One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy... That's one version of the rhyme, anyway. In fact, there are quite a few versions – making it difficult to determine the optimum number of magpies to see, as each one attributes the numbers to different things. So while seeing six magpies in this rhyme will supposedly earn you a lump of gold, in a variation it's a one-way ticket to Hell. Tricky. The good news is there are quite a few ways to dodge the bad luck. If you see a lone magpie and you're walking with someone, giving your companion a good hard pinch should do the trick (although if they don't know the superstition, there is the risk they'll just interpret it as an assault). A less violent option is to greet the magpie with something along the lines of, 'Hello Mr Magpie, how's your wife'. Or, if the magpie appears unmarried, you can roar the words 'I defy thee' at it seven times. Best make sure no one's in earshot first, though.
Thanks to Ross