Magpies, historically speaking, are very symbolic birds. We’ve always attached significance to their appearance in our lives. From simple magpie nursery rhymes to associations with Chinese Empires and Scandinavian forest creatures. So, there’s a lot to learn about the meaning associated with magpies—read on!
Freedom & Birds
Freedom is intrinsically linked with birds. It’s not hard to imagine why. It’s because they can fly. And, well, we can’t. As such, it’s only natural for us to watch them to take to the sky and envy their greater degree of freedom. After all, the land is littered with serious obstacles. For example, mountains and rivers. But, that’s not all, we’ve even added more obstacles of our own highways, walls, fences, and buildings. Heck, that’s not all—we also have invisible boundaries we can’t cross like borders between countries and private property lines. All of these things mean nothing to birds. They are free of it all. So, that’s why birds represent freedom!
Magpie – Maggie Pie?
Once upon a time, magpies were just called pies. This, of course, changed over time. In England, there was a habit of adding playful names to birds. Especially girls’ names. For example, Jenny wren and Robin redbreast. With the latter, the bird is now simply called a robin. And the magpie is no different. It went from pie to Maggie pie. Which, as you can imagine, was eventually shortened to simply “magpie”.
Does this have any meaning, though? Yes, of course. It means that, in England at least, an association was made between traditional notions of femininity and birds. Beyond that, though, little can be gleaned.
How Many Magpies Do You See?
Magpies are often associated with bad luck in England. In fact, they are thought to be quite bad omens indeed. However, there’s more to it than that. Actually, the meaning of the omen changes quite a bit depending on how many magpies you see. To learn more, read the nursery rhyme below.
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,
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird
You must not miss.
So, yes, indeed it is true that one magpie is an omen of sorrow. But, hey, wait. If you’re lucky enough to see two magpies together then that means you’re actually in for some good luck. Also, if you see higher numbers, the meaning changes again. For example three and four meaning a coming pregnancy will gift a boy or a girl respectively. Numbers five and six mean improvements in financial standing. Whereas seeing seven magpies means a secret is being kept, either by yourself or somebody in your life. Seeing eight magpies is lucky indeed, it means you may make a wish! Nine means you might just get that kiss from your crush after all. Ten for a bird you must not miss—hmm, wonder what that means!
The above rhyme is the more widespread version of the song, but there is a more macabre variant that predates it.
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self
In the older version of the song, only one magpie remains the same. So, seeing one can be seen as an omen of sorrow for sure. But, two predicts mirth. You’ll be forgiven for not knowing the word “mirth”, it’s fallen out of common use these days. It’s a similar word to joy, but it has a connotation of laughter also. When we get to three magpies, things take a turn for the worse. Because, yikes, three magpies are believed to predict a funeral. While four predict a pregnancy. Five magpies mean you’ll go to heaven, but six mean you’ll go to hell. And seven, well, that predicts the presence of the devil, his own self.
Magpies & Death – Killing Songbirds?
The link between magpies and death just won’t go away, will it? And, perhaps that link is somewhat earned. After all, magpies are known to prey on the hatchlings of smaller birds. That is why you might see little birds flapping and chirping frantically whenever they encounter a magpie.
So, what is the spiritual meaning we can take from this? Well, it’s pretty grim. The truth is that death is always there and it can come for any of us. But, to keep things positive, we might want to take more from the little songbirds than we do from the magpie. Because, the songbirds will diligently defend their nest from magpies. Even when the magpies are much bigger, the little sparrows and little finches don’t care—they’ll go toe-to-toe (or talon-to-talon?) with a magpie.
One For Sorrow? Can I Protect Myself?
So, we’ve established that, unfortunately, magpies are omens of misfortune. Well, in the UK that is. Therefore, you might be wondering, is there anything you can do to protect yourself from the bad luck a magpie brings?
Yes! Yes, there is. In jolly old England, the traditional way to fend off the bad luck a magpie brings is to simply salute the magpie respectfully. In fact, it even helps if you say “hello” to the old bird. But, remember to be respectful—that’s the key. So, don’t say “hello magpie” instead say “hello, Mr. Magpie”. And, one last thing, spit on the ground. Why? Who knows, just do it!
In France, It’s Different!
The French aren’t ones to agree with the English. So, of course, they have a completely opposite association with magpies. The French believe magpies are good luck because, in times gone by, magpies actually protected people. This is because magpies in a tree will squawk vociferously when a predator (especially a wolf) arrives. So, to thank magpies for their service, the French place bundles of sticks in trees.
Magpies & China
Moving on from England and France, we head to China!
The Chinese tend to agree more with the French that magpies are a good thing. In fact, even their name for magpies denotes somethings positive. In Chinese they are called “xi que”. The “xi” part means happiness! A depiction of two magpies facing each other is meant to signify double the amount of happiness!
Beliefs connecting magpies with fertility also exist in China. Once upon a time, the goddess Fokulon was playing with her sisters next to a lake. Unexpectedly, a magpie flew over Fokulon and her sisters. The magpie was carrying a delicious piece of red fruit. The magpie then dropped the fruit, giving it to Fokulon. Naturally, the goddess ate the red fruit! Some time later, Fokulon gave birth to a boy. The child, named Bukulirongshun, gave rise to the Manchu people.
Magpies, Color & Meaning
Magpies are colorful birds. You might be thinking that black and white isn’t all that colorful. But, magpies aren’t just black and white. The feathers on their wings shimmer in many different colors that you might not notice at first. So, it’s valuable to look at the symbolism and spiritual meaning we can take from the coloration of magpies.
Black & White
It’s true that magpies aren’t just black and white. But, there’s no escaping the fact that at first they appear black and white. In fact, magpies are famous for their piebald pattern. So, let’s look at what that means.
In the West, the color black is associated with lots of different things. In fact, some of the things are almost contradictory. For example, black is associated with evil, darkness, depression, despair and mourning. But, at the same time, it can represent peace. Also, black is seen as a powerful color. Think about it, that’s why scary government officials drive black cars and wear black suits—that power can be intimidating!
The color white, in the West at least, communicates purity and innocence. Also, in spiritual terms, it is associated with the heavens and godliness. But, like black, it also represents peace. That’s why at funerals we wear black, but a gift of a white flower is also appropriate. For example, a white flower often gifted at funerals is a white peace lily.
So, it’s easy to understand why magpies—with their solemn and simple combination of black and white—have come to be associated with death.
Black & White, Yin & Yang
However, the West isn’t the whole world. And, whenever we encounter piebald animals, how can we not be reminded of the famous Taoist symbol, the yin-yang?
The yin-yang symbol, put simply, represents the intrinsic balance, connection, and interconnectedness between light and dark. Therefore, we can take that message from the appearance of the magpie; i.e. it can represent the fundamentals of the yin-yang.
How you should take this representation and apply it as advice to your current situation, though, is challenging. It really depends where you are in life and what challenges you are facing.
But, that’s not to say that more generic advice cannot be taken. For example, focus on balance and the navigation of challenges, rather than the resistance to challenges. Flow into the yin, like water, and emerge into the yang that is naturally on the other side. The typical example given is a pebble dropped into a pool of still water. Ripples radiate from where the little rock was dropped. Those miniature waves have both peaks and troughs. Just like our lives, the ripples have highs and lows. So, you might want to experience suffering through what you see as bad times in your life, but it’s important to remember that struggling against troubles is often counterproductive. Instead, find a balance in all things and all moments regardless of how you perceive them.
Remember, from a trough grows a peak.
Remember, Magpies Aren’t Just Black & White
If somebody asked you what color a magpie was, you’d be sure to answer “black and white”. And, unless there’s somebody pedantic in the room, you probably wouldn’t be corrected on it. But, from the title of this section, we both know that magpies aren’t actually just black and white.
In fact, they keep a little secret. And that secret is only revealed when the light catches the feathers on their wings and we see a colorful shimmer. The wings, and the tail for that matter, shine and shimmer in shades of green and blue.
So, this secret beauty symbolizes the beauty within ourselves and all life. However, it doesn’t simply symbolize the beauty of life, but rather the hidden beauty that is only revealed when care and attention is offered.
Also, the colors green and blue both convey specific meanings.
The Color Green
Green is all about life. Especially new life and springtime. It isn’t difficult to imagine why. It is because when spring arrives, so do new, fresh, vibrant, verdant green shoots of growth. So, when a magpie’s green shimmer catches you are, be sure to be reminded of the eternal renewal of the earth. Winter ends, and spring begins. So life may end, but new life begins.
It can be comforting to remember this in tough times. Especially so when we understand that the meaning of death and rebirth isn’t always literal. New life can also be associated with the end of a previous situation (good or bad) and the beginning of a new one. So, maybe your tough times are coming to an end, and the bounty and abundance of nature’s greenery is rushing into your life?
The Color Blue
Blue is also a powerfully symbolic color. After all, blue is the color of the sky. So, it is the color of the heavens. As such, blue is inherently associated with celestial matters. For example, in the Catholic Church, the Virgin Mary is often depicted in blue or surrounded by blue. The blue symbolizes heavenly favor.
Also, blue is the color of the ocean. So, how do we feel looking out across the gentle waves on a calm day when the water is bright and blue? We feel calm, don’t we? Therefore, blue can also represent calmness, serenity, peace, etc.
Magpies – Intelligence & Trickery
Long before scientific studies were carried out, we had a belief that magpies were clever little so and sos. In recent times, though, scientific study has backed up anecdotal evidence: magpies are pretty smart indeed. Therefore, magpies represent profound intelligence. While, some birds might represent wisdom, magpies don’t necessarily do this. Instead, they stand for a sort of cleverness that manifests in trickery and problem solving.
So, whatever your problems may be in life, the magpie brings you a message of resourcefulness, cleverness, and trickiness. It might feel hopeless at times, and while we might not always be able to engineer the exact outcome we want, there are ways to be clever—like a magpie—that can help you navigate the struggle.
Magpies & Gift Giving
Magpies have been known to give gifts to humans in return for being fed. Moreover, they’ve also been known to return lost items. Check out this BBC article on the topic to find out more.
This is important symbolism. It shows an important message of generosity, tenderness, care, and friendship. So, be generous with your friends. Help them when they need help. Also, be ready and willing to make new friends. Because, if a magpie can make new friends, so can you!
Magpies & Hulder
Magpies are also important features of Scandinavian folklore.
This is because they are strongly connected with “hulders”. A hulder is a seductive being that inhabits the Norse forests.
Learn More About Birds!
- Puffins Spiritual & Metaphysical Meanings
- Spiritual Meaning of Crimson Sunbirds
- Dead Bird – Spiritual Meaning and Omens
What Do Feathers Mean?
- Spiders: Signs, Symbols, Omens
- Spiritual Meaning of the Passion Flower
- Cardinals Omens, Spiritual Meaning, Symbols
- Possum Omens and Spiritual Meaning
Header Image Credit
By Yoo Chung, CC BY-SA 2.5,