Where The Spilled Salt Superstition Comes From

In the 1994 film "Dumb and Dumber" (per IMDB), Lloyd Christmas stepped into a gas station bathroom stall. It was a grueling day and night of traveling across Middle America, and at long last, it was time to relieve himself of the numerous bottles of soda and cups of coffee he'd been subsisting on for hours. Then, terror struck — an unsavory blast from the past in the form of a towering giant of a man with a seething vendetta against him burst through the rickety stall door with malice carved into every crevice of his face. Revenge arrived, and it came without mercy. 

Was it mere chance that placed Christmas in that bathroom stall on that night or was it something far more sinister ... Something far saltier? Just a few days earlier, Christmas and his traveling companion, Harry Dunne, spilled a salt shaker while dining at a roadside establishment (as can be viewed on YouTube). Of course, they knew as well as anyone that spilled salt meant bad luck. Perhaps we'll never know what role that little bit of salt may have played in the harrowing fictional misfortune of Lloyd Christmas, but what we do know is that the old superstition far predated this fictional scenario. According to Morton Salt, the first instance of spilled salt and the subsequent pitfall of bad luck can be traced all the way back to the Last Supper. 

The Last Supper -- pass the salt

Leonardo Da Vinci's seminal and epochal "Last Supper" painting seems to be chalked with theoretical omens, prophecies, and codes that have been mused over for centuries. Of course, Dan Brown's 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code" inspired a lot of dialogue in that regard, but let's talk about salt. Morton Salt reports that the timeless superstition of spilling salt and the inevitable calamity to follow can actually be observed in Da Vinci's painting. If you look closely at Judas Iscariot as he sits off to Jesus's right, you can see an overturned vial of salt in front of him.

According to Well+Good, the container of spilled salt denotes Judas' impending betrayal of Jesus. If anything is going to carry a perpetually negative association for centuries to come, it's a gesture that directly signifies turning your back on Jesus. Of course, theological allegories and their supposed role in everyday life should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Salt was precious once upon a time

Hundreds of years ago, people couldn't go to the grocery store and pick up a container of salt to season their dinners with. Instead, they had to make it themselves or purchase it from vendors who charged a hefty price. "In ancient times, salt was considered a prized and very valuable commodity,"  shared Dr. Janelle Kim, a specialist in Chinese medicine. It's not easy to make salt, and if you were lucky enough to have some of it at your disposal, any wasting of it was deeply frowned upon. Naturally, bad connotations proliferated worldwide as a result (via Well+Good).

"Spilling salt toward someone was almost seen as a curse," Kim explained. "It would imply that you were inviting negative energies." Several religions, including Buddhism and Christianity, utilized salt in their spiritual practices to keep demons and evil spirits at bay. It was also believed that salt was pure enough to repel malevolent chimeras of the underworld, as Well+Good reports. 

Why do people throw salt over their shoulders?

Of course, where there's a curse, there's a counter curse. If you were unfortunate and clumsy enough to spill a vial of salt, there is a simple solution: Throw a pinch of it over your left shoulder and carry on with your day (per Well+Good). If you've heard of the salt superstition, you probably know that this is the follow-up gesture, though there's a good chance you've been left asking why. 

According to the Daily Mail, throwing salt over your left shoulder guaranteed that your impending bad luck would remain far behind you. Why? Well, it was believed that the devil himself lingered behind your left shoulder, and given salt's demon-exorcising properties, a handful of it straight into ol' Lucifer's eyes would throw him off his devious little game. Unfortunately, however, it was likely to leave him in a salty mood (via Well+Good).