Wild Salt

I am standing in the dense fog, at the edge of the ocean, as the wind is blowing the wetness into every part of me, seeping into my skin, clothing, hair.  The edges between the ground, the sea, and the air are blurred. As I stand in this fog, time stands still and I am held in a cocoon where the sound is muffled, and I feel the caress of the fog on my cheek.  And I taste the salt.  The salt is everywhere – in the sand, in the sea, in the air, carried on the fog.  The fog is reminding me that salt itself is one of our oldest ancestors.  There is something so primal about SALT.

We humans and our fellow land animals all need salt to survive.  Until we settled into living in one place around 10,000 years ago, we would get our salt from the animals we ate, and we would follow the animals to find sources of salt when we did not live near a sea.  Salt is found in various forms all over the world as testament to the millennia ago that various seas covered the earth.  Salt is the only rock we EAT.  It is literally our deepest tie to the very earth that has formed us and brought us into being.  Perhaps this is why many religions have used salt in rituals, usually associated with purity, and devotion.  The root of the word salvation is sal or salt. 

I recently learned there is an ancient ocean under the mountains where I live in WV.  In the Kanawha Valley of my home are some of the early salt works in our country.   Settlers in 1755 report that the native people were boiling brine for salt, and so of course they got the idea to follow suit in a bigger way and by 1800 large scale production was under way by pumping the brine water up from under the ground. Today only a small craft salt operation remains.  I learned from their website that there is an inland ocean under my beloved mountains in WV, known as the Iapetus Ocean and it is 400 million years old.  How incredible to know even in the mountains I am near the sea.    

It is hard to think of another substance, that is both completely necessary for life as well as able to quickly kill it, all depending on the balance and concentration.   The procuring of salt has been essential to humans ever since they started settling down and developed a need to preserve food.   Preserving is a form of “beneficial destruction”.  Salt can kill by pulling too much water out of the surrounding cells, killing the bacteria and fungus that would decompose the food otherwise.  

This term “beneficial destruction” catches my heart…  it pulls me the to the cycles of life, death and rebirth that we live every day, and visit in the mysteries.   When is death beneficial?  When is it harmful?  Is it only in our perspective that a difference exists?  These are the mysteries indeed.  Our Great Mother’s body of the Earth both brings forth life and returns life to Herself in the elaborate dance of birth, death and rebirth. 

It is fun to play with some common sayings about salt:

If salt preserves food by preventing natural decomposition, then perhaps becoming a pillar of salt, rather than being punished for our past, is preserving the past, perhaps until a later time when we are ready to digest it, and properly compost it and return it to the earth. 

Salt was the first major commodity and in ancient times it was more valuable than gold, which meant it was used for power, control and was literally used as money.  The word Salary comes from salt.  Not worth his salt, means not worth your wages. Many wars were fought over salt before it was widely available from mining.  

Salt on the wound is a saying first used to mean further punishment after a flogging.  And in warfare, salting the fields was done to kill the land itself so it could not be used to grow food.  This act is probably one of the deepest early intentional betrayals of men against their Mother Earth.

Some people made their quest for salt a religious and coming of age rite of passage.  Southwest American native young men went on salt pilgrimages to find salt far from their homes for their people.

Salt of the earth is a phrase that in Dictionary.com means you are a good and honest person, or an honest laborer, working close to the earth.  It is also one of the more quoted bible phrases.  But the origins feel deeper, wilder, going back into the depths of deep time before written history; before salt was commoditized. 

What if instead, we thought of our Great Mother as the Salt of the Earth? Our Earth Mother, essential to our life, who holds us close to the Earth, to Her, in the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.  And especially when She joins us in our salty tears, as we witness and experience the sorrows of this life.

Images:  1) Salt crystal from dried sea water 2) Iapetus Ocean being subducted over 400 million years ago 3) Salt from the old family salt works in the Kanawha Valley of WV  4) Salt crystals

2 thoughts on “Wild Salt

  1. pamgrady

    Love this Mary. I was just thinking about Lot’s wife the other day as I was delving into memories from my past for my memoir and wondering if it would turn me into a pillar of salt. What a nice synchronicity to have you write that maybe it is more about preserving our past.
    If you have not done the tour at the salt works I recommend it and their salt is delicious.

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