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Various Versions of the Magpie Riddle

Updated on September 8, 2008

In ancient European cultures the magpie is said to predict omens, and there is a type of divination based on the magpie according to an old riddle. The gist of it is according to how many magpies are seen the following will be one's fate.

The first time I heard of the magpie riddle from an Irish guy whom I shared a house with in Derry. He told me the riddle when we saw some magpies:

One for sorrow 
Two for joy 
Three for a girl 
Four for a boy 
Five for silver 
Six for gold 
Seven for a secret that's never to be told
 

This version only goes to seven. Later, I heard a longer version with either to ten.

... 
Eight is a wish 
Night is a kiss 
Ten for a bird that's never to be missed 
(or "Ten for a time of joyous bliss")
 

When I was pregnant with my second child, I walked for 40 minute to work everyday and on my way there is a large park where I always saw magpies. If I caught sight for one, I tried to spot more in order to find the baby's gender ("three for a girl, four for a boy").

Then one day when I read The Poison Maiden (by Paul Doherty), a history novel about murder and mayhem in the court of Edward II in medieval England and came across another version of the rhyme which might be popular in medieval Europe. It goes:

One for anger 
Two for mirth 
Three for a wedding 
Four for birth 
Five for rich 
Six for poor 
Seven for a bitch 
Eight for a whore 
Nine for burying 
Ten for a dance 
Eleven for England 
Twelve for France
 

Another version of the magpie riddle found in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable goes:

One's a sorrow, 
two's for mirth, 
Three's for a wedding, 
Four's for a birth, 
Five's a christening, 
Six a death, 
Seven's heaven, 
Eight is hell, 
And nine's the devil his old self.

Magpie symbol in Chinese culture

Magpie symbolic meanings take on a brighter note in the East, where the Chinese regard the magpie as a good luck symbol, joy, marital bliss, sexual happiness, and long lasting fortune. When the Chinese hear the cry of a magpie it is said to be an announcement of the arrival of friends and family.

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    • profile image

      Fe 

      6 years ago

      Poo poo

    • profile image

      christina caranjima 

      7 years ago

      wow this is a really insightful peace of work.

      thank you for writing something so interesting for peopleto read.

    • profile image

      OVERPROTECTIVETWIT 

      9 years ago

      i dont think u shud put 7 for a bitch and 8 for a whore i mean kids might search this ! think a bit

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