9

After having read a few books with themes of witchcraft in them (ie. Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum), I have come to want to use some of the symbolism found in those books in my own writing.

What I really would like to use is the symbolism behind a specific number of crows—allegedly it would foreshadow an event or something of the sort. However there are many variants, and I was wondering what the most common ones were.

  • Uh. "the most common" use of a crow as a symbol is a euphemism for "Negroes". Just saying... – Mazura Feb 20 at 17:30
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    @Mazura i am pretty sure that crows symbolize death about a thousand times more often in world literature, as they are drawn to rotting corpses – Andrey Feb 20 at 20:41
18

The reference in Pratchett's books (it appears in more than one of his Discworld Witches books) is to the common rhymes regarding Magpies, which are related to crows.

There are several versions of this rhyme, each part of England traditionally had its own. The references in the Discworld books play upon these differences which will be recognised by all British readers.

One of the most common is:

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 a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth
Thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.

A shorter version:

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a funeral
And four for birth.

According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable it is:

One's sorrow,
Two's mirth,
Three's a wedding,
Four's a birth,
Five's a christening,
Six a dearth,
Seven's heaven,
Eight is hell,
And nine's the devil his old self.

There is a good review of the variants and some of the history behind them at a birdwatching website:
https://www.britishbirdlovers.co.uk/articles/one-for-sorrow-magpie-nursery-rhyme

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    I have heard the 1st one and many people I know could only remember up to 7 magpies and didn't know it went over 10. Great answer, and great find on the full rhyme. – Chris Rogers Feb 20 at 9:31

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