Tag Archives: salt over shoulder

Passing the salt

Background: Informant is a 19 year old student. Their parents both grew up in Venezuela. Their mom’s side is Spanish and Italian and their dad’s is Spanish and Israeli. Informant is from Texas and Miami and now resides in Los Angeles. They identify as Latin American and Jewish.

Informant: So, ever since I was little, at the dinner table my dad has this superstition. And his whole family has this superstition that you cant pass salt directly. You have to place the salt shaker down on the table and the other person has to pick it up. If not, it’s bad luck. It’s like, a curse. Like if you pass the salt directly it’s a curse. I don’t know why, I don’t know what it’s about but my dad has always been like that. If he’s like, pass the salt and I try to hand it to him he’s like “no put it down on the table,” like he won’t accept it. At all. And when I go to my aunt’s house for a high holiday or something it’s the same thing. It’s like, in his family, so now we all do it obviously. And also if someone spills the salt, you get the salt and throw it over their shoulder because that’s also bad luck. 

Reflection: This story is a great example of superstitions in people’s culture. The informants dad enforces this superstition and it’s completely backed up by his family as they all believe in it together. I thought it was interesting how the informant described how this superstition was highly specific to their family, but this is actually a very common superstition that many have. It shows how people’s folklore becomes very personal to them even when it’s so universal. 

Throwing A Pinch Of Salt Over The Shoulder – Buddhist Tradition

Main Piece

Subject: Um… I really don’t know the origins of this one… but… I believe it’s Buddhist or like… Asian. If we’re coming back from a funeral, a graveyard, or anything related to dead people, we don’t enter the house before throwing a pinch of salt over both of our shoulders. And it’s supposed to make sure that dead spirits don’t follow you into the house and haunt you. And I still abide by that.

Interviewer: When did you start doing that?

Subject: Ever since I was a kid, it was almost as customary as wearing like… black to a funeral. When you came back, sure enough, you threw salt over your shoulders.

Interviewer: Oh. Cool. Where did you first learn this?

Subject: Um… I probably got it from my dad. It was one of those things growing up… it falls more in line with Hawaiian superstition and East-Asian superstition than it does with like… Jew… Stuff. *laughter*

Context: The subject is a Sophomore studying Law, History, and Culture at USC. She is of Japanese and Ashkenazi descent, and a third generation resident of Hawaii.  She is a very close friend of mine, and is currently quarantined at her home in Irvine, California due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The following conversation happened over a facetime call when I asked her to tell me some traditional folklore connected to her heritage.

Interpretation: I had heard of throwing salt over your shoulder for good luck, but not in the context of after a funeral. I found that is a very common Buddhist folk tradition for scaring off spirits, as my subject mentioned. I thought it interesting that she learned the tradition in Hawaii, and it has Buddhist roots. I think that shows how culturally diverse Hawaii is. In addition to that, it is also a Christian tradition to throw salt over the left shoulder, because many Christians believe the devil lingers on the left shoulder and it can “blind” him. The Christian folk belief is likely how it was popularized in America. It was interesting how my subject described the tradition as being as customary as wearing black to a funeral. I think that traditions and rituals can become so normal that we take them for granted and subsequently forget the reasoning behind them.

For more on the topic, see:

Pettit, Carl. “Why Do We Throw Salt Over Our Shoulders for Good Luck?” TSM Interactive. Jan. 4, 2012. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://tsminteractive.com/salt-shoulders-good-luck/

Sue, Granny. “Pass the Salt Please: Salt Folklore and Superstitions.” Pass the Salt Please: Salt Folklore and Superstitions, 5 June 2017, grannysu.blogspot.com/2017/06/pass-salt-please-salt-folklore-and.html.

Throwing salt over left shoulder

I remember once I spilled salt and one of my aunts told me to quickly like grab a pinch and then just throw it over my left shoulder cause supposedly there was a devil there always lurking and so by throwing it I would hit him in the eyes and I guess it would make him go away. Also I think there was something about how your guardian angel was always on your right shoulder and they would like make you spill the salt magically I guess to warn you of an evil thingy behind you so you throw salt to avoid bad luck and to scare the devil.

After looking more into this story, it comes from European countries in a time where salt was scarce so therefore it was said any person who spilled salt would have a bad omen because it was a luxury so in order to avoid that bad omen or bad luck the person was supposed to grab a pinch and throw it over their left shoulder. Then it developed into the story in which the devil lurks on ones left shoulder and the angel on the right and therefore throwing salt into his eyes would make him go away. These stories and folklore make me realize the way people will shape their beliefs in order to feel safer against the evil.