Irish Superstition – Spilling Salt

Informant: Sheila Hurley (married name is now Weiss), 79, is my grandmother who was born and raised in Wales by Irish parents. She grew up extremely Catholic: going to church every Sunday and schools directed by the Nuns of her local parish. She was influenced by the Irish heritage and customs of her parents and relatives that lived in her small town. She lived in Wales until she was 18 years old and then moved to New York to pursue a career in modeling. She now lives in Santa Monica, California where she raised her two daughters and helped raise her 3 grandchildren.

Sheila said, “In Irish tradition we were told that if you spilled any amount of salt on the table, then it was a necessity that you throw it over your left shoulder 3 times. If you did not do this than you would be cursed with bad luck and bad things would happen to you.”

Sheila holds, to this day, many superstitions that she received from her Irish parents. This particular one is one that has even been passed down to her grandchildren, who are myself and 2 siblings. Spilling of salt is a common accident that many would clean up and remove from the table without hesitation. However; growing up with her Irish parents, my grandmother was taught that if you did not complete the ritual of throwing the spillage over your left shoulder 3 times then bad things would happen to you. As a child this superstition seems very plausible and no child wanted bad things to happen to them. Therefore; the ritual became almost second nature. My grandmother told me that the superstition originates from Catholicism. In the Bible story of Sodom and Gamorrah, the Angel’s of Heaven came to Lot and told him and his family to flee from their city of Sodom because a disaster was pending. They were told directly to flee for their lives and not to look back at all. In the midst of the family’s flee, Lot’s wife turned around to look over her shoulder at Sodom and was immediately turned into a pillar of salt. This story involves salt and looking over the shoulder, and this is what my grandmother was taught to believe that bad luck would occur if the ritual was not performed. She also said that throwing the salt 3 times was a symbol of recognition for the Holy Trinity; the Catholic belief that God consists of 3 beings, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

I personally love this superstition. Mostly because it was taught to my mother and then taught to me and my siblings. I even perform this ritual whenever I happen to spill salt on the table, and I do not hesitate to tell others to do the same. Even though I do not necessarily believe in the superstition, it is something that everyone in my family does, so I do it naturally through habit. I particularly like the biblical significance of this superstitions origin and I did not know about it until I recently collected lore from my grandmother. Having context added to the superstition makes it more interesting and understandable, not just some wise tale that my grandmother invented. This superstition is a way to acknowledge the biblical history of the Catholic religion, and knowing the reason why I do practice this superstition allows for me to appreciate the stories of the Bible even more.