Encountering Liminal Deities At Crossroads, Where Veils Are Thinnest
In antiquity every village, town or city had a central crossroads, probably marked by the largest statue, fountain, temple or cathedral in the area. This is not by chance. Since prehistory crossroads have served communities as both functional and deeply mystical places where different paths converged. Historically routes, roads, paths and trails were symbolically associated with life’s journey, but crossroads held rich metaphorical significance for many ancient cultures, primarily because they were both meeting places and points of departure. Associated with human fate and fortune for at least 3,000 years, crossroads have also been associated with change, redirection and new life paths. However, because life’s path is speckled with hardship and tests, crossroads were imbued with religious and supernatural beliefs, such as the presence of demons, witches and a troupe of other divine beings.
The Gibbet of Montfauconat at a crossroad outside Paris. Dictionary of French Architecture from 11th to 16th Century (1856) by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (Public Domain)
Crossing Over to a Liminal Plain
In traditional folk stories and legends all over the world, crossroads are most often depicted as places where the boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds is thinnest. This meant crossroads were spots where one could potentially interact with supernatural entities or experience paranormal phenomena. But deeper still, symbolically, crossroads represented locations where two different realms intersected, and this is why crossroads emerged in mythology as powerful symbols of the liminal state, a place neither fully here nor there.
Liminality, or the state of being in between, can also occur at specific times, for example at sunrise, when night meets day. In the Celtic world, the Samhain festival (Halloween) celebrated the evening when the transition from summer to winter and from daylight to darkness occurred, was considered to be one of the most liminal times of the year, a threshold, when the boundary between worlds is at its thinnest. Crossroads were regarded as points of decision, where one chose between continuing on the same life path, or to take a bold new direction.
Studio portrait c. 1936, one of only three verified photographs of Johnson (Public Domain)
Tales of Encounters with Liminal Beings
One famous modern crossroads legend is that of Robert Johnson, a young blues musician living on a plantation in rural Mississippi. Johnson had a tremendous desire to become a rich and famous blues musician and he was instructed to go to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight.
For the price of a cup of coffee, you get this and all the other great benefits at Ancient Origins Premium. And - each time you support AO Premium, you support independent thought and writing.
Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history. www.ashleycowie.com.
Top Image: Umbrian-sienese anonim - Hercules at the crossroads (Public Domain)
By: Ashley Cowie