The magpies that we know in Britain is related to crows and ravens but the Australian Magpie is actually classified in the butcherbird genus Cracticus and is not related to the magpie as I know it.
So once again, I’m going to do two posts. One for magpie which is related to the crow (this includes the Eurasian Magpie found in the UK) and one for the Australian magpie.
“I’m told magpies sulk
when they’re upset”
– Birdwatching by Hugo Williams
Perhaps best known for their attraction to shiny objects*, the magpie is very intelligent and very noisy. They chatter away a lot and in Ireland when evil gossiping women died it was said that magpies would take their souls. And it’s not just souls that magpies collect. They show interest in all manner of objects, exploring their surroundings and what they contain. As they are clever birds, perhaps they also collect knowledge and memories and stories as we do.
They are a jack of all trades; scavengers and predators. Along with the crow, they are seen as tricksters and it was believed that witches could ride magpies or turn into them and that they were Satan in disguise. Also associated with magic in ancient rome, these birds are not quite what they seem… Indeed they aren’t even really black and white but instead their black feathers are iridescent greens and purples.
There are a lot of different beliefs attributed to the magpie, although it could be that some are simply about black and white birds which have been labelled magpies.
Simplistically, black birds are seen as bad and white birds as good in European cultures so where does that leave the magpie? Well, perhaps the old rhyme will help:
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
So a bit good and a bit bad seems to be the message about the magpie. This is echoed in a Korean superstition: if a magpie sits on your roof in the morning and sings you’ll be visited by a friend, if a magpie sits on your roof and sings you’ll be visited in the afternoon by someone who isn’t a friend and will eat a lot of your food and in the evening the visitor will be a thief.
- In China and Korea, the magpie is a bird of good luck and happiness.
- In Mongolia, the magpie is a clever creature who can control the weather
- In Norse mythology, the black and white colouring represented male and female energy in balance as well as sexual union
- In the bible, the magpie was the only bird that would not enter the ark preferring to stay outside. Perhaps it is this which earnt it a bad reputation in the UK…
- In Scotland, the magpie was said to carry a drop of the Devil’s blood under its tongue
The magpie is curious and inquisitive, showing us the value of inquiry although be careful, the key to the magpie is balance. Too much curiosity and you may be accused of meddling and snooping. Be interested, be eager but don’t be nosy. We can use this approach when it comes to our emotions – emotions are a flag and curiosity is a way of getting deeper into what’s going on. Instead of saying to yourself I’m feeling anxious, I shouldn’t be feeling anxious, I hate my anxiety, try gently inquiring, what does this feel like, what might the anxiety be trying to tell me. Approach it openly, with intrigue and try and get to know it. The same can be done with our thoughts.
I know I have a tendency to automatically try and shut down intrusive or unpleasant thoughts and that certainly helped me with my recovery from anorexia. However, gentle enquiry can be, in the long term, a more helpful approach. Instead of shutting out a thought, you can roll it round in your mind, get to know it better, listen to it’s story and where it’s come from. With all that information about the thought, you can validate its existence and then hopefully, having heard it’s message, you can move on from it.
*Research suggests that they aren’t especially interested in shiny things, they have a penchant for objects more generally and metal doesn’t seem to be any more appealing than other things.