Salt Over the Shoulder: Faeries or Demon?


KE: “If salt spills, you pick up a little pinch of it and throw it over your left shoulder. It’s for the faeries because you don’t want to make them mad you spilled the salt so you are giving them some. But there’s another meaning I know where there’s a Demon behind you and you are throwing salt in his face.”


The informant grew up knowing the faerie version from her mother, since she was little. Someone else told her the demon version when they saw the informant throw salt over her shoulder in college.


This is a simple practice that takes on two wildly different meanings. The faerie version gives the person the chance to “share” the spilled salt, whereas the demon version requires the person protect themselves after making a mistake. It makes sense that a parent might tell their child the faerie version, if they were even aware of the two different versions. As the informant’s mother comes from a Wales and Irish lineage, I wonder if the faerie version stems from there, or pure chance as to which version the informant’s mother learned first. This practice goes back to the idea of the world needing to be in balance– so if salt spills, you need to correct it by using the salt for a purpose, either sharing with faeries or protecting against demons. In the faerie version, a child might be encouraged to spill salt in order to feed the faeries, whereas the demon version makes spilling salt a punishable offense.