In folk magic and mythology, crossroads may represent a location "between the worlds" and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place. Symbolically, it can mean a locality where two realms touch and therefore represents liminality, a place literally "neither here nor there", "betwixt and between".
In conjure, rootwork, and hoodoo, a form of African American magical spirituality, in order to acquire facility at various manual and body skills, such as playing a musical instrument, throwing dice, or dancing, one may attend upon a crossroads a certain number of times, either at midnight or just before dawn, and one will meet a "black man," whom some call the Devil, who will bestow upon one the desired skills. In the Vodou tradition, Papa Legba is the lwa of crossroads.
Some 20th-century blues songs, such as Sold It to the Devil by Black Spider Dumpling (John D. Twitty), may be about making a deal with the devil at the crossroads. Although many modern listeners believe that the premier song about soul-selling at a crossroads is "Cross Road Blues" by Robert Johnson, the song may be a description of standing at a cross roads and trying to "flag a ride" or hitch-hike; the sense of foreboding coming from the singer's apprehension of finding himself, a young black man in the 1920s deep south, alone after dark and at the mercy of passing motorists. Others believe Robert Johnson sang this song in regards to the deal that was made with Legba in which Johnson exchanged his soul for his extraordinary guitar skills that seemed to appear suddenly. The idea of selling one's soul for instrumental skills pre-dates the American South as several virtuoso classical musicians such as Paganini had stories told about selling their soul for music prowess (and that story may reference back to medieval troubadour doing something similar). The motif of selling one's soul for guitar power has become a staple of both rock and metal guitarists.
Crossroads are very important both in Brazilian mythology (related to the headless mule, the devil, the Besta Fera and the Brazilian version of the werewolf) and religions (as the favourite place for the manifestation of "left-hand" entities such as Exus and where to place offerings to the Orishas). Eshu and Legba derive from the same African deity, although they are viewed in markedly different manners among traditions. For example, Papa Legba is considered by Haitian Vodou practitioners to be closest to Saint Peter, although in Brazilian Quimbanda it is not uncommon to see Exu closely associated with demonic entities such as Lucifer, clad in Mephistophelean attire and bearing a trident.
In the UK there was a tradition of burying at crossroads criminals and suicides. This may have been due to the crossroads marking the boundaries of the settlement coupled with a desire to bury those outside of the law outside the settlement, or that the many roads would confuse the dead.
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- Litwack, Leon F (1998). Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 410–411.
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- Robert Halliday (2008 [last update]). "British Archaeology, no 25, June 1997: Features". britarch.ac.uk. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
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