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Various Versions of the Magpie Riddle
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,
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.