The Magpie Principle Explained

Yellow-billed Magpie, Pinnacles National Park, California

Yellow-billed Magpie, Pinnacles National Park, California

WC has apparently confused folks by describing his approach to this blog as the embodiment of the Magpie Principle. While we live in confusing times, WC doesn’t want to unnecessarily contribute to that confusion. So let’s see if WC can explain his reference.

(WC has used the term – sometimes as “magpie sensibility” – to describe his approach to topics addressed in this blog since at least 2012, And, in response to an inquiry from Foreign Affairs (!) magazine, attempted an earlier explanation.  But the answer was apparently inadequate. So WC will try again.)

There are entire volumes of myths and superstitions about the magpie. The magpie is supposed to have been excluded from Noah’s ark, riding out the flood on the mast of the ship.1 The magpie was the only bird not to sing to comfort Jesus on the cross. The magpie is a shape-shifted vampire. There are folksongs about the ill-omened bird:

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.

Magpies were actually persecuted to near-extinction in Victorian England because of the superstitions surrounding them. But among all the fog of nonsense and myth, there is one substition2 about magpies: they really are attracted to and collect shiny objects. Or not.

Missing rings, shiny pull-tabs and coins have all been found in magpie nests. So the claim is that magpies are attracted to silly, shiny things for no good reason.

On the other hand, there was a British study by Dr. Toni Shepherd at the Centre for Research on Animal Behavior (CRAB) which suggests that magpies avoid shiny objects. But that study focused on European birds, mated birds and, besides, the magpies knew someone was watching. And you might want to be wary about work product from an organization that calls itself “CRAB.”

WC likes the Shrödinger’s Cat-like uncertainty: magpies are and aren’t attracted to shiny objects.

The authoritative3 Trusted Psychic Medium website writes at length about the magpie as a spirit animal, assigning half a dozen or more completely inconsistent meanings to the appearance of a magpie. Among them: “It is an extremely intelligent bird that can be taught to speak. When it appears to you, there are lessons that it wants to share with you!”4

So what is WC’s Magpie Principle, then? It means WC will write about whatever catches his eye, whatever interests WC long enough to inspire a blog post. It’s also something of Mark Twain’s note to the Introduction to Huckleberry Finn:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

WC hopes this clears up any confusion about the Magpie Principle.


  1. Noah’s ark had a mast? Really? 
  2. A term coined, WC believes, by Terry Pratchett. A superstition is something that is untrue that everyone believes. A substition is the opposite: it’s something that is true that no one believes. 
  3. For a given definition of “authoritative.” 
  4. “Give me food.” Or, “Do you need your eyeballs?” 

3 thoughts on “The Magpie Principle Explained

  1. Thanks for sharing the mythology. I remember a childhood book referring to an evil magpie. Now I know it wasn’t random. Personally I’m a fan as I have never been swooped but they do have a fearful reputation in these parts.

  2. Bravo,
    “The authoritative Trusted Psychic Medium website…”
    too good!
    Thanks for rightening the day.

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