ancient times, salt was used both to indicate and to repel the presence
of evil. This is evident in the ritual of mothers salting their
babies mentioned in the book of Ezekiel, a practice which included
but was not limited to Hebrew women: "Your father was an Emorite
and your mother a Hittite, and as for your birth, on the day you
were born your navel was not cut nor were you washed in water for
cleansing, you were not salted at all nor were you swaddled...."
and comparative religion scholar Theodor Gaster writes that the salting
of newborn babies was common practice among Jews (TB Shabbat
129b), early Christians and Greeks in the early centuries of the Common
Era: In later centuries, this practice appears among other peoples as
well: "The Arabs protect their children by placing salt in their
hands on the eve of the seventh day after birth; the following morning
the midwife or some other woman strews it about the house, crying, 'Salt
in every envious eye.'
In standard Catholic ritual, salt is applied
to the lips in baptism to exorcise the Devil, and in medieval Sweden
it was then put under the infant's tongue. The Germans did the same
thing immediately after the child had been delivered and salt was also
placed near the child to ward off demons. In the Balkans and among the
Todas of Southern India, newborn children are immediately salted; while
Laotian and Thai women wash with salt after childbirth to immunize themselves
from demonic assault. In the northern counties of England, it is customary
to tuck a small bag of salt into a baby's clothing on its first outing."
The practice of salting babies is still current in the Orient.
As for your birth, when you were born your navel cord was
not cut, and you were not bathed in water to smooth you; you
were not rubbed with salt, nor were you swaddled. (Ezekiel
Salt being incorruptible, averts demons and protects
against black magic. As an ancient writer put it, witches and
warlocks "like their master, the Devil, abhor salt as the
emblem of immorality."
* * *
If one found his road blocked by highwaymen, he
should hurriedly grasp a handful of salt or earth, whisper an
incantation over it, and fling it in the direction of his attackers,
rendering them powerless to harm him. 
The potency of salt as an anti-demonic object, is evident in other beliefs
and practices common to medieval European peoples. It was believed that
salt is never found at the Witches' Sabbath feast, and the Inquisitor
and his assistants at a witch-trial were warned to wear bags containing
consecrated salt for protection against the accused.
to medieval Jewish authorities, salt must be set on a table before
a meal is begun "because it protects one against Satan's denunciations."
As the Kabbalists saw a connection between the mathematical value of
three times the name of God (YHVH) and that of
the word "salt," they taught that if one dipped his bread
three times into salt when reciting the benediction, and if one ate
salt after each meal, he would
be protected against harm. For this reason, salt was used in many rites
connected with birth, marriage and death, as well as in medicine.
Joshua Trachtenberg; "Very often salt and bread were jointly prescribed
to defeat the strategems of spirits and magicians. When a witch assaults
a man, he can bring about her death by forcing her to give him some
of her bread and salt. Murderers ate bread and salt immediately after
their crime to prevent the return of their victim's spirits to wreak
vengeance upon them
. The common practice of bringing salt and
bread into a new home before moving in, usually explained as symbolic
of the hope that food may never be lacking there, was probably also
in origin a means of securing the house against the spirits."
Gaster, Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament (New
York: Harper & Row, 1969; republished by Peter Smith, 1990)
Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study
in Folk Religion. © copyright 1939 Behrman's Jewish Book House,
Inc. (published by Atheneum and reprinted by arrangement with
the Jewish Publications Society of America), p. 160.[back]