Salt is a preservative linked to luck and protection against evil. Salt superstitions have a long history going back to ancient times.
Salt is essential to health, as well as a preservative of food, and in ancient times it was more valuable than gold. Roman soldiers were often paid in salt; hence the phrase that someone is “worth his salt.” The word salary is derived from salt.
Sharing a person’s salt is symbolic of establishing a deep bond between people. When a new home was occupied, salt was often one of the first things to be brought across the threshold in order to drive away evil influences and establish good energy and luck. A pinch of salt was sprinkled before any job or task in order to ensure the same.
Salt was used in divination. At Halloween, every person in a house turned over a thimbleful of salt upon a platter. Whoever’s pillar fell apart by the next day would die within a year. At Christmas, omens for the coming year were read from the dryness or moistness of salt.
Because of the high value of salt, spilling it has long been considered bad luck. To counter the bad luck, spilt salt should be thrown over the left shoulder, for that is where evil spirits can be found lurking. Spilling salt can make a person vulnerable to the Devil. In Fairy lore, spilt salt should be thrown into the home fire so that the household brownies can lick it.
In Christianity, salt is symbolic of incorruptibility, eternity and divine wisdom. Early Christians began using salt in christenings and baptisms as purification and protection. Church sites were consecrated with salt and holy water. The Catholic ritual of the benediction of salt and water ensures physical health. Oaths sometimes were taken on salt instead of the Bible.
Demon and witch lore.
As a preservative, salt is contrary to the nature of Demons, who are intent upon corrupting and destroying. Salt is sometimes thrown at weddings, to preserve marital happiness and also to repel evil spirits who might be intent upon wreaking havoc with the newlyweds. Salt was placed in coffins as a preservative for the soul after death and to protect it against assaults by evil spirits. Salt was used in pagan sacrifices. It was placed in the cribs of infants to protect them against evil spirits.
Salt and salted water, especially blessed, are used to cleanse premises believed to be infested by Demons. Salted water is washed around mirrors, windows and doorways and sometimes washed over entire walls and ceilings.
Witches as well as Demons are repelled by salt. In medieval times, it was believed that witches and the animals they bewitched were unable to eat anything salted. Inquisitors who interrogated accused witches were advised by Demonologists to first protect themselves by wearing a sacramental Amulet made of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday and blessed herbs, pressed into a disc of blessed wax. One means of torturing accused witches was to force-feed them heavily salted food and deny them water.
An old recipe for breaking an evil spell calls for stealing a tile from a witch’s roof, sprinkling it with salt and urine and then heating it over fire while reciting a ChArm. Such antidotes were still in use in modern times in rural parts of Europe to remove spells from stables and homes and to cure illness. In American Ozark lore, women who complain of food being too salty are suspected of being witches. One Ozark way to detect a witch is to sprinkle salt on her chair. If she is a witch, the salt will melt and cause her dress to stick to the chair.
Salt neutralizes the Evil Eye cast by witches.
Salt is used in spells and magical rituals as a representative of the element of earth. It also purifies and defines magical boundaries. For example, salt might be sprinkled around a Magic circle as an added protection.
In alchemy, all things, including the four elements, are composed of a divine trinity that includes salt, mercury and sulphur. Salt represents the body, female and earth aspects, and was a crucial ingredient in alchemic recipes for making gold. One 17th-century formula for potable gold, believed to be an antidote for poison, a curative of heart disease and a repellent of the Devil, included gold, salt, red wine vinegar, the ashes of a block of tin burnt in an iron pan, wine and honey.
- Cahill, Robert Ellis. Strange Superstitions. Danvers, Mass.: Old Saltbox Publishing, 1990.
- Radford, E. and M.A. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. Edited and revised by Christina Hole. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1961.