher handles poisonous snakes, according to the literal interpretation of two Bible verses. The faithful sing, dance, and pass vipers to those feeling compelled by the Holy Spirit.
Baptist Preacher Prodigy (05:33)
Peter Owen-Jones travels to Atlanta to meet Reverend Jared Sawyer, a child pastor; he gives a stylized sermon at a local church. Devotees explain the belief that God uses children to convey his will.
Evangelical Revival (06:03)
In the last 300 hundred years, there have been four mass conversions to the Pentecostal faith; the faithful believe they channel the Holy Spirit, giving them the gift of tongues. A minister lays hands on devotees; they convulse, and often fall. They maintain that non-believers are eternally damned.
Owen-Jones attends a séance in Cassadaga, the oldest Spiritualist community in the south; table tipping is the sect’s primary ritual. He visits a private medium for a reading; she relays messages from his deceased father.
Navajo Sweat Lodge (05:09)
Owen-Jones travels to Arizona for a Native American ritual; a leader explains that the tribe’s religion is based in respect for life and recognizes all gods. He and other participants enter a dugout sauna naked; they sing to Mother Earth and Father Sky, emerging transformed.
In 1820, Joseph Smith establishes a new brand of Christianity, based on golden plate inscriptions claiming that a tribe of Israelis migrated to the Americas in 600 BC, and that Jesus traveled there after his resurrection. The religion promotes clean living, community, and large families.
Religious Polygamists (03:35)
In 1890, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints outlawed plural marriage; Owen-Jones visits the Fundamentalist Mormon community of Centennial Park. He discusses the practice with a group of wives and its legality with a husband, who confirms that the unions are not legally recognized.
All Saints Episcopalian Church (02:37)
Owen-Jones attends the wedding of two men in a Pasadena sanctuary; the denomination continues debates on the validity and godliness of same sex unions.
Owen-Jones meets the leader of a religion blending Christianity and New Age beliefs; they enter a copper pyramid where they drink an alcoholic concoction before meditating. The space is decorated with ancient Egyptian imagery; believers and their pets are mummified after death.
Burning Man Festival (08:17)
Owen-Jones travels to the Nevada desert for a secular celebration; organizers believe that the ritual triggers positive spiritual changes. Participants display a wide range of beliefs and behaviors; a wooden figure is incinerated as a symbol of renewal and purification.
Credits: Rituals: North America (00:27)
Credits: Rituals: North America
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