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I have no idea where it started, but there are many variations on the 'counting crows' rhyme. I first learned it as:
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.
That is the version used in the song "A Murder of One" by Counting Crows, and undoubtedly where they got their name.
Many other versions exist, from various regions. These below come from user Kerrie posted on surlalunefairytales.com:
Counting Rhyme (from The Folklore of Birds, by Laura C. Martin, 1993) One for sorrow, two for mirth, Three for a wedding, four for a birth, Five for silver, six for gold, Seven for a secret not to be told. Eight for heaven, nine for hell, And ten for the devil's own sel'. Counting Crows (Emailed to me by a 'Net acquantance) One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, for 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 for a time of joyous bliss. Magpie Rhyme (from Bird Brains, by Candace Savage, 1997. The Rhyme she quotes is from The Dictionary of Superstitions published by Oxford University Press in 1992) One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, four for birth, five for rich, six for poor, Seven for a witch, I can tell you no more. Counting Rhyme (another from an email acquaintance) One crow sorrow, Two crows mirth, three, a wedding, four, a birth, five brings silver, six takes wealth, seven crows a secret, More I can nae tell. Counting Crows (again, from an email aquaintance) One for sadness, two for mirth; Three for marriage, four for birth; Five for laughing, six for crying: Seven for sickness, eight for dying; Nine for silver, ten for gold; Eleven a secret that will never be told. A third found in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is: One's sorrow, two's mirth, Three's a wedding, four's a birth, Five's a christening, six a dearth, Seven's heaven, eight is hell, And nine's the devil his old self.
And there is this page within the oldwivestales group on Yahoo:
The practice of Augury has been around for centuries. It is about predicting the future by counting the number of crows present at significant times, Sometimes the direction of their flight is significant, or the time of day at which they are seen. Complex rules have been drawn up by some augurist, while simple rhymes are used by others.
The basic rhyme, which goes something like "One for Sorrow, Two for Joy.." has been a popular children's chant off and on through the years. It has recently been made popular again by the band Counting Crows, which has put the rhyme to music.
Crow augury may have started off as Magpie augury. The oldest ryhmes, including at least one dating to the 1600's, deal with counting magpies rather than crows.
The magpie rhyme seems to have been left on European shores, though. In North America, most people who know the rhyme use it in reference to crows.
Various version of the rhyme exist,but the basics are as follows: