The Superstition of Throwing Salt

During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci strengthened the association between spilled salt and misfortune by depicting Judas with a saltcellar knocked over next to him in his painting “The Last Supper.”

Salt is essential to human life and was once an extremely valuable commodity, so much so that the word “salary” derives from it. The crystalline mineral was used in ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman sacrifices, and it was the primary means of preserving food before refrigeration came along. Over the years, salt became associated with purity, incorruptibility, and sanctity — good for both staving off rot and evil spirits. It stood to reason, then, that spilling salt was bad for both the budget and soul.

At some point, a belief arose that taking a pinch of salt with the right hand and throwing it over the left shoulder would counteract any bad luck caused by spilling the stuff. The idea comes from an imagined link between the left side and the devil — as well as the idea that Satan just can’t stand salt.

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