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Monday, October 7, 2019

Magic of the Crossroads

Magic of the Crossroads

Crossroads show up a lot in witchcraft, especially hedgecraft. It's a liminal space; an in-between; a place where the veil is often thinnest. While many people think of a crossroads as only the intersection of two roads, crossroads take on a myriad of forms, such as a place where land and water meet like the beach, where a field turns into a forest, or even a doorway. Crossroads are any place that two different environments meet or intersect, but is technically neither extreme. Its almost as if crossroads elude categorization. A doorway is neither in nor out of the home, while a crossroads is neither of the roads that intersect at that point. As a hedgewitch, I exploit these liminal places and the magic they can be utilized for. The rituals and magics performed at crossroads can be divided into two categories: 1) activities in which an individual sought help or protection and 2) activities in which the liminal point was exploited.

History


Historically, crossroads have shown up across multiple cultures for thousands of years, most prominently Graeco-Roman myths. As mentioned in the introduction, crossroads are technically not either extreme, which led to the Greeks and Romans, as well as many others, to associating special traits with these places. Furthermore, crossroads were viewed as the beginning of something, such as a journey that often begins by leaving through a door. Because it was associated with the beginning of a journey, protection rituals were largely performed at crossroads to protect travelers. Many of these rituals for protection involve the goddess Hekate, who is associated with crossroads for a myriad of reasons. Early rituals involved invoking Hekate for protection from spirits and shrines, known as hekataia, were historically erected at crossroads and even around doorways and gates. Some research suggests that these hekataia were regularly fed with offerings the night of the new moon (likely dark moon) which is also a liminal time during the phases of the moon (source, source). Like Hekate, Hermes filled a similar role, providing protection for travelers. Shrines known as herms were also erected at crossroads location, and many myths mention Hermes aiding people in transitions. Similar practices show up in India where the god Bhairava is said to guard the crossroads and stone phalluses and statues of eyes are often erected at such sites to honor him.

Other Graeco-Roman crossroads rituals fall under the second category mentioned above: exploitation of the magics of the crossroads. Sources cite that the remains of home purification rituals were often left at crossroads, a tradition that is still alive and well today. There are some that suggest this tradition likely arose because crossroads did not technically belong to anyone and therefore were appropriate places to leave refuse, including the remains of anyone who committed parricide. According to Plato, officials were to execute the parricide, carry his naked corpse to an appointed crossroads outside the city, and throw rocks at his head to purify the city. Afterward, the corpse was to be carried to the boundary of the state (another liminal place) and thrown out, unburied.

Apart from dealing with "waste," crossroads were used for magical purposes as well. Wax figures were often left at crossroads to perform different magics, including love spells. Other manuscripts mention writing a spell on a three-cornered sherd acquired at the crossroads then hiding it there again. The belief was that the spirits that resided in these liminal places would carry out the spells work. Other spells include women in labor wearing an amulet that contained herbs grown at a crossroads and burying frogs there as a precaution against fever. Crossroads, likely because waste was often disposed of there, was associated with disease, so appeasing the spirits of crossroads was believed to prevent such diseases (source).

These practices were so engrained in Greaco-Roman culture that the festival, Compitalia or the Festival of the Crossroads, was celebrated annually to honor Lares Compitales, the household deities of the crossroads. During the festival, small shrines were erected at the crossroads and families would feast. Woolen dolls (family members) and balls (slaves) were hung on the shrines (source, source). Sacrifices of honey-cakes were made in the early years, but later an oracle demanded that in order for the health and prosperity of each family to remain, the heads of children should be sacrificed to Mania, the underworld goddess, also associated with crossroads and liminal places. Brutus, who later ruled over Rome after overthrowing the Tarquin line of kings, used a verbal loophole to subsitute "heads" of garlic and poppies instead (source).

In the 11th-century, a homily called De Falsis Deis mentions that a god, Mercury or Odin, was also honored at the crossroads by the early Anglo-Saxons. According to the homily, there was a man named Mercury who was deceitful and cunning. The heathens renowned him as a god and honored him with sacrifices at the crossroads, "all through the devil's teaching." This is likely where the modern idea that you can meet the devil at the crossroads arose. Modern English translations of the homily also state, "This false god was honored among the heathens in that day, and he is also called by the name Odin in the Danish manner." It is plausible that this reference is to many different deities, all associated with the crossroads in some respect, whether it be for protection or spellwork (source). Other Anglo-Saxon stories relate to the standing stones erected at crossroads across the British Isles. Originally thought to only mark borders, some folklore suggests witches and Fae could be trapped and prevented from entering our world through liminal places if stones were placed there. Examples include Canrig Bwt, who sleeps under a stone in Northern Wales at Llanberis who fed upon the brains of children, and a nameless witch under the stones at Crumlyn, Monmouthshire (source). The Welsh, like many others, believed that every crossroads was inhabited by spirits. Early English and Irish would often bury the bodies of the unconsecrated or those that committed suicide at crossroads, a practice that continued until at least the 14th century until it was abolished in the early 1800s. No wonder they are haunted!

Germanic folklore mentions that you can become the servant of Der Teufel at crossroads to achieve your heart's desire. Der Teufel is considered by Christians to be the devil. To become his temporary servant required a small sacrifice, but later morphed into the permanent selling of your soul. Germanic folklore also mentions on Walpurgis Night that witches would meet at the crossroads, likely to consort with the devil (source).

In Brazilian folklore, Mula-Sem-Cabeca, a Headless Mule, is a woman cursed by God for her sins, usually sexual in nature. From Thursday's sundown to Friday's sunrise, she is cursed to turn into a fire-spewing headless mule, which runs through the countryside setting it ablaze. The transformation is said to occur at the crossroads (source).

In modern Western folklore, the crossroads has come to be associated with demons and brokering deals. The 1926 story Faust features this legend where the main character summons the demon Mephistopheles at a crossroads. It also is a common theme in 20-century blues songs, such as Sold It To the Devil and Crossroad Blues. The myth has also been further perpetuated by the TV series Supernatural, which I adore.  No matter where we look in the world, crossroads have deep magical roots and have long been viewed as liminal places. I've only mentioned a handful of the dozens of legends, myths, and folktales from around the world. Owlcation has a great article that covers more and offers some great further readings on the topic.

Modern Magic


Crossroads still play a prominent role in many magical traditions, including hedgecraft, traditional witchcraft, Hekatian witchcraft, and Hoodoo. Often times, spell remnants are left at the crossroads. It is considered a neutral way to dispose of spell remains, such as left-over candle wax, ashes, and even ritual bathwater. While this is a fairly common practice, I encourage you to be aware of the nature of the remains you may wish to leave there. Please be mindful of littering and the potential ecological effects your spell remains may have on the environment. I discourage you from disposing of many candle waxes are crossroads, and if your bathwater contained perfumes, synthetic chemicals, and soaps, that you should avoid throwing those out at the crossroads as well. Letting the water drain is a perfectly acceptable way to dispose of ritual bathwater.

Crossroads are also a great place to perform a ritual to learn a specific skill. There are specific Hoodoo rituals detailing this process, however, they usually include bringing the item you wish to master to the crossroads for three or nine specific nights/mornings. On the last visit, the Man in Black is said to arrive and ask for your item. Should you give it to him he will show you how to properly use the item and when you get it back, you suddenly are gifted with talent.

In hedgecraft, the crossroads is exploited as a liminal space to travel to the Otherworld and communicate with spirits. It is a great place to work with local spirits, Fae, or to hedge ride. These are the areas I tend to sit in when I am looking for something more or wish to remove a blockage. If you are feeling stuck and unsure which path to take, try the spell below from Monica Crosson.

"Decorate your altar with Hecate's symbols, including keys, black dog figures, poppies, and hazelnuts. Light a black candle for the wisdom of the crone and say:
Hecate of wisdom and revealer of insight,
I come to the crossroads on this night.
Illuminate the path that is right for me,
As I will it, so mote it be.
Close your eyes and picture yourself at the crossroads. Let the torch of the crone illuminate the path that is right for you."

Looking for another crossroads spell to remove blockages? Try Tarot Pug's spell found here.

There are numerous ways you can use the crossroads in your own practice, from communing with deities to working with spirits. These liminal spaces offer so many excellent opportunities for magic, many of which are not even mentioned here. However, be mindful that crossroads are not just physical places, but times as well, such as the Dark Moon, dusk, dawn, Samhain, and Beltane. Use these places and times to seek protection, commune with spirits, honor your ancestors, leave offerings for a deity, remove a blockage, dispose of spell remains, banish negativity, set goals, seek guidance, or any other magics you deem appropriate to be performed at a liminal space. How do you use liminal places or crossroads in your practice? Leave a comment below!

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