Once upon a time a certain web site on hoodoo online had a page titled, "The Black Man At the Crossroads", where the author claimed that this said entity was in fact an African spirit, similar to Papa Legba, Eshu, and other crossroad deities or spirit. The author posted several interviews with informants from Harry Middleton Hyatt's work that mentioned this "Black Man". The author stated that the term "Black Man" did not reference the man being African American, but rather referencing the color of the clothing he wore.
The concept of the crossroad spirit in hoodoo being of African origin stems from the false equation of hoodoo with Voodoo or the claim that hoodoo is just Voodoo stripped of it's religious connotations. These were errors that arose in white academia in the late 1800s and early 1900s and for the most part still remain in place to this day. The author of the web page I addressed above is in my opinion guilty of carrying over this false belief with regard to this issue. In reality there is neither no indication nor evidence that the crossroad spirit in hoodoo is of African origin.
Let's take a look at the Hyatt material:
SERVE THE DEVIL
331. Ah had a man tuh tell me jest exactly how yo' do dat. In mah time of gamblin' why ah studied all dat fo' luck, you know. If yo' wants tuh sell yoreself to de devil, yo' has to swear by man an' by lan' da' chew SERVE THE DEVIL don't want nuthin' but jes' whut chew has in dis world, an' nuthin' aftah death an' nuthin' tuh do with God. In all yore works, "Ah'm goin' work for de devil an don't nevah wants tuh pray." Den, yo' have to take a oath on dat. Yo' understand? An' when yo' take dat oath dat chew don't want nuthin' but of de world, an' yo' go serve de devil all yore life, an' then won't pray none, 'cause yo' ain't gon'a serve God none, why den de devil takes yo' a sinner. Den yo' kin do any kinda devilment dat chew want - yo' kin come outa jail at twelve a'clock at night; yo' kin shake de jail an' de do' will come open. [Waycross, Ga., (1200-9), 1802:3.]
So who does this black informant say the crossroads spirit is? Is there any hint of anything African in that passage? Let's look at another one.
332. Heard a ole man speak about dat - say ev'ry Sunday mornin' you go to de fork of de road an' you curse God an' you dance an' den you prays. You jes' prays to de devil and you curse God. An' you go out dere ev'ry .. Sunday mornin' an' dance an' jes' pray to de devil an' curse de Lord, an' de devil will put ev'rything into your way that you can get an' make it easier for you. You jes' tell the Lord that you take your soul out of His hands an' you put it into de devil's hands, an' you know, de Lord will quit answering your prayers then an' you see He'll jes' turn your soul right over to de devil. [Charleston, S. Car., (500), 544: 4. ]
So who is the crossroads spirit? Note that you have to curse God to work with the spirit. Let's look at some more passages.
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 a special wish, a special desire, and whatever you want to do, if it's to be a aunjure or to be a bad person, then the devil comes there. First comes a red rooster and then after that the devil sends something else in the shape of a bear. And after that he comes himself and takes hold upon your hands and tells you to go on in the world and do anything that chew want to do. [Elizabeth City, N. Car., (182), 400:12.]
334. Well, dat's a small matter. You go to de fork of de road and jest like you is a rich man and I want a job from you or something like dat - wanta git you mah way so I could manage you, see, I'd go to de fork of de road about four o'clock in de morning. I'd git on mah knee and turn my face to de sunrise, you see, and I would say mah prayers and I would axe de Lawd to do what I want to be done, see; and I would turn around to de sundown, you understand, and den I'll axe satan. See , I'll beg de devil - beg 'em both, see; but I'll serve de Lord first and then I'll turn around to de sundown and beg de devil. Well, I'll axe 'em fer just what I want. Well, after I done dat I'll turn mah face acposs de wopZd - see, perhaps I might turn my face to th e east - might be to the west, see - might be to the north and to the south, see - but I'll turn my face and I'll axe de Lord twice and I'll axe de devil twice, see. Well, after you done axe de devil, you done sign up with 'im see, fer a certain length of time - and you sign it wit de devil fer a certain length of time well, you'll have good luck for dat length of time, see - and everything will work your way for that same length of time you beg for. (Well, what happens when that time is up?) Naw, you jest fall in bad luck - dat's all I kin tell you. Everything will be just laid on you, that's all - can't git nothing going or coming. [Charleston. S. Car., (511) , 575:6.]
335. Well, I've never tried that fer this reason. I have the understandin' that whenever you go to a crossroad to learn anything fer any purpose, you have then put God behind you an' the devil in front of you. You will have made absolutely , you know, a conversion with him - you've sold your soul outright to him for seven years. An' then I have the understandin' that you could go there at one o'clock in the night, right in the crossroads an' you turn your face to the west, your back to the east, your right to the north an' your left to the south, an' you shall call this man who pretend to do anything that you desires. This devil will come or send someone directly to you. The reason I tell you that, I know that's positive. The reason I tell you that is because I tried it one time when I wanted to learn to play music on de guitar, an' pretty soon I found out that it was true - why, I throwed de guitar right down an' I walked off an' left 'im. So that break the tie [the compact between him and devil]. [Charleston, S. Car., (514 = Doctop Glover), 596:1.]
336. I've heard that if they would go to a forked road and stand straddle of that forked road, there is something he would say, and after he would say that he done sold himself to th e devil. For seven years he could do anything he wanted to do. When them seven years run out you would have to do that over again. You do that around twelve o 'clock at night. You go three nights. [Hampton, Va., (31), Ed.]
337. I've heard about dat but I don' know if it be true. But one thing about it - you have to visit the four forks of the road for nine mornings. On de ninth morning that you visit dere, you'll find de devil. He 'll meet you at de four forks of de road and yo' and him'll git together, and then you' ll have a good wras'lin' [wrestling match] and he'll ast you what you want. And you'll tell him that you want the wopZd's gifts for twenty years or thirty years - just how long you want 'em. Now, when de time runs out, dat's when de devil's coming for you. Well, when he comes for you, you might stoop down and cut off a piece of your shoe sole and hand to him, and he'll tell you that you got de world again and you kin go, and you sure enough got him if you kin stand to face him. And you do anything that you want to do, wras' lin', fightin' - anything of the kind. (I see - but you have to fight him out there at the crossroad?) Yes sir, fight him dere - then he turn you loose and tell you it is all right, go for yourself. [A few minutes later my informant added a musical note.] Go out to de four forks of de road for nine mornings and he'll play something play the guitar, playa banjo. He'll visit de devil out dere for nine mornings and he'll give you de wopld's gifts. Just ask [for] anything - a gold-finding hand - or you kin play all de music you want, nobody kin beat you playing. [Norfolk, Va. , (466), 461:5 main text & 462:8 note - by Doatop Paul Bowles. ]
338. I know a man, he was a woodcutter, that sold hisself to de devil to do whatever he wanted - right around here. Every Sunday morning for nine mornings, early in the morning, he met him at nine forks of the road - it's [the road with nine forks] right around here - and shake hands with him. The devil appears each morning. And the last morning he gives him a hand for whatever he wants to do wit it. This here man I'm telling you about fooled him. When he come after him, he gave him a shoe sole. Instead of giving him his soul he gave him his shoe sole. [Mt. Vernon (near Princess Anne) , Md. , (134) , by hand; no electricity. ]
339. They says, after - twelve, at exactly twelve 'clock on Friday night, you go to a crossroads, any crossroads, and there you are to kneel and say you make vow to stay wit de devil and do whatever he wants yo' to do - hell, raise destruction - what not - from now until long as yo' live - and that' s the vow to de devil. Has to do dat to de crossroads. And to overcome this and to change, why you have to go right back to the same crossroads and make a vow to reform. (That's all you have to do is to make the vow there - nothing else - face any particular direction?) They say you turn your face to the east. [Jacksonville, Fla. , (556) ,693:4. ]
Okay, I could go on and on with this. There's actually about 10 more pages of material that I could post here. In Hyatt's material there is not one hint of the crossroad spirit being an African spirit. So who is the "Black Man", the "Crossroad Spirit"? It is none other than the Devil himself.
What Hyatt recorded was European witch lore that had been adopted by black people. According to European witch lore, the Devil appears as a man with dark skin and dressed in black clothing. He is called "The Black Man". You can meet the devil at the crossroads, in the forest or in out of the way places. He sometimes even appears on horseback. You enter into a pact with him for special powers, to be either a witch or werewolf, and you sell your soul to him in exchange for said powers. What Hyatt was recording was lore on how to sell your soul to the devil to become a witch or else gain whatever it is you desire. Below are some references to the Black Man in witch lore.
-During the Salem Witch Trials, the accusers claimed that a specter of a "Black Man" was whispering things in the ears of accused witches. When George Burroughs recited the Lord's Prayer, something a witch wasn't supposed to be able to do, right before being hanged, witnesses (probably the same accusers) claimed they saw a black man lean into him and tell him something.
-During the Bideford Witch Trials, Temperance Loyd was arrested and charged with witchcraft, with the claims that she cursed illness on another woman and consorted with the devil who took on the form of a large, black man.
- In the book, The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne believes the "A" she must wear to have been the "mark" (of the devil) given to her by the "Black Man". Hester was also asked to come dance in the forest with the Black Man, an invitation to become a witch. Hester answered that if it wasn't for her daughter, Pearl, that she would gladly go. The Scarlet Letter was of course written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a descendant of a notorious Salem hanging judge.
-In 1651, in Estonia, an 18 year-old man named Hans was tried for being a werewolf. At trial he confessed that a "man in black" gave him the power to transform into a wolf. He was found guilty of witchcraft and executed.
- In 1521, Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdum were put on trial as accused werewolves. Both men confessed that they encountered three "black dressed horsemen". One of the horsemen offered them money and protection of their sheep herd if they would obey him as lord, renounce God, and do his bidding.
- In 1603, one Jean Grenier was accused of being a werewolf. He claimed that another boy took him to meet the "lord of the forest" who appeared as a "black man on a horse". At his second meeting with this "lord of the forest", Grenier surrendered himself to him, was given a mark or brand as well as a magical wolf pelt and ointment to use to be able to transform into a werewolf. He was found to be mentally deficient and was sentenced to life in a monetary where he died 7 years later.
So you see, the "Black Man", the crossroads spirit, as documented in Hyatt's work, is none other than the same "Black Man" documented in European witch folklore. The Black Man/Crossroads Spirit is none other than Satan. These beliefs were taught to the slaves and were adopted by them.
Hoodoo is not an ATR. There's no evidence that the spirit of the crossroads in hoodoo is the remnant of an African spirit. We don't work with pagan spirits in hoodoo. So please be well advised that if you go to work with the crossroads spirit or sell yourself to the crossroads spirit, that you are working with the Devil. Don't be fooled or deceived otherwise. Honestly, I have no problem with people working with the Devil if that's what they want to do. If you are going to work with the crossroads spirit then enter it with full knowledge of who you are trying to reach, communicate with and work with.
I have a treat for you. This is a woodcut from the early 1600s. I may be mistaken but I believe it comes from the book, A Discovery of Witches by Thomas Potts (1613). Here we have a witch meeting up with the "Black Man", who is accompanied by his black dog.
Finally, I would like to touch on a few more things.
The Black Man was also sometimes described as an Indian (Native American). The key thing to understand is the name is a reference to having dark skin and wearing dark clothing. This belief most likely originates with black being a color associated by Europeans with evil.
The Black Man/Crossroads Spirit is sometimes offered a rooster. The bird is sacrificed at the crossroads. This has led people to believe he is an African spirit as many African crossroads spirits accept roosters or chickens as sacrifices. However, the sacrifice of a rooster is actually one of the method of becoming a witch. The method of becoming a witch by sacrificing a rooster to the Devil is popular in Ozark folklore. In the rite you take a black rooster (note the color) to a stream that flows an opposite direction than what is normal, cut it's throat and then dribble the blood into the water. As the rooster bleeds out the person invokes the Devil and asks him to teach him/her to be a quarter as wise as he is.
You can gather and use crossroads dirt and not work with the Devil.
You can dispose of items at the crossroads and not work with the Devil.
You can do other works with the crossroads without working with the Devil.
Do not offer pennies to the crossroads spirit. That practice comes from ATRs and it has infected hoodoo. In many ATRs the crossroads spirit likes pennies. Just remember we don't work with the spirits of ATRs in hoodoo. (I to am guilty of this because I was taught this. However, I now know this is incorrect and is not a part of hoodoo.)
If you want to go to the crossroads and sell your soul to the Devil for whatever you wish, knock yourself out. However, please educate yourself thoroughly on the subject and make sure everything you do or say is exactly as you intended.
So there you have it. The "Black Man", the "Crossroads Spirit" is none other than the Devil. Don't let people fool you. This information is coming straight from the mouths of black people. There's no reason to doubt what they said. We don't need modern day white people to try to reinterpret what they said. We don't need ATR members to come crashing into hoodoo claiming that the "Black Man" is Papa Legba, Eshu, or whatever spirit they wish to claim. We know from the black practitioners themselves that this entity is the Devil.