X: A Monograph

An Atherton’s Artificial Artifact!

X Monograph FrontispieceIntroduction

The letter X is perhaps the most symbolically potent letter of the alphabet. Its mysteries are many, and to contemplate them is to be pulled ever deeper in, until one finds oneself down among the very roots of the world.

X is, at its simplest, a variable. In fact, it is the variable, the one we use first. In algebra, one solves for X; this makes X mysterious, but only in a formalized sort of way. It is a mystery that can be solved by various mathematical operations. Still, even at this basic level, X is a mystery-signifier. It says “Here I am, solve me if you can!”

On a pirate’s map, X stands for buried treasure. It marks the spot where a treasure can be found- but no pirate’s treasure is without its dangers. There is always a curse or a guardian. So, the X on a pirate’s map marks a dangerous place, as well as a rewarding one. The double nature of X is beginning to emerge.

X cancels out what has been written. X, in fact, crosses out.

To add “ex” to a word (as in ex-husband, ex-wife) consigns it to the realm of things irrevocably past. X is the annihilator, the letter of renunciation and destruction.

In a cartoon, how does an artist indicate that a character is dead? He draws Xs where the eyes should be. X, therefore, is somehow entangled with death. Now, death is indeed a great mystery. The mystery of X, however, does not stop at death. It goes on, to places stranger still.

            When you see a sign by the road with an X on it, it means you are coming to a crossroads. X therefore is the letter of the crossroads (as well as a picture of one), and crossroads are mysterious places indeed.

In the Voodoo tradition, Met Carrefour, or Master Crossroads, controls the path between the worlds. He can let other Loa (or Lwa) into the world of men- or keep them out. He can also open or close a person’s roads, that is, bless or curse them. He is magically potent, and the crossroads are his place.

            Suicides and suspected vampires are buried at crossroads. The rationale for this varies, but some say it is so that, if these dead should rise, they will not know which way to go, and they will stay at the crossroads until the morning comes. This means that strange meetings may take place at the crossroads at night; the wayfarer might meet the dead there as well as the living. So the land of the living and the land of the dead touch at the crossroads- and they touch in our letter X.

            There are many tales of those who have sold their souls to the Devil at the crossroads at midnight. He, too, seems to lurk in the crossroads, and in X.

            But if X is a crossroads, it is also a cross, or a cross on its side. And X is not only the cross, but Christ; do we not shorten Christmas to Xmas? So, for Christ, we write X. And Christ is the ultimate traveler between the worlds, for he rose from the dead, and harrowed Hell, and ascended to Heaven. He, perhaps more than anything else I have mentioned, exemplifies X, the liminal, the in-between, the place where two worlds touch.

            In the letter X, then, we find life as well as death, and Heaven as well as Hell.

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6 Comments

  1. Yr essay on X is superb. Nice to hear yr own voice.

  2. Yr essay on X is superb. Both dad and I said “Whoa”.

  3. Fantastic! I knew crossroads are magic, but I didn’t know all those stories about them 🙂

    • Melanie Atherton Allen

      Hey Jazzfeathers! I am so pleased that you learned something new from me! Crossroads are indeed magic.

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