There seem to be a few reasons for the superstition:
In medieval times it was thought that a leaning ladder resembled a gallows, and that if someone were to walk under it, they were guaranteeing their own death by hanging.
Continuing with the gallows theme, after a hanging, a ladder was placed against the gallows so that the body of the hanged person could be cut down. There was the possibility of being hit by a cadaver if someone happened to walk under the ladder as this was happening.
A non gallows source of the superstition might be that that the shape formed by a leaning ladder: a triangle; a shape often associated with the Holy Trinity. It was believed that, by walking through the triangle, a person would be violating and desecrating God.
An explanation from further afield might come from ancient Egypt, where they believed that the triangle was a symbol of special power because of its resemblance to the face of a pyramid. Walking under a ladder was said to break the power of the shape.
But what would a superstitious person do if they accidentally walked under a ladder? Wise people of old believed there were ways to reverse the bad luck, and a few of them are:
• Spit through the ladders rungs three times.
• Cross your fingers until you see a dog.
• Spit on your shoe and continue walking, but don’t look at your shoe again until the spit has dried.
• Walk backwards under the ladder, reversing your steps, and making a wish as you go.
Of course, the best thing to do is avoid walking under ladders, or too close to people working with them, because it increases the risk of an accident.
Walk safe and work safe!
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