Throwing salt over the shoulder

Informant Data:

The informant is a Romanian American who was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1935. At age 37, my informant left Ceausescu’s Romania and arrived in the United States in 1972. She is a skin care specialist who currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She speaks slowly but very impassionedly.


Contextual Data:

When I was over at my house in Santa Monica over the weekend to spend time with my family, and I was having dinner with my family, my sister knocked over the salt shaker and some salt spilled out of it. My informant gasped and told my sister to throw the salt over her shoulder three times. I wanted to see what the reasoning was that made the informant believe that not throwing salt over the shoulder is bad luck as well as possibly know where she learned this folk belief. I asked if I could record her, and she agreed.

When asked who taught her this folk belief, my informant said that it was her mother and that she had taught the informant this when the informant was very young.



(Audio recording transcribed)

“So if you spill salt, it’s bad. It means there’s going to be a fight in the house. So one way to cure that is that you take salt that you spilled…let’s say you spilled it on the counter or on the table…so you take a little a bit of it, like this with your fingers and you throw it over your shoulder three times. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know why. But that’s a cure for spilling the salt and preventing fighting with somebody.”



Perhaps this folk belief arose from the fact that salt was very valuable since it was important to preserving things before refrigerators or freezers were invented. Because it would’ve been bad to lose something of value, the folk belief naturally arose as an arbitrary way of counteracting the bad luck of wasting something of value.