I’ve been thinking about the meaning of crossroads lately…probably because many of us (self included) are finding ourselves at a crossroads. We seem to be faced with choices, or at the crux of choices which might be unsettling or unclear. This article is an attempt to demystify some of the uneasy reputations crossroads have gained over time and perhaps bring light in potential dark times when we find ourselves in the midst of indecision.
Crossroads (the intersection of four roads or natural cross-sections) are considered significant markers for supernatural or non-local activity. In other words, there are tons of reports and legends about ghost-sightings and spiritual phenomenon taking place at crossroads.
There might be a scientific reason for that. Crossroads are often situated on top of natural ley lines. Ley lines are invisible lines that lace the earth. Where ley lines cross, it is lots of bizarre stuff happens. Intersecting ley lines are reported to produce high energetic vibrations from the earth and its atmosphere. These high voltage spots are often blamed for car accidents at intersections, crazy phenomenon at crossroads, and wild supernatural activity.
Whether we’re talking about divine interventions at intersections, or cosmic chaos at cruxes…the meaning of crossroads is worthy of contemplation. Here are a few thoughts about the symbolism and meaning of crossroads for to help quench your curiosity.
Meaning of Crossroads in Various Cultures
Mayan: Ancient South American cultures such as Aztec and Mayan, used crossroads as a place of sacrifice. Alters, were erected at these locations to indicate hallowed ground. In this cultures, the meaning of crossroads was all about the meeting place of divine presence. It was thought that gods and goddesses would convene at crossroads, meeting there to receive sacred offerings.
Native American: In some Native American legends, crossroads were considered to be a point of high creative power. Intersections in Nature were considered holy. These natural cross-sections could be found among trees in the forest, or rock projections in the desert, etc. It was thought that standing at these four-pointed spaces in Nature one could be a conduit for spiritual wisdom and creative inspiration.
European: Early Europeans used to bury criminals and suicide victims at crossroads. The idea was that burying these tortured souls at a crossroads would keep their spirits captured in a crux. Another thought is that the souls would forever remain lost and unable to move to heaven or hell. This is because of confusion over choosing which path the soul should take in moving out of the crossroads – and thus eternally doomed into an aimless purgatory.
African: There is a cultural story of an African trickster god named Papa Legba. He stands at crossroads waiting to play tricks on unsuspecting travelers. Unlike many trickster gods, Papa Legba is actually quite helpful, especially if an offering is left at the crossroads in his honor. Various stories tell of people coming to crossroads in their African villages leaving sweet treats to Papa Legba when they are in a state of conflict or indecision. By leaving favorite yummies like candy, Papa Legba is said to give clarity and inspiration to the donor so those clear choices can be made with confidence.
Meaning of Crossroads in Mythology
Hermes: Son of Zeus, Hermes was reputed to hang out at crossroads. In fact, statues called herms were erected at crossroads because Hermes represented a god of travel (particularly commerce/trade roads) to the Greeks. Hermes is thought to help with navigation, easy travel and bestows blessings upon journeys (both physical and mental).
Hecate: A very complex goddess in Greek mythology, Hecate is often shown in ancient art at the crossroads. Various myths depict her as the guardian of sacred gateways and openings. As the meaning of crossroads is associated with energetic and spiritual vortex – Hecate is seen at intersections as a sort of a traffic-cop…conducting order in a potentially chaotic environment.
Oschaert: In Belgium, there is a myth about a hellhound named Oschaert. This creature was known to stand watch upon remote crossroads and pounce upon travelers. But Oschaert did not pass on any random traveler, he chose those wicked in heart and those who had committed nefarious deeds. Upon trapping naughty victims, Oschaert tortured them until they came to a ‘crossroads’ of conscience. Essentially, the hellhound terrified his victims into see the err of their ways, and seek redemption. If successful, Oschaert would release his redeemed captors to live a life of service and repent for their wicked ways.
Meaning of Crossroads in Folklore
Deals with the Devil: It is fabled that if you simply must make a deal with the devil, do so at the crossroads because you have a better chance of outrunning Satan’s devilish clutches with a choice of four roads (I guess the devil can’t predict which road you’ll choose). Whatever the case, there is overwhelming evidence in historical myths and legends that admit if you have to make a pact with the devil, doing it at a crossroad can either 1) Confuse the devil as he seeks to collect his bounty or 2) Making a choice between good and evil in our lives, which is an overwhelming theme in every human condition. See also Crossroads in Pop Culture for more info about crossroads and devilish deeds.
Crossroads and Witches: In many folk tales, witches are reputed to secretly meet at crossroads to conduct coven work. Then again, maybe the witch association came from Hekate (Hecate), a Greek goddess of sorcery, who was said to appear at earthly crossroads with baying wolf-hounds at her side. In truth, I like to think witches have a keen connection with the spiritual side of life. Like many spiritual practitioners, most witches understand that crossroads are a vortex for spiritual energy – it is an “X marks the spot” for limitless spiritual and energetic potential. This is very attractive for the spiritually-minded because the crossroads augers power and possibilities.
In Dreams: Dreaming of crossroads may be symbolic of confusion, and not being able to see our way clear to gain a solution to a problem. It may also be a portent of many opportunities on the horizon for us. The meaning of crossroads in dreams are often about choosing a path that honors who we are, and avoiding choices that lead us down unsavory roads in life.
Meaning of Crossroads in Pop Culture
Blues Guitarist Robert Johnson and Crossroads: In more recent history, symbolic meaning of crossroads is noted in the modern myth of blues artist Robert Johnson.
Johnson started his blues career playing the harmonica in small-time blues groups around Mississippi. But the harmonica didn’t seize his snarglies…what Johnson craved was to be the most wicked-awesome blue guitarist in history. He played his fingers bloody, practicing the blues on guitar, but never seemed to make the grade with his idols. Alas, Johnson was consistently ridiculed and criticized as a poor blues guitarist. It seemed he could never get good enough to earn respect or acceptance from his constituents.
Down, but not out, Johnson would not be denied his musical dream. After a relatively short period of time in Johnson’s life, he went through a dramatic creative transformation. It seemed like overnight, Johnson miraculously became a blues guitar prodigy.
So startling was his miraculous playing ability, that rumors began to spread Johnson made a deal with the devil to gain fame and status on the blues scene. This rumor grew into a monumental myth as Johnson became increasingly morose. It seemed with his success and fame, he became more haunted by his fast-found musical gifts.
The story goes that Johnson went down to the crossroads where he met the devil. In exchange for his soul, Johnson begged the devil to make him a blues guitar super-star.
There is support for the myth because Johnson did experience a high level of success. Regrettably, the hilt of his achievement came after his death at the age of only 27.
There is a lot of mystery around his life and death which feeds the flame of the story of his meeting with the devil at the crossroads. His songs clearly depicted a tortured soul. In one song, Johnson crooned about hellhounds chasing after him. And in his most famous song, “Crossroad Blues” he actually sings about meeting the devil at the crossroads of two highways. To this day, these crossroads are thought to be Highway 61 and 49 where the intersect in Mississippi.
The legend of the Devil and Robert Johnson continues to grow to this day, as his music and playing style continues to inspire other blues artists long after Johnson’s untimely death in 1938.
Faust and Crossroads: Interestingly, Johnson’s story is not singular. It shares many similarities with the classic tale of Faust. In the traditional story, Faust allegedly meets the devil at the crossroads where he makes a deal for his soul in exchange for infinite knowledge as well as limitless worldly, carnal pleasures.
Meaning of Crossroads – Keywords
Here are a few overarching highlights and keywords when it comes to the meaning of crossroads:
- Navigation (spiritually and physically)
Meaning of Crossroads and Life-Lessons
As we can surmise from the cultural and mythological back-story about the meaning of crossroads, we are talking a lot about a very localized space in time, place and mind that is replete with potential.
Ultimately, the symbolic meaning of crossroads deals with choice, consequence, making a selection about the direction in which we want to go (both physically and philosophically). Furthermore, standing at the center of a crossroads speaks of being poised in a position of pure potential. Suspended upon a vortex of power – and that begs the question: “in what direction shall we navigate that power?”
For many of us, being in a position of power requires taking a stand for what we believe, even when we do not know what we will encounter upon the road we have chosen.
If we can’t make that stand it’s sometimes helpful to think of the symbolic meaning of crossroads in terms of the equal-armed cross. I rather like the mental picture of four in-roads leading to our hearts with each protrusion representing four perspective beatitudes of the cross:
That’s the kind of power I’m talking about. That’s the kind of capacity for soul-quaking, paradigm shifting power that the crossroads implies.
Combining of these four sacred concepts (Spirit, Self, Nature, Knowledge) we meet life in the middle – the center – which is both the beginning and ending. Also, by employing these four touchstones, we establish balance and harmony.
The meaning of crossroads is all about liminal space…liminal is that in-between point that means both we are neither here, nor there. Liminal space as represented by crossroads points to 100% potential and opportunity. It is the twilight or the gloaming…where magic happens because it is that slight crack in reality when/where anything can happen.
As always, thank you for reading.
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