A brief shout out to my friend Prof. S.J. Dahlman, who sits in the desk I occupied at Milligan College and has the wonderful duty of writing about religion in the beautiful mountains of Northeast Tennessee. The last time we checked in with Jim and his “Face to Faith” column in the Johnson City Press was talking about snakes and how they are not typical of faith in the region.
Now he is writing about two other substances that, in the Southern Highlands, have an almost religious and anti-religious following — alchohol and tobacco. Now what happens when they get mixed up with native cultures?
Tobacco was a sacrament in the old Cherokee religion, the smoke a messenger carrying prayers to the spirit world. Wine is part of a sacrament in the Christian tradition, symbolizing the blood of Jesus.
Dr. R. Michael Abram, co-owner and co-curator of Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery in Cherokee, N.C., finds irony here. “Take those two items and put them in each other’s culture with no religious meaning,” he said by phone this week, “and both get into trouble.”