The superstition associated with walking under a ladder is that it will bring you bad luck. One origin of this superstition dates back to medieval times, in which the ladder symbolized the gallows — a place where persons were hanged. So when someone walked under a ladder, it was believed that he would surely face his own death by hanging. And because people were hung at the top rungs of the ladder, it was thought that their spirits resided within the triangle that was formed by the leaning ladder, in other words, it formed a haunted area. Ladders were typically leaned up against the gallows and used to assist the person in charge of removing the dead bodies. By walking under the ladder during that time, it was assumed that a dead body could fall on you, causing injury or death.
Another origin of this superstition dates back to ancient Egypt. The Egyptians believed strongly in the power of the pyramids. Even a ladder leaning against a wall symbolized a pyramid because of its triangular shape. If someone walked under it, they believed that the power of the sacred pyramid was broken.
Yet another early belief about ladders was that when leaned triangularly against a wall, it signified the Holy Trinity — the Father (God), the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Ghost (the spirit of Jesus). The action of walking under the ladder was considered blasphemy and a desecration of God. Additionally, it would invite the devil in.
There are ways to undo the seemingly disastrous consequences. By walking back through the ladder, you can undo the harm and secure a second chance of better luck. Also, crossing your fingers until you see a dog can fix the situation.
The best belief is common sense. Jarring a ladder in any way might cause you to get hit by a falling object, or cause someone already on it to fall off. It is best to walk around it to ensure a better day. If you choose to walk under one, use the crossing fingers method stated above.
To find out about other superstitions, visit the Superstition Room.