Spilling Salt is Bad Luck and Other Salt Superstitions

Posted on 24 Mar 2014 16:12

As everyone knows, you need to be careful with salt, if you know what's good for you. Spilling salt is bad luck. In fact, it has been said that every grain of salt you spill is a tear you'll shed later! And, if you do spill salt, you'll want to quickly toss it over your left shoulder, to ward off bad luck, and more importantly, the devil. But, there are some lesser known safety precautions you may want to know about!

Still, salt itself is considered good luck. In fact, people were once advised to carry some sea salt in their pocket, when, for example, they were going on a new journey, as it would bring them good luck. Salt is a preservative and is considered incorruptible and immortal. It prevents decay and is associated with God, making it the enemy of any force that seeks to destroy. That is why the devil hates it.

There were some older versions of the spilled salt superstition. It was once thought that if you spilled salt, the bad luck would go to the person that the salt falls toward, rather than to the person who spilled it.

You can kind of understand how such superstitions could come about, even without getting into in-depth historical research: Salt was once a very precious, and valuable commodity.

In fact, the origin of our term salary comes from the Latin word for salt, sal, and Roman soldiers were said to be paid partially in salt rations. This is where we get the expression worth your salt.


A Salt Cellar from Athens, 5th century BC, Louvre Museum Knocking over the salt cellar means the ends of a friendship!

Salt Over Shoulder

So, why do you toss salt over your shoulder? Well, it's because the devil tends to attack from behind. Of course he does, he's the devil. Why the left shoulder? Because the devil might also attack from the left side, and the left side is the sinister side. In fact, the Latin word for "left" or "on the left side" was sinister and this became the Old French word senestre, sinistre.


A Salt Cellar from Athens, 5th century BC, Louvre Museum
Knocking over the salt cellar means the ends of a friendship!

The salt, when you toss it, will either scare Satan away altogether, or at least, keep him from whispering evil, tempting thoughts into your ear — your left ear, of course.

Other Salt Supertitions

That salt wards off evil spirits or demons is a very old idea. People used to hang bags of salt over a baby's cradle to help protect the baby before it was baptized. And, it was thought that if you brought salt with you to a baby's baptism, and kept it near the baby during the ritual, he or she would be sure to enter Heaven when they died. And a pagan tradition was putting a bit of salt, and sugar, into a baby's mouth. Also, salt was sometimes put on dead bodies to help the soul of the deceased; basically, to help them have eternal life. Furthermore, in some parts, it was advised when you first moved into a new house, the first things carried into the house should be a box of coal, and a plate of salt, to ward off bad luck. Another version of this tradition advises a loaf of bread and a dish of salt to be carried around the house.

Basically, just about anything you did, move from one house to another, get married, etc., better involve some salt! And here's more:

  • If you knock over the salt cellar, which was a big container of salt kept on the table, it would mean the end of a friendship and you will have a big fight.
  • When you eat another man's salt, it creates a mystical bond between you and the person whose salt you ate, and if you ignore that bond, it could be very, very bad.
  • Putting salt on someone's food or "helping them to salt" could bring bad luck to them.
  • You should never let someone borrow salt from you: You should only give it as a gift, or sell it, but never lend it.
  • And, borrowing salt is bad luck for the borrower, and it is even worse to return it. If you do borrow it, it is best to have the lender 'borrow' it back. All of which gives new meaning to the maxim, "neither a borrower nor lender be."
© 2018 by Eric Troy and CulinaryLore. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.