Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Black Man At The Crossroads

Note: Makes sure to read the section titled "controversy" at the end of this blog post.

In Hoodoo lore, The Black Man At The Crossroads is a survival of an African Trickster Spirit. Similar entities can still be found in the living religions of Voodou, Santeria, Lukumi, Candomble, IFA, and the like. Since Hoodoo is not a religion, The Black Man is not worshipped, but he is to be highly respected. Because of his trickster nature, the Black Man is often called, 'The Devil', but such title is most definitely not one that is synonymous with the Biblical Satan. Instead, the term, 'The Devil' is a reference to the trickster nature of the entity. Similar African tricksters associated with the crossroads have also been referred to as 'The Devil'.

Confusions arises with the false equation between The Black Man and Satan, for which lore arises concerning 'selling one's soul', usually in exchange for material prosperity, fame or fortune.

In Hoodoo lore, The Black Man At The Crossroads is a spiritual entity that, if the proper ritual is carried out, can magically bestow a skill or knowledge unto the seeker. The difference between meeting up with The Black Man and traditional demon-pacts of lore is primarily that The Black Man does not bestow material prosperity, only teaches and bestows skill or knowledge. The belief that one must forfeit one's soul to The Black Man is incorrect as well, and again arises from the mistaken equation of the The Black Man to the Biblical Satan. In some tales, The Black Man doesn't bestow his gift for free, that in return for his blessing he requires 7 years of service, but there is no lore about eternal damnation or the loss of a human soul in exchange.

Appearance: First and foremost, the phrase, 'The Black Man At The Crossroads', does not refer to the color of his skin, though the spirit could choose to appear as an African-American if he so chooses. Instead, the phrase concerns the manner of his dress. When in human form, The Black Man wears black clothing. As to his appearance, The Black Man is said to appear in any number of forms, though usually black-colored animals like cats, dogs, snakes, roosters, and other birds are most common. Depending on the ritual, The Black Man may appear in a different form each evening, as most rituals used to evoke a meeting with him require traveling to the crossroads on consecutive nights. On the last night, The Black Man will appear in human form.

Lore: When meeting The Black Man, one must bring an object that symbolizes the skill one wishes to possess, such as a guitar for example. (For guitar players it is said that one must clip their nails until the bleed prior to going to meet The Black Man.) The Black Man will watch for awhile and then ask for the item. Using the guitar scenario, The Black Man might tune it and give it back to the individual. From that day on, the person will be blessed with skill for the guitar. -That's how it works. No signing in blood. No baby sacrifices. No selling one's soul or eternal damnation. Please don't misunderstand me. Meeting The Black Man At The Crossroads is no Sunday Picnic. For one, The Black Man is not guaranteed to appear. For another, he will do his best to 'scare the crap' out of individuals seeking him, a sort of test of their worthiness. In legend the seeker must control their fear and stand their ground, not running away or else The Black Man will not appear.

The Ritual: The ritual to make contact with The Black Man At The Crossroads usually involves an individual going alone to a nearby deserted crossroads at midnight for nine consecutive nights. One might clip their nails until they bleed before doing so. One is to bring an object with them that symbolizes the knowledge or skill one wishes to possess. The Black Man with manifest as a different animal each night and do his best to frighten the seeker. The seeker must stand his ground and remain strong, not running off or else the rite is broken. If the seeker passes the test, then on the ninth night The Black Man will appear in human form, ask for the item from the seeker, fiddle with it, and then return it. From that time on the seeker will be magically blessed with the skill or knowledge they requested. In exchange for his gifts, The Black Man may require 7 years of service, though every indication is that such shall take place while one is alive and has nothing to do with one's eternal soul.

Legends and rituals of The Black Man At The Crossroads (As recorded by Harry Middleton Hyatt):

Vol.2, pp.1357-58

Well, now, at de fo'k of a road, if it's somethin' tedious dat yo' want a undertake tuh do an' yo' jes' feel dat chew cain't accomplish it or somekind, yo' read de Psalms in de Bible dat yo' reads. Yo' read de 91 Psalms. Yo' read dat 91 Psalm but chew have tuh read it fo' nine days. Yo' read de 91 Psalms fo' nine days an' at de same hour of de day. An' now, goin' to de fo'k of dis road, yo' have tuh be at de fo'k of dis road at twelve a'clock in de night. Dat is, it no partic'lar rule, butjes' anywhere where a fo'k is, yo' see. An' yo' read dis 91 Psalms an' yo' have tuh pray an' yo' have tuh axe God tuh send dis spirit dere tuh meet chew dere, tuh meet chew dere at de fo'kof dis road. Now, when yo' git to de fo'k of dis road, yo' gonna see all kindathingdat yo' want a undertake tuh do an' yo' jes' feel dat chew cain't accomplish it or somekind, yo' read de Psalms in de Bible dat yo' reads. Yo' read de 91 Psalms. Yo' read dat 91 Psalm but chew have tuh read it fo' nine days. Yo' read de 91 Psalms fo' nine days an' at de same hour of de day. An' now, goin' to de fo'k of dis road, yo' have tuh be at de fo'k of dis road at twelve a'clock in de night. Dat is, it no partic'lar rule, butjes' anywhere where a fo'k is, yo' see. An' yo' read dis 91 Psalms an' yo' have tuh pray an' yo' have tuh axe God tuh send dis spirit dere tuh meet chew dere, tuh meet chew dere at de fo'kof dis road. Now, when yo' git to de fo'k of dis road, yo' gonna see all kindathing. Yo' may git frightened. Yo' read dis Psalms. (You read that for nine days but you don't go out to the fork of the road?)No, yo' don't go dere, yo' readin' dis Psalms an' yo' preparin' yo'self tuh go dere - yo' preparing tuh go dere. Now, yo' read dis fo' nine days now. Today is de ninth day, see. Now, yo' goin' dere tonight. Yo' goin' dere at twelve a'clock tonight. See. Now yo' readin' dis Psalm, preparin' yo'self tuh go dere tuh meet deone dat chure gonna meet dere. Now, yo' ain't gotta go tuh bed, yo' gotta setup. Now, nine a'clock tuhnight dere gotta be somebody gonna come there an'tell yo' somethin' - dey gonna tell yo' lotsa things. It's gonna be somebody goin' tuh come dere an' dey gonna talk to yo' jes' lak ah'm talkin' to yo',an' now dey gonna tell yo', "Yo' git a pencil an' papah," or "Yo' git a type[writer] an' yo' take whut ah'm tellin' yo', whut ah'm givin' yo' - [here'sanother person interested in my machine] - yo' take whut ah'm givin' yo' an'yo' meet me at twelve a'clock." Yo' see. An' all yo' have tuh do, yo' jis' be big-hearted an' yo' do as dey sayan' dey'll work wit yo' wonderful. Den yo' take all whut dey give yo' an'tell yo' how tuh do an' whut tuh do an' now yo' meet 'em dere at twelvea'clock. (At the fork of the road?) Yessuh. [I don't want to read anything into the preceding rite - it's there.THIS WOMAN IS A MASTER CRAFTSMAN who knows every aspect of her work - the most important aspect of all, human nature, how far she can go. Instead of offering me her variant or variants of the devil meeting a person at the fork or crossroad, she throws a good-spirit atmosphere over everything, then tells me she and I are performing the fork-of-the-road rite!] ["Yo' git [[got]] a type [[writer - my Telediphone on which I pretendedto write]] an' yo' take [[are taking down]] what ah'm tellin' yo', whut ah'm givin' yo'...all yo' have tuh do, yo' jis' be big-hearted an'.....dey'll[[I'll]] work wit yo' wonderful."][My reply to her is quite ordinary. Or is it?][Without detracting from Nahnee's insight or subtracting any glamour from my big-heartedness, the reader should be informed that a person of her ability and reputation, despite the Great Depression and scarcity of money, rarely takes chances. Preceding her appearance a confederate of hers, man or woman, had made inquiries and had actually interviewed me. Neither my contact man nor I could ever identify these persons - we never tried, it was a waste of time, though occasionally we spotted a stool pigeon.]

[Algiers, LA; Informant #1583 - Nahnee the "Boss of Algiers"; CylindersE94:2-E119:1 = 2927-2952.]

Make A Wish
333. "You go to the fork of the road on Sunday morning before day, go there for nine times in succession before the sun rise and make aspecial wish, a special desire, and whatever you want to do, if it's to be a conjure or to be a bad person, then the devil comes there. First comes a red rooster, then after that the devil sends something else in the shape of a bear and after that he comes himself and takes hold of your hands and tells you to go on in the world and do anything that chew want to do."

[Elizabeth City, North Carolina,(182)]

To Learn Tricks
340. "Jes' lak if yo' wanta learn some tricks, yo' know, yo' kin takea black chicken an' go dere fo' nine mawnin's, to de fo'k of de road. Have yo' a further road -- both of 'em public roads each way, not no blind roads, yo' know. Both of 'em have tuh be public roads, forkin'.Yo' take dis chicken an' go dere fo' nine mawnin's an' on de ninth mawnin' de devil will meet chew dere. An' he will learn {teach you} --well, anything yo' wanta learn."(Do you do anything with that chicken?)"De chicken, he have tuh be live. Yo' ketch him alive an' carry himto de fo'k of de road, an' yo' go fo' nine mawnin's, an' on de ninthmawnin' he'll meet chew dere."

349. If you want to know how to play a banjo or a guitar or do magic tricks, you have to sell yourself to the devil. You have to go to the cemetery nine mornings and get some of the dirt and bring it back with you and put it in a little bottle, then go to some fork of the road and each morning sit there and try to play that guitar. Don't care what you see come there, don't get 'fraid and run away. Just stay there for nine mornings and on the ninth morning there will come some rider riding at lightning speed in the form of the devil. You stay there then still playing your guitar and when he has passed you can play any tune you want to play or do any magic trick you want to do because you have sold yourself to the devil.

[Ocean City, Maryland, (14), Ed.]

356. Now de fo'ks of de road -- now, in case dis is whut chew wanta do, if yo' wanta learn hoodooism. See, if you wanta learn hoodooism, you go to de fo'ks of de road. Go dere -- yo' leave home zactkly five minutes of twelve an' have yo' a fo'k. Git chew a bran'-new silver fo'k an' git to de fo'ks of de road an' git down on your knees an' stick dat fo'k in de groun'; see, an' anything on earth yuh wants tuh learn an' know, things will come 'fore yo' an' tell yo' what to do. See. But chew got'a be dere zactly twelve 'clock -- go dere de third day but it's got'a be in de night, twelve 'clock in de night.

[Mobile, Alabama, (656),937:3).]

The Black Man At The Crossroads In Culture: An episode of the television series, Supernatural, titled Crossroad Blues was dedicated to the lore of The Black Man At The Crossroads, though in the episode The Black Man was portrayed as both a demon and as a women, which are both incorrect. That episode also makes reference to Hoodoo and Hell Hounds as well.

The Crossroads In Hoodoo Magic And The Ritual Of Selling Yourself To The Devil

Controversy: The above information reflects the standard information available online. However, my dealing with people in "real life" have caused me to question whether or not the Black Man at the Crossroads is only part African or perhaps completely European in origin. The Scott-Irish have a long history of lore surrounding "The Black Man", who can be me in out of the way places, such as the forest or crossroads. He is none other than the Devil. For the most part the influence of the Scott-Irish has been ignored by most online sources. I strongly believe more research needs to be done regarding the origin of the Black Man at the Crossroads to determine if he is a mix of African and European lore or if he is strictly European.


  1. Midnight ConjureMarch 1, 2012 at 4:42 AM

    I come from Ireland, and practise Catholic folk magic / hoodoo.
    I think your post has made a really valid point that is often overlooked.
    In support of your theory, in the Irish language the Devil is called "An Fear Dubh" which translates as "The Black Man".

  2. @ Midnight Conjure,

    Exactly. The phrase, "The Black Man" is definitely European and not African in origin. However, there still may be a mixture or combination of European and African spirits there but I've started to see a strong current of Scott-Irish influence. On the other blog I have several blogs on the Scott-Irish with regard to hoodoo and I just might write a few more. Thanks for the comment. :)

  3. Any of the theories discussed relate to me as a chthonic spirit, calling demon, jinn, Eshu or any other name, is always talking about a telluric spirit and tricky so I think they call it devil or Eshu does not change much beyond the point of view with traditions different from each other.
    Animal forms it takes is the same as that taken in any tradition, for me is a jinn, demons or whatever, but always the same. Although the explanations vary from tradition to tradition.
    Some believe that a demon is different from a jinn and so referring to the Arabic origin of the latter, but the ancient traditions were no more differences than those between a human being is of the yellow race and one that is black so to speak though in reality both are human beings. What they forget the modernists is that expressions like demon or jinn or eshu always been cultural expressions to refer to non-human spirits passionate, earthy, cheats and even dangerous and nothing else.

  4. I am on my third night performing this ritual. But I must know. I chose a cross road in the forest its more of a trail two trail intersecting to create a crossroads. Will this location be appropriate? I have chose to persue the guitar and I have played I and been there before midnight until after midnight every night. I have herd steps and felt an odd presence among me a serene setting as if somewhere am on the trees I was being watched and every time I traveled to the location I would see butterflies cross my path but never any black animal well not yet please email me at JeffersonIndian gmail.com I need insight and advice from some one who has performed this ritual

  5. The man at thw cross roads is yhe afterlife guard.. He opes the gate to our next realm of life... Good oe bad being depicted but how life was out here how we made our spiritual journey. Papa legda is the wise and mischevious whole of life i think represents the past present and future of all life like a mirror back to us. The man is unstable and unpredictable. Its up to us how to see it-