Crossroads in storytelling often indicated the place/time of decision. A self-revelation occurs after the decision has been made. Character arc or penance follows. The ur-crossroads story features a character with special skills, who has supposedly traded his soul with the devil.
One such story, attached to an actual person, is the story of Robert Johnson, who was so good at guitar no one could believe he’d practised to get that expert. Robert Johnson helped the mythology along by writing a song called Crossroad.
But the mythology of the Father of Jazz goes back much further. In African folklore a deity called Esu was the guardian of the crossroads. Christianity turned this figure into the devil, feared and reviled.
Hecate was known as Queen of the Witches. She was also known as Goddess of the Crossroads, depicted in triple form.
In Celtic mythology, the corpses of people thought to be unholy were often buried at crossroads. The thinking behind this: Crossroads were the gate to the other world, so their bad souls would have no trouble departing Earth (where no one wanted them).
Japan also has a god of the crossroads, known as Chimata-no-kami (岐の神). Japanese god origin stories tend to be a bit whacky. According to the Kojiki, Chimata-no-kami was born when the god Izanagi threw away his trousers to wash himself after returning from Yomi. Crossroad symbolism works a bit differently in Japan — crossroads symbolise joining rather than division, and crossroads are therefore connected to fertility.
Crossroad symbolism can be seen in European fairy tale:
So the retinue was increased, and now [the twin brothers] came to a crossroad, where they said, “We’ve got to separate here, and one of us should go to the right, and the other should head off to the left.”“Johannes Waterspring and Caspar Waterspring”, a tale from the first Grimm collection
In folk magic and myth, crossroads are magical places. All sorts of supernatural and paranormal things were thought to take place at crossroads.
In other words, crossroads are a visual representation of a moral dilemma.
Examples From Children’s Literature
In 101 Dalmatians, a chase scene includes a crossroads shot, indicating that there are various possible routes. We don’t know if the villain will find the puppies because this is a maze-like world. It’s easy to get lost in this snowy landscape.
I made use of crossroads myself in our 2011 picture book app The Artifacts, to end the story, but also to create an aperture ending, which encourages the reader to extrapolate what happens next. After filling his mind with knowledge, there’s more than one path this young man could have taken in life. Armed with knowledge after a lifetime of reading, more than one choice opens before him.
We also see symbolic crossroads in:
- Garth Pig And The Ice Cream Lady by Mary Rayner
- The Cat Returns, a Studio Ghibli animation where we meet Muta, the white cat. There is no obvious aerial view of the crossroads, which is interesting. The crossroads are more metaphorical than actual. Instead of gothic trees and ravens, we are comforted by a cute coffee shop.
- And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street by Dr Seuss
CROSSROADS AND INNS
In Medieval Europe you’d often find an inn at crossroads for the simple reason that crossroads have excellent foot traffic.
These inns mostly catered to travellers, not to locals. Bread and beer could be bought by locals, but villages wouldn’t have other sources of prepared foods. Meals were normally cooked at home. (Medieval people ate a lot of lentils and onions. They didn’t use recipe books for the simple reason that most people couldn’t read.)
- Crossroads Motif on StorySearch
- Symbolically, train and bus stations can function in a very similar way. Though not technically shaped like a cross, the intersection of public transport travelling in two directions offers the movement version of a crossroad.
- This YouTube video explains the significance of the crop duster scene in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.
Header painting: Albert Ludovici – Mr. Pecksniff Leaves for London