The natives of Morocco regard salt as a talisman against evil, and a common amulet among the Neapolitan poor is a bit of rock-salt suspended from the neck. The peasants of the Hartz Mountain region in Germany believe that three grains of salt in a milk-pot will keep witches away from the milk; and to preserve butter from their uncanny influences, it was a custom in the county of Aberdeen, Scotland, some years ago, to put salt on the lid of a churn. In Normandy, also, the peasants are wont to throw a little salt into a vessel containing milk, in order to protect the cow who gave the milk from the influences of witchcraft.
Peculiar notions about the magical properties of salt are common among American negroes. Thus in some regions a new tenant will not move into a furnished house until all objects therein have been thoroughly salted, with a view to the destruction of witch-germs. Another example of the supernatural attributes ascribed to salt is the opinion current among uneducated people in some communities of its potency in casting a spell over obnoxious individuals. For this purpose it is sufficient either to sprinkle salt over the sleeping form of an enemy, or on the grave of one of his ancestors. Another kind of salt-spell in vogue in the south of England consists in throwing a little salt into the fire on three successive Friday nights, while saying these words:
It is not this salt I wish to burn,
It is my lover's heart to turn;
That be may neither rest nor happy be,
Until he comes and speaks to me.
On the third Friday night the disconsolate damsel expects her lover to appear. Every one is familiar with the old saying, "You can catch a bird with your hand, if you first put some salt on its tail." This quaint expression has been thought to imply that, if one can get near enough to a bird to place salt on its tail, its capture is an easy matter. The phrase, however, may be more properly attributed to a belief in the magical properties of salt in casting a spell over the bird. Otherwise any substance mioht be equally effective for the purpose of catching it. The writer remembers having read somewhere an old legend about a young man who playfully threw some salt on the back of a witch sitting next to him at table, and the witch thereupon acquired such an increase of avoirdupois that she was unable to move until the young man obligingly brushed away the salt.
The ancient Teutons believed that the swift flight of birds was caused by certain powerful spirits of the air. Now salt is a foe to ghostly might, imparts weight to bodies, and impedes their motion; therefore the rationale of its operation when placed upon a bird's tail is easily intelligible.
In the Province of Quebec French Canadians sometimes scatter salt about the doors of their stables to prevent those mischievous little imps called lutins from entering and teasing the horses by sticking burrs in their manes and tails. The lutin or gobelin is akin to the Scandinavian household spirit, who is fond of children and horses, and who whips and pinches the former when they are naughty, but caresses them when good. In Marsala, west Sicily, a horse, mule, or donkey, on entering a new stall, is thought to be liable to molestation by fairies. As a precautionary measure, therefore, a little salt is placed on the animal's back, and this is believed to insure freedom from lameness, or other evil resulting from fairy spite. Common salt has long enjoyed a reputation as a means of procuring disenchantment. It was an ingredient of a salve "against nocturnal goblin visitors" used by the Saxons in England, and described in one of their ancient leech-books; while in the annals of folk-medicine are to be found numerous references to its reputed virtues as a magical therapeutic agent. In Scotland, when a person is ailing of some affection whose nature is not apparent, as much salt as can be placed on a sixpence is dissolved in water, and the solution is then applied three times to the soles of the patient's feet, to the palms of his hands, and to his forehead. He is then expected to taste the mixture, a portion of which is thrown over the fire while saying, "Lord, preserve us frae a' skaith."
The Germans of Buffalo valley in central Pennsylvania believe that a boy may be cured of homesickness by placing salt in the hems of his trousers and making him look up the chimney.
In India the natives rub salt and wine on the affected part of the body as a cure for scorpion bites, believing that the success of this treatment is due to the supernatural virtue of the salt in searing away the fiends who caused the pain. An ancient Irish charm of great repute in cases of suspected "fairy-stroke" consisted in placing on a table three equal portions of salt in three parallel rows. The would-be magician then encircles the salt with his arm and repeats the Lord's Prayer thrice over each row. Then, taking the hand of the fairy-struck person, he says over it, "By the power of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, let this disease depart and the spell of evil spirits be broken." Then follows a solemn adjuration and command addressed to the supposed demon, and the charm is complete.
In Bavaria and the Ukraine, in order to ascertain whether a child has been the victim of bewitchment, the mother licks its forehead; and if her sense of taste reveals thereby a marked saline flavor, she is convinced that her child has been under the influence of an evil eye.
In the Swiss canton of Bern a person is believed to be amply fortified against all kinds of spiritual enemies by the simple expedient of carrying a piece of fresh bread and a psalm-book in the right and left coat pockets respectively, provided one is careful to have some rock-salt either in each vest pocket, or inside a briarwood cane upon which three crosses have been cut. In Bohemia a mother seeks to protect her daughter from evil glances by placing a little bread and salt in her pocket; and when a young girl goes out for a walk the mother sprinkles salt on the ground behind her, so that she may not lose her way.
Holy water has been employed in the religious ceremonies of many peoples as a means of purifying both persons and things, and also to keep away demons. Sprinkling and washing with it were important features of the Greek ritual.
The holy water of the Roman Catholic Church is prepared by exorcising and blessing salt and water separately, after which the salt is dissolved in the water and a benediction pronounced upon the mixture. In the Hawaiian ritual, sea-water was sometimes preferred.
A Magyar house-mistress will not give any salt to a woman who may come to the door and ask for it in the early morning, believing that any such would-be borrower is surely a witch; but in order to keep away all witches and hags, she strews salt on the threshold. On St. Lucien's Day neither salt nor fire must be taken out of the house.
Among the Japanese, the mysterious preservative qualities of salt are the source of various superstitions. The mistress of a household will not buy it at night and when purchased in the daytime a small quantity is thrown into the fire in order to prevent discord in the family, and to avert misfortune generally.
In Scotland salt was formerly in high repute as a charm, and the salt-box was the first chattel to be removed to a new dwelling. When Robert Burns, in the year 1789, was about to occupy a new house at Ellisland, he was escorted on his route thither along the banks of the river Nith by a procession of relatives, and in their midst was borne a bowl of salt resting on the family Bible.
In some places in the north of England the giving away of salt is a dangerous procedure; for if the salt thus given comes into the possession of an evil-wisher, it places the donor entirely in the power of such a person.
In upper Egypt, previous to the setting out of a caravan, it is customary for the native women to throw salt on burning coals, which are carried in earthen vessels and set down before the different loads. While so doing they exclaim, "May you be blessed in going and coming," and such incantations they believe render inert all the machinations of evil spirits.