History of Salt in Religion
Salt has long held an important place in religion and culture. Greek worshippers consecrated salt in their rituals. Jewish Temple offerings included salt; on the Sabbath, Jews still dip their bread in salt as a remembrance of those sacrifices. In the Old Testament, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. Author Sallie Tisdale notes that salt is as free as the water suspending it when it’s dissolved, and as immutable as stone when it’s dry – a fitting duality for Lot’s wife, who overlooks Sodom to this day.
Covenants in both the Old and New Testaments were often sealed with salt: the origin of the word “salvation.” In the Catholic Church, salt is or has been used in a variety of purifying rituals. In fact, until Vatican II, a small taste of salt was placed on a baby’s lip at his or her baptism. Jesus called his disciples “the Salt of the Earth.” In Leonardo DaVinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper,” Judas Escariot has just spilled a bowl of salt – a portent of evil and bad luck. To this day, the tradition endures that someone who spills salt should throw a pinch over his left shoulder to ward off any devils that may be lurking behind.
In Buddhist tradition, salt repels evil spirits. That’s why it’s customary to throw salt over your shoulder before entering your house after a funeral: it scares off any evil spirits that may be clinging to your back.
Shinto religion also uses salt to purify an area. Before sumo wrestlers enter the ring for a match—which is actually an elaborate Shinto rite—a handful of salt is thrown into the center to drive off malevolent spirits.
Read about the ancient salt road in Japan and the gods of salt along it.