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The Serpents of Bienville is an artist collective started in Southern Alabama by Amanda and Sean Herman. The project has grown from a study of southern mythology and folklore to include art, books, and merchandise available for purchase. The Serpents of Bienville is a celebration of the Southern Arts community and the people that carry on the tradition of creativity. Subscribe to our blog to hear about Alabama's history, oddities, lore and hidden treasures. Follow us on social media to stay up to date with new artists and projects in our community!





Filtering by Tag: freak

God Don't Ever Change, It Will Be Alright...

Sean Herman

“Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn't convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”  

-Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

John Wayne "Punkin" Brown during a church service

John Wayne "Punkin" Brown during a church service

Story by Sean Herman

Out in the dark

I’m going to let it shine

Oh, out in the dark

I’m going to let it shine


Out in the dark

I’m going to let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

    "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God," words rise from a lone voice, growing from the small country church congregation, lying deep in the heart of the American South.  The voice barely has a discernible echo, floating to the back of the room.  

    "No higher power," is proclaimed loudly by one single voice in front of a hungry crowd of worshipers.  The echo now fills the room. Head down, concentrating intensely, his movements look as though he is storing up a body full of potential energy.

    "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation,” say’s another voice rising eerily out into the room.

    "Whosoever resisteth the power of God," is echoed from the man, now circling, almost nervously, his energy building.

    "Come on, come on. Tell it,” a multitude of voices now filling the room, giving force and vigor to the man now circling the stage.

    "Those who resisteth receive damnation," proclaims the man, now breaking a sweat, as he circles the small stage once more.

    "Amen. Come on,” rises like an on coming wave in the distance from out of the crowd.

    Voices continue. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same."

    "We're fixing to find out what the power was," loudly proclaims the man on stage, now starting to pour sweat, with the room beginning to fill with the energy he is manifesting with his proclamations and movements.

    Voices continue loudly. "But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."



Our stage master stops a movements, looks outward, posing a question to the congregation, 

"A what?"

 "A revenge,” surrounding voices proclaim.

    "A revenger,” as the words leave his lips, it gives signal for the rest of his body to now move, almost like the introduction to a dance with a veiled partner.  One lone guitar riff is strummed quickly and with a punch, echoing with feedback throughout the room.  The sound is like a roar of a distant wave, now approaching ever closer.  

Without warning, a deafening crash echoes throughout the room, halting almost all activity.

Silence that feels like a lifetime ensues.  Our speaker quietly murmurs words, gaining rhythm, growing into the final wave, about to pummel the shore.  With a thunderous crash, he proclaims from a deep, guttural voice, 

”You hear me good—heh. We better be scared of the terror."

    "Bring it on!" cries a lone soul in the crowd, almost challenging him, "Yeah. Come on."

   In one motion the man shoots up into the air, his legs dancing before they hit the ground, proclaiming proudly before them all,

"I'm ready to go," he says. "I ain't afraid to die. Heh. Come on down." 

The man is floating, almost dancing on the energy and air filling the room.

"You gonna be judged for the deed that you've done," he warns to an invisible defendant. "Heh. We need to be ready to go." He runs violently, as if his bones are trying to leave his skin, from one end of the church to the other, until falling to the stage, almost as if his body was broken from the dance. With his head down, he proclaims,  "Bless Your holy name, Jesus. Satan's shedding big ole tears." The flames of the spirit now created grow within the congregation, larger with each howl, each jerked movement.

"Bless you. Come on. Praise the Lord," these words rise in almost one voice in unison from the crowd.

    "He said ask


and you shall receive," 

says our energized preacher. 

"He said seek and ye shall find." 


As sweat pours onto his face,  he continues to proclaim,


”You people know I'm going to a better place.”

 "If the Lord didn't visit you, you wouldn't be here.”


A rattle can be heard in the distance.  Echoing through the old, dilapidated building.

    "Amen," says the chorus. "Think about it."

    "You can't have Jesus—heh—and hold on to the world." He points to the boxes that the rattle noise is coming from.  "When they go in this box and get bit, they got a good excuse. No matter how much they ridiculed the apostles—heh—they kept right on preaching.”  These words give him confidence, holding his faith steadfast.

His energy now overflowing, fills the crowd, like a high tide consuming the congregation.  As the water like energy hits, the people stand, one by one, arms stretched upward, as if reaching for a saving grace.   As the energy rushes inward once more, they fall back into their chairs, and the man on stage falls to the ground, waiting for the next wave.  He shoots up, and rushes to the now noisy boxes, and sticks his arm right in, as if performing a magic trick.  As his arm comes back out of the box, a large, yellow timber rattle snake, the size of a child, comes with it, coiled around, as if becoming one with the man.  The voices now rise, he has their attention as he holds up his new partner for the next act of the elusive dance they engage in.  At this sign, mothers quickly move their children to the back of the church, and so begins the ritual that brought them there.

Words flowed from his lips, creating a narrative that demonstrated to the masses a belief he wanted to hold so true.  With every step, holding the serpents ever close, he felt his faith must be strong, for now he had meaning.  With every dance he knew his Lord was moving close to him, on his right side, while he held his dance partner, the venomous viper, in his left hand.  Quickly his partner snaps towards his face, just missing his cheek.  Twenty two times he’s received that kiss, and fought off that venom, declaring an absolute faith, a truth stronger to him than the force of a thousand horses running wild.  Over twenty years of this dance has made his faith feel strong, though the cracks worked their way through the walls created, no matter how hard he fought them off.

“If they don’t bite, ain’t no need to be scared,” he screams confidently.   

The dance now intensifies, with the venomous rattler in his left hand, he circles the stage, to the crowd, and back again to the pulpit.  A delicate sway, a quick spin, his eyes upward searching for Zion, intent on fulfillment tonight.  As his gaze soared,  he was suddenly brought down by another quick caress from the serpent, this time making contact.  As he jolted his hand back instinctually, almost effortlessly, he continued his dance, as if it had all been one more move was added to the piece.  Those close to him, standing on stage, knew what happened, and a pensive unease filled the air.  

In confidence he southed their fears stating,

“God don’t ever change, it will be alright.”

As the warm poison coursed through his veins, sweat began to pour from his head. His vision became clouded by the blood he unknowingly wiped into his eyes, blood that poured from his finger, a gift from the enraged viper that had kissed him goodnight.  Out of the crimson clouds arose a vision of beauty, his love, his life he longed to have again, his Melinda.  She moved like smoke around him, embracing him, passing through him.  Memories poured out before his eyes.  An eternity passed in a second, a lifetime of devotion in a quickened exhale.  Lost in her gaze, those eyes, as it was for the first time, looking through him, to who he truly was.  Taken now to their first kiss, a time of embrace, looking at their life ahead as they sit atop a small country bluff.  For a brief moment, he had her again, he was alive.

With an agonizing thrust, he was torn from his beloved,  owed to the excruciating pain of the venom racing through his veins, on it’s way to the final port of call,  his enlarging heart.  Through his now tear stricken eyes, memories continued to move in and out of the foggy haze before him.   He saw the birth of his children, holding them close and feeling their heart beating in time with his own.  They were one again, united flesh and blood, they were complete.  Reaching for one more touch of her pale skin, he was hurled violently again, writhing in agony, as the venom made it’s way closer to the finish.  


As he fell to ground behind the pulpit, he found himself in a familiar place.  As he looked up he was with her again, where he had been only a few years ago.  He watched as his love danced in front of him, spinning, her hair and dress encircling her, creating a water like motion moving through the sky. She too was kissed, from the bite of a black timber, rattling a deafening beat.  Tears streaming, he reached to embrace her one more time.  To feel their hearts beating in tandem, to feel complete.  The pain of the emptiness left was almost as horrific as the venom now shredding his fragile veins.  For a moment, he was there again, with her, begging her to go with him to the hospital, to save her from the same poison that now flowed through him.  He looked into her ghostly eyes, begging, pleading to rescue her, to think of her children, but she refused.  She danced, faith never wavering, claiming to feel as she had never felt before, she was euphoric, she was doomed.  The serene gaze from her eyes begins to enrage him, causing his heart to pump more quickly, moving the venom ever rapidly to fill his heart.

The battle raged on within, a feeling of abandonment by his love, while left alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood that now burned his worn eyes.  Panicked thoughts sped through his mind, just as they painfully had years before.  He held his arm upward, outstretched to grasp her face, and as his fingers grazed her cheek, the ghost evaporated into the air before him, becoming one with the maroon clouds that filled his sight.  

As he hung his lonely head, a phrase echoed.  


“Eli eli lama sabachthani… “


As the congregation watched, waiting for him to arise from behind the pulpit he had stumbled behind only seconds ago, he sat motionless.  

“Eli eli lama sabachthani…”

“My God…”

“My God…” 

“Why have you forsaken me?”

“Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”

“O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.”  

The cracks of doubt had worked their way through the great walls created to demonstrate his steadfast love.  The loss of his companion, created a loss of his completion.  Who was he?  Where was his guide and protector?  The vines pushed their way through the cracks in the wall, creating a garden of doubt around him.  As he prayed, his sweat bled down his face, staining his skin in crimson. 

Isolated and alone in his garden, his veins shredded now throughly with the poison from the serpent, he realized his last kiss was from the fork tongued partner he had danced with so many nights before.  Even more of a realization now became all to apparent.  

In agony, and his throat closing up, he uttered his last words.


 “No matter what, God’s …still… God.”  


With that, his vision blurred to a blinding reflection of what was, as he fell in reverse, descending for what seemed like an eternity.  The roars of the church seemed to move away, like the out going tide.  “Praise His Name” repeated over and over, with each word growing further distant from the last.  The venom now embraced his heart, holding it tightly, constricting as one last beat pushed out of it.  As he fell, his blood pooling in his chest, he felt comfort in the venom’s embrace.  Descending, he felt the arms of his love take hold of him, and that last heart beat from his enlarged heart was in unison with her,  destroying the barrier of time, and finally fading everything away into nothing, for eternity.  

The dance was finished.  From behind the pulpit, the serpent slithered away, with a kiss never fulfilled.

Within five minutes of being bitten, John Wayne “Punkin” Brown had perished.

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

—William Shakespeare

John Wayne "Punkin" Brown, pictured above, died on Oct. 3rd, 1998

John Wayne "Punkin" Brown, pictured above, died on Oct. 3rd, 1998

John Wayne “Punkin” Brown died in Macedonia, Alabama October 3rd 1998.  The official amended autopsy report signed by Pustilnik on October 5, 1998, reads as follows: 

"Decedent John Wayne Brown, age 34, race W, sex M, length 69 in., weight 223 lbs. 

Autopsy Findings: 

    1    Puncture wounds on left third finger with soft tissue hematoma of the left third finger. 

    2    Visceral congestion. 

    3    Cardiomegaly (500 grams). 

    4    . Bilateral pulmonary consolidation. 

    5    . Cerebral edema, mild (1450 grams). 

Cause of Death: Snake bite to hand. 

Contributory Cause: Hypertensive cardiovascular disease. 

Manner of Death: Accident."

    The report concludes,

"The postmortem examination demonstrated apparent puncture wounds on the left third finger associated with soft tissue hematoma of the left third finger. An abrasion on the dorsum of the left hand was suspicious for a bite mark without evidence of puncture wounds in that area. Also identified was cardiomegaly with mild atherosclerosis. Also identified was bilateral pulmonary consolidation and mild cerebral edema. Visceral congestion was also seen. Toxicology demonstrates no arsenic, strychnine, lead or mercury.”

Melinda Brown, pictured here with her daughter, passed away on Aug. 6th, 1995

Melinda Brown, pictured here with her daughter, passed away on Aug. 6th, 1995

On August 6th, 1995 Punkin’s bride, Melinda Brown was bitten by a black timber rattler during a church service, resulting in her passing.  Melinda was only 28 years old, and the mother of five children at her death. To this day, Melinda and Punkin's son is deathly afraid of snakes, craving a safety he may never have, from two star crossed parents who fell in love with the dance of the serpent.

Alabama Oddities Weekly Rundown October 19th-October 24th

Amanda Herman

We here at Serpents of Bienville have a lot of different projects currently running.  One project that we are particularly excited about is the Alabama Oddities pieces that Amanda is writing for our social media sites.  She is doing daily updates, bringing you a new story every morning, of something strange and odd from our Southern home.  Not everyone has social media, so we will be doing weekly rundown's of her stories, which we will be publishing every Sunday.  We hope you guys enjoy, and remember to follow us on our social media sites to get daily Alabama Oddities stories.  Enjoy!

Photograph of Old Fort Gaines

Photograph of Old Fort Gaines

Ancient Guard of Fort Gaines - Monday October 19th

Fort Gaines is said to have a native protector, a motherly defender, an ancient guard, that came from the spirit haven that is Massacre Island. An old native American woman has been seen roaming the outer halls of Fort Gaines, keeping a watchful eye and protecting her sacred ground from disrespectful intruders. She has disdain for the settlers that took her people’s land and is known to be incredibly angered by those who do not hold her home to the regard that she has. This woman is said to be clothed in the skins and furs of the indigenous animals and her face is heavily aged by weather and worry. Is she one of the reasons that Massacre Island is so cursed, because she believes, along with the spirits of her people still present on the ancient burial mounds, that people have not treated the land and each other with the respect that is deserved?


Illustration from JJ Abram's "Fringe"

Illustration from JJ Abram's "Fringe"

Hueytown Hum - Wednesday October 21st

The year was 1991. A quiet, peaceful day in a suburb in Birmingham Alabama… suddenly became… slightly annoying? Some described it as the buzzing right before a fluorescent light burns out. Some said it sounded like vent fans. One woman felt that she needed to keep in rhythm with it, letting its pulse control her breathing pattern.  Some people didn't hear it at all, but dogs unanimously revolted against it by barking incessantly and even going on hunger strike. People had their guesses at what the noise was, but no definitive conclusion was ever reached. The noise just stopped one day, and never returned. This may not seem must of an eerie oddity, unless you are a sci-fi fiend like myself. There was this one episode of JJ Abrams’ Fringe, if you recall, where there was a sound known as the “Edina Hum” that was radiating from nearby turbines. The sound was actually keeping the real identities of the townsfolk hidden from outsiders as well as each other. I’m not saying the people of Hueytown have anything to hide… Of course not… Then again… No, never mind, it’s probably nothing…


Horrifying Hoop Snakes - Thursday October 22nd

Today's oddity is the legendary creature from the dense Alabama backwoods known as the hoop snake, as if snakes weren't shocking enough. This terrifying serpent can chase its prey, moving even faster than its humdrum belly scooting brethren, my clutching his tail in his jaw and rolling like a wheel downhill. The detail that makes this cold-blooded creep even more chilling is that her tail is chocked full of poison. So when this reptile has his prey close enough to catch, it stiffens up into a spear position, piercing the victim with instantaneous death. The only way to dodge the hoop snake is to duck behind a tree or jump a fence, so either the tree soaks up the fatal poison or the snake has to uncoil to get through the chain link. That's it, folks, those are the only ways to survive the hoop snake. The ONLY ways.


"The Storyteller" by Frank Fleming, located in Birmingham, Alabama

"The Storyteller" by Frank Fleming, located in Birmingham, Alabama

The Storyteller of Five Points - Friday October 23rd

The Storyteller is a beautifully detailed fountain in the hub of Birmingham’s Five Points South. The artist, Frank Fleming, was commissioned by the Birmingham Art Association. Fleming is an amazing sculptor, and I believe he fully succeeded in conveying the idea of childlike innocence and creativity, with the Goat Man reading from an open book to his amphibian listeners in their imaginary kingdom, and holding his owl staff, representing the importance of southern traditional storytelling. However, there is another view of the Goat Man by the fine god fearing folk of the south. The sculpture is said by some to be completely satanic in nature, even stretching the symbolism by some to say that the frogs aren't just listeners, but worshipers set up to mark the five points of a pentagram (even though the location is named Five Points). However you interpret this work of art, you cannot deny its beauty. Frank, you done good, sir.


Photograph of Josephene Myrtle Corbin of Blount County, Alabama

Photograph of Josephene Myrtle Corbin of Blount County, Alabama

Come One!  Come All!  The Amazing Myrtle! - Saturday October 24th

Josephene Myrtle Corbin, from Blount County, Alabama, was born a conjoined twin. From the waist down, she was two separate people, having two pelvises, two complete reproductive systems, and four legs. She birthed five children with her husband, and rumors speculate which system incubated each child. She was alive during the dawn of medical journals' utter fascination with the obscure. Her mother started charging to see her "freak" daughter when she was just five months old, and Myrtle stuck with the career throughout her life. She appeared in P.T. Barnum's Traveling Show and Ringling Brothers Circus, and later held shows at Coney Island. She had a cheerful disposition and a great sense of humor, plus they paid her mega bucks, so she embraced her difference and always played the crowd. Good on you, Myrtle! Freaks unite!

The Fortunes of Rena Teel - Sunday October 25th

Rena was born in Millerville with a “veil” over her eyes, now known as having her amniotic sac intact. In those days, though, the child born this way was said to have the sixth sense, the sorcery of seeing the future. As a child, she would tell people their futures without knowing that this talent was not normal. She told her mother one day that her newborn brother was going to die. Three days later, the perfectly healthy boy did just that. When she became a mother herself, she dreamed that she told her mother she had no child. Nine days later, her healthy son passed, the same as her brother. She caught wind of a man that was to be hung for the rape of a woman, and Rena swore that he was innocent. She just knew it. her friend told her not to get involved, since Rena had worked very hard to stay out of the limelight and keep her talent hidden so that she would not be exploited and feared. She promised to stay out of it, but promised that the guilty would confess in two years. Two years after the innocent man was hung, the hanged man's uncle confessed to the rape on his deathbed. She ultimately decided to use her gift to help people for the rest of her days back in Millerville, and folks came from all over to see the amazing fortune telling Mrs. Rena.