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Why is it Considered Bad Luck to Walk Under a Ladder?

Ladders form triangles, representing the trinity.
A ladder.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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Many people hold the belief that it is bad luck to walk under a ladder without understanding its origin in superstition. This superstition arises from early Christian teachings that an object with three points represents the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Not all Christians are Trinitarians; therefore, walking under a ladder, according to origin, would only be bad luck for a Christian who believed.

The early superstitious thought is that walking under a ladder — through the Holy Trinity — expresses disbelief in the trinity and that one is in league with Satan. Performing such an act, especially in early Christian times, could have gotten one labeled as a witch. Thus, the act could be extremely dangerous.

A straight ladder, when leaning against a building, does form a triangle. The top point connects with the building, the building intersecting with the road forms one corner and the bottom of the ladder makes the third corner. Throughout history, the number three has held extreme symbolic power, representing the masculine or, as Carl Jung called it, the animus.

Even though the number three and the trinity are closely combined, use of three to represent symbolic importance dates far prior to Christianity. Though this superstition is tied to Christian beliefs, it is quite possible that earlier beliefs may have held sway prior to the advent of Christianity. Early ladders predate Christianity.

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It may be bad luck to walk under a ladder for a variety of more practical concerns. First off, if a person is on the ladder, a walk under it might endanger either person; some ladders are not particularly safe. Second, a ladder up to a roof might suggest people are working on a roof. Walking under the ladder might endanger the person on the ground if things fall off the roof. Even walking near a site where people are working above is somewhat fraught with danger. People can and have been injured by things dropping from overhead.

Though Christianity claims the superstitious origins that to walk under a ladder is bad luck, truly good sense makes it a dangerous practice. It could be supposed by the most superstitious that those who perform this action are encouraging bad luck. Bad luck might come in the form of having things dropped on one’s head. However, no one has said much about the bad luck of being knocked off a ladder if a person jostles it while walking under it. This is one superstition that probably should be observed, not so much for its religious origins but for its good sense value.

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bear78
Post 9

@ZipLine-- So is it okay from non-Christians to walk under a ladder since they don't believe in that symbolism?

ZipLine
Post 8

The ancient Egyptians had the same belief because ladders were an important tool for souls to move up into the afterlife. That's why they would place a ladder next to tombs of the dead. If someone walked under one of these ladders, they would be preventing the soul from completing his or her journey and this would bring that person bad luck.

I also think that it's a bad idea for anyone who knows of the symbolism of a ladder to walk under it. If you know that a ladder against a wall becomes a symbol of the Holy Trinity, you are certainly being disrespectful by walking under it. It's bad luck simply because the person is not respecting religion.

fify
Post 7

My opinion is that this notion came about because the ladders that were used in the old days were not as safe as the ones we have now. They were usually wooden, sometimes handmade and not very sturdy. The ladder could easily fall back, or cause the person on it to fall. Sometimes the wood would get rotten over time and the steps would break as people put their weight on it. Walking under a ladder was probably seen as bad luck because one might get hurt.

And like the article mentioned, how many times have we heard about stuff falling on people's heads from roofs and buildings that are under construction? A lot!

It was probably easier to convince people at that time about bad luck than it was to convince them about safety precautions. So that's probably how it came about.

anon314871
Post 6

I walked under a ladder and I didn't have bad luck. Mainly it might be bad luck if there are items like paints, etc., but the phrase is all nonsense!

anon254546
Post 5

I walk under ladders all the time and nothing ever happened to me!

GrumpyGuppy
Post 4

I have heard of all of those from walking under a ladder to avoiding a black cat. I don't consider myself a superstitious person but I still cringe if a black cat walks in front of my car!

cmsmith10
Post 3

@wesley91: I heard the same things growing up! And how about Friday the 13th? Good grief! Legend has it that Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden of Eden on a Friday. It is also said that Noah’s great flood started on a Friday and that Jesus was crucified on a Friday.

Early Christians said that twelve witches and one devil are present at satanic rituals and that is what makes Friday the 13th a bad day!

wesley91
Post 2

I can remember being young and my grandmother telling me not to walk under a ladder. I always thought it was kind of silly. Sometimes I would do it just to see what happened. Who’s to say if any of my bad luck was attributed to that?

I also remember being told not to spill the salt. Some people say that Judas spilt the salt during the last supper. Salt was an expensive commodity back in the day. So, if you spill the salt you are supposed to throw it over your left shoulder to hit the bad spirits in the eye to prevent sickness.

Fact or fiction? Who knows?

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