Superstitions about Ladders

As it is about a week until my favorite holiday of the year, I thought it best to begin. Folks, Ollie and I would like to welcome you to this year's Superstition Game! Everyday until Halloween, my posts will be about different superstitions. The suggestions have been provided by other readers. You will meet them with each post.

Today, Ollie and I bring you superstitions about ladders, which was suggested by Amy at Read to my Heart's Content.

Let's begin:

The taboo against walking under ladders is one of the most widely known and frequently observed of all surviving superstitions, encountered in many Christian and non-Christian countries even today. Many people who reject some of the more archaic superstitions will still cross the road or choose another route if a ladder propped against a wall blocks their path (though they may protest that they are simply nervous of something being dropped on them).

The reasoning behind the superstition, which is probably obscure to the majority of people who nonetheless observe it is that a ladder leaned against a wall completes a triangle with the wall and the ground. The triangle is said to be the sign of the Holy Trinity, so anyone who walks straight through it is showing disrespect for God and possibly sympathy with the devil. Alternately, a ladder offers a means of ascent to Heaven for the recently departed, in which case great care must be taken not to obstruct or offend any spirits mounting it. The usual punishment for such recklessness is said to be a bout of misfortune, though more specifically in the case of unmarried persons, it may entail postponement of marriage hopes for another year.

In the Netherlands and formerly in parts of the British Isles, retribution went further and the person concerned was fated to be hanged—a conclusion that probably dates from times when, if a proper scaffold was not available, condemned felons were often executed on impromptu gallows comprising a ladder leaned against a tree.

In cases where there is no alternative to walking under a ladder, superstition does, however, offer a safeguard, advising that crossing the fingers and keeping them crossed until a dog is sighted will afford the transgressor some protection. Similarly, spitting on one’s shoe and allowing the spittle to dry may negate any ill effects.

One Scottish superstition suggests that if there is no alternative to walking under a ladder, breaking the taboo may have a beneficial effect: anyone who makes a wish as they pass underneath may well have it granted.

 Those who work on ladders are not immune to their dangers. In the USA, it is said that anyone who climbs a ladder under which a black cat had just walked will experience bad luck, while in many European countries, it is unlucky to pass anything through the rungs of a ladder—as it also is at sea. If the ladder has an odd number of rungs, it may actually bring the climber good luck, but if he or she should slip on a rung, this is an omen of a financial setback. Even if the ladder is resting on the ground, bad luck is risked if any person treads between the rungs.

In many non-Christian countries, the taboo against walking under ladders is simply one aspect of a wider superstition that applies to walking under a variety of objects. The idea behind this is that it is inadvisable to allow anything to be placed over one’s head, as the head is the seat of the spirit and should never be overshadowed. In Japan, for instance, it is thought that anyone who walks under a telegraph wire will be possessed by devils.   

There you have it, all the superstitions about ladders. Share your thoughts by living a comment on this post. When you're done, visit Amy at Read to my Heart's Content. Give she a hello for me. 

And if you would like to join the Superstition Game, click here.

Don't forget to join my October Giveaway!

Until tomorrow. Watch out for ladders!


  1. I'll remember not to walk under any wires at all.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  2. I must admit I won't walk under ladders, I remember being told not to when I was little and it stuck - I can't even remember why I shouldn't.
    Love these posts, they are so interesting. :D


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