Photo by me, Magpie through a rainy window, copyright 2017.

One for Sorrow

Two for Joy

Three for a Girl

Four for a Boy

Five for Silver

Six for Gold

Seven for a Secret

Ne’er to be told.

Ok, most of us will know some version of that rhyme, a strange form of avian divination that relies upon there never being eight magpies or more. But have you also heard:

Once a Wish

Twice a Kiss

Thrice a Letter

Four, something better…

I was taught this as a little girl, but this was also interchangeable as a sneezing rhyme.

One website,, gives us a further verse to the original rhyme:

Eight for a Wish

Nine for a Kiss

Ten for a Bird

You must not miss.

But this seems to me to simply be a rough amalgamation of the two rhymes, with a filler line thrown in at the end to round it off neatly.

Terry Pratchett also gave this alternative version, in Carpe Jugulum:

One for Sorrow

Two for Mirth

Three for a Funeral

Four for a Birth

Five for Heaven

Six for Hell

Seven’s the De’il

His ane Sel.

Another well known magpie superstition is to salute the birds if you should happen to see them. Or to say ‘Hello’ and touch your forelock.

All these superstitions (except the sneeze rhyme) revolve around the idea that to see a lone magpie is bad luck, and by acknowledging the bird you are breaking the curse; dispelling the bad vibes, so to speak. tells us that to see a crow immediately after a magpie cancels any bad luck, which just shows how much we revere corvids in the British Isles, and how much power we associate with them.

Pica pica lonesome is a portent of doom, but a group of magpies is a mischief. What magpie superstitions do you know, and what’s local to your area?

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