Folk Beliefs
Protection

It’s Bad Luck to Walk Under a Ladder

Informant: “I’m pretty sure this game from my Grandad [J] from Boise Idaho, and he was kind of a do-it-yourself-er around his house, and we used to go to his house every year over spring break. He had a ladder propped up against the side of his house, and I was over there and I would have been really small at the time, this would have been before I was twelve. And I was running around in the park next door, and playing in their yard and so at one point I ran under the ladder propped up against the side of the house and that ended up being a whole lecture. I remember I felt like I got in a whole lot of trouble, but the gist of it was that it was dangerous to do, and it was bad luck. So it’s bad luck to walk under a ladder, and you never want to walk under a ladder. So, it was less about it’s dangerous, and more about its bad luck so you never want to do that. From that point forward, I never did. I mean, I never did. Even if I would look at a situation where there was a ladder propped up against something and you know that it would be safe to walk under, there’s plenty of space, it’s not gonna be an issue, and there’s no one on the ladder, I would still always kinda go around the ladder.
Anyways, later on in life, I guess I technically violated that because I was putting Christmas lights on the house in Oregon. I was hammering the lighting clips into the roof, and I reach a point where I needed to climb down to the bottom to move the ladder, and I left my hammer hooked on the top of the ladder. I go to the bottom, and I’m moving the ladder, and I think ‘ok, I’m gonna lift it up and move it over here in a way so it’s perched against the wall the whole time. And to do that, and not have it tilt way over, I had to stand under the ladder and use both had to move it. And as soon as I lift it, the hammer falls about fifteen feet and conks me right on the head! And it hurt, like, Heck! I probably have permanent brain damage from that and I had this giant bump on my head, and all because I broke my Grandfather’s rule of never walking underneath a ladder.”

Informant is a middle aged banker who frequently travels internationally on business, and is a father of three. He identifies as ‘American’, although his mother is of Czech heritage. He grew up in Oregon and Washington and currently lives in the Midwestern United States.

Collector Analysis: For this particular superstition, it is very easy to see where it may have originated. Most likely, at some point in the past one of my informant’s ancestors had an experience similar to his own, and that stuck. At some point, the exact reasoning for it probably changed to superstition based on the fact that in many cases superstition can be stronger than a simple warning. Consider that if one tells a small child not to do something because it’s dangerous, they may still do it based on the fact that many small children seem to have an inherent belief in their own invulnerability, and might be convinced that they will be ‘careful enough’ to avoid injury. On the other had, if you tell a small child not to do something because it’s bad luck, well, bad luck is something that a small child knows that he cannot escape by simply ‘being careful’.

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