In Supernatural, the brothers are advised in the episode “Clap Your Hands If You Believe” that spilling salt in front of the Leprechaun will slow it down, as he is compelled to count the grains.

I first noticed in the X-Files episode “Bad Blood” that there is some vampire lore about a compulsion to count grain.

I know that Supernatural seems to be good at holding true to mythology in most cases, though I know they didn't include the grain-counting fixation for vampires. So I wouldn't be surprised if there was some 'truth' to their representation of the fairies.

Is there some link? I know there is a link in the mythology between using silver on werewolves, and vampires (originally silver was to be used on vampires).

  • 2
    I don't know of any Celtic legends that present leprechauns needing to count anything put before them. The compulsion is known about in Vampires and I have mentioned such here. I will take a look around my library and see if I can find such a reference for the Wee Folk. Sep 5 '12 at 17:30
  • @Thaddeus did you ever find anything?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Oct 13 '12 at 10:30
  • @Thaddeus Anything?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Sep 9 '13 at 19:30
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    My research indicates Arithmomania is not unique to vampires. There are many cultures whose supernatural beings seem afflicted with the condition. Are leprechauns specifically written as being targeted by Arithmomania? Nothing I read specifically, says so but many of these legends conflict with each other, sometimes in the same paragraph. My feeling is this is a sign of mythological crossover taking place, adding an additional loophole for the Brothers to be able to exploit for drama. Sep 9 '13 at 20:11
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    @Spencer some sites, like SFF and mythology, have an overlap on topics where questions are fine on either.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Sep 7 '19 at 21:11

tl;dr: Given the extremely fluid nature of myth and folklore, it's always possible that the leprechaun's need to count salt was worked into one at some point in the past. However, as someone who both grew up around Irish folklore and did a thesis paper on Germanic & Celtic mythology, I can tell you that I've never seen it mentioned in any of the Irish folk stories I've heard/read.

Leprechauns are usually considered the Irish version of the faerie creatures, and there are actually several kinds: leprechauns, which are a kind of mischeveous shoe maker; clurichaun, which are a perpetually drunk version that likes to guard wine cellars; and a far daerg, which is a more evil type that likes to steal babies. (Interesting but off-topic side note: leprechauns in folklore usually wore red coats; the modern image of a leprechaun is basically just the British stereotypical image of a Irish person, shrunk down a bit.) Later attempts to formalize medieval folklore (e.g. by people like Yeats) usually puts them into the category of "solitary fairy" and assigns a number of common fairy traits to the leprechauns.

Among those common traits, a lot of folklore revolved around how to protect yourself from fairies, especially the ones that wanted to steal your children. The most universal form of protection was "cold iron", which has always been a traditional way to ward off all sorts of supernatural entities, and was supposedly poisonous or acidic to leprechauns. Other common ones I've read about include running water and various herbs/plants; in particular, in Irish lore, four-leafed clovers were said to ward off leprechauns (or possibly allow you to capture them and get their 3 wishes).

As far as I am aware, though, nothing about salt was ever included in the common forms or leprechaun lore, or any other type of grain, seed, etc. That, as you mentioned, is one of the lesser-known vampire weaknesses, one almost absent from modern urban fantasy, since it tends to make vampires look silly. However, there are stories that portray true leprechauns as being obsessed with gold. (They spend their time digging for stashes of gold buried during "times of wars long past"). I'm pretty sure, as a kid, that I've heard at least one story about someone escaping from a leprechaun by throwing a bag of gold at it, which it will immediately stop, count, and add to it's own trove.

At best, if you want to try to find a mythological basis for Supernatural's depiction of leprechauns, we might surmise that writers knew of this vampire salt-counting weakness, but decided that it didn't fit with their very aggressive and dangerous vision of vampires. They also knew of the leprechaun's obsession with counting gold, but realized that the boys were unlikely to carry bags of gold coins around with them. So they merged the two ideas together, figuring that making a one-off monster like a leprechaun have a silly weakness wasn't nearly as big of a deal.

  • Your credentials lend a certain gravitas to this answer, +1.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Mar 27 '14 at 20:12

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