C is for Crossroads
Symbols in Stories from Around the World
Choosing a path at the crossroads is a decision that can be between:
- Life and Death;
- Freedom and Captivity;
- Happiness or Sadness.
No matter the outcome, the crossroads is a time of risk and opportunity.
Being that we are called “Story Crossroads,” the crossroads symbol is of great importance.
No longer will things continue as they have always been. There is always a change—for good or ill—at the crossroads. With change, comes transformation.
At dusk, people in Japan say that one can hear the future or determine the fate of oneself or of others. A person walking at those crossroads could be a deity in disguise. Good fortune could abound if near the right traveler of these powers. Ever enjoy a fortune cookie also known as rice-crackers with paper fortunes inside? Some people would sell these edible delights at the crossroads.
The crossroads have also been a place of bad fortune. Witches, demons, or even the Devil himself could roam about this place as believed throughout Europe. The selling and taking of souls is a common practice there. The crossroads was often dedicated to Hecate, the goddess of magic, witchcraft, ghosts, and necromancy. Another Greek figure, Hercules, is sometimes depicted in art as being at the crossroads and choosing between the easy path of vice or the mountains of virtue.
Every criminal had a choice before choosing a nefarious life. Thus, several executions, such as by hanging, happened at the crossroads. Finally, the corpses were buried there, encouraging the rise and lingering of ghosts.
The shape of the crossroads, a “+,” can mean where heaven and earth meet with the horizontal line being earth while the vertical line is heaven. However, when crossroads are on flat land, then there is equality with the lines and means partnership or coming into understanding.
A couple stories that feature a crossroads would be:
- “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Caroll has a classic scene of Alice asking the Cheshire Cat which way to go. The Cheshire Cat asked, “Where do you want to go?” Alice did not know to which the Cheshire Cat said, “Then, it doesn’t matter.”
- “Bearskin” is a story collected by the Brothers Grimm. A man makes a deal with the devil at the crossroads. He must wear a coat for seven years, be called “Bearskin,” and cannot bathe or cut his hair or nails that entire time.
- “Godfather Death” is a story from Germany where a poor man who had his 13th child seeks a godfather at the great highway crossroads. The first one met was God, then the Devil, and finally Death. The man choose Death as he feels Death is fair no matter the status of someone. The son grows up and comes upon a symbolic crossroads when deciding to heal despite warnings by Death.
What stories do you know that involves a crossroads? Do you know any that involve the devil or a mischievous character? Do you know any that involve a crone or other disguised individual that offers good fortune? Please comment below and share with others of this post.
While you enjoy this blog, Story Crossroads has year-round offerings including the culminating Festival on May 24, 2017 (see schedule here: https://storycrossroads.com/2017-schedule/).
We thank our fiscal sponsor, the Utah Storytelling Guild, as well as our funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Western States Arts Federation, Utah Humanities, the City of Murray, the South Jordan Arts Council, the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership and many other individuals. Join us in the support by attending or donating or both! (Click here to go directly to donation page.)