Don’t Split the Pole! The Meaning Behind the Cultural Superstition

The belief that splitting the pole causes bad luck has been passed down among various generations.

Elizabeth Randolph - Author

Jun. 12 2024, Published 5:46 p.m. ET

The year was 1972. Stevie Wonder was already a legend in the making, but still wrote another song that was catchy and taught a lot of people the word “Superstition” — whether they’d like to admit it or not. Following its release, “Superstition” became a classic spanning decades. However, like most art, the song shed light on how, in most cases, “superstition ain’t the way.”

A superstition is defined as an “excessively credulous belief in and reverence or supernatural beings.”

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They range from worrying if a black cat crosses your path (this happens to me far too many times to take seriously) and that breaking a mirror causes seven years of bad luck. One superstition is the dangers of splitting the pole when you come across it while walking. If you grew up around superstitious people — especially in the Black community — you may have heard them yell “DON’T SPLIT THE POLE!” quite loudly and passionately.

So, why is splitting the pole considered bad luck? Here’s the truth and why I stand ten toes down on it being so.

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(l-r): A woman and a man on opposite sides of cones.
Source: Getty Images

What does “don’t split the pole” mean?

When someone warns another to “don’t split the pole,” they mean exactly what they say. Pole-splitting can happen at public events like school, the movie theatre, even a bus stop. When two people are walking near said pole at the same time, the best way to handle the situation (in mine and other superstitious folks’ opinion) is to avoid walking around the opposite side of the pole.

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The belief behind not splitting the pole is that doing so will give you bad luck. For instance, if you split the pole right before a big job interview and don’t get the job, it’s because you split the pole. You randomly lost that “lucky” pen you’ve had since you were 15? I guarantee you recently split a pole. Did your phone die the minute you happened to be in the same room as Beyonce? You know what led to that horrid circumstance.

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There’s also the belief that splitting the pole with someone you care about is also thought of as a way to “break” the bond you have with the person, per USC Folklore. However, some argue there’s no bad luck involved at all.

In June 2024, one X, formerly Twitter user, @CarterJahad, fought back against the superstition and addressed Black people who have believed in it for generations.

“Black people, bad stuff will not happen if you split the pole!”

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Carter’s tweet sent many Black content creators into a frenzy. Many users expressed their disbelief with shocking responses, like NeNe Leakes and Star Jones’ scene from Celebrity Apprentice, when NeNe told Star, “Keep saying that, that’s great, keep saying that.”

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If you must do so, there is a remedy to fix splitting the pole.

Now that we’ve established splitting the pole should be avoided as often as possible, life happens to everyone, even in superstition. So, if you have to split the pole and can’t bring the person you’re walking with to your side of the pole or vice-versa, there’s a solution to the action.

Unlike most rituals, splitting the pole can be undone. According to a 2012 blog post from Spirit Halloween (yes, that place you go the day before Halloween to make a last-minute costume), someone who splits a pole can ensure they don’t receive the bad luck that comes with it.

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To fix your luck, Spirit Halloween says someone should simply yell, “Bread and butter!” Doing so will reportedly “reverse” your bad luck and make you as good as new.

While we have to mention none of this is based on facts — just superstition — there are worse things you could say to fix unfortunate luck. However, it’s always best not to split the pole, which I hope is the only takeaway you leave with!

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