The Magic of Salt
An investigation of the esoteric meaning and hidden properties of salt
In chapter 11 of Occult Enigmas by J Michaud PhD., the author answers the question 'Why is Salt chosen to represent the basic element?' put to him by a student of the Divine Mysteries. As one of our kind readers has asked us to say something more about this unappreciated mineral, we have written this article in the hope that it will interest all our readers, whether they are occultists or not.
The first thing we would say is that salt cannot be the basic element from a material point of view. Firstly, because there are others and secondly because salt is not an element in the scientific sense, but a compound of two elements—sodium and chlorine. We shall examine these two unlikely elemental bedfellows later, but before we do so, we should explain what we mean by the 'magic' of salt. We do not mean 'magical' salt spells and rituals for 'love', 'healing' or winning the lottery. If that is what you hoped to discover in this article, you will be sorely disappointed! What we mean by magic is a profound knowledge of natural philosophy, religion and science.
By the time we conclude our investigation we hope that you will have learned not only why salt was chosen to represent the basic element, but also why it is truly magical in the highest sense of this much misunderstood word. But ere we reach that point let us see what good things we can discover in the Bible about salt, basing our studies upon the King James Version as usual.
Salt in the Bible
Salt is mentioned no less than 64 times in the Bible. We first encounter it in reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah when Lot's wife is turned into a pillar of salt. "But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt" (Genesis 19:26). The artist, Gustave Doré, whose inspired artwork adorns so many of our articles, has captured this moment in the illustration accompanying our article.
Lot's wife is among the least convincing of a large cast of unconvincing characters in the Old Testament, who is not even given a name! She, like many (but not all) of her fellow actors in the Semitic fairy-tales which make up much of the Pentateuch attributed to Moses, is simply a convenient symbol chosen to conceal various occult laws, facts and principles.
This seemingly odd incident, which is usually interpreted by theologians and laity alike as a punishment from 'god' for disobeying his commands, is actually a complex allegory. Salt, as we shall see later, is a crystalline structure, every grain of which forms a perfect cube. When a cube is unfolded its six faces form a cross, four squares for the upright part and three squares for the cross-bar, making seven in all when the central square is counted twice; a most significant number indeed, as we may read in Vision 7 of The Golden Star by J Michaud PhD:
"Four is the symbol of the Universe in its potential state, or Chaotic Matter; and it requires spirit to permeate it actively. In other words, the Triangle has to quit its one-dimensional quality and spread across that matter, thus forming a manifested basis on the three-dimensional space, so that the Universe shall manifest intelligently."
The vertical faces of the unfolded cube also form a pillar producing the number four. If we express these numbers in four rows by a series of dots we obtain the famous Tetractys of Pythagoras: 1, 2, 3, 4, whose sum adds up to 10, the perfect number of the manifested Universe.
We then see that far from being a punishment inflicted by the vengeful god of the Old Testament, the turning of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt symbolises the liberation of the essence of man (or woman)—the Higher Self—from the bonds of the flesh, and its transformation into a higher state—in the case of Lot's wife, death. But this is the death of the material form, not of the salt—or spirit—which animated it, which is once more free. Remember: Lot's wife looked back from behind her husband. In other words, she turned her face, not to Sodom and Gomorrah, as a literal reading of the verse suggests, but back to her Heavenly home, from whence she had come to begin her long cycle of incarnations in a human body. All this lies concealed in the allegory of the transformation into pillar of salt! No wonder the poet Blake gazed in wonderment at a grain of sand (also a crystalline, cubic form) when he uttered the famous lines:
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour."
Once we recognise that salt has a deeper meaning over and above its common connotation as an article of food or chemical element, the following verses from the Bible begin to reveal something of their hidden sense. In Job 6:6 we may read: "Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?", whilst Leviticus 2:13 tells us: "And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt." Note the use of the word 'covenant' here, meaning a compact or agreement. In other words, we are commanded to infuse the spirit of goodness into our thoughts and actions so that we may honour the God who made us and fulfil His purposes, not our own.
Ezekiel 43:24 states: "And thou shalt offer them before the Lord, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up before a burnt offering unto the Lord." The theme of salting what we offer unto God is continued in the New Testament in Mark 9:49. "For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." Mark 9:50 also tells us that: "Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves and have peace one with another."
The mention of fire in connection with salt by Mark at once tells us that we are dealing not with the physical, material salt we put on our breakfast egg, but with its spiritual essence. Occult science teaches that there is a mysterious fire in everything, but not the fire we know on earth. In The Golden Star, mentioned earlier, we may read that:
"Deity is an arcane, living or moving Fire, and the eternal witnesses to this unseen Presence are Light, Heat and Moisture; this trinity including, and being the cause of, every phenomenon in Nature. All the great doctrines teach that the one infinite and unknown Essence exists from all eternity, and is either passive or active in regular and harmonious successions."
Is this not 'magic' of the right sort? What greater magic can there be than to explore the wonders of creation with a seeing eye and an understanding heart and so draw closer to the mind of God, who is the greatest Magician of all?
So we may say that salt is a symbol of that Holy Flame which vivifies all living beings, from atoms to angels, from the smallest bacterium to man. But it is much else too, as we have also seen. In fact, as you are probably realising, it would be possible to write a very large book about salt and still not cover all its possible properties and hidden meanings. As we have neither the time nor the inclination to write such a book we must be content with this brief survey of this magical substance, hoping that it will stimulate the salt in you, to investigate the subject further in your own way and in your own time.
Before you do so—if you should choose to do so, which would be an excellent thing—we must complete our survey of the references to salt in the Bible. In Ezekiel 47:11 we find: "But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt", whilst Zephaniah 2:9 speaks about: "A salt land, a barren land." Oh dear! What have we here? Just when you may have thought that we had 'nailed' salt as it were, and now know all about it, the Bible throws a spanner our way by telling us that too great a quantity of salt is not considered good. Yet in the book of Ezra the partaking of salt is considered a bond of friendship and "the waters of Jericho were healed with salt" and in Judges 9:45 we read: "The city is taken and saved with salt." So whilst salt purifies, disinfects, cleanses and heals, we all know not to rub salt into a wound, whether literally or metaphorically.
As we learned earlier, a pure grain of salt is a perfect cube and contains within itself a mathematically balanced equation of every Universal Principle. By analogy—if "ye are the salt of the Earth," you are the pure of the earth, therefore contain within yourselves all the powers of the Universe—perfectly balanced, as we saw earlier. Most of you will remember the verse from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:13, where it says: "Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted. It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under the foot of men." Many men and women have lost the savour, or we might say—saviour—of the salt within them, and suffer accordingly, whether in this life, or the life to come through their enslavement to material things, concerns and desires, to the detriment of the spiritual progress they might have made if they had put a little more Salt into their lives.
Clearly, one can have too much salt as well as too little, both in a metaphysical sense as well as materially, as the health police are continually telling us! Or we may put it another way by saying that matter without spirit is lifeless and inert, but spirit without matter to act upon is impotent. This sheds yet further light on the complex symbolism of salt which cannot be pigeon-holed into a few trite sentences, nor boiled down to a series of infallible statements as so many students of occult science imagine, or would like, to save them the trouble of having to think for and by themselves! Now let us see what science has to say about salt.
The science of salt
Salt is a compound (NaCL) of sodium and chloride; one of the most abundantly disseminated and important of all substances. It not only occurs in numerous localities in beds sometimes thousands of feet in thickness, but also exists in solution in the ocean, forming nearly three per cent, by weight of its mass. It is not only of the greatest importance in connection with the business of chemical manufacturing, but is also an indispensable article of food. Salt is also an article of great historical and ethnological importance. Homer called it "divine." It has been, and is still, used as a measure of value in many transactions.
Few other elements are as two-faced as chlorine (Cl). In its elemental form, it is a poisonous pale-green gas which has been used as a deadly chemical weapon ever since World War 1; in the body, it is necessary to support life, but an excess can easily harm it. Does this remind you of anything in connection with the two main principles of man discussed in our occult studies course? We hope so.
Sodium is a toxic, highly reactive metal which is an essential element for all animals and many plants. It is never found free in nature, but only in compounds, the most common of which is salt. Together, sodium and chlorine are the most common dissolved elements by weight in the seas of our planet. Sodium tarnishes rapidly when exposed to air and has the interesting, but rather alarming property of exploding with great violence when brought into contact with water. The severity of this chemical reaction has its parallel in the battle between the lower and Higher Self which we discuss in our article about inner balance through applied wisdom, proving the value of the Hermetic law 'as above; so below' if we wish to truly understand anything from a material and spiritual perspective, and so arrive at the complete truth about it.
When sodium and chlorine come together it gets interesting. Chlorine, as you may remember from your science classes, has the atomic number 7. That means it has 7 negatively-charged electrons orbiting around a positively-charged nucleus consisting of 7 protons and neutrons. Sodium has the atomic number 11 and hence 11 electrons. When sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl) combine to form salt, the sodium atom transfers one electron to the chlorine atom. The sodium atom now has only 10 electrons, but still has 11 protons, which causes it to gain a net positive charge through the loss of one electron. When this happens, an atom is called a positive ion or cation by science. The chloride ion now has 18 electrons and 17 protons, so it's become a negative ion or anion. The two charged atoms now form a balanced compound of positive and negative, with active health-giving properties that were only latent in the separate atoms of sodium and chlorine before they came together.
Here we have an analogy between the lower and Higher Selves, one negative, the other positive, drawn together for the purpose of evolution, each giving something of itself to the other and gaining something from the union that they did not have before. Paracelsus called salt "the centre of water wherein metals ought to die." If we regard the Higher Self of the evolved man or woman as the 'salt' which both purifies and transmutes the lower self into, if not gold, then something more refined than the base metal of which it is made, we begin to see what Paracelsus was hinting at.
You will remember that we referred earlier to salting our offerings to God, by which is meant that we should infuse all our life, light and love into all that we do. Just as the waters of the ocean are salt, and our blood is salt, so is salt the health-giving quality of the great river of life, the basic element from which all that exists has come into being. You will now see that the student who asked why salt was chosen to represent the basic element was not wrong after all, for that is just what it is, if we regard it from the standpoint of occult, rather than material science.
This is the salt which is the quintessence of the Alkahest of the alchemists; it is the solvent in which the baser elements are transmuted. In man, the metals are the passions and baser elements of our lower self. When we apply the Divine solvent to them they die and the spiritual life in us is regenerated. This regeneration is effected by the Philosopher's Stone, which is why the Bible tells us that: "To him that overcometh, I will give a white stone," which is a seminal, spiritual Salt, "the centre of water, wherein metals ought to die", as Paracelsus tells us.
Pope, in his translation of the Homer's Iliad, says:
"Then, when the languid flames at length subside,
He strows a bed of glowing embers wide,
Above the coals the smoking fragments turns.
And sprinkles sacred salt from lifted urns."
Here we have several concealed references to the transmutation of the passions and baser elements of the lower self (the languid flames) by the application of the spiritual salt of the Higher Self. The 'lifted urns' also remind us of the need to look up to the realms of Light, if we wish to attune with all that is good, true and pure, rather than dwelling among the 'smoking fragments' of our base desires.
Salt throughout history
In ancient times salt was a highly prized commodity. Long before the days of refrigeration, salt was essentially the only means of preserving food. In some cultures it was even used as currency, due to its value. It has been said that the soldiers in ancient Rome were paid in salt. This may be where the saying, "worth his salt" comes from.
In olden times it was the custom to stand the salt-cellar near the middle of the table. Above the salt, seated at the upper half of the table were the guests of distinction; below, or beneath the salt, at the lower half of the table were seated the inferior guests and dependants. For this reason Johnson says in Cynthia's Revels: "His fashion is not to take knowledge of him that is beneath him in clothes. He never drinks below the salt." If, during meals, you should be so unfortunate as to spill the salt so that it falls towards your right-hand or left-hand neighbour, it is considered an unlucky omen. Why this is so we shall come to later on.
We learned from our investigation of the Bible that salt has always figured prominently in religious rites and ceremonies. Both the Greeks and Romans mixed salt with their sacrificial cakes, as a necessary concomitant of the sacrifice, not a mere adjunct. Thus in the Ferialia, or offering to appease the souls of the dead celebrated on 21 February when no animal was slain, it was said:
"The Mane's rights expenses shall supply
The richest sacrifice is piety.
With vernal garlands a small Tile exalt,
A little flour and little grain of salt."
That the flour and salt were both designed as propitiatory offerings to redeem them from the vengeance of the malevolent infernal gods may be proved from a similar custom in the Lemuralia, another festival similar to the Ferialia, where beans were flung instead of the flour and salt; and when flung, the person says: "And with these beans I me and mine redeem." These customs have persisted into modern times, proving, if proof were needed, that humanity does not change very much with the passing millennia, if at all. Modern witches still employ similar rituals to the Romans to ward off evil spirits by the sprinkling of salt, of which the following is a typical example:
"Any unwanted spirits and entities, please leave now.
Any evil or negative energies or presences, please leave this space.
You don't belong here. I am sending you home.
Go back whence you came. Please leave NOW.
Only light and healing energy is allowed in this room.
We particularly like the 'thank you' at the end of this spell, though whether such politeness is appreciated by the 'evil spirits' the spell is meant to drive away, we should not like to say! But as we said we would not discuss salt spells in our introduction, we must stop there. What we would say to any witches who may be reading this, or to anyone else who is worried about evil spirits, is that no one need fear any negative entities or conditions provided they have nothing to do with them in thought or deed. This is simply common sense. Like attracts like in the moral sphere. There is no surer protection against evil in any form than a clean mind and body and attunement with all that is good. This alone is quite sufficient to keep all evil influences at bay, for all evil beings fear and are repulsed by, the Light of true goodness and purity.
Because the ancients came to regard salt as an emblem of redemptive power it is not surprising that various superstitions arose out of this belief, of which the bad luck resulting from the accidental spilling of salt at table is the most common and widespread. In olden times salt was regarded as incorruptible, and it became the symbol of friendship. This is shown in Leviticus 2:13, from which we quoted earlier: "A covenant of salt; an unchangeable covenant." Consequently overturning the salt-cellar symbolised the breaking of friendship. But there was a 'counter' stroke available! If the man towards whom the salt falls will, without hesitation or remark, take up a single pinch of salt between the finger and the thumb of his right hand and cast it over his left shoulder, the threatened misfortune will be averted. Tradition has it that the left shoulder is selected to appease the devil!
Such superstitions are among those complex growths of ideas which it is nigh on impossible to disentangle. There are nations to whom salt was an almost sacred symbol, there are others—Egypt, for instance—to whom it was a common metaphor for calamity and desolation. But as a superstition it has some peculiar, insistent force for the spilling of salt is a common accident, and today we still see people throwing it over their left shoulder not, it is true, with any real fear of evil, but in order, as one of our good friends put it, "to be on the safe side." You can read more about the mythology, folklore and superstitions surrounding salt in our afterword at right.
Some writers believe that da Vinci's picture of the Last Supper, in which Judas Iscariot is represented as overturning the salt, is the real origin of the salt superstition, but as you can read in our afterword, it is infinitely older than the Christian religion. We have now seen where such a simple question as: 'Why is salt chosen to represent the basic element?' can lead to when we attempt to answer it as fully as possible. We hope you will also see why we chose the title 'the Magic of Salt' for this article, for there are few substances fraught with deeper significance or hidden meanings than this common condiment we all take for granted.
Of course, there are other kinds of salt too, and we cannot resist mentioning a few of our personal favourites before we conclude this investigation. There is the kind of salt we take a pinch of when we are highly sceptical of something we hear or read, though we do hope this is not something you will wish to do in response to this article! That kind of salt is of the earth. There is another kind—when a man, snoring with his mouth wide open on the seashore after dinner, and oblivious of the incoming tide, suddenly has a mouthful fresh from the Atlantic! That kind is of the sea. There is also a salt that makes one slide down the banisters early in the morning and we especially recommend this to those of our readers who are apt to take life too seriously.
NOTE: Some of the content of this article has been adapted from chapter 11 of Occult Enigmas by J Michaud PhD. Interested readers who wish to know more about this scarce occult book are referred to our occult studies course which has also been adapted from it.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 3 May 2016. Updated 17 August 2016.