Saturday, November 6, 2010

Crossroads and The Key of Solomon

From Barbara G. Walker's The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets:

In the Greco-Roman world, crossroads were sacred to the elder Diana under the name of Hecate Trevia (Hecate of the Three Ways), mother of the Lares compitales, "spirits of the crossroads."  Travelers made offerings to the Goddess' three-faced images, and regular festivals called Compitalia were celebrated at her roadside shrines.(1)

Four-way crossroads were sometimes dedicated to Hermes, whose ithyphallic herms stood beside them until replaced by Christians' roadside crosses.  However, the Christian sign of the cross was copied from Hermes' cult and traced his sacred numeral 4 on the worshipper's head and breast.  Hermetic crosses were left at the crossroads of 10th-century Ireland and simply re-interpreted as Christian symbols, though they plainly displayed the twin serpents of the pagan caduceus, another sign of the older deity.(2)

Cross, herm, and caduceus merged in northern symbolism with the gallows tree of Odin/Wotan, "God of the Hanged," which led to the Christian custom of erecting a gallows at crossroads as well as a crucifix. The god on the gallows once played the same role as Jesus on the cross: a dying-god image rendered the crossroads numimous.  Pre-Christian Europeans held waymeets, or moots, at crossroads to invoke their deities' attention to the proceedings; hence a moot point used to be one to be decided at a meet.  The Goddess as Mother Earth, dispenser of "natural law," and creatress of birth-and-death cycles, was always present where the dying god died - as the women long remembered.  the English monk Aelfric complained of female customs dedicating newborn infants to the ancient Mother.  Women would "go to the crossways and drag their children over the earth, and thereby give both themselves and the children to the Devil."(3)
The Key of Solomon
As the crossroads ceremonies and their deities became diabolized, the Goddess of the waymeet became the queen of witches, who still worked magic there.  The Key of Solomon* said crossroads were the best of all places for magical procedures "during the depth of silence of the night.(4)  Ghosts of the hanged, of the heathen, and of anicent oracles still haunted crossroads.  Bernard Ragner** said a spirit voice would foretell the future to anyone who went to a crossroad at the last hour of Christmas Eve.  As late as the 1920's, English farmers still believed witches' sabbats were held at crossroads.  Neocromantic superstitions were encouraged by the custom of burying criminals and suicides in unhallowed ground at crossroads; clergymen said anyone so buried would walk as a ghost.  Sometimes, such corpses were pinned down with a stake: "A stake was driven through them when deposited at the cross-roads in order to keep the ghost from wandering abroad,"(5)  Presumably, the ghost could be consulted in situ, just as spirits could be raised from their graves in the churchyard by any necromancer.

Thus Hermes and Hecate, who led the souls of the dead in antiquity, became dread spirits of "witchcraft" in the same places that they once benevolently ruled.

(1)  Hyde, 137.
(2)  Campbell, M.I., 337.
(3)  Briffault 3, 58.
(4)  Wedeck 153.
(5)  Summers, V., 154-57.

* Key of Solomon
(Clavicule de Salomon)
A popular "Black Book" or magic book much used between the 11th and 13th centuries A.D.

** Bernard Ragner
Author of Legends and Customs of Christmas, 1925.

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