21 Aug Five for Silver, Six for Gold: the Ancient Art of Augury
Augury as a means of divining the will of the gods (and thus the future) by observing birds and the behavior of birds has a long history. The mighty city of Rome itself was founded by such means: Romulus and Remus, noting that Romulus saw twice as many birds at a certain place as Remus did in another, decided that Romulus’ spot was the most auspicious. And so Rome was built there and named after him.
Birds are messenger-companions of many Gods, in many pantheons: Jupiter’s eagles. Odin’s ravens. Berchta’s geese. Mars’ woodpecker. Christianity’s Holy Spirit can take the form of a dove, which is, incidentally, a bird long associated with speaking in the sacred groves of Zeus.
While specific bird species carry specific messages from specific deities and to specific cultures, the type and/or behavior of any birds you happen to notice can grant you a glimpse of your own future.
The most common augur of luck comes from the Corvid family – crows, magpies, ravens, even sometimes jays. People all over the world still heed the folk rhyme describing what the future will bring (usually in three days) depending on how many of these birds are seen at a time: 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 shouldn’t miss, eleven for health, twelve for wealth, thirteen brings the devil himself. The bad luck Corvids bring can be mitigated by tipping your hat to them, while the good luck they bring will be doubly strong if they appear to your right.
Owls are never harbingers of good fortune, whether seen to your right or to your left. Particularly if you see one during the day, and even more particularly if it hoots three times. While the message they carry is regarded almost universally as one of ‘death’, this usually refers to ‘endings’ and ‘changes’ (like Tarot cards) rather than someone’s impending personal extinguishing.
Swallows, on the other hand, are happy feathered messengers of hope, renewal, revival and goodness. As a matter of fact, they were traditionally tattooed on arms and hands because even just seeing an image of one brings great good luck; having one permanently with you is extremely auspicious. Take care, though, never to kill one, even accidently – that great good luck they generate will change to bitter misfortune, fast.
Domestic birds are also divinatory. The quacking of ducks means abundant prosperity is coming; geese, too, mean future fortunes if you take care of them well (remember killing the goose ends the laying of golden eggs) and seeing a Rhode Island Red chicken in times of need means help is on its way (truth be told, this can apply to seeing red-breasted robins as well – red evokes Thor, the protector of the Folk). The sound of roosters crowing drives away evil spirits that could attach themselves to your immediate surrounds, so hearing that cock-a-doodle-do means auspicious spiritual safety.
Birds (of any kind) that fly from your right to your left are a sign that good fortune is coming to you, while birds flying left to right foretell of hindrances. Should a bird fly at you, things will be getting better rapidly. The higher birds fly, the higher your luck (additionally, if it is ducks you are watching, your luck will be extraordinarily wonderful). When flying birds suddenly change direction…the future will follow suit (this can be auspicious or inauspicious depending on your present situation).
Many people confuse the Latin term augury (divination through observation of birds), for the Latin term haruspicy (divination through the inspection of animal entrails) because the animal entrails often came from sacrificed chickens. The salient differences between divining avian outsides and avian insides became somewhat disregarded as Rome fell and time progressed. Plus the term augury is easier on the tongue than haruspicy. How do I know this? Let’s just say a little bird told me.
Deigo Delso: Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Arcos de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain