Saturday, September 8, 2001

Sign Superstition/Folk Belief “Spilled salt” folklore

Genre: Sign Superstition/Folk Belief                           
“Spilled salt”
September, 8, 2001   

1. Sineád Dinsmore                                                     
2. “Toddy” (Kathleen) Ritter
3. Adrian McGarrity, male, 40s
Irish-born, Irish-English speaking
Oct 6, 2001, in an airplane enroute,
Lisbon to London somewhere over Galicia

We were all sitting around the table at my aunt Toddy’s house in Santa Cruz. Someone spilled some salt, so I asked several family members about the superstition of throwing spilled salt over one’s shoulder. Both my cousin Sineád and my aunt Toddy learned about it from their parents at around the same age of six or seven years of age, as did I.  

When it came to tossing salt over a shoulder to ward off bad luck, Sineád was the only contrariwise one who threw it with left hand over right shoulder. The rest of us tossed it right over left. I asked them why they did it. “To ward off bad luck.” I asked what kind of bad luck? “Unspecific.” Or “A spell.”

I decided to collect data further afield. A month later, I met Adrian McGarrity, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, on a plane enroute from Lisbon to London. An excellent informant, if not captive audience, Adrian confirmed the majority rule: “Salt over the left shoulder with the right hand.” He said “It was another thing for not bringing bad luck upon yourself. ‘Make sure you throw a little salt over your shoulder,’ my mother would always say.”

When I asked each of them how they thought this superstition evolved, they said salt was once a valuable commodity (worth more than gold) and to toss spilled salt was to make an offering, to ward off bad luck or “to stop an argument,” an explanation which I’d never heard before. The operative word was valuable. Don't destroy something valuable.

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