Why is it bad luck to spill salt?

Why is it bad luck to spill salt?

Ever heard the theory that those unlucky enough to spill salt are instructed to throw salt over their left shoulder immediately? If so, you've also probably wondered the origin of the well-known salt superstition.


  1. Bad Luck Spilling Salt
  2. Biblical and Religious Roots
  3. Salt in Mythology and Folklore
  4. The Superstition Lives On
  5. Prevent Evil Spirits by Throwing Salt Over Your Left Shoulder
  6. The Psychological and Societal Implications of Superstitions
  7. Goodbye Negative Energies

Bad Luck Spilling Salt

The healthy eating community and messy home cooks both might want to take extra care when reaching for a pinch of salt. One long-held superstition says that spilling some of that good old sodium chloride might bring about bad luck. But, why cry over spilt salt?

The most obvious theory, and the likely root of the superstition, is that salt was a valuable commodity in ancient times. Because of the high cost of procuring it, as well as the vital role it played in the preservation of food, salt was considered a form of currency.

In fact, the word "salary" originates from sal, the Latin word for salt, and Roman soldiers often received it as part of their compensation. The economic importance of salt in ancient times created a societal sentiment that its waste was not just unwise, but could bring misfortune. Translation: spilled salt equals bad luck.

Biblical and Religious Roots

These popular salt superstitions aren't solely economic. They also finds their roots in religious and cultural lore. In the Leonardo da Vinci painting "The Last Supper", Judas Iscariot is depicted as having knocked over a salt cellar, an act that's come to symbolize betrayal. The association of salt spillage with a last supper level betrayal could be yet another reason for the enduring salt superstition.

In Christianity, salt is seen as an agent of preservation and is often associated with holiness and purity. Spilling it, then, could symbolically represent a loss of that purity or protection. In that context, it's easy to understand why spilling salt has been associated with bad vibes across so many cultures for so long.

Salt in Mythology and Folklore

Every culture has myths and stories that revolve around the common elements of life, and salt is no exception. Throughout history, salt isn't just a seasoning, but a deeply significant symbol.

In Slavic mythology, for example, there's a well-known tale about a father who asks his daughters how much they love him. While the first two liken their love to gold and diamonds, the youngest says she loves him as much as salt. Mistaking her words for disrespect, he banishes her. Only when he's forced to eat food without salt does he understand her sentiment, realizing that love, much like salt, is a fundamental essence of life.

African folktales, too, frequently involve salt as a metaphor for wisdom or the trials of life. Spilling or wasting it in these stories is often linked to ignorance or the misfortunes of the protagonist.

The Superstition Lives On

As they tend to do, salt superstitions grew and evolved over centuries, with different cultures assigning different meanings. If you spilled salt, here are some of the things that might happen:

  • A big fight and the end of a friendship
  • Bad luck for the person toward which the salt was spilled
  • The devil is invited in to perform evil deeds

According to legend, the devil sits behind your left shoulder, waiting for a way in. Spilling salt gives him that invitation. Fortunately, the practice of tossing salt was developed as a means to avoid bad luck.

Prevent Evil Spirits by Throwing Salt Over Your Left Shoulder

Now, it's not enough to merely recognize the act of spilling salt as a harbinger of bad fortune. Many cultures have developed a counter-ritual to beat back the negative energy – throwing salt over one's left shoulder. Why the left shoulder? The left side has traditionally been associated with deviousness, bad luck, and evil spirits across various cultures.

In Latin, the word "sinistra" originally meant "left" but eventually took on the meaning of "unlucky" or "sinister". Throwing a precious commodity like salt over the left shoulder was believed to blind or drive away any evil spirits lurking there, waiting to capitalize on the bad luck you've just invited.

It's not just about spilled granules. Superstitions serve a purpose in society. They offer an explanation for the unknown, a sense of control in an unpredictable world. The act of counteracting the bad luck from spilled table salt gives people a ritual, a small measure of control over fate.

From a psychological perspective, when an individual believes that they've reversed their bad luck by performing a ritual, they feel relieved, which in turn reduces anxiety. Over time, this positive reinforcement strengthens the belief in the ritual's efficacy, which leads to even more people tossing salt.

Goodbye Negative Energies

From its historical significance as a prized commodity to its cultural and religious connotations, the different superstitions offer a fascinating glimpse into human history and psychology. It's a testament to how deeply embedded certain beliefs can become, persisting across generations and even thriving in our modern world.

Superstitions, no matter how trivial it might seem, tells a story. You don't have to believe that spilling salt brings about a lifetime of bad luck, and you don't have to throw salt over your shoulder in response either. Whatever you believe, it's safe to say that you'll never sprinkle salt the same way again.

Spilling Salt FAQ

Is spilling salt bad luck?

According to some superstitions, spilling salt is an invitation for the devil to come into your life and cause misfortune. This is why it’s considered bad luck to spill salt. 

What do you do when you spill salt?

Most people believe that as soon as you spill salt on the ground, you should take a pinch of salt and throw it over your left shoulder to blind the demon that has come to take your soul.

What happens if you spill salt?

Spilling salt is a bad omen. It means that an evil devil is lurking behind your back to take your soul. Some people also believe that it generally brings bad luck to the person who spilled it.

Source: https://people.howstuffworks.com

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