ladder


ladder
   The idea that it is unlucky to walk under a ladder is one of the most widely known and practised 'superstitions of modern times, being by far the most often mentioned in replies to our 1998/9 'Superstitions Survey. In most cases now it is simply said to be 'unlucky', but in previous times to walk under a ladder might result in you never marrying, or dying on the gallows. The first known reference to this belief is little more than 200 years old, in Grose's Provincial Glossary (1787: 63). For those unfortunate enough to have walked under a ladder, a number of traditional remedies are prescribed - spit through the ladder, spit over your left shoulder, or keep your fingers crossed till you see a dog, do not speak till you see a four-legged animal, make the sign of the cross, and so on. There have also been a number of attempts to explain the belief: the Devil lurked under the ladder at the Crucifixion, the ladder/wall/floor make a triangle which is symbolical of the Trinity, and the ladder stands for the gallows. Needless to say, none of these has a shred of evidence to support them. Unlike many superstitions, however, this one does have a pragmatic element, and many argue that their avoidance is ruled merely by considerations of safety and common sense.
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 225-6; N&Q 155 (1928), 172, 20910, 247; 156 (1929), 177; Harland and Wilkinson, 1882: 229.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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