Grimm remarks that salt is not found in witches' kitchens, nor at devils' feasts, because the Roman Catholic Church has taken upon herself the hallowing and dedication of this substance. Moreover, inasmuch as Christians recognize salt as a wholesome and essential article of diet, it seems plausible enough that they should regard it as unsuitable for the use of devils and witches, two classes of beings with whom they have no particular sympathy. Hence perhaps the familiar saying that "the Devil loveth no salt in his meat."
Once upon a time, according to tradition, there lived a German peasant whose wife was a witch, and the Devil invited them both to supper one fine evening. All the dishes lacked seasoning, and the peasant, in spite of his wife's remonstrances, kept asking for salt; and when after a while it was brought, he remarked with fervor, "Thank God, here is salt at last," whereupon the whole scene vanished.
The abbot Richalmus, who lived in the old German duchy of Franconia in the twelfth century, claimed, by the exercise of a special and extraordinary faculty, to be able to baffle the machinations of certain evil spirits who took special delight in playing impish tricks upon churchmen. They appear, indeed, to have sorely tried the patience of the good abbot in many ways, as, for example, by distracting his thoughts during Mass and interfering with his digestion, promoting discords in the church music, and causing annoyance by inciting the congregation to cough in sermon time. Fortunately he possessed three efficient weapons against these troublesome creatures, namely, the sign of the cross, holy water, and salt.
"Evil spirits," wrote the abbot, "cannot bear salt." When he was at dinner, and the Devil had maliciously taken away his appetite, he simply tasted a little salt, and at once became hungry. Then, if soon afterwards his appetite again failed him, he took some more salt, and his relish for food speedily returned.
In Hungarian folk-lore, contrary to the usual opinion, evil personages are fond of salt, for at those festive gatherings described in old legends and fairy tales, where witches and the Devil met, they were wont to cook in large kettles a stew of horse-flesh seasoned with salt, upon which they eagerly feasted.
Hence appears to have originated the popular notion current among the Magyars that a woman who experiences a craving for salt in the early morning must be a witch, and on no account should her taste be gratified.
Once upon a time, says tradition, a man crept into a witch's tub in order to spy upon the proceedings at a meeting of the uncanny sisterhood.
Shortly thereafter the witch appeared, saddled the tub, and rode it to the place of rendezvous, and on arriving there the man contrived to empty a quantity of salt into the tub. After the revels he was conveyed homewards in the same manner, and showed the salt to his neighbors as proof positive that he had really been present at the meeting. Sometimes, however, salt is used in Hungary as a protection against witches. The threshold of a new house is sprinkled with it, and the doorhinges are smeared with garlic, so that no witch may enter.
The peasants of Russian Esthonia are aware of the potency of salt against witches and their craft. They believe that on St. John's Eve witch-butter is maliciously smeared on the doors of their farm-buildings in order to spread sickness among the cattle. When, therefore, an Esthonian farmer finds this obnoxious butter on his barn-door or elsewhere, he loads his gun with salt and shoots the witch-germs away.
The Hindus have a theory that malignant spirits, or Bhuts, are especially prone to molest women and children immediately after the latter have eaten confectionery and other sweet delicacies.
Indeed, so general is this belief that vendors of sweetmeats among school-children provide their youthful customers each with a pinch of salt to remove the sweet taste from their mouths, and thus afford a safeguard against the ever-watchful Bhuts.