At the Crossroads

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I'm sure the raven isn't important.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Just like bridges, crossroads often feature as the setting for portentous happenings - there's something symbolic about the (often ancient) intersection of two paths that gets people's imaginations going. Often they are used to represent the intersection between two worlds.

Crossroads also tend to represent places where a character can make a life changing decision, especially if there is conflict over which path to take.

This is very popular with Fairy Tales - especially associated with The Devil or The Fair Folk and Wicca, Voodoo, Hoodoo, Vodun and other occult magic circles. This is a common place for a Deal with the Devil. The crossroads are often chosen for safety, as there's a vague idea that ghosts, sprites and demons may find them confusing to navigate. Burying a vampire at a crossroads is one of the precautions you can take to make sure he cannot rise again.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Me and the Devil Blues RJ sells his soul to the devil after playing the blues at the crossroads.
  • One of the characters of The Voynich Hotel has a crossroads as a meeting place with one of the demons residing on the island. The person is "Snark", the serial killer that has been terrorizing Blefuscu since before the story started and Alice's sister. She made a Deal with the Devil for the "Demon's Claw +2", a set of long claws which apparently are great for killing and making cake. The demon is simply called Demona, and was the one who made the contract with RJ himself.

Comics
  • The Incredible Hulk was banished to "The Crossroads" by Doctor Strange when he was "mindless" to (A) get him away from Earth and (B) let him choose where he wanted to live. But he never found a place he liked and eventually he was brought back to Earth.
  • Hellboy: In Wake the Devil, Hellboy is tied up and left at the crossroads as an offering for the vampire Guirescu; he meets Hecate there immediately afterwards. In "The Body", Hellboy waits at a crossroads to meet a trio of The Fair Folk.
  • In The Sandman, Morpheus specifically goes to a crossroads to summon the Hecatae, because they are the goddesses of fate and, their holy places are always where choices are made.

Fairy Tales
  • In Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf, the three princes find a stone at a crossroad warning of the perils on each way. Two turn back.
  • In The King of England and his Three Sons, collected by Joseph Jacobs, the princes part on their quest at a cross road.
  • In The Three Princes and their Beasts, collected by Andrew Lang in The Violet Fairy Book, the three princes separate at a crossroad, leaving marks so the others can known their fates if they retrn.
    Towards evening they came to a clearing in the wood, where three birches grew at the crossing of three roads. The eldest prince took an arrow, and shot it into the trunk of one of the birch trees. Turning to his brothers he said:
    'Let each of us mark one of these trees before we part on different ways. When any one of us comes back to this place, he must walk round the trees of the other two, and if he sees blood flowing from the mark in the tree he will know that that brother is dead, but if milk flows he will know that his brother is alive.
    '

Film
  • This is where the brothers meet Big Dan Teague in O Brother, Where Art Thou?? as well as well as Tommy Johnson after he made a Deal with the Devil.
  • Near the end of Cast Away, the intersection is symbolic.
  • The 1986 Ralph Macchio movie Crossroads mirrors the Robert Johnson legend, and hinges on this trope.
  • It is in a crossroad that not only Buster and Fred meet in The Fearless Four, but also where the arrows indicating the direction to Paris and Bremen are switched, driving thus the plot of the story.
  • In Soviet propaganda film Earth, Khoma Bilokin kills Vasyl at the crossroads, symbolizing the choice that Ukranian peasantry has to make, between collectivization and sharing the land between everyone (what Vasyl wants), and to resist change and selfishly hold on to private land (the Bilokin family won't give up their land to the collective).
  • In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and his father arrive at a crossroads, debating whether they should head to Berlin to get his father's grail diary back, or to Venice, to go to Alexandretta to save Marcus from the Nazis. Given the theme of the movie, there's great emphasis upon the term "cross".
  • Appropriately enough, in Faust, the rather serious choice to summon the Devil must take place at a crossroads. (As noted below in the Mythology section traditional European folklore holds that evil spirits or Satan must be summoned at a crossroads.)
  • The Blood of Jesus: When Martha starts her Adventures in Comaland, the angel tells Martha to bear right at the crossroads if she wants to go to Heaven. Sure enough, there's an actual crossroads, with a cross in the middle. The left side of the cross is labeled "to Hell", and there's a jazz band performing there. The right side is labeled "to Zion". Martha doesn't actually take a turn; instead she collapses at the foot of the cross and the blood of Christ redeems her.

Live-Action TV
  • In Supernatural, deals with "crossroads demons", the ones that actually make deals that both parties are bound to, have to be made at crossroads. These demons can be summoned with some personal effects, a bag of graveyard dirt, a black cat's bone, and a few other things. Once you've summoned the demon, just Be Careful What You Wish For when you make your Deal with the Devil.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left", Donna's decision whether to turn left or right at a road intersection determines the path her whole life will take and eventually affects the fate of the entire universe.

Literature
  • Charles de Lint has a character based on the legend of the guitarist at the crossroads.
    • Also, in Seven Wild Sisters, Bess and Laurel meet one of The Fair Folk at a crossroads made by deer paths. Bess remembers the trope but not in time to get away.
  • Tamora Pierce's series of books set in the Tortall universe has the big gods, like Mithros (war and justice), and the Goddess (fertility, women, agriculture), but it also has minor gods like Weiryn (god of the hunt for a small mountainous area), and rather hilariously a god of crossroads, NOT a god of travelers, just a god of ACTUAL crossroads.
  • Alan Gordon's medieval mystery An Antic Disposition (a retelling of the Ur-Hamlet) begins with two people meeting by chance at a crossroads. The narration says, "A crossroads, properly designed, reminds you that you are making a choice."
  • Dean Koontz' novella "Strange Highways" has the protagonist, Joe Shannon, change his life when he returns to a crossroads where one of the roads, destroyed 20 years before, is there again. Naturally this is the one he takes.
  • Happens rather a lot in Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, naturally enough as there's a force in this world that tries to make things happen the way they do in fairy tales, we see several secret tests of character at a crossroads from the POV of both the testee and the tester.
  • Several significant events in A Song of Ice and Fire happen at The Inn at the Crossroads (between the kingsroad running north-south, the river road west to the Riverlands, and the high road east to the Vale of Arryn). Catelyn Stark encounters Tyrion Lannister there and decides to arrest him, triggering war between House Lannister and Stark/Tully. Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane have a fight with the Mountain's Men, causing them to part after Sandor is seriously wounded. And Brienne of Tarth is captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners, leading to a choice between Conflicting Loyalties.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, he cites as one example of a small god: "the spirits of places where two ant trails cross"
    • Reaper Man uses the burial part of the myth. The wizards are trying to send a zombie on to the afterlife and, after checking out the relevant myths, decide that burying him on a crossroad is worth a try. As it turns out, using the intersection of the two busiest roads in Ankh-Morpork will probably keep down even the most energetic zombie, but the carriage drivers are not all that happy about the wizards digging during rush hour.

Music
  • Many folk songs, e.g. The Devil Went Down To Georgia, and Widdecomb Fair.
  • Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues," while ostensibly about a failed attempt to hitch a ride, is often linked to the legend that Johnson made a Deal with the Devil for the ability to play music (a legend more supported by his "Me and the Devil Blues").
    • Robert wasn't even the first blues musician named Johnson to claim to have sold his soul - his predecessor, Tommy Johnson, made similiar claims. The film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, as described above, features a fictionalized version of Tommy with aspects of Robert - namely, setting his Deal with the Devil at a crossroads.
  • Driving South by The Stone Roses on their album Second Coming makes reference to both the crossroads and Johnson's song.
  • Miwa Gemini's song "Crossroads" references the myth in its lyrics: "Don't go to the crossroad / a ghost is there, waiting for you", and "Don't sell your soul to the Devil / you know I love you so much".

Other
  • The Ancient Egyptians valued the symbolism highly enough that the hieroglyph representing a city, town, or settlement was a crossroad shape.

Tabletop Games
  • In Exalted there's a road-making demon, Jacinth, but he can't make his roads cross with each others. Going under or over is fine. If there is a crossroad, then it's not made by Jacinth.
  • One remote crossroads in the world of Ars Magica is the home of Ephram, a wandering penitent who stopped for a rest and came to realize that he wasn't aging and somehow knew how to give directions to any passer-by. It's also easy to find by people who are lost, impossible to reach by people who are looking for it, and saturated with holy power.

Theatre
  • The Well of the Saints, a play by Irish writer J M Synge about a blind man who is cured, partially takes place at a crossroads to represent the boundary between reality and the supernatural and between blindness and sight.
  • Oedipus Rex has an encounter at a crossroads that ends violently and then a bunch of other stuff happens.
  • The Black Rider, a musical by Tom Waits and William S. Burroughs and adapted from a Weber opera, features this at the site of its Deal with the Devil. There's even a song called "Crossroads".

Western Animation
  • In an episode of Metalocalypse, the band members are urged by one Mashed Potato Johnson (an obvious reference to the Robert Johnson legend) to sell their souls to the Devil in exchange for the ability to play blues music. They go to a crossroads to do so, and Hilarity Ensues when their negotiations result in the contract being significantly in their favor.

Video Games
  • In Tales of Monkey Island, pirates go to the Crossroads when they die. There's also some nice symbolism at the end when Guybrush uses a spell to get back to the land of the living.
  • There is a crossroads in front of Castle Oblivion in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Inside, Sora choses to forget everything from Castle Oblivion, including his new friend Namine, in order to regain his older memories.
  • Shepard is faced with a crossroads on the Citadel at the very end of Mass Effect 3. S/he either goes left to control the Reapers, straight ahead to merge synthetic and organic life, or right to destroy the Reapers.

Web Comics

Web Original
  • The SCP Foundation's SCP-023 is a spectral hound, based on the mythological black shuck, who can only be contained in crossroads and other intersections, such as the intersection of two corridors.

Western Animation
  • In the Animated Adaptation of Soul Music, Buddy is standing at the crossroads where the road from Llamedos forks to Quirm and Ankh-Morpork when he swears that one day everyone will know he's the greatest musician in the world, thereby allowing Music With Rocks In into this reality. (In the book, choosing which road is an important choice, but beyond that the crossroads isn't significant.)

Mythology
  • The Older Than Feudalism Ur-example and Trope Maker is probably the goddess Hecate of Classical Mythology who was goddess of the crossroads as well as her prominent realms of the dead, ghosts, magic, night and moonlight (if you didn't live in a region big on Artemis or Selene). Like other deities of paths such as Hermes or the Roman Janus, her offerings would be placed at the crossroads so she would control the evil spirits that walked along them. The Romans had a comparable deity Trivia (though one a bit Darker and Edgier) so this aspect continued strongest. This rite survived for quite a while into the Christianisation of Europe which leads to religious figures specifically demonising the practice which leads to the strong Deal with the Devil associations throughout Western Civilisation.
  • Voodoo in particular has a fascination with the crossroads as symbolism. Papa Legba is the lwa of the crossroads that serve as the boundary between the living and the dead. Kalfou, his evil side is also associated with them.
  • There are old legends that vampires and other supernatural creatures must be buried at a crossroads.
  • Also, folklore tells us vampires get disoriented (or even driven mad) at crossroads, and cannot tell one direction for another. Urban vampires seem to have developed a strong resistance to this weakness, especially those that frequent downtown districts.
  • There was an old German folk belief that a man can turn into a werewolf if he goes at a full moon's night to a crossroad, wearing nothing but a belt made of a wolf's pelt. At midnight, the transformation will happen.

Real Life
  • According to legend, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar at a Crossroads. Many other uses of crossroads (like on Supernatural) are based on this legend.
  • Another blues singer, Tommy Johnson, is also said to gone to the crossroads to sell his soul. He is the blues singer depicted in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and often confused with Robert Johnson, due to their similar last name.
  • Criminals were sometimes executed at crossroads, then buried there. Likewise, people who committed suicide and were therefore unqualified to enter Heaven were buried at a crossroads when available. Certainly those suspected of being vampires (also unqualified) were. And until the 1800s, so were actors.
    • The rationale for this was that the unquiet spirit would not know which of the roads to follow in order to seek vengeance on the living.
  • Note that in the ages before exact maps, standardized road signage, Google Earth and GPS systems, crossroads indeed had an inherent danger: Take the wrong road, and you end up hundreds of miles away from where you wanted to go. (Of course, in some cases this may have led to a better life for the people involved.) Still not surprising that people started to associate crossroads with fear.
  • Tsujigiri is the samurai tradition of trying out a new sword or fighting technique on a person encountered at a crossroads. In medieval times, this would have been a formalized duel between samurai, but in the Sengoku period this degraded to murdering a hapless passerby.

And that has made all the difference.
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