I'm going to let you in on a secret, one of the most powerful supernatural defenses is something you already own. It's not an enchanted amulet or sacred incantation. I bet you it's in your kitchen right now, probably shoved in your pantry next to some expired flour. It's salt. That's right. Just plain old salt. You can thank me later. Maybe that's hard to believe. After all, salt is so ordinary, it's almost literally everywhere in the oceans, in our food.
It's even in our bodies. And I, for one, like a generous dash of my fish and chips with some vinegar, of course. But some cultures believe salt can do much more than add flavor to a bland dish. If used correctly, it may protect you from chaos, disaster and even evil forces. Hi, everyone, welcome back to Superstitions. A Spotify original from podcast on this show, we explore those strange beliefs found in the everyday old wives tales and cultural myths, the little habits that supposedly give us control over life's chaos.
And though many of them might seem totally archaic or downright bananas, they contain an eerie nugget of truth.
Today's superstition has found a certain revival in New Age mysticism. You can buy all kinds of exotic salts at metaphysical shops that claim to have special cleansing abilities. They're said to act as a sort of bad vibe filter, absorbing a negative energy and leaving your space free and clear of any lingering bad aura. But long before Himalayans sold lamps were going for 25 99 on Amazon, the belief that salt has supernatural powers existed for centuries. So if it's been around for so long, there must be some truth to it, right?
That's up to you to decide.
But I'm going to tell you a story that may help you make up your mind.
It's one that came to me from across the East River of New York City, about to move to a Brooklyn apartment that needed much more than just an energy cleanse.
It needed to be purged of actual spirits.
You can find episodes of superstitions and all other originals from podcast for free on Spotify. Coming up, the supernatural power of kosher salt, and now our tale begins.
Ruth claims the handful of brick steps to the building, a cardboard box clutched in her arms, she squinted up toward the summer sun and took in the vision of her new home, the red brick, the zigzagging fire escapes that made their way up to intricate stone molding. It was just so New York. She felt like she was looking at the facade of a movie set almost a dozen floors up. She saw a small, pale face peering out at her.
A dark haired little boy, Ruth shifted the weight of the box onto her hip and waved. But the kid didn't move. He didn't even smile. He just stared. Ruth shrugged it off. She didn't blame him. Stranger danger and all that. She dropped her gaze to the apartment intercom and searched the dozens of names on the directory. Wilson Boroff, Lee Gonzalez. Finally, her eyes landed on her own. Altman and Keller apartment nine f bingo.
She jammed her finger on the buzzer.
Ruth stepped into the tiny tiled entryway and made her way up the stairwell by the third floor. Her nine story walk up apartment was starting to seem less romantic. Six flights of stairs. Later, she reached apartment nine f huffing and puffing. She knocked and the door flew open. Ruthe Ruth noticed her college friend seemed to have traded her Connecticut WASP Phibes for something more bohemian. Chloe pulled Ruth into a hug, wrapping her silk kimono draped arms around her.
I can't believe you're here. Come in.
Ruth stepped inside and looked around. The late afternoon, sun was shining through tall, old fashioned windows and spilling onto the worn wood floor at Ruth's feet. She breathed in the scent of old wood and dust. It felt strangely like coming home. She turned to Chloe. This is even more perfect than I'd imagined. Chloe clasped her hands together. You're like me. You'd like a space with a story. None of this new high rise business. This place has good vibes.
Ruth's phone rang, cutting Chloe off. Dang sorry, Chloe. It's my grandma. Ruth put the phone to her ear. Hi Bobby.
I'm sorry I forgot to call, but before she could finish her apology, her grandma was already on a tear.
Ruthie, I've been worried sick about you.
Your mother tells me you're in Brooklyn, you know how hard your zaidee work to get our family out of a tenement in Brooklyn. And now you go back and pay meshuggener rent for the same cramped apartments. Ruth tried to explain that her new job was right across the bridge, plus she was going back to their roots, wasn't it kind of cool that Ruth was in the same place her grandmother had been at the same age, but her grandmother only side?
It's not the same Boggabilla. I have bad memories in Brooklyn. Can I tell you a true story?
Ruth knew where this was going, she walked down the hallway looking for her bedroom as Bobby launched into the familiar tale.
My brother Nathan was the baby of the family, my mother had her hands full already, so he became my pet and I loved him. So but Nathan was a little Marsic, always into some mischief.
He loved to play hide and seek. I could never find him until he jumped out to scare me. But one day he never did. Ruth knew the rest of the story by memory, everyone in her family did, but she didn't have the heart to interrupt her grandma. After looking everywhere in their apartment for Nathan, her Bobby and her family went to their neighbors in the building, but no one had seen Nathan, so they spent hours combing the neighborhood streets, calling his name.
By evening, there was no trace of him, so they contacted the police. This was the part where she always got emotional, but they never found him.
Ruth, the six year old, lost forever. I blame myself for a long time. I was his keeper. Ruth comforted her grandma. Even if the story was routine, it still tore her up to hear her cry. But as Bobby blew her nose, Ruth knew what was next. And do you know what the rabbi said to my mother when we sat Shiva for Nathan? Ruth did know, but Bobby was already continuing the story. The reason why Nathan got lost was because of salt.
We had just moved into our apartment. You see, you're supposed to scatter salt in the corners of new homes to drive the evil eye away. I know it sounds like bouba my. But those spirits linger and cause all kinds of havoc and misfortune. Ruth sat on the floor of her empty bedroom, mentally arranging her furniture. So, Ruthie, I had your mother send you a package for me to your new apartment. I put some chocolate rogel in there.
Your favorite. But it's also a can of kosher salt. I want you to sprinkle it in the corners of your home. Did you get it? Ruth explained that she'd just arrived, but promised she would look for it, and when you do put salt in the corners or I have to go, someone's on the other line. Love you, Bubalo. Ruth told her she loved her, too, and ended the call she got to her feet and paced the perimeter of her bedroom.
The walls were a mixture of plaster and exposed brick, which she liked. It was kind of industrial chic. She laid her palm on the old brick, got the history and those walls. What did the landlord say? It was built in 1900, 1910. But as Ruth moved her hand, the brick wiggled loose. She sighed. The place may have character, but she had to admit it was falling apart. It took Ruth the rest of the day to schlep her belongings up, her new buildings, many floors.
When she was done, her legs burned and her arms ached. But she'd finally done it. She'd moved into her first apartment post.
College life could begin. She had two weeks before her new job at a small, independent publishing house started and she took advantage of it. She and Chloe got to know the neighborhood spending days in a nearby coffee shop or at the park next door and their evenings watching reality show reruns and decorating their apartment. The virus or the virus is not airborne.
Chloe was on the couch, a joint in one hand and her phone and the other swiping away at dating app matches while Ruth hung string lights around the living room. She was balanced on a dining room chair, draping lights over the top of a bookshelf when something glittered in the corner of her eye. She looked closer, then froze. On the very top of the bookshelf was a pair of sapphire earrings. They were a bat mitzvah gift from her grandma.
They were too fancy for her taste, so she almost never wore them, instead tucking them away in a jewelry box on her dresser. And yet here they were, three rooms over. Ruth turned to Chloe, suspicious.
She asked her if she had borrowed her earrings. Chloe looked up from her phone blue, a long stream of smoke from her mouth and told Ruth she had no idea what she was talking about. Ruth felt her face get hot. Everyone had warned her about rooming with friends, but this was just weird.
Chloe's family was loaded. She had plenty of her own fancy jewelry, and yet she had the gall to take hers and lie about it. She tried again. Listen, I'm not mad. You know, you can borrow my stuff. I just need you to ask first and not leave it in random places. Chloe clicked off the TV and turned to Ruth, her voice sharp. I told you I didn't. Why would I go digging through your stuff, take them and then leave them on top of the highest point in the apartment?
It makes no sense with that. Chloe turned back to her phone, leaving Ruth gritting her teeth. She was about to spike back a biting comment when she heard something.
A distinct scurrying sound almost sent her tumbling off the dining room chair, Ruth clutched the bookshelf for support, her eyes darting across the room. Oh, my God, did you hear that?
Chloe sat unfazed, her gaze still trained on her phone. We probably have rats. Welcome to New York. A sudden crash came from the room next door. This time, both girls jumped to their feet.
Chloe looked at Ruth, terrified the sound had come from her bedroom. They grabbed each other's hands and made their way slowly down the hall and pushed open the door.
Inside the floor was covered in shards of glass, the mirror over Chloe's dresser was completely shattered. Ruth caught sight of the perpetrating object on the floor, one of Chloe's crystals.
She usually kept them on top of the dresser.
Someone something had thrown it at the mirror, Ruth looked at Chloë, wide eyed, I don't think we have rats. Coming up, Ruth and Chloe tried to tame their poltergeist with a dash of sodium chloride.
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Now back to the story. Ruth and Chloe stood frozen, staring at the shattered glass on Chloe's bedroom floor when Ruth's phone buzzed. It was a voicemail.
She stared at the notification, then put the message on speaker. Hello, Ruthie, it's your Bobby. I'm just calling to ask if you ever received that package. It's been over a week now, remember? It's important anyway. Love you, Bob. Call me Ruth.
Stopped the message. She's forgotten all about the salt she rang will be back, but the call immediately went to voicemail.
Didn't call nine one one for immediate response.
Chloe and Ruth shrieked and clutched each other on the TV. In the next room had switched on, blaring at full volume. They looked at one another terrified and walked quietly down the hallway of that old Brooklyn apartment.
As they reached the living room, they watched as the television played the same reality cooking show they had been watching just minutes before.
Then the channel flipped. Then again and again, the TV flashed from talk shows to sitcoms to game shows, switching faster and faster.
Oh my God, Ruth, make it stop! Chloe shrieked. Ruth snatched up the remote from the couch and hit the power button while we stood still.
Eyes still on the black TV screen. When she spoke next, her voice was shaking for hours. The earrings and the mirror. There's someone here messing with us. I think we should call the police. Ruth shook her head. No, we have to call my grandma. Chloe looked at her, bewildered.
What are you talking about? We need cops, not your 80 year old grandmother in St. Louis. Ruth turned to her serious. Believe me, Chloe, it's going to sound absolutely psychotic, but I think I know what's happening and cops aren't going to help. She began to tell Chloe her family's tradition with salt, how in the old country, sprinkling of salt in the corners of rooms kept evil spirits at bay. She paused, waiting for her friend to laugh.
Instead, Chloe looked at her eyes wide. Ruth is your grandma a witch? Ruth didn't even know how to reply. She was a seamstress. As soon as the words left her lips, the phone rang.
It was Bobbie, as if summoned. She was worried sick. She hadn't heard from Ruth in weeks. And of course, she asked if Ruth received her package. Ruth said she hadn't. The salt never arrived. Then she told her about the strange mishaps in their new apartment. Her grandmother's voice suddenly got lower or serious. She asked her if she had any salt in the house. Ruth paused.
Not really. I don't really cook.
I think we have some salt and vinegar chips. Ruth looked down the hall just in time to see Chloe exit her room, a smoking bundle of sage in her hand. But Chloe is burning some sage right now. Ruth heard a sigh on the other end.
Tell your shiksa friend to stop the Michigan, listen to me, you need to go to your nearest bodega and get swallowed, preferably Kosheh.
In that moment, the light bulb above their heads burst. Chloe and Ruth flew down their nine flights of stairs faster than they ever had and went to the bodega on the corner of Penn Street.
There they fill their arms with every container of kosher salt on the shelves. They shoved a dozen cans onto the checkout counter. Breathless and sweaty. The cashier looked at the girls suspicious. Ruth smiled back, innocent and threw in a pack of gum. They rushed back home and followed bubbies directions to a tee, running around, pouring salt in every corner they could think of. Ruth covered her room, the bathroom and the kitchen.
Chloe did the hallway, her room and the living room as they did the thing in their apartment made its displeasure known. The light fixtures in the entire apartment flashed on and off, plunging the rooms into darkness every other second. Twenty minutes later, it figured out Chloe's record player lights were flashing, music was blaring. Chloe and Ruth ran around in a panic, salt flying everywhere.
By midnight they were done and somehow it worked. Everything, the lights, the music suddenly stopped. The girls stood frozen in the living room, Ruth wiped her sweaty face, leaving a streak of salt across her forehead and burst out laughing. Meanwhile, Chloe took her last pinch of salt and threw it over her shoulder. Ruth looked at her skeptically. That's only if you spill it, you dummy. Chloe shrugged. Have you seen this place? Ruth looked around.
She was right. The entire apartment was covered.
Too scared to sleep in their respective beds, the girls camped out in the living room, pouring a ring of salt around them for good measure, it was something they saw in Hocus-Pocus once.
Then finally, they went to sleep. Ruth woke up to the morning sun streaming into the living room, she shielded her eyes and rolled over on her side, desperate to go back to sleep. She'd set her alarm for seven a.m. for her first day of work. New job jitters must have woken up before her alarm.
But then she heard a faint jingle below the racket of the garbage trucks outside her phone. She bolted upright and tossed aside blankets and pillows, but her phone was nowhere. Her eyes shot over to the oven clock.
It was eight fifteen. Ruth bolted to her bedroom to change, but as she walked inside, she saw it.
They're sitting in the very corner of the room was her phone lying face down, covid in salt.
Ruth arrived 20 minutes late to work, still feeling shaken, hardly the impression she wanted to make on her first day. Still, it felt good to be away from the apartment, if only during the daytime, but as she would soon find the thing in their home. Didn't like it when they left.
That night when Ruth came home, the apartment was a mess, books had been thrown about and clothes were pulled out of their drawers and scattered around the house. It was as if it had had a tantrum.
And as the days passed, it only grew bolder. It liked to spook them, slamming doors suddenly in the rooms they were in or turning on the shower. It was exhausting, but the things seemed to thrive on their attention. And yet Ruthie didn't tell Bobby. She ignored her grandmother's calls and voicemails, afraid of what she might say, that maybe it was beyond help. They done everything she had instructed and still it lingered and rampaged. But on the third week, after circling herself with salt before bed, Ruth woke up to something that changed her mind.
Clumsily traced in the ring of salt. Was her name Ruthie? She'd had enough. Ruth called Bobby that morning as she sat on the fire escape outside her bedroom. She didn't want the thing to hear her conversation, Ruthie. I've been trying to get a hold of you for ages. Are you all right? What's happening over there? Ruth had told herself that she would be calm, rational, give only enough information to get her advice, then go off the phone.
But as she heard Bobby's familiar voice on the other end, she began to cry. She explained everything that happened the slamming doors, her name in the assault. The thing was petulant and insistent. Her grandmother paused. Hmm. And you are sure you've covered every corner? Ruth sighed, frustrated.
We've gone through and redone the entire apartment 100 times. Now the place is practically a salt flat. Maybe salt isn't enough. Maybe I need an exorcist. Her grandmother cackled.
Now don't go Catholic. Call me Bobzilla. If salt isn't enough, maybe you need to listen to it. It's clearly trying to get your attention. But that was exactly what Ruth feared that it wanted her. And how was she supposed to know that it didn't want to do her harm? You're right, Bobby said you don't know. And there are some bad things lingering out there in Brooklyn. Believe me, I know they took my Nathan, but some some are just lost out there waiting for help for you to find them.
As they got off the phone, Ruth stared down at the street below, stalling. She didn't want to go inside, but as she sat there on the fire escape, she saw something she hadn't noticed before. In front of her was the row of windows to her bedroom. Just beyond them, a small section of the brick facade jutted out toward the street. And yet she knew that section of her bedroom wall was perfectly flat. Ruth froze. They had missed the corner.
She climbed back through the bedroom window and rushed to the wall there on the ground, traced insult in the same clumsy writing were more words. Come find me. Ruth's heart pounded in her ears as she pressed her hand to the brick, it wiggled just like it did all those weeks before she gripped the edges with the fingertips of both hands and pulled slowly. Carefully, the brick came out. Ruth cried Chloe's name and her roommate came running in. Chloe looked at her with a brick in her hand, then left a second later she came back with a hammer.
The two dismantled the facade, hammering and pulling brick by brick. As they reached the end, the room was hazy with red dust, and standing before them was another wall with faded yellow wallpaper and decorative wooden panels. Roof smoothed her hands against the surface. Then she knocked on each one. On the third panel, her knocks sounded thin and hollow, there was something on the other side. Ruth took the hammer and began prying the panel. Then it opened.
It was too dark to see inside, but the girls scoffed at the stench. It smelled simultaneously of dry dust and damp rot. Ruth flipped on her phone flashlight and pointed it into the darkness. The space inside was cramped and tiny, but deep. And as she shined her light into its debts, the beam illuminated something pale and smooth at the back of the crawl space. Ruth's blood ran cold. It was a child's skull. She dropped her phone and burst into tears.
Chloe held Ruth in her arms as she sobbed when she composed herself. Chloe left to call the police, but Ruth insisted on staying. There in the little crawl space, she sprinkled salt in the corners. Outside on the fire escape, Ruth called Bobby, she had a question. Boobie. What corner did you say you lived on in Brooklyn? Pen and wife, I can still see it in my head. Ruth took a breath. That's why I moved to 741 with the ninth floor.
Ruth heard the line go quiet. She continued gently. Bobby. I found Nathan. He's not lost any more. Salt, as I already mentioned, is everywhere, so it's probably not surprising to know that the mystical practice of using salt to purify and repel malevolent forces exists all over the globe. You can find variations of the belief in almost every culture in the world, from the Samoans to Shintoism to Catholicism. In Catholicism, for instance, salt is a key ingredient of holy water and even used by priests during exorcisms.
And according to Jewish mysticism, salt should be sprinkled in the corners of previously empty homes to drive out mischievous beings that dwell in its crevices and bring chaos to the new occupants lives. So regardless of culture or religion, you may be catching on to a common theme. That's right. It's evil spirits, ones that like to stick around. Many cultures harbored the belief that energy and experience, both good and bad, get trapped in the spaces where they occur.
Hence why the idea of a haunted house is so ubiquitous. So we must help usher the disgruntled spirits out with a polite sprinkling of sodium chloride.
But why salt? Why something so incredibly ordinary? For one, salt has an actual tangible reputation for driving out unwanted creatures, spiders and slugs, to be specific. But perhaps salt is the key for all powerful supernatural cleansing for the same reason we have superstitions at all. It's obtainable and thus gives us a sense of control in an often chaotic world when all goes wrong and our own fate seems so outside of our reach. It's comforting to know that a defense against life's tragedies is just a cabinet away.
So whether you're repelling demons of a dark past or daddy long legs, remember, don't go light on the soft. Thanks again for listening to superstitions. We will be back Wednesday with a new episode, you can find more episodes of Superstitions and all other Spotify originals from podcast for free on Spotify until next time. Be wary of the things you cannot explain.
Superstitions, says a Spotify original from podcast, it is executive produced by Max Cuddler Sound Design by Kenny Hobbs with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Erin Larson.
This episode of Superstitions was written by Alex Garland with writing assistants by Andrew Keleher, fact checking by Bennett Logan and research by Adriana Gomez and Mikki Taylor.
I'm Alistair Murden. Listeners, remember, you can find fast paced Bingol episodes of true crime topics on the podcast series Crime Countdown, new episodes every week on Monday, free on Spotify and anywhere you listen to podcasts.