Walking Under a Ladder: What's Behind This Superstition?

By: Debra Ronca  | 
A metal ladder against a blue sky.
If a ladder is nearby chances are someone's up to some heavy-duty work. You better watch out!

If you're superstitious, walking through the streets can feel like navigating a field of bad luck landmines. Don't let a black cat cross your path. Step on a crack, break your mother's back. And never walk under a ladder!

With constant construction going on in many big cities today, the ladder one is a biggie. Where does the walking under a ladder superstition come from? Why is it so unlucky for the unfortunate souls who find themselves accidentally underneath one, and is there any way to undo the curse?


Practical Types of Ladder Bad Luck

First, let's get the practical reasons out of the way. Most people don't walk underneath ladders because it's just unsafe. If a ladder is up, chances are someone's standing on it, working, and you don't want to take the chance of something falling on your head. Nor do you want to risk jostling the ladder and knocking someone down.


Paranormal Types of Ladder Bad Luck

Of course, many other theories exist about the unluckiness of walking under a ladder. One explanation regarding ladders and bad luck has its roots in religion. Many Christians believe in the Holy Trinity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This belief made the number three sacred in early times, and along with it, the triangle. A ladder leaning up against a wall forms the shape of a triangle, and walking through it would be seen as "breaking" the Holy Trinity, a crime seen as blasphemous as well as potentially attracting the devil [source: Pappas].

Others believe that a ladder against a wall resembles a gallows. Ladders used to be propped up to allow the person being hanged to climb high enough to get to the rope. Definitely not very lucky. Yet a third theory involves the Egyptian belief that if you walk under a ladder, you might accidentally see a god climbing up or down [source: Webster].


Reclaim Good Fortune (or At Least Avoid Bad Luck)

Avoiding walking under a ladder appears to be good common sense. But if you do walk under a ladder, can you reverse your bad luck? Richard Webster, author of the book "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions," lists five remedies you can try:

  • Make a wish while you're walking under the ladder. Such an act might subdue the evil spirits.
  • Walk backwards through the ladder again. Your awareness just might settle the Holy Ghost.
  • Put your thumb between your index and middle fingers as you walk under the ladder. (Warning: this is called the "fig sign" and, depending where you are in the world, can be seen as a mildly obscene gesture!)
  • Say "bread and butter" as you walk under the ladder.
  • Cross your fingers and keep them crossed until you see a dog.

Another talked-about remedy is to spit on your shoe — but don't look at your shoe until the spit has dried. Or, spit three times between the rungs of the ladder. It seems easier just to avoid the ladder altogether.



Ladder Superstition FAQs

Is it unlucky to walk under a ladder?
Many common superstitions about walking under a ladder originated in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians regarded the shape of the triangle as sacred, much like the pyramids. Since a leaning ladder forms a triangle, walking under one would bring bad luck.
But specifically, why is it bad luck to go under a ladder?
In ancient Egypt, it was understood that the space between the ladder and the leaning wall was home to both good and evil spirits. If disturbed, the spirits could get angry, which is why the ancient Egyptians believed it was forbidden to walk under a ladder.
What happens if you go under a ladder?
Some believe that since a ladder was rested against the crucifix, it is considered to symbolize wickedness and death. While there’s no scientific evidence to support it, the belief is that bad luck will follow anyone who walks under a ladder.
Is it safe to walk under a ladder?
For practical reasons, it is not considered safe to walk under a ladder, especially if there is someone working on one. You could end up with injuries that have nothing to do with bad spirits!
How do you reverse bad luck from walking under a ladder?
One remedy is to keep your fingers crossed until you see a dog. Or you can walk backwards under the ladder again and take the opposite route.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Pappas, Stephanie. "13 Common (But Silly) Superstitions." Live Science. Jan. 13, 2012. (Dec. 11, 2014) http://www.livescience.com/14141-13-common-silly-superstitions.html
  • Webster, Richard. "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." Llewellyn Worldwide. Sep. 1, 2012. (Dec. 11, 2014) https://books.google.com/books?id=m1-xCL47_7QC&pg=PA149&lpg=PA149&dq=why+is+it+bad+luck+to+walk+under+a+ladder&source=bl&ots=MeP15gy0lT&sig=J8ZtTVM3oPSe0m2pD1i6ZkxBR7w&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZjCKVOynCvTbsATD2oGgDw&ved=0CD8Q6AEwBTgU#v=onepage&q=why%20is%20it%20bad%20luck%20to%20walk%20under%20a%20ladder&f=false