Sunday, 27 September 2009


I like Magpies

I have for as long as I can remember. I am a little superstitious of them.

I guess it all starts with that rhyme. And there are so many versions....

One is for sorrow
Two is for joy or mirth
Three is for a girl, a funeral or a wedding
Four is for a boy or a birth
Five is for a silver, heaven or a fiddler
Six is for gold, hell or a dance
Seven is for a secret never to be told, the devil his own self, old England or tale never to be told
Eight is for a wish, to live or Old France
Nine is for kiss or to die
Ten is for a bird you won't want to miss, a time of joyous bliss or to eat bogey pie!

I remember hearing that in folk music each new version allows them to estimate the age of the song. so a song with four versions would be twice as old as one with two. By this estimate this makes the magpie rhyme very old. I have no idea where I got that from though....

Some of the things in it make me smile - the heaven, hell and the devil his own self version is just so Christian influenced. The boy and girl bit is much from a time when women were pregnant all the time.

Other things have grown up around magpies, mostly do with getting rid of the bad luck of seeing one. Saying hello Mr Magpie and saluting them were both things my Mum told us. We thought she was joking but they are there on wikipedia.... It also says that if a magpie looks you in the eye they respect you and you don't need to worry about bad luck....

I see magpies.

I have become very sensitive to them. I can recognise their calls. I recognise their peculiar flight. The merest hint of magpie and I am on it. The flash of black, or white or that wonderful irridescent blue green....

I can't remember when all this started but I already felt strongly linked with them by the time I was 18. The Wiccan friend I made was aware of it. She found a dead magpie in her garden and remembering my tendency to use them for omen telling, was very disquietened by this. Later that day she found out a friend had died. I never forgot that.

I don't know that I stick to a rhyme, I just kind of feel my way through it.... It depends not just on how many, but what they are doing.

My watching them has taught me a lot. The juveniles stay and help their parents with the next batch of kids. They live in extended family groups and work together. You can identify their territories and once the chicks are raised they seem to get a little less defensive of their territories and you are more likely to see them socialising in larger groups.

They have become very common because they are generalists. At work we have a carpark surrounded by mowed lawn. The magpies can survive using this lawn where other birds can't. Smaller garden birds live in the hedgerows and scrub just beyond the fence but the magpies are the ones who survive best in the artificial domain we create. Meadow that is mown once or twice a year is so varied and beautiful. Why do we have to have lawn that is mown regularly and consists of one type of grass maintained with chemicals?

The magpies are to me a bird about balance - black and white - good and bad. They are tricksters, magicians and thieves (they like shiny things). There dominance is a sign that things are out of balance. I love them though and am glad that something can survive in these places we have created...


  1. I love magpies:) I used to feel quite bothered when I saw them and decided it must be telling me something. I did a lot of meditation on them and why they were in my life. As you said it is a question of balance andfor me also that not everything is black and white

  2. I'm entranced by this post, Rose. Your writing has a magical quality about these magical birds. I'm always drawn to Magpies, but have never considered in so much detail what they might represent. Oh, I say the first lines of the rhyme when I see them. In fact, I saw a pair playing in the grass this morning and was glad that it would therefore be a joyful day .... and it has been.
    It's the detail about how they represent balance that interests me most. Balance, that mystical state that eludes me so much! And the magpies seem to reside on the roof of my chalet bungalow, making such a rowdy racket by my window. Perhaps they have been trying to tell me something!

    Bright Blessings, Dear One. x

  3. I loved magpies when I lived in England, I didn't know about the bad luck. We don't have them here - just losts of crows.

  4. we have magpies here in Australia, but they are a different bird to those in the UK.