Surely you’re familiar with some of the ways salt ties into the occult, the paranormal, and traditions. Your family probably taught you at least one superstition having to do with salt that you took for granted until you realized not everyone has the same habit. When you spill salt on accident, do you follow that up with a purposeful pinch of salt tossed over your shoulder? If you specifically chose to toss the salt over your left shoulder, is your family of an Abrahamic faith? 

Where did these salt superstitions come from? Are the practices tied to particular cultures? Is there any science behind the use of salt in ritual? And how do these beliefs tie into the supernatural?

Where do superstitions come from? 

There’s always a little bit of wisdom or logic in every human superstition. Nay, every superstition, human or otherwise. I’ve heard the term “pigeon logic” to describe a random action followed by a random fortunate event coincidentally generating a new superstition. The moniker comes from watching this phenomenon take place in literal pigeons.

Other species can also be superstitious.

Apparently, pigeons take the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” assumption to heart. You can find a version of the following example in any city park.

A pigeon scrounging in the park just happens to turn in a circle, peck the ground 4 times, then stretch its left wing. Then, a passing hungry tourist accidentally drops a crumb of fried chicken on the ground right in front of this lucky pigeon. After enjoying the treat, this pigeon decides that he’s going to make his own luck. He proceeds to turn in a circle, peck the ground 4 times, then stretch his left wing again, just in case it has the same result. If another passing tourist just happens to drop another piece of fried chicken at that moment, the little cannibal may have it’s new superstition firmly entrenched for all of it’s little birdy eternity. 

Pigeons pee and poo out of the same hole. Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Humans differ in one very important way from pigeons: we pee and poo out of separate holes. But in a less important way, we differ in the ability to pass superstitions on to future generations. Not like the Darwinian way of passing down traits that make offspring more likely to mate and produce offspring. But rather in a folie à deux way that might, one could argue, make us less cool and therefore LESS likely to mate.

We pass on our human superstitions through storytelling, teaching younger generations that these beliefs hold value. I’d have to guess that means that, way back at the beginning of the telephone tree, the first person in human history to pass one of these practices on to her offspring had a genuine experience to solidify her belief in the particular superstition; either a true correlation was recognized in a flash of insight, or she’s thinking like our pigeon, perhaps. 

Over time, superstitions lose their original meaning.

And so through the years, we pass these beliefs on to future generations. But we assume the kids will be too ungrateful to appreciate that salt doesn’t grow on trees, and why we no longer invite that one cousin to dinner because she’s always spilling this valuable commodity that we had to sell our other children to afford. So we tell the kids “spilt salt is just BAD LUCK, ok?”

After such indoctrination, the young initiates develop an icky feeling every time they commit these taboos. As the superstition passes down, the original (perhaps logical) reason for the superstitious action fades, but the discomfort with breaking the taboo remains. Even if we suspect logically that the superstition isn’t real, the uneasiness continues until we ease our anxiety by completing the superstitious action circuit. In the case of spilled salt, that sometimes involves tossing a few granules over the left shoulder.

Some superstitious actions actually affect outcomes.

According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Professor Jane Risen of Chicago University demonstrates that “jinx avoidance behavior” can actually change people’s actions after a perceived bad luck event, leading to the avoidance of things that might cause real bad outcomes. 

The study found that avoidance actions exerting force away from oneself reduce the anticipated negative consequences of a jinx. These actions may lead to a less vivid mental image of the negative event, thereby diminishing concerns about potential bad luck. This effect was observed in scenarios where participants either tempted fate or did not, followed by engaging in either an avoidant action (like knocking on wood) or a neutral action.

This research highlights the psychological mechanisms behind the belief that certain actions can undo bad luck. My interpretation of the findings is that visualization and symbolic avoidant actions genuinely alter beliefs about future outcomes, and also alter subsequent behavior, including risk-taking and worry, in turn seeming to affect luck itself. Like the placebo effect: if you believe you’re due bad luck, you may subconsciously go looking for it around every corner. The author concludes that “although superstitions are often culturally defined, the underlying psychological processes that give rise to them may be shared across cultures.”

Salty superstitions occur in different cultures throughout the entire world. Photo by Chris Arthur-Collins on Unsplash

Why is it bad luck to spill salt?

In ancient times, spilling salt was taboo because of its high cost. History is full of timeless myths about spilled salt.

What are some widely-practiced salt superstitions? 

What is the superstitious view of salt in various cultures? And what does it mean when salt falls on the floor? What does throwing salt behind you do? What are the various superstitions about salt around the world?


Buddhists may throw this precious commodity over their shoulders to prevent evil spirits from following them home from funerals. They care less, however, about using the right or left shoulder than other traditions. They may also keep a baggie of it in the car for a safe journey.


Remember when we previously talked about Bhuts? These evil spirits tend to molest women and children who have just eaten sweets. So it might be wise to taste salt immediately afterwards to remove the sweet flavor from the mouth. Hey, this one actually does have a little medical sense to it, as sugar can cause harmful bacteria to multiply in the mouth, and sodium chloride is a tooth-cleaning agent. 

For example, so general is this belief in some locations, the local street food sweet vendors provide their youthful customers each with a bit of salt. Most people involved in the transaction understand that this is to remove the sweetness from their mouths, and thus afford a safeguard against the ever-watchful Bhuts.


A Roman Catholic priest may prepare holy water one traditional way by exorcizing and blessing salt and water separately. After the blessing, he will dissolve the salt in the water and pronounce a benediction upon the mixture. The resulting fluid is useful for exposing and repelling demons and the Devil. I’m not sure why he’d have to exorcise the salt in the first place, but salt possession sounds

Spilling salt also seems to indicate some moral character flaws to Christians. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” immortalized Judas in the process of spilling salt. The Roman soldiers might’ve given up less of their salinized salaries for Judas’ tip-off before the last supper, had they known about the indiscretion.


According to, salt has great power against evil entities and negative energy. According to this article, new homes are full of demons (here we thought it was old homes that were likely to have haints). Some salt spilled in the corners might help drive the stinkers out of their hidey holes. This reminds me of the modern feng shui belief that energy gets stuck in corners. Also the spiritualist idea that ghosts get stuck in corners.

Interestingly, the article continues that new clothing is also likely to be demon-infested. Spilling a pinch of salt in the pockets of new clothes could really help dispel those pocket goblins (especially for babies). It’s customary to dip food in salty water and eat it on Passover to remember the tears of one’s forlorn forefathers, although this is more symbolic than superstitious.

From the Book of Genesis in the Torah, the story of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt certainly implies the mineral’s association with a bad omen, or the Devil.

“Pass the salt, pass the sorrow”

Is it bad luck to pass salt? According to, it can be bad fortune to hand someone a salt cellar without setting it down on the table first to break the connection. The likely history behind this superstition is the high value of salt in the past, plus the risk you may spill salt during the transaction.


In fact, the root of the English word “salary” comes from the Latin term salarium argentum, meaning “salt money.” The etymology implies it was once common to pay your employees partially using salt like currency, as Roman soldiers were paid at the height of the Roman Empire. Salt is also at the root of the word “salvation,” tellingly.

Nowadays, commercial production salt plants churn out plenty of cheap table salt and rock salt, and healthy eating is associated with avoiding sodium. But salt was once rare, expensive, and therefore considered bad luck to spill. The point of setting the salt shaker down on the tabletop while passing it might be to clarify exactly whose fault it was that the salt spilled (in the event that the someone spilled salt during the salt cellar pass).

Remember, in ancient times, spilling salt was a serious offense. At some point in history, it was even believed that he who spills salt arouses enmity. If spilling salt causes such bad vibes, nobody wants to find themselves blamed for a spill that was the fault of the passer, not the receiver. 

Throwing salt over your shoulder

How do you use salt to get rid of bad luck? Most people do so by tossing salt over the left shoulder quickly after spilling salt. I’ve always supposed that the previous passing practice mutated into this one. What an ironic evolution, as the person is preventing the bad luck brought on by spilling and therefore wasting precious salt, only by wasting even more salt.

Becky told me she always believed this custom is separately derived from the idea of making a salt ring on the floor to protect from and ward against haints and negative energies. 

Where does throwing salt over your shoulder originate from?

It turns out the custom is much older than either of us realized. From “Spilling salt has been considered unlucky for thousands of years. Around 3,500 B.C., the ancient Sumerians first took to nullifying the bad luck of spilled salt by throwing a pinch of it over their left shoulders.” The ritual spread across Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece.

Throwing the salt over the left shoulder might be important because the devil purportedly sits on the left side. It’s rude (and probably more ill luck) to toss salt in the face of the angel on the right. Throwing salt to one’s left side, or over one’s left shoulder, might blind the Devil in the act of invoking the bad luck from spilled salt in the first place.

Does salt give you good luck?

To be clear, nobody thinks that just tossing salt around willy-nilly is good luck. Tossing salt is specifically to counteract bad luck caused by spilling it. Salt has, however, been associated with spiritual purification and protection in many cultures, and so you might consider yourself lucky to have some on hand in case of ghosts.

What does spilling salt have to do with ghosts? 

Just like slugs, ghosts allegedly cannot cross salt. Various occult traditions use salt as a barrier to keep out haints. This is usually in the form of creating a circle or barrier on the floor out of salt.

What does spilling salt mean spiritually? Salt spilled in a circle may protect a vulnerable medium in a trance. Or a sigil for performing magick. It could form a barrier at the threshold to keep negative entities out of the entire house. The salt circle could even trap a ghost within it. Becky believes the tossing of salt over the shoulder is a superstition that is at least somewhat symbolic of this circle of protection.

Like ghosts, slugs cannot cross a line of salt. Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

There are other practices, such as hanging a vial of salt by a window to keep ghosts out, mixing salt with holy water to repel demons, or wearing salt to protect one’s aura from outside influence.

Why haints cannot cross salt is less clear. Is it too pure? Do the ions released by the salt warming in the sun purify the area? Does salt stick to their ectoplasm and dehydrate them like snails? Can it melt them like ice on a salted road? Does it hurt their delicate spectral feet like Legos on the floor?

How to Use Salt for Protection Against the Paranormal

One could argue that all superstitions are paranormal in nature. After all, none of them are strictly scientific. But for the purposes of this list we’ll stick to those that actually harken to a specific paranormal entity, and not just “bad luck.” Here’s a fun list paraphrased from data at, about how to use salt for other types of paranormal influence. 

Different Superstitions About Salt From Around the World

  • Salt the lid of your butter churn to keep witches out of your butter. (Aberdeen, Scotland)
  • Sprinkle salt over an obnoxious enemy while he is sleeping, or on the grave of one of his ancestors to cast a spell on him to make him less annoying. (unknown origin)
  • Throw salt on the fire 3 Friday nights in a row while chanting an incantation to draw your lover to your side. (South of England)
  • Put salt on a bird’s tail to make it easier to capture. (unknown origins)
  • Salt the stable doorway to thwart lutins (hobgoblins) from teasing the horses. (Quebec, Canada)
  • Salt the back of your horse before he enters a new stall to protect him from fairies. (Sicily)
  • Cure homesickness by putting salt in the hems of your trousers and looking up a chimney. (Germans of central Pennsylvania)
  • Rub salt and wine on your scorpion stings to burn the fiends out of them. (India)
  • Say the Lord’s prayer 3 times each over 3 lines of salt on a table to perform a fairy exorcism. (Ireland, of course)

Around 3,500 B.C., the ancient Sumerians first took to nullifying the bad luck of spilled salt by throwing a pinch of it over their left shoulders.

-Natalie Wolchover of
  • Lick your child’s forehead for salty taste to detect the evil eye. (Ukraine and Bavaria)
  • Sprinkle salt on the ground behind your daughter as she leaves the house, so she won’t get lost. (Bohemia)
  • What if you find the lower half of a manananggal while the upper half is out hunting? Putting salt in it may prevent the halves from reuniting. This would out the monster the next morning when only part of her shows up for work. (Philippines
  • Throw salt on burning coals in an earthen vessel in front of your cargo before shipping it off. This will prevent evil spirits from messing with it. (Egypt)
  • Put salt in the coffin to keep the interred from becoming possessed. (Europe)
  • Rub your 8-day-old infant with salt to protect him from demons. (Ancient Rome)
  • What if you find butter on the barn door and suspect that a witch put it there? First, load your gun with salt. Then, shoot the butter, and thus keep the cows healthy and un-cursed. (Russian Esthonia)
  • Use salt as a weapon against literally any type of paranormal being. (The TV show Supernatural)

So many salt superstitions!

What a vast territory salt can cover in the realm of the supernatural! Does your family practice any of these, or other, salty superstitions? If not, it’s a good thing you are reading this article. All these superstitions will surely leave you with plenty of fodder for all types of future paranormal encounters. And if you need normal (rather than paranormal) protection from the entities in your kitchen, Becky designed a very protective salty apron for you that is available in our merch store. Wear it when you want to cook up a spooky day!