Sitting down to an elegant dinner in tie and tails are a room full of distinguished men each seeming bent on out-shining the next in terms of breeding and class. As one reaches across the table to retrieve the dish of butter, his arm hits the salt cellar, which wobbles once or twice, and then falls. The crystals of salt have barely scattered on to the silk table cloth when the gentleman reaches forward, picks up a few grains in a pinch, and then tosses them over his left shoulder. This display of the superstitions about spilling salt passes uncommented upon as the dinner continues.
The Spilling Salt SuperstitionIt is considered bad luck to spill salt, but the superstition most associated with this activity is not the act of spilling, but what comes next. In order to prevent the bad luck from settling on the salt spiller, the person who did the pilling is required to toss some of the spilled salt over his left shoulder. This very specific action is supposed to act as a shield, but must be done immediately for its benefits to take hold. This very interesting superstition has been around for a very long time, although its exact origins are obscured in history.
The Origin of the Spilling Salt SuperstitionThe origins of the spilling salt superstitions may lie in the fact that spilling salt was considered bad form long before it was considered bad luck. In ancient times salt was an expensive commodity, and one that had many useful purposes. Wasting salt, therefore, was frowned upon, and so some suggest that the admonition of spilling salt being “bad luck” came about as a way to stop the careless from wasting a precious spice.
But what of throwing the salt over the shoulder- and why the left shoulder so specifically? In some Christian beliefs the Devil hangs about over the left (also known as the Sinister) side of the body, looking for an opportunity to invade. Spilling salt, seen as an invitation for the Devil to do his handy work, needs to be accounted for- tossing said salt over the left shoulder puts it square in the devil’s face, just as he is on the attack.
There is another Christian origin that some ascribe to the superstition that spilling salt is bad luck. Like the Holy Grail myth and the superstition about the number 13, the idea that spilling salt can bring you ill is linked to the Last Supper. The famous painting by Da Vinci shows the betrayer Judas having just knocked over a salt vessel, spilling the spice all over the table.