Refusal to “split the pole” is a belief held by the informant that two people should never walk in two separate directions around a pole or an object obstructing their path. The informant adopted this belief from his father.
This belief was related to me by the informant after walking with him down a sidewalk in Los Angeles. We saw a light post ahead of us, and as I began to walk around the left side of it as the informant walked right, he shouted in a frenzy, “never split the pole!” After looking at him in confusion, he told me what “splitting the pole” meant.
Me: What are you yelling about? What is splitting the pole?
PF: When you’re walking with someone down a sidewalk and there’s something like a light post or a traffic sign in your way, you have to walk around it the same way. If you walk in different directions, you split the pole, and you have to say, “bread and butter.”
Me: Bread and butter? What does that do?
PF: I don’t know man, it’s just what you have to say. My dad doesn’t split the pole neither. No one in my family does.
Me: Where does “splitting the pole” come from?
PF: No idea. It’s just something I’ve been doing since I was a kid. If you do split the pole and don’t say, “bread and butter,” you get bad luck.
Me: Like walking under a ladder?
PF: Yea, but way worse (laughs). When my dad and I are going somewhere, even if there’s a massive crowd, we’ll wait for people to pass and stuff just to make sure we don’t split the pole.
Neither myself or anyone I’ve asked has ever heard of “splitting the pole”, so its origins remain unclear. It seems to be just one of those superstitions that a select number of people have heard and adopted. There is something to be said about the metaphysical gravity some allot to customs and beliefs despite having no rationale or origin to validate the belief. There is no utilitarian value in refusing to split the pole, yet the informant was driven to yelling in public after realizing we were about do so. Just like walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror, it is a superstition that some adopt despite not aligning themselves with the culture or community it comes from. Despite not being part of the culture or community it comes from, people still act in accordance with the belief out of the potential threat that violating this belief will endanger them.