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America's Most Popular Blues Legend, A Deal With The Devil?

Robert Johnsons' Legendary Demon Pact Or Was He Just That Good?

By Jason Ray Morton Published 3 years ago 4 min read

Many people have heard the story but not many people know the history. If you've heard the story of the "Faustian Pact" it refers to a 15th century deal between a clergyman and the demon Mephistopheles. It's debatable what really happened but the Faustian Deal has become an ingredient in many literary, musical, artistic works, and cinematic pieces. In recent years the pact with the devil, or demons, has become a recurring ingredient in the just ended television series, Supernatural. Most of those deals centered around the characters of the crossroads demons, most notably the character of Mark Sheppards' Crowley.

Mark Sheppard as the King of Hell in the CW's Supernatural

I first head of the deal at the crossroads doing some reading during my freshman year in high school. While at the time it was all just in good fun, and by no means research or a book I'd remember thirty-five years later, there was an entire chapter devoted to "The Four Paths" or "The Crossroads". While following up on the obscure legends and myths surrounding the crossroads deals and crossroads demons I learned that the practice itself, while certainly sounding satanic in origin, was attributed more to early Druidian beliefs and Pagan rituals. What I found interesting, even intriguing, was that nearly every culture over the past twenty-five-hundred-plus years has a belief in pacts with the devil or demons.

The Greeks associated the crossroads with the Goddess Hecate and God Hermes, even building shrines to take to the crossroads. They would mark the crossroads with pillars as travelers associated with the gods as guides during their travels. In Medieval times in what we now call the United Kingdom, there was a tradition of burying criminals and anyone that took their own lives at the crossroads. These areas were commonly used as places to perform executions on convicted criminals. From the dark continent of Africa to the Greek Isles, to Eastern Europe, and all the way to Brazil, cultures around the world have had beliefs of the crossroads being centers of supernatural or paranormal power, but why?

When you look at a crossroads, the perfect center in certain cultures is considered consecrated grounds much like that of a church. It might be much simpler, however. One belief is that the perfect center spot is unowned or claimed territory. Its perfect point in the middle puts that spot on the road to nowhere, making it easier to access. Thus, the frequently referenced ritual of a circle in the dirt in the center and a gold coin as an offering. This has been embellished for a more dramatic effect in television and movies but still works the same. Following up the offering with the right incantation calls upon the demon and then, should we believe that surviving an encounter with a demon is possible, the deal or transaction is completed.

Blues Legend Robert Johnson

One of, if not the most intriguing musical legends in the United States, is that of legendary Delta Blues King, Robert Johnson. Relegated to virtual obscurity in the 1930s, at the time of his death, Johnsons' prominence would not come to him until 30yrs after his demise. He was believed to have been poisoned by one of his mistress' husbands at the young age of 27. Johnson rose to prominence out of local legend and lore in Mississippi. The story is one with some mystery and is debated to this day.

In 1930, in Robinsonville, Mississippi, a 19-year-old Robert Johnson was just an aspiring musician. He was known to hang out where other Delta Blues legends played. One day between sets, Johnson picked up a musician's guitar and began to play some of his own work to a crowd that didn't want to hear him. Tossed out of the juke joint and unheard of for a full year he disappeared from the Delta area until resurfacing in Banks, Mississippi. In walked Johnson with a guitar as other players remembered him from his attempted performance a year earlier.

Things were different, this time. Johnson wielded an instrument, an old six-string with an extra string, something nobody had seen before that night. It wasn't the only difference noticed, however, as the young musician had achieved a level of skill and technique unheard of achieving in just a year. He strummed rapidly, hitting cords that almost transformed his guitar into a piano being played by two men. To other musicians, the only way he achieved such a feat was to have sold his soul.

Perhaps Johnson was innovative enough to grow the mystique behind his startling transformation, or perhaps in a world of infinitely unexplained possibilities, he sold his soul for the gift to make him the best he could be, but we will never really know. Over the years it's been debated and discussed. Analytics have been done on the lyrics of such hits and Crossroads Blues, Hellhound On My Tail, Last Fair Deal Gone Down, and Me and the Devil Blues. Certainly, the words, the music he finished before his untimely demise, lend credence to the myth of how Robert Johnson got his skill.

However, could he have been singing about musician Tommy Johnson, who is claimed to have told people, while cultivating a bit of a sinister persona, that he sold his soul to the devil? Or, did Robert Johnson go off on his own and learn to make a sound that nobody had heard before and use verbal imagery of the devil, the crossroads and hellhounds coming for him to cultivate the rumors of him meeting the devil, one fateful trip at the crossroads. Only one thing is for certain, that Robert Johnson didn't get to see the appreciation for the innovative sounds and tunes he played forty years before I was born.

HistoricalPop CultureMystery

About the Creator

Jason Ray Morton

I have always enjoyed writing and exploring new ideas, new beliefs, and the dreams that rattle around inside my head. I have enjoyed the current state of science, human progress, fantasy and existence and write about them when I can.

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