Monday, March 20, 2017

World Storytelling Day: A Magpie Tale

Happy World Storytelling Day, my friends! And Happy Spring--she arrived this morning according to the meteorolgists. To me the first day of spring is always the 21st, the way we were taught when I was a child. Equinoxes and solstices all arrived on the 21st of their respective months. But these days it appears to be a moveable occurrence, due I suppose to more accurate equipment and better knowledge of the workings of the universe.

Spring has had an on-again-off-again start in my area this year. In mid-February we were sitting outside without jackets and some days sweating in the sun. Now, when we should begin to feel some warmth in the air, it is colder than February! My poor daffodils are drooping over as if giving up on the weather, and the blossoms on some bushes and trees were frozen in last week's temperatures that dropped into the teens. I've been picking the daffodils and bringing them in to enjoy since they don't look like much now outside.

But, it is officially Spring, and surely we will soon be planting gardens, right? Often by this date our Spring garden is already on the ground but between the rains and the cold we have nothing planted except a lettuce and onion bed. Patience is the name of the game this year, I think.

Let us celebrate anyway, both the arrival of Spring and World Storytelling Day. Here is a story I was reminded of by the very active birds around our house. They are singing early in the morning even though it is still very chilly and wet and doesn't really feel like spring, or bird-courting weather, to me. The bird in this story is probably the Eurasian Magpie, which has many superstitions attached to it, such as the "one for sorrow" rhyme, which attached various events to how many magies one sees at one time. Here is one version of that poem:

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

There is also a belief that Magpies predict Spring weather, as in "one magie alone be seen, foul weather will it bring."

And now at last, the story!

The Magpie's Nest

From English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916)

Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme
And monkeys chewed tobacco,
And hens took snuff to make them tough,
And ducks went quack, quack, quack, O!

ALL the birds of the air came to the magpie and asked her to teach them how to build nests. For the magpie is the cleverest bird of all at building nests. So she put all the birds round her and began to show them how to do it. First of all she took some mud and made a sort of round cake with it.

'Oh, that's how it's done,' said the thrush; and away it flew, and so that's how thrushes build their nests.

Then the magpie took some twigs and arranged them round in the mud.
'Now I know all about it,' says the blackbird, and off he flew; and that's how the blackbirds make their nests to this very day.

Then the magpie put another layer of mud over the twigs.

'Oh, that's quite obvious,' said the wise owl, and away it flew; and owls have never made better nests since.

After this the magpie took some twigs and twined them round the outside.

'The very thing!' said the sparrow, and off he went; so sparrows make rather slovenly nests to this day.

Well, then Madge Magpie took some feathers and stuff and lined the nest very comfortably with it.

'That suits me,' cried the starling, and off it flew; and very comfortable nests have starlings.

So it went on, every bird taking away some knowledge of how to build nests, but none of them waiting to the end. Meanwhile Madge Magpie went on working and working without looking up till the only bird that remained was the turtle-dove, and that hadn't paid any attention all along, but only kept on saying its silly cry: 'Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o.'

At last the magpie heard this just as she was putting a twig across. So she said: 'One's enough.'

But the turtle-dove kept on saying: 'Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o.'

Then the magpie got angry and said: 'One's enough, I tell you.'

Still the turtle dove cried: 'Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o.'

At last, and at last, the magpie looked up and saw nobody near her but the silly turtle-dove, and then she got rarely angry and flew away and refused to tell the birds how to build nests again. And that is why different birds build their nests differently.


 Want more? There are three more tales of Spring at these sites.

Encyclopedia Mythica shares a Scandinavian story.

The Spring Lover and the Autumn Lover come to us from Japan.

Little Snow Girl, "rolled from the snows of Spring." is a Russian tale.

And then take a little Spring trip, to the amazingly beautiful gardens of Cornwall, England. We did not see these on our visit to Cornwall last fall,but I think we need to make another trip. Be sure to check out the video of the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Mystical, beautiful.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

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