I was about nine years old when I started paying attention to some of the doctrines that were slowly infiltrating my life over the past two years. I’d stopped wearing pants or cutting my hair by the end of the first year, following my mother’s lead. The last pair of pants she wore were a lovely pair of wide-leg trousers with a sheer lace overlay; they could pass for a skirt until she took a step. She wore them to church, then threw them away – she felt “convicted” for wearing a man’s garment. She threw away her makeup, too, keeping only a sheer moisturizing lip gloss as a token of her past.
I liked my new dresses, and I liked the long hair slowly descended across my shoulders. I’d begun to look like some of my favourite book characters: Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, Jo from Little Women. And so all of my old tomboyish clothing smoothly faded away without a fuss. But as little as I missed these things, I was taken aback by the sudden realization that Christmas was over for my family.
Christmas did not go without a fight – from my father. He grew increasingly uncomfortable as my mother spent more and more evenings at all-night prayer meetings in believers’ homes, and her stylish wardrobe began to fade into dull, baggy flea-market dresses. Her hair grew jaggedly out of its layered bob, and she began to resist his carnal desires for sex, money, and ostentatious living.
My father had visions of the high life – spurred on by the infrequent but massive work orders he received for his small business. He saw himself at the head of an illustrious new corporation, and proudly passing it on to the next male heir. I gritted my teeth when he mentioned these things, wondering if I could prove my mettle and pass for a son, since, no thanks to me, the chance at a son seemed to have died two years prior. Maybe if I’m smart enough, I thought, he’ll let me take over the family business someday, even though I’m not a boy.
At Christmastime, my mother began to hang some ornaments around the house – including one dedicated to the memory of my lost brother – but she adamantly refused to have the pagan superstition of a tree in our newly-consecrated home. I chafed a little bit along with my outraged father, but solemnly nodded agreement when she told me that having a Christmas tree meant letting a little of the devil into our home. I thought of the shadows that skulked around my bed every night, and pictured the Christmas tree as a gaping portal by which legions of creatures of darkness could penetrate our brick castle. I did not protest.
Every year at Christmas, our pastor (like most pastors in the Message), began to speak out against the perversion of the celebration of Christ’s birth. He was born in April, we learned, and certainly none of the children in my church believed in Santa Claus. We took perverse pleasure in telling all of our worldly friends that their parents had lied to them. We knew better. We were the chosen people, and we did not lie to one another. But despite the easy targets of commercialism, Santa Claus and the Winter Solstice date, the real enemy that the Message faced was the glorification of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.
William Branham had a vendetta against Mary. Mary-worship signalled all that was wrong with the Catholic Church, and the Protestant denominations were seen as merely watered-down versions of the original sinful mess: the harlot daughters of the Whore of Babylon. “Mary was just an incubator,” my pastor often said, quoting numerous sermons by ‘Brother’ Branham. “It’s the man who makes the seed, the woman just incubates it. The life is in the blood, and the blood comes from the male.” (That idea comes from Aristotle. I hate that our culture has incubated it for so long.)
On February 11, 1962, William Branham preached a sermon entitled Oneness, in which he said,
“You Catholic people that call Jesus, or call Mary, rather, the mother of God, how can God have a mother when He’s eternal? He can’t have a mother. Jesus was not even anything to Mary, but He was just… She was an incubator that hatched Him.
Well, they always believed, and I had an idea of it myself years ago that the–the immaculate conception was that God overshadowed her and put a blood cell in there, but the egg come from the woman. If the egg come from the woman, there has to come a sensation to bring the egg through the tube to the womb. See what you do with God? You make Him in a sexual mess. God, Who created the blood cell, created the egg also…
Just like you take the eagle and let it lay an egg, and put it under the hen; the hen will hatch the egg; she’s only the incubator. But there isn’t one speck about it, the eagle, that’s a chicken. … It’s the warmth of the body that hatched the egg. And that’s the same way it is with Jesus. Mary was just the incubator. God used her like He does any other woman. She was a virgin; she’d had no children. He come into a virgin womb, but God the Creator made both egg and germ: created it. Therefore, it was immaculate conception.
She wasn’t His mother; she was a incubator. God could’ve used something else, but He wanted to take the very lowest and show what He could do with it, raise it up, and make something out of nothing, that’s God.”
Since I was female, I knew I was destined to be invisible, too. I would be “nothing,” as Branham had said. “The very lowest.” I looked up at the picture of Jesus hanging over our mantel as tears of anguish fled my eyes. Why had God made me disposable? How could he be so cruel and still live with himself? When my uncle had shown me a box of mice that he intended to feed to his pet snake, I saw myself in that box and I wanted to set them all free. Yet here I was, waiting to grow up to be bred and consumed, my voice no more effective than the plaintive squeaks of the little white mice. God must not understand me, I thought. I must sound like a mouse to him.
It might have been easy for Branham to think of his mother as an incubator for his father’s sperm. But the effect it had on me, as a daughter, was horrifying. My mother was the one who spent her energy nourishing me as I grew. My mother was the one who suffered the pain (“the worst kind of pain that exists,” she told me) and risked her life to give me mine. But I wasn’t really hers: she didn’t contribute to who I was or give me life. She just provided the soil for my father’s seed, and it was no more than her duty. It was what she was made for; she deserved no more thanks than a toaster did for heating the bread put into it. Moreover, women who could not bear children were considered “dead” in my church. Barren. Lifeless. An empty shell.
This perception was crucial to Branham’s doctrine of the Serpent’s Seed. He argued that Original Sin was a sexual act between Eve and the serpent. “But the serpent was a snake,” you might say – “how is that even possible?” Branham taught that the serpent was originally created an upright beast, the ‘missing link’ between humans and apes. This was why scientists were baffled, he said: after the Fall, God cursed the serpent and forced it to slither on its belly from that moment on: thus, there was no biological trace of the kind of beast the serpent had been before. God created all animals in order, he taught, such that biologists could be duped into believing in evolution because they failed to recognize God’s perfect organization of the world.
After Original Sin, Eve conceived two children: one by the devil in the form of the serpent, and one by Adam, created the son of God. Since Eve had no “seed” or life of her own to impart to her children, each child was a replica of its father. Hence the wildly disparate personalities of Cain and Abel. Branham taught that the verse saying Cain was “of that evil one” meant that Eve had gotten pregnant with two different “seeds” and gave birth to a good and evil son, one from each father.
Cain and Abel (who was replaced by Seth after his brother killed him) thus were the founders of two races of human being who still lived on the earth today. Whether or not a person was ‘Serpent’s Seed’ determined whether or not they would accept the gospel and Branham’s message. Church-goers could be Serpent’s Seed, as the devil had never been afraid to go to church. But they could never truly accept the Message into their hearts and would certainly never go in the Rapture. Their inclusion would spoil paradise.
I often felt a sinking sense of doom as I sat in church, listening to the pastor talk about the end of the world approaching and knowing that I could not find the Holy Ghost inside myself. Was I the Serpent’s Seed? The circumstances of my home elevated this fear to an acute panic. My father was not a Message believer; my mother was. However, since my mother was only an “incubator” of me and I was really the product of my father’s seed and blood, her belief did not make me any more likely to be Adam’s Seed. My life came from my father, the unbeliever – the one given to lust, rage, and the worship of money.
Desperate to save myself from this deterministic fate, I latched hold of the belief that, over the millennia, the two seeds had mingled through intermarriage: every person on the face of the earth had the chance to accept or reject Christ, and equal potential to be taken in the Rapture and saved. I once voiced this opinion to Anna, as she and Sven discussed whether or not Sven’s worldly friends were Serpent’s Seed and whether it was worth trying to tell them about Christ. “No, it’s not mixed,” Anna told me fiercely, eyeing me with suspicion and distaste for daring to voice such heresy. “We just don’t know who is or isn’t Serpent’s Seed.”
Whether or not we were supposed to know, it struck me that on the ground, in my church, a lot of people thought they knew. And the outcome was not favourable for me. With a reprobate father, I didn’t stand a chance. I was a child of Satan, created to perish, just waiting for the fire to turn me to chaff. It seemed to me then that everything that existed – the universe and its Creator – were incomprehensibly wrong. The universe – and God’s plan for it – was wretched, I thought, and my stomach twisted in knots.
I recklessly dreamed that maybe somewhere out there in infinity, there might be another universe with a better plan. Maybe we were all just a prototype God was throwing away? Maybe there were other Gods with other worlds to worship them. Maybe our God was just angry that all the other Gods had kicked him out of their sandbox and was taking it out on us, his little anthill. It made no difference – I, the earth, and the solar system were doomed. But I took comfort in imagining other worlds that really were based on love and forgiveness, where nobody had to die.
I knew that I was no different from any other human being walking on this planet – I desired love, and respect, and to do what was right, and yet I was disposable, created to burn. How could God be so cruel as to place people on this earth, knowing that they would end up as “stubble?” How could he live with himself in eternity, knowing that he had inflicted the agony of life on people who were destined for flames and annihilation? I imagined the true believers in the new world, looking down at the dust under their feet, wondering who that dust used to be.
Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog The Unspoken Words: A Non-Prophet Message.