With A Grain
Salt, Taken With a Grain of…
upon salt (NaCl) is something we share
with all species of fauna on this planet. The Sodium portion of the
NaCl molecule is necessary to life. In nature, sodium comes in certain
foods, most of which humans can’t digest enough of. Meat was our
species primary source. In order to settle, become agrarian, and
rebalance our diets to those conditions, we had to find other sources
of sodium chloride. Ancient people had to go to lengths to acquire it
when they didn’t have it handy. Some traveled to places where salt
could be gotten out of the earth. Others traded for it, even when they
traded little else. Some stayed put despite hardships in order to have
access to salt.
Salt was the basis of wars and of peace. It was
considered more valuable than gold by some. It was currency, salary,
sacred, and a measure of value, even to the value of a human being.
Today, it’s lost its obvious significance, as it’s plentiful and easy
for us to acquire, however, it is just as essential to our survival as
it ever was. We’ve come to take it for granted.
for granted is an easy thing for
people to do. We have natural filter building mechanisms in our brains
that help us weed out what’s extraneous in order to concentrate on
important and pertinent data. We learn what to trust and ignore, while
paying attention to that which has proven risky or dangerous. The whole
business of conning people is based upon that tendency to take things
for granted. Con artists attach their manipulation to things we’ve
learned to trust and take for granted.
We also lose
track of the significance of things
we take for granted, unlearning the meaning that was once attached to
them. Salt abounds with lost meaning. There are every day sayings most
people use that refer to those lost meanings, and if asked, cannot
explain where they came from. “Take it with a grain of salt…” is one of
those sayings. Most English speaking adults know what is meant, to some
degree, as it’s used in conversation quite a lot. Most cannot say where
it came from, why it means what it does, nor do they care.
To take a
thing with a grain of salt comes from
Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, where he indicated that taking a
grain of salt with a poison would decrease its potency so that it could
be survived. It means something like accepting information with some
skepticism. Taking it with a grain of salt, whatever it is, is a
sensible, wise choice, as much is not what it seems at first blush.
Even when a person providing information is consciously trying to
present with utter honesty, unconscious editing occurs. There is, as
well, the matter of having only so much information. Most of us operate
on a little data, difficult to ascertain as truth, all of the time.
Much more of what we purport to be truth is actually conjecture,
theory, guess, or garbage.
editing happens because we are
basically self interested beasts, even when the interests of another
are shared. We have our own agendas, much of them hidden even from our
own conscious minds. We also have this terrible proclivity to believe
in our own right-ness. There’s not a thing wrong with these very human
tendencies. We didn’t evolve instinct that failed. Instinct starts us
with a few handy tools, like those filters mentioned above, as well as
determination that tends to cause our sense of right-ness. These work
part of the time, and save us lots of time. They only hinder or harm
when we go overboard on their use.
The study of
Witchcraft (or Craft of the Wise) is
all about taking information with a grain of salt. There’s no need to
negatively criticize those who say a thing that turns out not to be
true, unless it’s suspected they intentionally mislead. Rather, we must
value the effort of the people who offer what they have, and take our
skepticism on a treasure hunt. Often a suspect bit of information is
useful for the basis of research. That bit may not be “worth its salt,”
however it may lead one to a wealthy deposit.
On our altars
we place the bowl, shell, dish,
even bare crystals describing the pentagram, salt. We charge it as a
creature of Earth and combine it with charged water to cleanse and
consecrate our circles. We embed our crystals in it to cleanse and
charge them. We symbolize and honor Earth with it. We discuss the use
of sea salt over table salt as if there were some difference that
matters to magick. We speak of it as “grounding.” Most of us, however,
only follow the teachings we’ve gleaned, unquestioningly, and never
wonder on that oh, so, significant yet so humble mineral.
written history, salt has held an
equally significant place in the workings of the temple. The drawn
square is an ancient symbol of salt, possibly from Sumaria or Egypt. It
stands for land, ground, or Earth. Being found in flats of crystal
deposited upon the land, and being basic to survival, it stands to
reason human beings would consider it as important as the ground upon
which they stood, and the land to which they looked for sustenance.
In many a
record of temple activities all over
the world, are mentioned the places and uses of salt. It was used to
cleanse, preserve, and assist in the sanctification of articles,
including sacrifices. As salt was considered very valuable by many
peoples, even to being used as currency, it was also made as a
sacrifice in its own right. No doubt, in a temple in which sacrificial
meat was preserved, salt would have been considered a greater gift than
gold in many cases. Salt, being toxic to bacteria, molds, and yeasts,
all too small for the human eye to detect, was thought to chase away
the evil, or spirits that ruined meat. It wasn’t a far stretch for
peoples that observed this to believe salt scared away evil spirits
associated with luck, as well. A windfall
of wealth is bound to cause a person to feel lucky, and a salt find
(more valuable than precious metals in some cases,) would be that
windfall. By the same token, spilled salt was considered a harbinger of
ill luck. The response for spilling salt was to sacrifice salt.
Perhaps, thus was born the superstition one should toss salt over one’s
left shoulder. Another possible origin was the habit of tossing salt
behind one in order to stop evil spirits from following, such as in the
progress away from a grave. Salt Rite
family like group in the new moon or
at Spring High Holidays, a circle is formed with or without a table and
a meal in the center.
sanctified salt is poured out by one
person into the hands of the next person to the left. As it’s poured,
the person says:
“Thou art most
valuable to me. I treasure you in
my world, and thank the gods thou are with me,” or something like that.
Appreciation and acknowledgement of one’s close community members is
important to maintaining the community bond.
The salt is
poured with solemnity from hand to
hand, around the circle deosil, each repeating or making up an
appreciative statement, until the last in the circle returns it to the
Each person in
the circle endeavors to lose as
little as possible of the precious stuff.
that’s left is set out in a dish, poured
into running water, or left on a stone as a sacrifice. It’s best not to
allow salt to fall onto ground where things are or will grow, as it
kills them. Animals do take the salt left out, however, and treasure
its flavor in their own right.
variation would be to pass a special dish
of salt. It can also be taken, a few grains each, onto tongues. Another
use after the rite is to use it in the drawing of a pentagram or solar
cross on the altar cloth, and to cleanse the circle for a ritual.
A salty poem
Salty is the
taste of my lover’s skin
And salty are the tears of joy That I take with my tongue
From his cheek When first he lay eyes Upon his new born son
Salty is the taste of my lover’s skin
salt dishes, salt cellars…
From the time
when humans first advanced to
settled agrarian civilization, until the advent of salt that would pour
freely every time from the tiny holes of a shaker, people used small
containers for salt. There were times when only the wealthy afforded
the expense of the stuff, while poorer folk were limited to what they
could glean from the meat they ate. Some peoples traveled far from
their homes to acquire it, and considered it a great challenge to do
so. They kept salt in open or loosely covered containers. They made
thousands of different containers for it. Every culture had their
traditional styles. As people became conversant with various materials,
they made their containers decorative as well as practical.
containers were very small, meant to
sit next to a plate of food, while others were larger. On some tables
it was considered an honor to be allowed a place above the salt. Those
who were royalty, wealthy, or governing sat on the good end of the
table, while servants and guests of lesser status sat below the salt.
Some open salt containers were made very elaborate, of precious metals,
glass, and bejeweled. Others were more primitively made of more
inexpensive and plentiful materials. Many a king and queen owned a
collection of beautiful open salt containers, as they were an easy gift
became easier to make, mold, shape,
and cut, glass makers included open salt containers in their wares.
Silver and other metals were employed as decorative framework for
simple glass containers. Shells, wood, tusk, stone; metals such as
pewter, porcelain, and pottery were also employed to create tiny dishes
and bowls to serve salt in. When people began to mass produce glass,
porcelain, and pottery dishes, often open salt containers were included
in the set, along with other specialized containers for the table.
thousands around the world enjoy collecting
these containers, as they are small, and often beautiful. There are
several organized collector’s clubs across the United States, and a
National organization of salt collectors that provides networking,
venues in which to trade such as conventions, and information. They
even have a web presence. There are several books available in print or
as out of print collector’s items that deal specifically with open salt
containers. There are thousands sold on e-Bay and Craig’s list, as well
as in private gallery sites. Open salt containers are still used at
table by some, and are still in production, either for their practical
uses, or for collection.
salt - various views
With a grain