At the Crossroads
The world is at a crossroad, with many paths all intersecting at that one point, the here and now. So much is happening in the world right now, politically, environmentally and everything in between that it might seem that everything’s gone crazy, that there is no clear path ahead. We are at the crossroad and we have decisions that must be made.
The crossroads are a symbol found in most cultures, signifying the many possibilities, the many choices and the spaces in between. They are steeped in mystery and folklore, the place where two or more roads intersect is a liminal space, a no man’s land belonging to no person. There are myths and legends the world over, from every culture, concerning the crossroads and the many spirits tied to these places, evidence enough that the crossroads are a magical place, a knowledge deep within the human psyche.
The folklore, myths and legends of Britain and Ireland are simply awash with spirits linked to the crossroads. In Ireland and parts of England and Scotland, the crossroads were the places between our world and the Seelie World. It was at these crossroads that the fairy dog, an extremely large black dog roamed. The dog is considered to be either a good omen or a bad omen depending on which part of Britain you are in. In her book The Fantasy Encyclopedia, Judy Allen claims that the dog barks three times in warning, on the third bark, whoever has heard it is in for some bad luck, and sometimes even death.
In England, until the 1820’s, crossroads were used as sites for profane burials - the internment of criminals, suicides and others considered not worthy of a proper burial in a churchyard. The reason was twofold; criminals and suicides especially were sinners, and thus burial in the hallowed ground of the churchyard or cemetery was forbidden, but it was also a way of further punishment, after all, why should the sinners find peace in death? And so burial at crossroads condemned their spirits to wander the roads for eternity, never finding peace or rest.
Witches and those accused of witchcraft were buried at the crossroads too. There is a crossroads in Gloucestershire, England, known as Bethy Grave Crossroads, the supposed burial site of Elizabeth Bastre, buried in 1786. Depending on the story, and who is telling it, Elizabeth is either described as a malicious witch or, perhaps more accurately, a victim of religion and class.
In Welsh folklore, it is the cyhyraeth, a banshee like ghostly spirit, who stalks the crossroads. Sometimes a hideous woman, sometimes invisible, her wailing cry is a death omen to any unfortunate soul who should hear it. Bogles are brownie like spirits, usually mischievous, however, the death bogle is more sinister, and to see him at the crossroads is a sign that soon you will die.
Romanian myths tell that the crossroads are the meeting places of vampires and witches. The Folklorist Murgoci says ‘’ people destined to become vampires after death may be able to, in life, send out their souls to wander at the crossroads.’’ The devil is also associated with the crossroads in Romanian legend, and in many countries worldwide.
Deity and gods are also linked to the crossroads, perhaps the best known, especially among us witches, is the Greek titan Goddess, Hecate, ruler of the three way crossroad, queen of the witches. Often depicted in the triple form, Hecate can see in all directions, metaphorically as well as literally, the three roads representing the past, the present and the future. Images and statues of the Goddess were often left at three way crossroads in her honour, or from those seeking her good graces.
However, Hecate is not the only deity associated with the crossroads. In Japanese folklore and folk religions, Chimata-No-Kami is the god of the crossroads, highways and pathways. The crossroads are the domain of Maximon in Guatemala, Bhairava in India, Eshu in parts of Africa. The list is endless, enough to fill libraries.
In Vodou, Legba is the loa of the gates, the gatekeeper between the worlds. He speaks all human languages, and is the first called in ceremony as no other loa can enter through the gates without Legba. Perhaps one of the most well known folklore stories of the crossroads concerns Papa Legba and the blues musician Robert Johnson. It is said that Johnson, a little before midnight, took himself and his guitar to the crossroads where he encountered a black man. This stranger took Johnson’s guitar, tuned the strings, played a tune, then gave it back. After that mysterious encounter, Johnson said that he could play any tune, songs he hadn’t the skill to play before. You may have heard a version of this story before, except instead of Legba, it was the devil, and that Johnson sold his soul for musical talent.
The crossroads and deity are linked in many ways and often it is universal; the gods and spirits may change and have different names and appearance but the crossroads remain to be seen as gateways between worlds. Many of the world’s religions and spiritualities have their psychopomps, spirits who guard this in-between space where mortals converse with the supernatural.
Today, perhaps more so than ever before, modern paganism finds itself at a crossroads. In the face of all the problems that stand before us, we have choices to make, important choices that must be made now, for time has run out. As you find yourself at this crossroad, which path will you choose?
If you should happen upon a crossroads, leave a penny in each corner, perhaps the spirits will be watching and it might be we need their favour now more than ever.
My name is Emma Kathryn, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, vodou and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the sticks.
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