Good news for the endless road walkers, night prowlers, urban explorers, psychogeographers, explorers, threshold stalkers. We have our gods and goddesses and we are protected!
From Roman to Welsh mythology we can summon our deities, gods, goddesses, patron saints and figures. Some are well-known such as Hermes, Mercury or St Christopher. But there are lesser known gods and goddesses you can call for help and protection when you’re in danger at a city crossroads, warily passing through an abandoned zone or walking a lonely country road as night gathers around you.
Enters the narrow Alley’s doubtful Maze,
Tries ev’ry winding Court and Street in vain,
And doubles o’er his weary Steps again.
John Gay – Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London, 1716
Chimata-no-kami – Japanese guardian of the crossroads
Chimata-no-kami is actually two guardians combined into one perfect unity: Yachimata-hime and her consort, Yachiamata-hiko. They’re the road fork spirits, the guardian for endless roads. They give travellers protection against ghosts, haunted buildings and demons.
Chimata-no-kami can be found at waterways, crossroads, the borders of villages and on remote mountain trails. They guard the bridge between this and other dimensions, judging the soul of each traveller to give them permission to travel to the next realm.
Their unity is a powerful force of protection against diseases, droughts and malicious spirits. They are celebrated with road festivals.
As they’re usually represented as an old married couple they also represent marriage, fertility, sexual energy and all aspects of family life.
Janus is famous for having two faces, one looking to the future and one to the past, and for the month of January being named after him. He is the Roman god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, passages, and endings. He protects doorways and gates, keeping evil spirits out. Sometimes he is depicted with keys and a staff.
Janus symbolise different types of change such as from past to future, from one era to another, young people’s growth to adulthood, harvest and planting, marriage, death, or even rural and urban space (making him an important figure for the edgelands). He’s also linked to travelling, trading and shipping. He presides over the start and end of conflict. The doors of his temples are open during war and closed to mark peace.
Rhiannon is a fascinating major figure in the Mabinogi, the medieval Welsh story collection that is one of the earliest prose stories of British literature. She’s strongly associated with horses, so ancient Celtic riders would seek her protection. She’s also connected with movement, communication, rest, ghosts, fertility and leadership. One of her riding tricks was to outride any pursuers yet still look as if she and her horse was slowly and calmly ambling along. When her child disappeared and she was falsely accused of infanticide her penance was to carry travellers on her back until her child was found.
Trivia is the Roman goddess found at branching streets, crossroads, graveyards, places of transition and thresholds. In Latin her name means three (tri) ways or roads (via). She’s a liminal deity, found in the shifting areas of topography and linked to aiding child birth and guiding the dead.
Crossroads were dangerous places for Roman travellers, especially at night, where robbers and thugs lurk waiting for their prey. For the Romans, crossroads were also a symbolic danger, a shift in the maze and a moment of decision for those caught in strange circumstances.
Roman crossroads were a communal space, a merging of routes of trade, entertainment and government. Trivia roams these social boundaries like her legions of nightprowlers and psychogeographers. She wanders at night, seen only by the barking dogs who tell of her approach. She is an underworld goddess and queen of ghosts. The Romans placed effigies of Trivia at the crossroads along with offerings for her help, protection and guidance.
Hecate was an important deity in Athenian households, blessing prosperity on family. Her shrines were placed in doorways to protect homes from the restless dead. She is an enigmatic goddess – at home on the fringes, ambivalent, polymorphous and eluding definition. Her representation has changed down the ages but she is best-known for being depicted as a three-headed goddess holding a torch, a key, serpents and daggers.
Hecate is associated with borders, paths, road junctions, walls, doorways, crossroads, entrances, the realms beyond living and states of in-between. She grants protection to those passing through dangerous liminal places.
She has an ambiguous reputation for her association with witchcraft, ghosts, spirits and necromancy. Like Trivia, the barking of dogs announces her presence. Two ghostly dogs are her servants and are considered by some as demons or restless souls of the dead.
Dogs themselves are regarded as creatures of thresholds, guarding the frontiers between life and death and prowling transitory realms. The best known of course is Cerberus, the “hound of Hades”, the terrifying multi-headed dog who guards the gates of the Greek Underworld to prevent the dead leaving. Dog sacrifices or meat were left as offerings for her and her dogs at crossroads.
Hecate is still popular and acknowledge today by neo-pagans and Wiccans.
Do you know a deity or figure for wandering? Let me know in the comments below, especially if anyone knows Celtic and Scottish legends.