The Cuckoo – a divinationary insight

In the UK many people feel the Spring really has arrived when they hear the call of the cuckoo. People even write to the press simply to claim the honour of being the first person to hear the bird’s call!

The cuckoo is a Summer visitor all over the UK but is especially numerous in southern and central England, even though its numbers seem to be declining recently.

It is a dove-sized bird with blue grey upper parts, head and chest with dark barred white under parts. The female lays her eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits and reed warblers. Many children in the UK are taught this folk rhyme to help them remember the cuckoo’s habits:

“The cuckoo comes in April
He sings his song in May
In the middle of June he whistles a tune
In July he flies away”.

The cuckoo is one of the creatures that are the focus of a good deal of folklore and it is often used for divination, associated with simple spells, or act as the focus of legends. One myth claims the cuckoo can only stop its calling when it has completed three large meals of cherries. Until recent times, in parts of England, on hearing the cuckoo, workers would down tools, get a barrel of ale and walk to where the bird was heard singing and drink to its health. This custom, which has sadly disappeared, was called “wetting the cuckoo”.

If you are a bit short of cash, wait until you hear the cuckoo; when you do so jingle some money in your pocket and, according to folklore, you will be well-off for the rest of the year. If you hear the bird on St Tiburtius’ day which is the 14th April, you should turn over all the money in your pockets, spit and not look at the ground. If you do this whilst standing on soft ground, you will have good luck. However, you need to be sure the ground is soft, because if it is hard, bad luck will follow!

One must also avoid counting the Koos, especially the superstitious – so as not to cuck one’s koos.

The notion that cuckoos can foretell the future can be seen in the following rather gruesome children’s rhyme:

“Cuckoo, Cherry Tree,
Good bird tell me,
How many years until I die?”

The answer is the number of calls the bird make. You may prefer another verse which works the same way but is a little more cheerful:

“Cuckoo, cuckoo tell me true,
Tell me fair and fine,
How long will I unmarried pine”?

I think I’ll just stick to carrying coins – just in case I hear a cuckoo calling, what about you?

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Post Author: Patrick Arundell

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