Salting the Bread and the Baby; Magical Powers of Salt

From 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...."[1]

Bible 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."[2] The practice of salting babies is still current in the Orient.

Ezekiel 16:4
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 16:4)

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."

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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. [2]

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.

According 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.

Writes 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."[3]




[1] Ezekiel 16:4[back]

Barnes and Nobles link[2] Theodore Gaster, Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1969; republished by Peter Smith, 1990) [back]

[3] 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]



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