The magpie has a fairly bad reputation often due to it’s bullying nature and propensity to steal from other nests and human homes. This made me wonder how he became shrouded in so much superstition and whether magpies are unlucky.

Folklore would have us believe that magpies have always been bad guys, with the Victorians being so fearful of them that they hunted them to near extinction.

Today is it widely believed that seeing a solitary magpie is unlucky and brings with it a curse, some believe it is warning of imminent death while others think it signals a rubbish day ahead, filled with doom and gloom.

Why is just one magpie unlucky?

That may hark back to the rhyme;

One for sorrow

Two for joy

Three for a girl

Four for a boy

Five for silver

Six for gold

Seven for a secret never to be told

The rhyme tells us that we need only fear a single magpie, and a collective group will bring with them some good fortune.

However, with a little digging, I found that the rhyme originates from 1780, in a book called John Brand’s Observations. It has been slightly adapted over the years as the original words were;

One for sorrow

Two for mirth

Three for a wedding

Four for a death

It seems that groups of 4 blackbirds were best avoided too in the 18th century. Though I can’t help wondering why he didn’t write ‘four for a birth’ not only would it have been happier, but it would have also rhymed better!

Can you reverse the curse of the solitary magpie?

If you have ever seen anyone salute a magpie, you might think it strange. This is just one of many rituals performed in the UK and some parts of Europe to ward off any bad luck sighting a lone magpie might bring.

Others include

  • a military-style salute
  • tipping, raising, or doffing of a hat
  • saying “Good morning Mr Magpie, how is the wife”?
  • “Good morning Mr Magpie, how are the wife and children”?
  • “Good morning Captain”, or “good morning General”
  • blinking 3 times to convince yourself that you saw more than one bird

Some people believe that seeing a crow immediately after seeing a single magpie cancels out any bad luck.

Magpies mate for life

While you might think this isn’t relevant, people believe that a solitary magpie may have lost his mate, and therefore, be sad or even aggressive. It is believed that this increases his chances of being the bearer of bad luck.

Why magpies get such a bad press

It may date back as far as biblical times, to the time of the Crucifixion of Jesus. It was noted that magpies to neither comfort nor weep with Jesus, nor did they engage in a period of mourning.

Apparently, the magpie also refused to enter Noah’s Ark, choosing instead to perch on an outer rail shouting and swearing at the top of their lungs!

Final thoughts…

Whatever your beliefs are or whether you are superstitious, it seems that it is widely believed that magpies are unlucky.

However, if the tale is to be told, seeing more than 2 together describes good fortune and wealth, with the promise of imminent silver, gold, happiness, and babies.

Just remember to salute every solitary magpie you see and only good things should come your way. Unless you break a mirror that is!