One question I occasionally get asked is: “do you really believe you can make a pact with the Devil at the crossroads?”
Generally, my response is positive. Sure, why not? Now - do I think it is a “devil” in the literal sense? Not really. I consider the term ‘devil’ to be a gloss, which was impressed over other ideas. We come back to Wilby’s comments:
“The grass-roots association between fairies and the Devil was also, from a Christian perspective, rather ambiguous. In orthodox theological terms the name ‘devil’ denoted a purely malevolent spirit who was either the Devil himself or a demon in his service. On a popular level, however, the term was less morally specific. In 1677 a Scottish clergyman refers to a type of fairy familiar whom ‘the vulgar call white deviles, which possibly have neither so much power nor malice as the black ones have, which served our great grandfathers under the names of Brouny, and Robin Goodfellow, and, to this day, make dayly service to severaI in quality of familiars’.”
– Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk & Familiar Spirits. (P. 18)
For time immemorial, sorcerers have visited the crossroads to make deals with the spirit that haunted that place. It isn’t terribly surprising; the crossroads represent the liminal space in which the spirit world meets the physical. (Now - keep in mind - that I think that the distinction between the two is fuzzy as best. There have always been places in our world that were thought to overlap with the other.)
One path leads to the Underworld, or to quote Thomas Taylor’s translation of the Orphic Hymn to Hermes Kthonios, deepest Hell. During the medieval period, the classical Underworld of the Graeco-Roman period was translated into the Christian Hell, and as time went on, those spirits and gods who frequented that world were diabolized and thought of as demons. This tendency is especially relevant when we look at the Grimoires - because I assure you, there was a time when Astaroth / Astarte was not seen as a demon.
The other path leads to ‘Starry Heaven’ - the above of the Heavenly Gods; but also in the darker parts, the horrible specters that were imported into it as astrological magic gained prevalence and former Underworld denizens were placed in the Heavens as the intelligences of certain stars. The fixed star ‘Caput Algol,’ which is regarded as malefic just about the world over (it is called ‘Ras al-Ghul' in the Middle East, or 'The Head of the Demon,' and in China it was named 'Tseih She' - 'piled up corpses').
The final road symbolically leads back to our own. So we have a balance of all things represented at the three-point (T or Y junction) crossroad. Plato complained of sorcerers bringing pottery shards to such places so as to have the dead - those ghosts who became trapped at the liminal junction of all worlds - enact horrific love-curses against others. The PGM has more than a few rituals and spells that are to be performed at the crossroads. Georg Luck, in Arcana Mundi, notes:
“A picturesque term for ‘‘witch’’ attested in Byzantine texts is graus trioditis, shorthand for ‘‘old woman busying herself at the meeting of three ways.’’ These were points outside of cities lined with tombs where Hecate, goddess of the underworld, had been worshiped in pagan times and where all sorts of fortune-tellers, charlatans, and sorcerers used to go about their business. Trioditis by itself can mean a ‘‘streetwalker.’’ In the Byzantine era, such figures may be partly literary relics, but life being
what it is, they were probably still real enough.”
It should be noted that Trioditis is also a title of Hekate’s, specifically the form of Hekate that rules the crossroads and ghostly inhabitants that have it as a stomping ground.
Where we come back to the notion that the ‘Devils’ frequenting such spheres are the dead and their rulers (and trust me - Hermes Kthonios can totally appear as the Man-in-Black - at least in my experience) is with the crossover between the dead and the fairies themselves. In 1576, the cunning-woman Bessie Dunlop testified that she had a fairy familiar named Tom Reid, who took her to see many strange and interesting sights - including a version of the Furious Horde or Wild Hunt:
“[Being] asked if ever she had spoken with him at a loch and water side, [she] answered - never, save once, when she had gone afield with her husband to Leith12 for home-bringing of meal. Going afield to tether her nag at Restalrig Loch there came a company of riders by that made such a din as [if] heaven and earth had gone together, and suddenly they rode into the loch, with many [a] hideous rumble. But Tom told [her] it was the gude wichtis [“good fairies”] that were riding in Middle-earth.”
(Emma Wilby, Cunning-folk and Familiar Spirits. P. xiv.)
Later on, Wilby comments
“There is no doubt that allegiance to nature spirits and pagan deities masqueraded behind the worship of the saints; that ancient traditions of ancestor worship lay at the core of the cult of the dead and that the most sacred events in the Christian calendar, such as Christmas and Easter, were superimposed over already-existing pre-Christian religious festivals.”
Now, this is often taken out of context by folk. There’s a lot of pagan discussions about how Christians ‘stole’ holy days, and the like. But rather, what appears to have happened is older ‘traditions’ were overlaid with new ones: the Benandanti became ecstatic and performed fertility battles and had nocturnal parties during the ‘Ember Days,’ or the ‘Feasts of the Four Seasons.’ With the necromancers (Clerici Vagantes) of the Venusberg, we again see ecstatic performances during the Ember Days and attempts to raise the ‘Furious Horde’, as well as an understanding of the kinship between themselves and the ecstatics that composed it.
Can you make a deal with the ‘devil’ and spirits at the crossroads? Well, sure. We have always gone to the crossroads to make our Pacts with the intercessors and spirits that dwell in that place.
Some are dangerous, and can promise to aid us in a desire with revenge. Others are more benign. But to the crossroads is where we go, and where we have always gone. But they - those fearsome specters and beautiful ones alike - still may not be the literal things you expect them to be.
Nothing emerges from a vacuum.