Split Around a Pole

“So, basically, if two people are walking in a pair and next to each other, you can’t separate and walk around a pole on two different sides, like, both people have to walk around on the same side.”

Q: “Is it bad luck if you’re split up?”

A: “Yeah, it’s supposed to be some bad luck superstition.  I don’t know, I don’t really believe in it.”

Q: “But someone you know does?”

A: “Yeah, Stanisha like is so serious about it.  If we’re walking, I’ll go out of my way to walk on the other side of poles and stuff, and she’ll just run back and go out of her way to go around the thing.  There was this one time we split to walk around a man, and she ran all the way back just to go around him on the same side I did.”

Q: “Has her luck improved do you think?”

A: “Well, I mean, she wins everything.  She’s always entering into raffles, and legit, she always wins.  She’s won an iPad, a PSP, gift cards—it’s cray.”

Q: “So you first heard about this pole thing from Stanisha?”

A: “Yeah, but there’s this other older woman I used to work with, and she believed in it, too.  She told me about it and said that it was a thing, and if you split around a pole you’ll have bad luck.”

My informant is my co-worker, and Stanisha is one of our friends.  They are both African-American and raised in the United States.  My informant grew up in Santa Rosa, California, and Stanisha is from Georgia.  Though my informant claims to not believe in this folk belief, he is still an active participant in it because he knows that Stanisha is very superstitious about it.  I think the fact that he is participating in the belief and claims to see the good fortune of its results is an indicator that maybe my informant believes the folk belief to a certain degree—maybe he is not fully bought into it, but he acknowledges that Stanisha has had nothing but good luck.

Personally, I had never heard of this folk belief before consulting with my informant.  It seems strange that there is an association with good luck and the separation of people when walking.  After consulting with my informant, I asked him who the good luck with affect: both people in the group or just one of the people at random?  He said that he did not know, but perhaps it had something to do with affecting only those who believe, since he has not noted any significant changes in his mediocre luck.  This brings to attention the idea of believing—are folk beliefs constructed so that they only affect those who truly believe in them?  Or do they only produce a placebo effect on those who believe, so one will think that their luck has improved simply because he/she believes that it will?  It is hard to say for sure.  But I do find it interesting that my informant, though he has seen Stanisha’s positive results, still claims to not believe.  What causes a person to believe in superstitions?  Is seeing not truly believing?