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SALT

Salt -- whether common table salt, sea salt, or kosher salt -- has a long history of use in rituals of purification, magical protection, and blessing. Among spell-casters working in the European folk-magic tradition, it is a commonplace to lay down a pinch of salt in each corner of a room before performing a spell. This has carried over into contemporary African-American hoodoo practice as well.

Generally speaking, when the intention of a hoodoo spell is primarily protective, salt may be used alone or combined with ingredients like saltpeter and black pepper. For more aggressive spells against enemies, such as Hot Foot and Crossing, salt may be added to red pepper, sulphur, and bluestone.

In Latin America, salt is used to prepare a very important magical formula called Rattlesnake Salt which is believed to lengthen life and to provide protection for the home or place of business.

Additionally, because ritual cleaning is an important facet of African folk-magic, salt is a common ingredient in African-Americanhoodoo spells in which magical protection from evil and breaking enemy work (especially "live things" or tricks under the skin) is accomplished through the employment of ritual baths and floor washes.

The following documentation on salt in hoodoo spell-casting comes from "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork," a 5-volume, 4766-page collection of folkloric material gathered by Harry Middleton Hyatt, primarily between 1935 and 1939. For a further documented series spells using salt in the German-American and African-American folk-magic traditions, see the page on Protection Spells.

IMPORTANT: If this is the first time you have encountered Hyatt material
at this web site, please take a moment to open and read the supplementary page called
"Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork" by Harry Middleton Hyatt.


SALT AND SALTPETER BATH FOR UNDOING TRICKS

1457. A person dat been tricked in de skin it's something dat is buried for 'em or laid down on de steps for 'em -- de house been dressed. You take nine teaspoonful of cooking salt, you take one dime {'s worth}, of saltpeter, use dat, and eight quarts of water, hot water -- just like water for a bath. You pull off all of your clothes, ever'thing you got on, you get in there and take a bath in dat same water nine times.

(What do you mean nine times? All at once or different times?)

Dat same water -- don't throw dat water away, you keep it in something like you take a bath in. Never rub upwards -- always rub from here down [demonstrates].

(From your face right down.)

From there down. A person whut's been tricked in de skin, rub from here down and use dat water nine times, and de last time you use dat water, take it and throw it towards de sunrise, soon in the morning before the sun rise, so you get rid of dat complaint. Ah'm telling you whut's done happened to me.

[Mobile, Ala., (679), 905:2.]


SALT AND SALTPETER BATH FOR PUTTING ENEMIES UNDER YOUR FEET

1458. Now, if -- when yo' wanta be lucky an' stay lucky so yo' kin jest -- yo' know, thrive and have prosperity, yo' git chew a nickel worth of saltpeter an' a tablespoonful of that and put it into yore water, five quarts of water an' take a tablespoonful of table salt an' mix with that an' let it boil down.

An' after yo' gets dat five quarts of water, yo' heat it. Whenever it start tuh, look like it gon'a boil, yo' jest stir this salt an' brimstone together an' then when yo' begin tuh lie down {at night}, yo' take yore bath with it. An' when yo take yore bath with it, yo' save dat water an' throw it east. An' every time yo' throw yo' explain lak dis -- say, "Lord, moves { = removes} thine evil influence." An' that [is called] puttin' de enemies under yore feet.

[Waycross, Ga., (1118, small-time root woman), 1796:1]


SALT AND BLACK PEPPER FLOOR WASH FOR PROTECTION

1459. The best thing you do, when you go out early in the morning, if you got -- before you leave your home, if you feel that such as that is carrying on around you, you take such an ordinary thing as -- take salt, black pepper, and mix that together in a bottle, and scrub your place out.

Don't scrub it inward, see. Always scrub out from your place.

And with that water you mix salt and black pepper and scrub every morning before the sun rise. Make that a habitual habit to scrub in the morning before the sun rise -- every morning scrub out your door before de sun rise, and that will give you a natural protection against anything that's evil. Somebody's put something against you, down for you, that will give you protection against that.

[New Orleans, La., (828), 1214:4.]


WITCHCRAFT DIVINATION BY MEANS OF SALT AND A CURSE

9446. Ah've hear'd dat if a person come tuh yuh home an' yo' figuh [figure] dat dey are not dere fo' de right purpose, dat aftah dey leave out, chew kin take a han'ful of salt an' throw out behin' dem. An dey won't come dere agin if dey have anythin' of 'em lak witchcraft.

[Waycross, Ga., (1061), 1720:5.]

9447. Dey say if yo' don' want a man an' if a man come out chure house -- ah don' know what dey [do but] ah know yo' kin keep 'em from yo' house. Yo' kin take jis as he come out dere an' jis' take some pot salt an' chunk 'em aft' 'em [after them], [saying], "Yo' son of a bitch, don' come back heah no mo'." An' he'll nevah come back tuh yuh house no mo."

(I see, you throw the salt after them.)

[Charleston, S. Car., (497) 539:4.]

{These two spells go together, but numer 9447 is a bit more difficult for modern ears to parse than number 9446. Perhaps i can be of assistance by defining a few of the speaker's regionalisms:

(1) "pot salt" is cooking salt or table salt, as opposed to block salt or rock salt for use about the farm.
(2) "chunk 'em" (sometimes spelled "chuck 'em") means "throw them" -- it does not refer to chunks of salt. Furthermore, "throwing after," "throwing behind" and "throwing for" are black slang terms that refer to deploying magical items, as will be seen below.

{Now, even with the religionalisms explained, there is still some ambiguity in the phrase "if you don't want a man and if a man comes out of your house"

{Why is the man not wanted?: Is informant 497 simply giving vent to an anti-social gesture, as some people assume, or is the speaker deliverately letting some crucial piece of information go unspoken?

{To a folklorist, the answer is -- fairly obviously -- the latter.

{In fact, the subject is witchraft. The man that "you don't want" is not a pesky neighbor or a rejected suitor or a meddlesome relative. The man that "you don't want" but cannot name is a hostile enemy witch who has gotten into your house for the purpose of putting down powders, throwing for you, laying a trick, stealing your hairs, or something of that nature.

{The problem that informant 497 faced was that even to SPEAK of witchcraft -- not just to accuse someone, but to mention it at all -- is unlucky and ought to be avoided. His or her solution to this problem was to carefully avoid noting that the man that "you don't want" is a witch.

{How can we be sure that spell 9447 really *is* about witchcraft if the informant never mentions the word "witch"?

{Well, Hyatt has done the job for us: he has sorted his collection of spells by type, and in this case we can get the subtext of spell 6447 from OTHER speakers in adjacent spells. Here is the previous spell again:

9446. Ah've hear'd dat if a person come tuh yuh home an' yo' figuh [figure] dat dey ar not dere fo' de right purpose, dat aftah dey leave out, chew kin take a han'ful of salt an' throw out behin' dem. An dey won't come dere agin if dey have anythin' of 'em lak witchcraft. [Waycross, Ga., (1061), 1720:5.]

{Like informant 497, informant 1061 also avoids saying the word "witch" at first, and substitutes the coded phrase, "you figure that they are not there for the right purpose."

{So informant 497's "man you don't want" is thus equivalent to informant 1061's "man who is not there for the right purpose."

{And what is the nature of this man?

{Luckily for us, informant 1061 was bolder than informant 497 -- or perhaps estimated correctly that not every listener would understand the coded phrase "not there for the right purpose" -- so after giving the spell (and using the regionalism "throw out" which specifically means to deploy a powdered magical agent) he or she added: "And they won't come there again if they have anything of [about] them like witchcraft."

{So there we have it. Informant 947's "man you don't want" is a witch. Spell 6446 can now be thematically decoded as an anti-witch spell -- and if we straighten out the speaker's typical colloqial pronoun-swapping, substitute modern urban nouns and verbs for the rural regionalisms, and render the text into standard Anglo-Saxon English speech, we get this spell:

WITCHRAFT DIVINATION BY MEANS OF SALT AND A CURSE

9447. They say if you don't want a man around your house because you suspect him of witchcraft and if you see him coming out of your house -- you are thinking, "i don't know what he is doing there," but you do know how you can keep witches from you house, so you just take some cooking salt and throw it after him, saying a simple curse, such as, "You son of a bitch, don't come back here again." And if he is a witch, he'll never come back to your house again."

{Here is the core of the salt-and-curse spell in a nutshell:

{Problem: Someone whom you know from the local community is seen leaving your home.

{Question: How do you determine what the intruder's intention really was?

{Answer: As soon as the person leaves, you throw table salt on the path after him and curse him and IF THE PERSON IS A WITCH, he won't be able to come back.

{Mechanism: Thrown salt and a spoken curse are a diagnostic magical tool (and only secondarily a warding) because a witch will not be able to return along the salted path.

{These two witchcraft-divination spells are subsidiary, specialized forms of the general protection spell that utilizes salt, cursing, or salt-and-cursing to keep witches out of one's home. Throwing salt and cursing after a witch (singly or in combination) is Germano-British in origin. Since slavery times it has also become a staple spell in the African-American community, where the salt is sometimes mixed with black pepper, which is an African belief-survival. Many similar spells were collected by Hyatt in his book "Folk-Lore from Adams County Illinois" and i've put selected samples of those online in four categories:
"Protective Charms Deployed About the House"
"How to Prevent a Witch from Entering or Returning to Your Home"
"Protective Spells to Be Spoken Upon Meeting a Wtich"
"How to Undo a Bewitchment or a Hoodoo Spell"
Note that FACI is not specifically about hoodoo, but contains spells and beliefs that Hyatt categorized by the informant's ethnicity, e.g. "German," "Irish," or "Negro."}

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