Of the many superstitions associated with crows and their corvid cousins, the ravens and the magpies, counting crows seems to be the most popular. The tradition began sometime in the 1600s, it would seem, with the appearance of the earliest rhymes referencing magpies in Europe. We humans like alliteration, so counting crows it is. Keep in mind that this form of augury can be applied to either crows or magpies.
It is said that if your count tallies up to bad luck, (especially if your count is One) that your bad luck can be countered by greeting the corvid in question, “Greetings Mr. Crow/Magpie! I salute you!”. A treat might help too, but a lone corvid is quick to note where free food comes from. You might be counting him daily thereafter.
There are many rhymes associated with the superstition that can be used for clapping and jump rope games, as well as to help you remember your omens.
Keep in mind while counting crows that this only applies if crows (or ravens or magpies) are unusual to your area or to the spot you are observing them. If they live nearby, it’s not an omen. It’s just corvids hanging out.
In general (but not always)
- One Crow — bad luck, loss, death, unpleasant catastrophic change. (It should be noted that seeing a corvid alone would be unusual as they are gregarious species.)
- Two Crows — good luck, a major change for the better, joy.
- Three Crows — a wedding or celebration, or the birth of a girl
- Four Crows — a birth, particularly of a boy, a new beginning
- Five Crows — money coming in, good business
- Six Crows — major money change, could mean loss or gain, depending on the rhyme
- Seven Crows — a secret, a mystery, or a curse
- Eight Crows — a life-altering experience, usually positive
- Nine Crows — love, positive recognition
- Ten Crows — a complete turnaround in luck
- Eleven Crows — News, surprise, secrets hidden or revealed
- Twelve Crows — Also good luck, completion, fulfillment
- Thirteen Crows — Completion, the end of a situation
One version, the first portion of which is featured in A Murder of One by Counting Crows goes something like this:
The rest probably goes something like this-
Another version, the first part of which was quoted by Pandora in Season 3, Episode 1 of the Television show Sleepy Hollow.
“One for sorrow, two for mirth. Three for a wedding, and four for a birth. Five for silver, six for gold. Seven for a secret… not to be told.”
The rest probably goes something like-
In 1992, The Dictionary of Superstitions by Oxford University Press published this version:
One for sorrow,
two for mirth,
three for a wedding,
four for birth,
five for rich,
six for poor,
Seven for a witch,
I can tell you no more.
Other versions I have heard from “word of mouth” sources:
One crow sorrow, Two crows mirth,
three crows a wedding, four crows a birth,
five brings silver, six takes wealth,
seven crows a secret, I can’t tell.
One for sadness, two for mirth;
Three for marriage, four for birth;
Five for laughing, six for crying:
Seven for sickness, eight for dying;
Nine for silver, ten for gold;
Eleven a secret that will never be told.