What do you think of when you look at a skeleton key? History and magic? To us 21st-century folks, a skeleton key is an anomaly in a world of key fobs and electronic locks. Just touching a skeleton key you wonder about what lock this once opened, what treasures were hidden behind its vigilant keep.
The symbology of the skeleton key begins with its structure or the bones of an idea or concept. The skeleton key can unlock a new way of thinking or as shown in the Waite Smith Tarot card the Hierophant, a path to enlightenment. The spiritual leader that is the Hierophant opens the doorways to knowledge, those doorways are not hidden but they are not yet open to our understanding. The skeleton key can unlock that mystery. It is said that in the Hierophant card, the keys are a symbol of the “Keys of Solomon”, also known as the keys to the upper world. The upper world, also known as the Kabbalah is where you can create change through magic and open the road to a new possibility. The key is a symbol of the power to open and close at will; creating liberation of body, mind, and knowledge of the mysteries.
In folk magic, the skeleton key has been about opening the road; the road of your choosing: the spirit realm, to prosperity, new opportunity, love, fertility, luck, or healing. When you need something to open up in your life use a skeleton key and crossroads magic. If you bring your key to the crossroad, you are opening the door for anything and everything from talent, wisdom, money, and more.
The skeleton key is a strong symbol for breaking through barriers and creating a safe passage to your goal. In rootwork and conjure, keys have been placed in mojo bags, carried in pockets, or worn around the neck on a string. Just keep it close to the body. Placing the key on your altar or hanging it in or above your doorway for protection is another common magical use. In this day and age, a key hung above the interior of your main door would be good protection from losing your home.
When you look at the key, think about what freedoms or blessings of yours it could unlock. During the birth of the American hoodoo, a key meant EVERYTHING to a slave! It could have been the key to their chains, their subjugation, or their freedom. To be a slave entrusted with a key was to have the power to keep yourself and your family from starving as well as giving a slight modicum of freedom. The power in that emotion of survival alone can create magic that is barred by nothing. You can use a skeleton key in spells that open up your possibilities and free your mind from the thoughts and behaviors that keep you a “slave” to anything.
All of these uses of the skeleton key have one thing in common; opening the door or locking something into a protective state. All of this is done through the spirit and magical realm. St. Peter himself holds the master key to the gates of heaven and is also considered one of the keepers of the crossroads. As a side note, when asking for the assistance of St. Peter, keep a skeleton key on your altar or with your offerings. The skeleton key opens the gates to the spirit realm and has been used by mediums for generations to quickly connect with the spirits they are looking to communicate with. One trick in mediumship was to hold a key in front of a lit candle and invite a spirit to pass through the eye of the key to blow out the flame. Mediums would keep skeleton keys with three openings with them when they were not engaged in their profession to keep spirits away.
Zora Neal Hurston, in Mules and Men, tells a story about how God gave Eve the keys to the nation to control how much power Adam had over her (and how much abuse he could dish out to her). In the story, these keys kept the balance of power between a man and a woman. A key in the hands of a woman doing magic is a powerful thing and can lock up a man's nature, keeping them home with their family and responsibilities. Keeping them tied to the wielder of the spell. But the feminine connection with the key does not end with Hoodoo folk magic; keys are used in fertility spells, protection for a baby to keep them from being stolen by fairies, and many other healing spells.
European folklore tells us that skeleton keys can be used to deflect the evil eye and keep harmful witches from entering your house. They rid the body of evil spirits by placing a key in oil and vinegar, saying a prayer over it, and then sprinkling the water over the body. There are references to using a key and lock as sympathetic magic to stop bleeding by locking the blood in the body. You can also use the skeleton key as a pendulum for Bibliomancy; a form of divination using the bible. Dangle the key over the bible while reciting the names of a suspected thief and the Bible will make the key react when you get to the name of the thief. You can use this style of Bibliomancy for a variety of other questions and concerns.
From removing blocks, opening roads, calling spirits, and invoking protection, the skeleton key’s uses in magic are almost limitless. They unlock your own magical imagination!!!! Combine that with the magic of the crossroads and you have just jumped into the realm of conjuring.
Crossroads are simply a place where two roads intersect, forming a cross. This is a place that belongs to no one, thus they belong to the Trickster and to the spirit realm. Today crossroads are about every quarter mile or so, but early on, you would go miles and miles before you crossed another road.
Crossroad magic is about things that need to be disposed of and blessings being asked. There is a very potent magic to be tapped at the crossroads because of the energy between two points. It is said that this is where the magic begins and ends and where wishes are granted. At the crossroads disposing of magical items that are used to cleanse you or items that are tainted sends that energy into oblivion because the crossroads are the between worlds. The energy is seen as being sent to the four corners of the world, never to return. Bath water from cleansing baths is often tossed into the crossroads toward the rising sun in order to dispel and dissipate the influence that was taken off of the person. Other spells will require a portion of the remains to be deposited at sequential crossroads, leading either toward or away from the home to either attract or repel a person or an influence.
The crossroads are inhabited by the trickster and by the unrested dead. If you bring an honest petition along with an acceptable offering to the crossroads, your wish is likely to be granted. If you come to the crossroads with a petition that is driven by ego and without an acceptable offering trade or sacrifice is always called for. The trickster just loves to poke at a big ego and show you that even though you THINK you know what’s best for you…divinity knows better.
The trickster at the crossroads is a tradition found throughout history. Where better to try and pull a wary traveler off of their path and teach them a lesson about being too big for your britches than where their path can be changed? Hermes and Mercury are tricksters and lords of the crossroads. Hekate was known as the keeper of the keys as well as the goddess of the crossroads, and Persephone had her keys to the underworld and kept watch over the crossroads of death. In more recent and regional history the Man at the Crossroads has been called many names: The Dark Rider, The Dark Man, the Black Man, Elegba, Eshu, Baba, the Trickster, and the Devil himself.
Don’t let the Devil at the crossroads scare you. The Devil in Hoodoo is seen more as the trickster, teaching us about our ego and greed rather than manifesting evil. That trickster is known to trade your wildest dream for your soul, but it is more in line with what you end up sacrificing when your ego and greed take the front seat. We trick ourselves so easily by looking for the quick way or the get-rich-quick schemes. When you come to the crossroads asking for immediate riches or fame or talent, it may be given to you, but the dues to that fame are always paid one way or another. Your best bet is coming to the crossroads asking for the next step or the starting point and an open road for you to travel to your end goal.
3 a.m. is the time when the spirits are most active; when you can easiest go between the worlds which makes it the best time to take your offering and make your request at the crossroads. The number three is important here; 3 a.m., offerings of three, three shiny pennies or three mercury dimes at the crossroads. What is the proper offering? Start with the three pennies, but empower them with your request in a ritual before you go to the crossroads.
The first time you connect with the energy of the Dark Rider, you will intuitively understand what your offering needs to be (candy, sweets, cigars, coffee, rum, and moonshine are all good offerings). When you place your offering at the crossroads, literally talk to the pennies, telling them what you want to open the road to, by whispering in the ear of ol’ Abe. Place the three pennies on the ground face up, all faces looking in, and place your offering in the middle of the pennies. The Dark Rider will let you know in his own way if there is an additional offering required for your request.
The Dark Rider, the most common name for the man at the crossroads, is not necessarily a black man. He will be dressed all in black, riding a black horse, and wearing a black hat. The first time I met him we were riding a black bike. He rode on by showing me that he accepted my offering by telling me and reminding me that I am blessed, very blessed. He loves to trick you though and sometimes shows up as a vagrant or a handicapped person to test your compassion and generosity. If you fail the test, his help will not be forthcoming.
According to legend, if you wish for the man at the crossroads to gift you with a skill or talent you are to take the tools of your desired trade with you to the crossroads. Arrive a quarter-hour before midnight and stay for at least an hour. Do this nine days in a row. On the ninth day, he will show up, show you how to use these tools (dice, cards, guitar, etc.), and then disappear. There was no mention of what should be offered to the Dark Man, but I am sure if there was no offer then it was taken later.
When working with the spirits of the crossroads an offering is also required. Usually, this offering is something that you are getting rid of as they will take it into another realm never to be heard of again. Bath water, items that you have cleansed yourself with, spells of mojo that you are disassembling, as well as spells to send someone away are things you can work with the crossroad spirits on. If you bring them offerings of food you can ask for their help. Finding lost loved ones or things, influencing people who affect your life, and cursing people can be done with the haints at the crossroad.
Some spirits or haints are helpful, but many are disgruntled about their predicament. One way to gain their favor is to promise to have a mass said in their name to elevate them to heaven, to just pray for them, or tell their tale so that they are not forgotten. When you call the haints, make sure you are protected in spirit because you don’t want them following YOU home. When you go to the crossroads for spirit work, don’t go in your fancy clothes; go in your oldest, most tattered clothes making the offering you leave at the crossroad much more appealing than your energy. If you promise something you better follow through in a timely manner or they will remind you day and night until you do. You don’t want to pull a haunting upon yourself!
Every spell written that takes you to the crossroads began in someone’s head, heart, and intuition. Read them, and let yourself be inspired for you are the expert of your own magic. Nothing in folk magic is exact, there are always variations from region to region, root worker to root worker so don’t get yourself caught up in following the directions exactly. Back in the day, their crossroads were quiet. If you live in the city your crossroads can be life-threatening. Use your intuition AND your common sense, but for goodness sake, make some magic!!!!