With A Grain of Salt

By
Wyn Summerhawk

Salt, Taken With a Grain of…

Dependence 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 Crystal - Photo by Wyn Summerhawk 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.

Taking things 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.

Unconscious 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.

Oh! Sacred Salt

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.

Since before 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 anywhere.

Salt is 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

Gathering a 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.

Charged or 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 first.

Each person in the circle endeavors to lose as little as possible of the precious stuff.

The salt 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.

Another 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

Open salts, 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.

Open Salts - Photo by Wyn Summerhawk

Some salt 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 to bring.

When glass 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.

Today 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.

History of salt - various views

Wikipedia
TheNibble.com
CargillSalt.com
Saltwoks.us
salt.gov.uk
salt.org.il

With a grain of salt...

Wikipedia
everything2.com


Rate this page!


Return from Grain of Salt
Home

If you like this site...

footer for about cyberwitchcraft page