Crossroads

I honestly can’t remember where I first saw this site and how it ended up bookmarked on the laptop.  I DO know it attracted my attention because of the ‘Job Spells’ that ‘Doktor Snake’ is offering.  I remember seeing it and finding it intriguing, especially in light of my current situation.  I must have bookmarked it to explore the silliness further.

Not because I was going to inquire about his services or anything.

Really.

I wasn’t.

I’m not that desperate.

Yet.

Anyhoo.

I was browsing the site last night- looking at the other services and wisdom offered (beyond those that will land one one’s ‘dream job’. Seriously!)- and the archive of ‘Devil’s Pact’ posts caught my eye, given the weekend’s playlist and my brief mention of the deals done at the crossroads (not to mention the inclusion of a song by Wall of Voodoo…).

I love stuff like this.  Doktor Snake describes growing up and being taught all about Satan- but a Devil who is a trickster figure akin to Loki rather than the incarnation of pure evil, by the headmaster of the local Church school.

Hmmm.  Interesting.

Vodou(n) has always fascinated me.  Years and years ago, at a Writer’s festival, I had the electric experience of hearing Wade Davis speak.  He was like a real live Indy- only he searched for psychoactive plants among the indigenous cultures of North and South America rather than robbing tombs and fighting Nazis.

I read The Serpent and the Rainbow ages ago for the first time, and have picked it up a few times since (most recently after watching the first two seasons of Walking Dead and reading both The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z).  It’s anthropologicalifragilistic.  A very neato examination of the Haitian culture he is exposed to while searching for the combination of things that allows for the production of zombies.  But zombies are a topic for another day.

This post is all about the crossroads.

One of the reasons I have always been especially intrigued by Haitian Vodou is due to its syncretic nature- like the religions of the Mediterranean in Antiquity (especially my Gnostics).  In the New World, Vodou combined the traditional practices and beliefs of Western and Central Africa with Catholicism, Christian mysticism, Freemasonry and French culture.

In folklore and mythological traditions the world over the crossroads represents a liminal place- between the worlds- and the location of supernatural meetings.  The crossroads is neither here nor there- a Twilight Zone of sorts- out-of-place and time.

So it’s the perfect place to communicate with the otherworld.

In Vodou tradition Papa Legba is the loa (or lwa- the lesser spirits who take care of the prayers of humanity in the absence of the supreme ‘good god’, Bondye) associated with the crossroads.  In ceremonies, he is always the first and last to be invoked since he is the one who has to open and close the doorway between the worlds.  He is the crossroads- the gatekeeper, and as such is often associated with Saint Peter in the syncretism with Roman Catholicism that marks Haitian and Louisiana Vodou.

His veve– the symbol and ceremonial summoning focus- is a stylised version of the crossroads and representative of his role as messenger between the worlds.

As a messenger and guardian of the threshold, Papa Legba shares characteristics in common with a many other mythological figures.

Hermes was the Messenger of the gods of Olympus, but he was also in charge of transitions and boundaries.  In Egyptian tradition there appeared an amalgam of Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth that embodied the traits of both deities- as psychopomps (guides of souls to the afterlife) and the gods of writing, magic, astrology and alchemy.

This amalgamated god, worshiped at Hermopolis, further transformed into Hermes Trismegistus, the ‘Thrice-Great’ purported author of the Hermetic Corpus- the sacred texts that form the basis of Hermeticism.  These philosophical and technical writings and beliefs offered adherents guidance in attaining ascension from the physical form.

Hermes, Thoth, Papa Legba- they are all about communication, knowledge and change.  Liminal states are connected with rites of passage in many world traditions, so a meetings at the crossroads in order to communicate with the go-between spirit to effect a change that will enhance prowess or change circumstances seems pretty logical.

As is so often the case, the rituals and traditions of non-Christian religions often get a negative treatment when they are up against the ascendant power of Christendom.  So Papa Legba, and his connection with the crossroads, becomes the Devil.

Of course.

This transformation happened in light of the practice of Hoodoo- a form of folk magic and spirituality that evolved in parts of the US with large concentrations of African-American slaves.  Like Vodou, Hoodoo incorporated elements of biblical mythology in its characters and practices, describing the Big Book as ‘the greatest conjure book of them all.’

The purpose of Hoodoo is to grant access to supernatural powers that will improve the day-to-day lives of its followers.  Believers contact ancestors and other spirits of the dead, recite the Psalms, use herbs, minerals, a person’s possessions and animal parts in order to attain power or success.

American prejudices against the practices (and practitioners) of Hoodoo condemned them as selfish and dangerous and linked them with Satan-worship.  So any perceived results and benefits attained must have originated with the Devil himself.

Because of the commonality of origin (Hoodoo, like Vodou, is based in Western and Central African traditions, brought by slaves to North America), and incorporation of biblical characters, texts and themes, outsiders generally see no differences between the two.  Vodou motifs having to do with Papa Legba and the crossroads get all mixed up with Hoodoo conjuring as a means to improve one’s lot in life- and the misperception that such improvements stem from demonic intervention.

Marginalized religions equated with Devil-worship?  Yeah, that’s about par for the course.

Traditional thresholds and spirits as places and means of communication with higher powers becoming locations and incarnations of evil out to tempt and ensnare the souls of those with the hubris to try to better their lives through prayer and ritual (albeit unfamiliar prayer and ritual)?  Yep again.

The tendency of those in power (or the majority) to, literally, demonize the beliefs of the ‘other’ remains alive and well in both popular culture and societal norms.

The crossroads bargain (for all that it is the source of some pretty cool songs and stories) is another example of the insidiousness of the danger in externalizing and personifying evil as something ‘other’.  Traditions that fall outside of prescribed (majority) social models become unfavourably fictionalized or outright vilified.

Symbolically the crossroads, and those deities, spirits and rituals associated with it, speaks to our instincts of survival, improvement and willingness to change.  Impulses that are not demonic or devilish in the least.

Say what you want about Doktor Snake and the powers and knowledge he claims, he is, at least, aware of that reality.

Maybe I will give him shout…

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7 comments on “Crossroads

  1. […] ferried the souls of the dead between the worlds.  It was a place of liminality- like the Crossroads I talked about the other […]

  2. […] Fest one year (interestingly, it was on the same night as Wade Davis.  I spoke about that here) and listening to him read- and speak- in his quietly lyrical voice, was a pretty powerful […]

  3. […] giving them the characteristics of the other humans we encounter- good, bad, mischievous, helpful, indifferent- and that continuing to rely on these external forces (when we should have learned […]

  4. […] on the brain this week.  Since I haven’t yet succumbed to the lure of Doktor Snake in the whole job searching thing (but only just barely), I’ve been attempting to ‘work […]

  5. The first time I ever used the term ‘at a crossroads’ I would have been in my late teens. Reading this took me right back to the conversation I had at the time. I can still recollect how excited and scary it all felt that I had reached a place where decisions on my life were imminent. Part of the wonder and fear was trying to discern how much control I would have over choosing wisely, how much remained unquantifiable- really a walk into the unknown, guided mainly by my own judgements and feelings.
    I’m tingling reading this and thinking back to then. There have been those moments again but that early experience of setting out into what felt like the unknown was quite a pivotal point in where my life would go.
    And pretty glad I am that the only magic that came into it was the magical enthusiasm of youth for life and its potential.
    Nipping back to the linked post now. 🙂

    • colemining says:

      Anne-Marie- I have found myself at crossroads so very many times- and you’re right, it is exciting and scary, both.

      You know what’s hilarious? The search term that brings people to this blog most often? Doktor Snake. I wrote about the guy randomly once, and I’m still getting hits when people are looking for him. Between him and the fact that Google search seems to think I know how to exorcise Mesopotamian demons (and asking whether or not Don Henley is Xian- that’s a weirdly recurring one) I’m starting to feel like I need to start a side-line business!

      Thanks for clicking the link- this is actually one of my favourite posts. I’d kind of forgotten about it until I re-read it as I was linking the reblog.

      Hope the weekend is going well. See you soon! xo

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