The magpie rhyme is a fairly commonly known bit of folklore. If you see a group of magpies, their numbers will tell you your future. There are many regional variants of the rhyme, but one of the most common goes:
One for sorrow, two for joyThis is obviously quite a lighthearted rhyme and I can't imagine it ever being taken very seriously, certainly not in modern times. But with a little thought and application of occult philosophy, there is really no reason why it couldn't be a viable means of divination (or rather a system of omens, since we can't exactly choose to see magpies whenever we will). Below are some of my thoughts about how the magpie rhyme could be used in our everyday lives from an occult point of view. There is, of course, much more folklore and symbolism connected to the magpie, but I will only examine the magpie rhyme in this article.
Three for a girl, four for a boy
Five for silver, six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
The Abstract in the Literal
The first obstacle is picking a version of the rhyme. There's really no correct answer, I'll just have to pick one that pleases me. The one above is quite common and also quite simple and straightforward, so I think I'll go with that.
Obviously we can't take the words too literally, since, well, what do they signify, exactly? Sorrow and joy are plain enough, but most of the others are the stuff of folk superstition. Whether you'll have a boy or girl or acquire riches isn't really very useful information in our everyday lives. Also, if you live in an area where magpies are common, you might see several groups of them each day, so the numbers cannot have a very long term significance.
For the rhyme to be of real use to us, we'll have to understand it in a more abstract way. I suggest that the numbers represent a type of energy at play at the moment the magpies are seen, or in the near future. To understand just what kind of energy each number reflects, we should find correspondences between them and other occult symbols. Probably the most common system of symbols used to represent different types of energy are the planets. Traditional occultism uses the seven classical planets, which would fit perfectly with the seven numbers of the common version of the rhyme. Another possibility are the ten sephiroth of the qabalistic Tree of Life. Indeed, there are versions of the poem that go up to ten. However, the more magpies there are the harder they will be to count. The planets, and the version of the rhyme above, seem the most practical choice.
Now we're left with the question of how to make the correspondences between lines of the poem and particular planets. There are two ways we can do this. We can try to find the planet that most obviously fits the image referred to, or, we can simply draw correspondences between lines and planets in numerical order.
With the first method we have a few correspondences that seem to fit very well, such as gold for Sun and silver for Moon. Girl and boy might stand for Venus and Mercury. Sorrow seems most fitting for Saturn. But now we're left joy and secret for Jupiter and Mars, which are a little difficult to fit.
For the second method, the usual occult order of the planets is: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. If we match this list to the lines of the rhyme, some of the correspondences fit surprisingly well. Sorrow for Saturn is obvious. Secret for Moon, which often reflects dreams and the unconscious, fits pretty well. If we take silver and gold as a pair to signify, respectively, female and male energy, i.e. a Goddess force and a God force, they fit fairly well with Venus and Mercury, which I have always interpreted as a connected pair signifying the so-called right and left brain functions, respectively: Venus for emotion and creativity, Mercury for logic and communication.
Joy might be acceptable as Jupiter, which signifies, among other things, mercy and benevolent rulership (as opposed to the forceful rule of Mars). Girl for Mars and boy for Sun may seem a little odd. They're not impossible, however. If we look at the mythological figures related to the planets, we see that the sun is most often related to male gods. Take Apollo, for instance, a youthful, beautiful male character. (Also, consider that one of the magical images of Tiphareth is a child.) While Mars, the god, is obviously not a girl, there are many goddesses with similar energies. Eris (or Discordia) might represent one aspect of Mars. Athena was also a goddess of war, among other things, as was the Scandinavian goddess of love, Freyja.
If I was to pick correspondences based on what I feel is the best planet to fit each image in the poem, there would always be some choice I wasn't quite happy about. Since the correspondences given by the simpler, ordered application of planets are in most cases surprisingly fitting, at least with a little analysis and creativity, I'm inclined to choose this method.
The Art of Divination by Magpie
We now have the following significance for magpies based on their number:
- One is for sorrow, for Saturn, the planet of limitation and frustration (and literal sorrow as well). It can be a negative influence, but not always. Limitations are often necessary.
- Two is for joy, for Jupiter, the planet of (beneficial) rule, wisdom and guidance.
- Three is for a girl, one of the warrior goddesses under the influence of Mars, planet of forcefulness and aggression.
- Four is for the golden boy, Apollo the sun god, god of light and also of health and healing. The sun also has a more esoteric significance of sacrifice, as seen in the myths of Baldr, Osiris and even Jesus.
- Five is for silver, the colour of the Goddess, whose one aspect is Venus, the planet of emotions, love and the creative mind.
- Six is for gold, the colour of the God, whose one aspect is Mercury, the planet of logic, learning and communication.
- Seven is for secrets, the domain of the Moon, the planet of dreams and the unconscious mind.
How exactly these influences are to be understood is up to each individual. No one's mind works exactly the same, so there can be no one correct interpretation. If you have experience with other divination systems, like tarot, you should be able to work out exactly what kind of significance magpies can have in your personal life. Of course you shouldn't forget the literal meanings, either. Sometimes a 'girl' could simply be a female presence in your life.
Divination is always a very subjective process. Analysing events in your life with the aid of (seemingly) random symbols can help you in finding new viewpoints or unlocking subconscious thoughts and feelings on a matter. Since the magpie method is quite simple and spontaneous, it lends itself best to analysing simple events in our daily lives. (This is assuming that magpies are fairly common where you live. If seeing them is a rare occasion, they might be omens of much larger events. The same principles still apply, though.)
Say you're feeling a little down, not making progress in your work. You happen to see a group of three magpies. Perhaps doing something forceful and unexpected, even aggressive, will help you get out of the rut. If, on the other hand, you see a group of six, perhaps the best action is to read something, or speak with someone. Every interpretation depends on the circumstances and the thoughts that are going through your mind at that very moment.