- Physical Description: A striking bird, the magpie has the deep, glossy black plumage of a crow or raven, with a white chest and white blazes across the top of the wings. The primary flight feathers also have white on them, as can be seen when the magpie flies. It measures approximately 20 inches long (almost half of which is the magpie’s long tail), has a wingspan of approximately 23 inches, and weighs about 6 ounces.
- Geographic Distribution: Magpies are found in western and central Canada and the United States.
- Environment: These birds are found in open woodland, meadows, and grasslands. Magpies are very comfortable in residential areas and around people
Myths, Folklore, and Cultural Associations
In China and Korea, the magpie is said to be a bird of good luck and happiness. If a chattering magpie is observed, it means guests will arrive or other good news is on the way. If you hear a magpie when you’re setting out, your errand will be blessed with good luck. However, in Western symbolism, the magpie is more often considered a thief or a wastrel, and a symbol of bad luck, much like crows and ravens. In England, it is considered unlucky to see a single magpie, and to offset the bad luck you must take off your hat, make the sign of the cross, or cross two sticks on the ground.
Magpies are attracted to shiny objects, and will often filch pieces of tin foil, glossy ribbons, and small coins to hoard. This has given rise to the casual terms “magpie syndrome” or “magpie mind, “which describe people being drawn to shiny, pretty things or ideas that distract them from what they should be properly focusing on.
In some American folklore, if a magpie lands on the roof of a house, it is a sign that the house is sturdy and will not collapse or be destroyed in a storm. In other folklore, a magpie landing on the roof or flying past a window means the imminent death of one of the inhabitants.
A commonly known folk rhyme lists the symbolism associated with the number of magpies seen. It is also applied to other corvids such as crows and ravens, and has a few different regional variations. Here is one of the most common versions.
One for sorrow, two for mirth,
Three for a wedding, four for a birth,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret not to be told.
Eight for heaven, nine for hell,
And ten for the devil’s own self.
In Greek mythology, the nine daughters of King Peirus of Emathia (Macedonia) challenged the Muses to a singing contest. When the sisters lost, they were punished by the Muses for their presumption by being transformed into nine chattering magpies.
A Chinese festival called The Night of the Sevens or the Magpie Festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. It is a celebration for lovers, something like the Western Valentine’s Day. At this time of year the stars Vega and Altair are high in the sky, and in the story these stars represent two lovers, a princess and a cowherd, who were separated forever by the Milky Way. On this festival, all the magpies in the world, out of pity for the lover’s separation, rise up into the sky and form a bridge with their wings so the lovers may spend one night together.
Omens and Divinatory Meaning
The magpie may be telling you to look for the shiny things around you, to enjoy the bright attractive things in your life. Alternatively, it may recommend that you look at how you balance your love of shiny things with the more serious things in life. Are you too often distracted by the glittery things in life?
The magpie can also represent destructive habits; too much hoarding, gossip, idle chatter, or loud talk can harm you or others. But the magpie’s black-and-white coloring makes it a symbol of balance, and seeing it can remind you to maintain balance in your life.
Associated Energies: Hoarding, distraction, communication, balance between extremes
Associated Seasons: Spring, Summer
Element Association: Air
Color Associations: Black, White
REFERENCE: Birds, a Spiritual Field Guide, Explore the Symbology & Significance of These Divine Winged Messengers by Arin Murphy-Hiscockv
I enjoyed learning about Magpie folklore. As for balancing the shiny and the serious, I feel like I have done this often in my life on here on my blog. While I like to contemplate serious topics that impact humanity, I can’t help but be attracted to sparkle of all sorts from time to time. 🙂
Many people consider the magpie to be among one of the smartest animals. They are highly sociable and have fascinating communicating patterns. I’ve watched many videos of the magpie, and it was interesting seeing them interact with other birds.
I saw a video of one imitating human speech and being ever so loving, one of two magpies getting territorial and harassing hawks, foxes, rats, another one of magpies attacking people. In Australia, it’s called swooping season! Below is a magpie mourning the death of a loved one.
Apparently, they can serenade you too! I was also fascinated by the Magpie Whisperer!