Happy mystery Monday!
Several months back, I did a post on an urban legend from my home town of St Louis about the spooky Zombie Road and to quote one of my favourite you tubers, Ross Scott of Accursed Farms, “Like a porn series that already knows it’s going to have a sequel, I’m putting a big number 1 in the title.”, I named the last post “Urban Legends #1” because I knew that this is a subject that I would like to revisit because I value the tradition of story telling and urban legends are something I feel like are waning in style. I don’t mean to say I feel like they’re going obsolete nor that I believe there will ever be a time we move away from them, in fact Slender Man is arguable proof that urban legends are alive and well(1), however there are smaller local legends that rarely leave the city or place of their origin unless told and retold by wandering bards(2), like yours truly.
This one, however, is much less sinister then the two previously mentioned but none the less has an element of morbidity which, I’ve come to terms with, is quite an attractive element in stories to me(3).
I first learned about this story because I was walking with a friend and we saw a solitary Magpie and she saluted it and said “Good Morning, Mr. Magpie. How are the wife and kids?” and kept going like it was something completely normal well adjusted adults do.
And I’m not one to judge I talk to animals and plants like they’re people all the time however, never have I ever considered saluting one (or anyone for that matter). I asked and they just told me “That’s just what you do when you see one alone.” and then recited the following nursery 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.
“Brilliant. That Explains everything. ಠ_ಠ”
So I did what I do and learned a few things about the magpie and why this became a thing.
I learned that magpies, like many species of bird, mate for life and that seeing a solitary magpie is a sign of sorrow because it can mean the solitary bird has lost its mate and if you see two it is a sign of joy ergo the rhyme “One for sorrow; two for joy…”. The salute is a sign of respect, similar to tipping of the hat, and asking after its wife and kids is to assume that it just happens to be away from the family.
The rest of the rhyme comes from a tradition of divining the future based on the behavior of birds called “Augury”, IE if you see five magpies you’re in for some money.
The depth of the myth goes on with variations of the rhyme, why magpies are bad luck (or in Chinese symbolism, they’re actually good luck), and different ways to ward off the bad luck crossing a singular magpie.
If you have a piece of urban lore you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment below about it.
- Slender Man seems to fit the definition of “urban legend” as provided by dictionary.com