Popular Superstitions - Salt Placed On Dead Bodies
( Originally Published 1884 )
It is apprehended that what your correspondent, Mr. Bickerstaff, describes as found in St. Mary's churchyard, at Leicester, and imagines a plate once charged with salt, and laid on a corpse [see Note 371 was a patten intombed in the coffin of some priest or incumbent of that church.
The custom of putting a plate of salt on the belly of a deceased corpse, is desired to be accounted for. Is it to prevent any discharge from the navel after death ? or, is it still retained ?
Your instructive correspondent, Q. Q. Q., p. 328, of this year's Magazine, having met with no answer to his enquiry, about a plate of salt laid on the deceased ; I will venture to inform him (after I have bid him recollect, that the place of the interment was in church), that it was a custom in Leicester and its shire, yet continued, to place a dish or plate of salt on a corpse, to prevent its swelling and purging, as the term is. To account for the partial corrosion of the pewter, that it prevailed chiefly on the margin of the plate, and so slightly in its calix, we may suppose it was protected by its saline contents from the action of the morbid matter; for the effluvia of salt may pervade or overflow its container or charger, as readily as magnetic virtue ; and the lips of the plate possessing little or no preventive salt, the sanies was at liberty, there, to effect the greater impression. Yours, etc., W. BICKERSTAFFE.
A passage in Dr. Campbell's " Philosophical Survey of the North of Ireland," p. 210, reminds me of the query in vol. lv., p. 328, answered p. 603 (I cannot find the answer, p. 706, mentioned in the Index), about placing a plate of salt on the bellies of dead persons. The Doctor says, in Ireland "the plate of salt is placed over the heart," and he. supposes "they consider the salt as an emblem of the incorruptible part, the body itself being the type of corruption." Your correspondent Bickerstaff gives a much more philosophical solution of the custom.