Salt in folklore and mythology

Dr. Kamal Abdulmalik

12 May 2023

I present here to readers my second article on salt and its symbolism in different cultures, after I received some praise and praise for my first article.

Salt has always had undeniable importance in religions and cultures around the world, stories and legends about salt are many, to mention a few.

■ In the ritual of ancient Greece, salt was sprinkled – with flour – on all sacrifices.

■ According to Chinese folklore, salt was discovered in the spot from which the legendary bird called the Phoenix flew. The story tells the story of a farmer who, when watching the event, thought that the phoenix's ascent point must be hiding a treasure. He dug to search for the aforementioned treasure and found nothing, only white soil he gave to the emperor, and this provoked the emperor's anger against the peasant because he gave him just soil. The emperor later discovered the true value of this white soil after grains of it accidentally fell into his soup. The emperor was deeply ashamed of his act, and to ease his conscience he gave the late peasant family control of the salt-producing lands.

According to Norse mythology, the gods were born from an ice mass of salty nature, a process that took about four days to complete.

■ In Mesopotamian religion, the arch of heaven and earth was created from the corpse of Tiamat, the goddess of the salty ocean.

■ The Hittites were known to venerate the god of salt even by making a statue of him. The Hittites also used salt in their curses, for example, every new soldier had to swear by salt (the sacred symbol) declaring his loyalty to his army and cursing any possible betrayal of the weak souls (this refers us to the insult used by the rural people of Egypt: O traitor of living and salt).

■ In Shinto rituals, a religion of Japanese origin, salt is used to purify the match ring before fighting breaks out, primarily to dispel malevolent spirits. Shinto also place salt vessels in institutions to dispel evil spirits and attract customers.

■ Salt is used in heating the Hindu home and weddings.

■ In Buddhism, salt is used to dispel evil spirits, so a pinch of it on the left shoulder after leaving the funeral is believed to prevent evil spirits from entering the homes of mourners.

■ The ancient Greeks used salt to celebrate the new moon where it is thrown into the fire until it rises.

In both African and Western cultures, salt was one of the most important commodities of trade. Africans exchanged salt for gold during the barter trade, and at one point minted coins made of rock salt. On the other side of the world, the Romans used salt to pay their soldiers, and the English word salary, meaning salary, is derived from the Latin salarium, meaning salt (originally money given to soldiers to buy salt).

■ The most common use of salt that goes beyond ancient times to modern times is to add it to food as a seasoning. Apart from adding taste value to what we eat, salt intake nourishes our bodies with iodine, which in turn protects us from iodine deficiency diseases such as goiter. However, it is important to note that salt with sodium should be taken with caution because too much sodium causes cardiovascular disease.

Paradoxically, salt has historically been an expensive commodity but in modern times it has become an affordable, cheap material. A substance that we add to our food and symbolize the bonds of friendship that strengthen the bonds of friendship.

Visiting Scholar at Harvard University

To read previous articles by the author, please click their name.