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The folklore and magic of the Magpie by Sue Perryman

I'm writing this blog towards the end of March, the Spring Equinox has passed by, life is returning to the land and wild animals and birds are preparing for the patter of tiny paws/hooves/claws etc. The air is alive with bird song and the gentle buzzing of bees, and once again that I'm being stalked by Magpies!

When I venture outside they seem to appear everywhere I go, if I look out of my window, there is usually at least one in the garden, and when I'm driving one will land in the road ahead of me or swoop in front of my car, does everyone get this or is it just me?

I noticed this strange behaviour a few years ago, like most people in the UK, I know the Magpie rhyme that says:

' One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy,

five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told.'

Although being a Terry Pratchett fan I prefer Nanny Ogg's version in 'Carpe Jugulum':

'One's for sorrow, two's mirth

Three's a funeral, four's a birth,

Five's a christening, six a dearth,

Seven's heaven, eight is hell,

And nine's the devil his ane sel.'

This version does vary throughout the book though, as Nanny say's herself, there's lots of magpie rhymes.

Being of a certain age, I remember watching the children's show called 'Magpie' which had the rhyme as a theme song. So, it was a long held belief that if you saw one, bad luck would be sure to follow. This is quite worrying when you see one every time you leave the house, so I decided to change how I thought of them, and instead see them as good omens (another Pratchett reference).

I decided to do a bit of research into the folklore and magic of magpies, I wanted to know where the associations with bad luck came from and was it worldwide!.

Magpies are from the Corvidae family, as are crows, jays and ravens, the bird known as Magpie in Australia is from the Cracticidae family and is seen as an aggressive bird. There are about twenty different species of magpie in the world and every country where they live has its own magpie mythologies.

Like many birds, the magpie mates for life, which may be connected with the belief that seeing one is bad luck, well it is for the magpie if its mate has died. In Britain it was once considered that a solitary magpie was the devil in disguise and if you saw one you should cross yourself and say, ' devil devil, I defy thee'. I also came across one old Christian belief that the magpie refused to enter the Ark and another that magpies did not mourn the crucifixion of Jesus.

Even today, the superstitious will try to avert disaster by performing various actions when they see a lone magpie, the most common one being to salute the magpie and repeat various saying depending on what part of the country you live such as ' Good morning Mr magpie, how are your family?'. In Somerset England it was believed that carrying an onion would protect you from magpies.

In Yorkshire magpies were associated with Witchcraft, and people would cross themselves when they saw one. In Scotland it was believed that magpies had a drop of devil's blood under their tongue, and if one was seen near a window, death would soon follow.

Other various beliefs were held in different areas of Britain, but they are almost all linked with the devil, death and bad luck, although I found one that said if a magpie perches on your roof it means that your home will never fall down.

Magpies mate for life and it was believed that when a magpie’s mate died it summoned an assembly of magpies who would honour the dead bird before selecting a new mate for the bereaved magpie. The most common name for a group of magpies is 'A Parliament'.

In France the magpie is seen in more of a positive light. In the past they were honoured by placing bundles of laurel or heather high in a tree, in remembrance of when magpies were believed to alert people to the presence of a wolf.

Rossini wrote an opera called La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) which told the tale of a French girl who was accused of theft and executed. The real culprit was later discovered to be a magpie.

Asian countries seem to hold magpies in high esteem. In China they are believed to bring good luck and are associated with happiness. The Manchu dynasty that ruled China from the 17th- 20th centuries used magpies as symbols of its imperial rule.

Magpies are the national bird of South Korea, and it is believed that if a magpie chirps at your doorstep, you will soon receive a visitor bringing good fortune.

Germany holds similar beliefs to Britain in that the number of birds indicates forthcoming events. One is unlucky, two brings merriment or marriage, three is a successful journey, four is good news and five indicates you should expect company.

To Native Americans, magpies are seen as allies or helpers to humans, and they appear in the legends of several tribes.

Magically magpies are associated with occult knowledge, communication, wisdom, magic and divination. They are believed to open the gateway to the realms of spirit and Faerie and can help with past life workings. They have a reputation of being unpredictable though, so be warned.

Magpies are very intelligent birds; they adapt to their surroundings and are opportunists that seldom miss a chance to get something for nothing. Those working with magpie magic should be aware of subtle omens that may appear and act accordingly.

Magpies teach us to not be afraid to move out of our comfort zone, to experiment and try out new ideas, to adapt to any situation and to use what we have to hand. Magpies are very vocal and one of their lessons is to use our voices more, become more outspoken about those things you care passionately about. Speak your truth.

The black and white colouring of Magpies would make them ideal to work with for balance and at the equinoxes.

Magpies faithfulness to their partners make them a powerful healer for relationship problems. They can also be called on for protection. The magpies love of all things shiny can be a warning not to get too attached to material objects.

In Norse mythology magpies were associated with the giantess Skadi and goddess Hel. They are also linked with the Greek and Roman god Apollo.

Keywords: Occult, magic, knowledge, dedication, spirit world, Faerie, past life, consequences, communication, clarity, opportunistic, perception, illusion, expression and balance.


Animal magic - Rachel Patterson

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