Every once in a while you will find yourself in that uncomfortable situation: you are walking calmly down the street and a few meters away you will find a staircase leaning against a wall, right in the middle of your path.
What do you do? Do you surround it or do you dare to go under it? There are few who, if the flies, prefer to avoid a behavior that according to legend attracts bad luck. What is the origin of this superstition? Why do we think that walking under a ladder will bring us bad luck?
Walking under a Ladder – Bad Luck?
In the story we find some explanations to this curious belief, as it is included in the blog Psychic Library. One of the theories would come from ancient Egypt, where the pyramids were devoutly respected for their supposed power.
The triangular shape of a staircase against a wall reminds and symbolizes that of these constructions; and it is assumed that if someone walked through that set he was committing an attack against the sacred powers of the pyramid.
Other versions point to the Middle Ages. In this case, the space left under the staircase would evoke the lower part of a gallows. It was thought that going through there was to attract death, to invade the cursed space where the spirits of the people who had been executed resided.
The other theory related to the gallows speaks of accidents when using stairs to pick up the corpses, when these fall on the unwary who decided to walk underneath at such a delicate moment.
This last possibility seems the most credible to connect with common sense.
In fact, the most natural thing to do is not to go under a ladder, not because of fear or superstition, but simply because you do not run the risk of having an accident in case something or someone rushes from the height.
In general, if there is a ladder on the street, someone is using it to work, often using heavy and potentially dangerous tools.
Anyway, if you prefer to heal in health, we also tell you the two most known ‘remedies’ to alleviate the effects of the curse. If you accidentally walk under a ladder you can retrace your steps to undo the gaffe. Or, as they say in some countries, you must keep your fingers crossed until you see a dog.
You can also try playing wood, another superstition with reverse impact that we recently explained in this section.
Some people take great jobs as long as they do not go under a ladder; they even risk getting off the ladder and walking between cars.
Others say that the risk is to get wet with paint or to receive the blow of the ladder if it falls on them.
Superstition in General
Superstition is explained with a reference to Christian beliefs. The staircase that rests on a wall or on a tree forms a triangle that identifies with the Blessed Trinity. To cross it is to desecrate the sacred and attract the devil.
There are several ways to counteract that infraction: cross your fingers and keep them that way until you see a dog; spit on a shoe and let the saliva dries there; even make the sign of the “figa” by closing the fist with the thumb inserted between the middle finger and the index finger.
The superstitions regarding the stairs have to do with Christian beliefs, but they existed before the birth of Jesus. In ancient Egypt, Osiris, the sun god, was at constant war with Seth, the master of darkness.
After a victory, Set pushed Osiris into the darkness of the tomb. Horus, the god of the rising sun, hawk-headed, helped his father out of the darkness with two powerful spells: a ladder and the sign of the? V? Made with two fingers. In some Egyptian tombs good luck amulets have been found in the form of small ladders, and some people still use modern versions of such amulets.
Certain paintings show the soul climbing the ladder to get out of the grave or to reach the peak of eternal light. According to the Bible, Jacob dreamed of a ladder that reached heaven and in which there were angels. In this way, the staircase became a divine figure that was reinforced with the idea of the Sacred Triangle, which was a symbol of life in ancient times.
An ancient belief said that walking under a staircase would shorten the visit of the gods to Earth, those who, offended, would send terrible misfortunes.
The first representations of the Crucifixion fed the idea that the ladder symbolized both God and Satan. In them, Satan, furious because the death of Jesus Christ has saved humanity, is standing under a ladder that is resting on the cross.
The area between the staircase and the cross was under the control of the devil, so only those who worshiped it would pass through there.
However, making the sign of the cross with the fingers makes the person safe, which prevents Satan from taking revenge.
Ladders as a symbol in Superstition
In some countries, ladders are associated with criminals and death, as the executioners made the gallows by supporting a ladder in a tree. After the execution, nobody dared to pass under the stairs, for fear of meeting the ghost of the hanged man.
In France, before the guillotine was used, the condemned were made to pass under the staircase that led them to the scaffold. Each time the executioner had to go up or down the stairs, he was careful to spit several times between the crossbars to make sure he rejected the condemned curses.
Among the many popular beliefs on the subject of luck and misfortune is that according to which walking under a ladder, which could also be a simple scaffolding, is a bad omen. About the origin of this superstition there are two theories, one linked to the sacredness of the triangle and a profane one.
The figure of the triangle for the ancient Egyptians was sacred and a ladder leaning against a wall reproduced just that geometric shape.
To pass under it then was equivalent to a rupture of the sacred figure, which would have infuriated the gods and would have had unpleasant repercussions.
Even in Christian times the triangle had the same symbolism and therefore passing through it represented the breaking of the sacred unity of the holy trinity.
The secular theory instead traces this belief back to the Middle Ages when during the battles the castles were attacked by placing stairs to the external walls: some soldiers held them still and others both climbed up and received the “mortal bath”, that is they were hit with boiling liquids that they were poured specifically to keep enemies away.
Here being under a ladder would have become a disadvantageous, unlucky and dangerous position!
Some of the most widespread beliefs explained on the web. Never walk under a ladder. A stairway leaning against a wall ideally forms a triangle and in Ancient Egypt this was a sacred figure: therefore it would have been almost an outrage to walk through it.
In the middle Ages, on the other hand, a supported scale recalled the gallows, so walking under it was almost like staging one’s performance.
Opening an umbrella in an enclosed space brings bad luck. In the Victorian era, the opening mechanisms of the umbrellas were not fully functional and opening one at home could also cause accidents.
Breaking a mirror causes seven years of trouble. In ancient Greece a person’s future was predicted by analyzing his reflection in a mirror. A distorted image was not a good omen. In addition, the Romans believed that each person went through alternating cycles of health and illness lasting seven years.
If you spill salt and throw some of it behind your left shoulder. A belief attributable to the Sumerians and spread in 3500 BC although the real reasons are unknown, this belief has spread to Egyptians, Assyrians and Greeks.
A black cat crossing the street is not a good omen. Since ancient Egypt the cat was considered an animal that brought luck, even sacred. And centuries after the fall of King Charles I it was attributed to the death of his cat.
The number 13. The misfortune that this number would bring was born in Scandinavian mythology: 12 gods were having dinner together when Loki, god of war and evil, interrupted the party causing the death of one of the professor’s gods, Balder.
The candles on the birthday cake. It was customary to make birthday cakes already among the ancient Greeks, who added candles to give light and make the cake seem like a moon, in honor of the goddess Artemis.
Putting a hat on the bed brings bad luck. In many cultures it is believed that evil spirits are lodged in people’s hair, consequently also in their hats.
The horseshoe on the door. In the middle Ages it was believed that witches were afraid of horses. A horseshoe kept them away.
Throw coins into a fountain. Widespread belief already among the Romans and then continued in the Celtic culture. Probably a gesture to curry favor with the gods of water.
Make a wish when you see a shooting star. In the first century AD Ptolemy theorized that shooting stars were the sign of the descent of the gods on Earth.
Being hit by bird droppings brings good luck. Popular beliefs suggest that if something bad happens, luck will come back.
Seeing the bride before marriage brings bad luck. Probably a belief linked to the last minute second thoughts.
Faith is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. Tradition started in Roman times, which when they dissected the bodies they discovered that there is a tendon or nerve that connects the ring finger to the heart.
Finding a four-leaf clover brings good luck. For the Celts the extra leaf compared to the common clover denoted strength and power, so it could be used to drive away evil.