Crossroads (culture)

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A crossroads is a road junction, where two or more roads meet. In British English it is specifically defined as being where two roads cross each other (there are exactly 4 arms). While in American English it can refer to a road intersection with any number of arms.[citation needed]

The term is often used metaphorically, as an abstraction of places or occasions where people meet. Unlike the terms road intersection and road junction, crossroads is used in a more figurative or poetic sense (similar to fork in the road).

As a metaphor, "to be at a crossroads" refers to any turning point with an unpredictable outcome (the literal meaning of crisis).

Crossroads is also a frequent toponym, given to a hamlet located at such a junction.



Another interpretation of the crossroad hinted at by some blues songs is that point at which a particular road is taken in life. Originally the blues "Crossroads" was a literal right-angle crossing of two railroads - "where the Southern cross the Dog" - in Moorhead, Mississippi. The "Southern" was a line of the Southern Railway, sold to the Columbus and Greenville Railway in 1920, and the "Dog" was the "Yellow Dog", officially the Yazoo and Delta Railroad, part of the Illinois Central Railroad system after 1897. This place is mentioned in a number of blues, including the recorded works of W. C. Handy and Bessie Smith. The term remained an important metaphor in the blues tradition, one of the most notable examples is the famous Cross Road Blues, recorded in 1936 by Robert Johnson.


In the folk magic of many cultures, the crossroads is a location "between the worlds" and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place. Symbolically, it can mean a locality where two realms touch and therefore represents liminality, a place literally "neither here nor there", "betwixt and between".

This is particularly pronounced in conjure, rootwork, and hoodoo, a form of African American magical spirituality. In conjure practice, it is said that in order to acquire facility at various manual and body skills, such as playing a musical instrument, throwing dice, or dancing, one may attend upon a crossroads a certain number of times, either at midnight or just before dawn, and one will meet a "black man," whom some call the Devil, who will bestow upon one the desired skills. Evidence of this practice can be found in 20th century blues songs, such as Sold It to the Devil by Black Spider Dumpling (John D. Twitty). Although many modern listeners believe that the premier song about soul-selling at a crossroads is Cross Road Blues by Robert Johnson, the song may be a description of standing at a cross roads and trying to "flag a ride" or hitch-hike; the sense of foreboding coming from the singer's apprehension of finding himself, a young black man in the 1920s deep south, alone after dark and at the mercy of passing motorists.[1] Others believe Robert Johnson sang this song in regards to the deal that was made with Legba in which Johnson exchanged his soul for his extraordinary guitar skills that seemed to appear suddenly. It should be noted, however that the idea of selling your soul for instrumental skills pre-dates the American South as several virtuoso classical musicians such as Paganini had stories told about selling their soul for music prowess (and that story may reference back to medieval troubadour doing something similar). The selling your soul for guitar power story has become a staple in both rock and metal guitarists.

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