Those of a certain age, when they think of the state of Georgia, may hear an old Charlie Daniels Band tune playing in their head. For those of you not familiar with the song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a classic Southern Rock tune that tells the story of the devil getting into a fiddling contest with a young man named Johnny. Johnny cleans the devil’s clock and wins a golden fiddle from Old Nick but it is made clear that he does this at risk of his immortal soul.
The devil seems to pop up a lot in Southern lore. There were persistent rumors that the blues man, Robert Johnson, sold his soul to the devil in order to become one of the best blues guitar players of his time. Like the Scottish pipers and fiddlers who were said to have gained their skill from the faery, any musician who showed a sudden, marked increase in talent could be the subject of whispers that he or she had gone down to the crossroads and made a deal with that ole devil. The question that we have to ask ourselves though is, who is this devil that everyone seemed to be making a deal with?
No, Virginia, we are not talking about a whole herd of Satanists selling themselves to the Christian Adversary. While Satan and his minions certainly do exist, I would maintain that they are, for the most part, creatures who the people of the Abrahamic religions have given great power through their fear and loathing (and sometimes secret desire to just give in and sin a little bit). I am the first to say that there are predators in the Otherworld and that there may even be beings who are the unbalanced versions of the angelic host but I do not see a demon under every rock and I certainly do not feel that Satan, the Prince of this alleged group of fallen angels, spends a lot of time hanging around crossroads trying to collect souls one at a time.
Rather, I suspect that the “devil” that is encountered at the crossroads is an altogether different sort of being. In the Afro-Carribean religions such as Vodou, crossroads are the specific haunts of the lwa known as Papa Legba, the opener of the way between the world of men and the world of the lwa. The Greeks had Hekate, the Lady of the Three Fold Way, as their crossroads deity and so popular was she that her statues adorned many crossroads in Greece and offerings were laid at her feet to ensure safe travel. We can even see traces of the crossroads idea in the Norse Odhinn to whom crossroads were sacred (although, I would not ask the Old One for safe travel, crossroads were the site of hangings and the hanged were sacred to Him).
So, crossroads deities seem to have a strong tie in with the idea of opening the way. Sometimes, the way is a physical one and the appeal is for safe travel in this world. At other times, those who walk the inner planes will work with a Way Opener in order to facilitate and ease their own travels.
There is another way in which the Opener of the Way can assist someone. In those circumstances where an individual feels blocked or obstructed in some way, they can ask the assistance of one of the Way Openers to help clear that obstruction or even to help them learn a skill that will assist them in walking their road through life. This is where deals with the “devil” come in.
Orion Foxwood recently published a book on conjure called The Candle and the Crossroads and one of the very interesting chapters in that book deals with just this phenomenon. Mr. Foxwood refers to the being with which one deals at the crossroads as the Dark Rider and this is what he has to say about that being:
. . .I was told that he was not evil but rather very old and powerful and that he came from either Africa or Europe. I think he came from both places.
There is a lot of information in the name the Dark Rider. First, he is dark, or at least made out of the power of the night. This suggests that he is an in-between spirit who can only be encountered when light and night dance under the shadow of true moon. Second, he is a rider, or in movement, which indicates that his power and spirit nature is change . . .
Foxwood also states, “But I warn you that though he does not require you to sell your immortal soul to him, he does require integrity and a promise from you in exchange for the road openings he provides . . . “. I think it goes without saying that this is a being that one would not want to trifle with and that, if you give your word, you had better be very sure you can keep it. If approached with respect (and Foxwood presents a fairly simple rite for doing this) the Dark Rider can and will open the way for the petitioner in practically any aspect of life.
As I mentioned before, it is not unknown for someone who wishes to learn an instrument, for example, to petition the Dark Rider for “lessons”. There are even stories of this “man” appearing to the fledgling musician, taking the instrument, tuning it and handing it back after playing a little riff. After that meeting, the musician was quickly able to learn his chosen instrument.
Since all things are supposed to come from God in the Abrahamic religions, it is no wonder that this powerful spirit has been demonized and turned into yet another version of the “devil”. While I do not encourage people to go out and seek the Dark Rider unless and until they have had some good training in conjure, my own work with crossroads spirits tells me that, while this fellow could scare the bejabbers out of you, he is not innately evil or seeking to “get over” on you.
If you are at all interested in conjure, I recommend Foxwood’s work as a good way to get grounded into and started with that practice.