From Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers
The crossroads or the “forks of the road” is a place where two roads cross at or about at right angles. The crossroads is land that belongs to no one, a place outside the borders of town, which is a suitable site to perform traditional hoodoo magical rituals or cast spells. Like the cemetery, the crossroads may also serve as an altar where offerings can be laid or as a place for the disposal of finished works.
American beliefs about the crossroads are numerous, and they come in many variations. There are two major themes regarding crossroads in the African-American hoodoo tradition: the performance of the crossroads ritual to gain skill and the use of the crossroads as place to perform magical spells of disposal and dispersal. While these customs may contain an admixture of European folklore, they are primarily derived from African antecedents for working with spirits.
Conjure doctors who assist clients may perform graveyard work in matters of career success, personal power, mastery, wisdom, love drawing, romance, marriage, fidelity, reconciliation, money, business, luck, protection, safe travel, cleansing, uncrossing, road opening, court cases, legal matters, spirituality, blessings, healing, crossing, jinxing, or cursing. In addition, when rootworkers take on jobs for clients, they may send the clients prepared herbal or mineral baths for their work, with instructions to dispose of a token amount of the bathwater in the home yard or at a crossroads.
The Crossroads Ritual
The crossroads is where the famous hoodoo ritual to learn a skill, to play a musical instrument, to become talented at dice throwing, dancing, public speaking, or whatever one chooses, is performed. This African-derived crossroads ritual is one of the most widely dispersed beliefs in African-American folklore and is practiced throughout the South. Crossroads work of this type is probably the most well known aspect of hoodoo and the least understood by those who stand outside the tradition.
In performing the crossroads ritual to gain skills, you bring an item that you wish to master: a banjo, guitar, fiddle, deck of cards, pair of dice, or the tools of your trade, to the crossroads and wait there for a specified number of nights or mornings. During your visits you may encounter a mysterious series of black-hued animals, and on your last visit a figure will arrive. This is the man who meets people at the crossroads and teaches them skills. He is called “the devil”, "the rider," the "li'l ol’ funny boy" or "the big black man." (In this situation "black" means the actual colour black and not a person of colour who is dark brown-skinned.) If you show no fear and stand your ground, "the devil" will take up the item you have brought with you and show you how to use it properly by using it himself. When "the devil" returns your item to you, you will possess the gift for excelling with that item.
Those who wish guidance in performing a crossroads ritual of this type may gain confidence and some measure of preparedness for the ordeal by scheduling a spiritual consultation or magical coaching session with a hoodoo rootdoctor who has done the work for him or herself.
How Conjure Doctors Work for Clients at a Crossroads
A root doctor or conjure worker may go down to the crossroads for clients to help them dispose of ongoing situations and conditions in their lives. Hoodoo rootworkers also call upon the spirits of the crossroads on behalf of their clients, gather crossroads stones for spell work, and dispose of or disperse items used in rituals and altar work.
The root doctor or conjure worker may also disperse work out into the crossroads to help spread magical spells such as money drawing and attracting a new lover out into the world to help call the desired effects back to their clients from the four corners of the world.
The rootworker or conjure doctor will also cast work out at the crossroads to scatter people apart, to break up couples, and banish or hot foot enemies of their clients, to set them roaming and make them wander out through the crossroads and into the world.
The Portable Crossroads
Not all rituals that use the crossroads need to take place at an actual crossroads. When laying tricks or casting magical spells some hoodoo practitioners use what is known as a “portable crossroads” or a circle with a cross inside, also called an “X” or “cross-mark”.
This portable crossroads or cross-mark can be drawn on the ground with a stick or on an altar with sachet powders. It may be painted on a wall or laid out on a blanket.
A symbolic crossroads may also be created with five dots rather than with two crossing lines. The dots go at the four points and the center of the area, in the same shape as seen on the five-side of a die or on a five of any suit of playing cards. When drawn this way, the pattern is not called a cross-mark or crossroads, but a “five-spot.” Its meaning remains the same, however.
A five-spot may be laid at the four corners of a bed, the four corners of a room, the four corners of a house or the four corners of a property, placing the space thus delineated at a metaphorical intersection between the world of spirit and the world of materiality.
The Crossroads in Other Cultures
Many of the spirits and deities from the African Traditional and African Diasporic religions are associated with the crossroads. In Lukumi and Santeria, the orisha associated with the crossroads is Eleggua. In the Congolese religion and its diasporic counterpart in the Americas, Palo Monte or Palo Mayombe, the mpungo associated with the crossroads is Nkuyu. In Voodoo (Vodou), there are several lwa associated with the crossroads including Papa Legba and Met Carrefour.
In India, the Hindu deities associated with the crossroads are Ganesha, the opener of the way, and Bhairava, an aspect of Shiva who protects the boundaries of villages which are delimited by crossroads.
In the Catholic Tradition the Catholic Church Saint, Saint Peter, is associated with the crossroads through his iconography showing the crossed keys of heaven. Saint Expedite is also associated with the crossroads because he holds a cross with the word "hodie" inscribed on it ("today" in Latin), and works quickly to make thing happen for those who petition him. There are also several Catholic Folk Saints who are venerated at the crossroads including Maximon (San Simon-Judas) and Santisima Muerte.
- Religious Traditions
- Magical Traditions
- Divination, Fortune Telling, and Oracles
- Hoodoo, Conjure, Witchcraft, and Rootwork
- Working with Spirits
AIRR Readers & Rootworkers Who Perform This Work for Clients