The Tradition of "Telling the Bees..."

November 27, 2017 3 Comments

The Tradition of "Telling the Bees..."

Humans have been harvesting honey from Honeybees since the dawn of our evolution (Chimpanzees poke sticks in nests and collect what they can before being driven off by the angry bees!) and bees have been revered in all forms of religion across the world from the very beginning of civilisation.

Many religions including the ancient Egyptians revered honeybees as messengers from the gods, who called them “Tears of Ra’, and even used the bee as a symbol to represent Lower Egypt in the Royal hieroglyph as shown below.

 

Royal Cartouche from Ancient Egypt

 

Known elsewhere in the ancient world as "The Land of the Bee", Egypt exported huge quantities of honey from the south of the country in big clay jars as well as large volumes of beeswax for cosmetics, to make moulds for metalworkers and as clean-burning candles for the rich.

There are documents indicating that almost 14,000 tons of honey was transported annually along the Nile on boats.  The production and exporting of honey and other bee products was tightly controlled by the state, with many wonderful titles of government officials including  ‘Sealer of the Honey’, ‘Divine Sealer’, ‘Overseer of all Beekeepers’ and ‘Chief Beekeeper’.

Egyptian honey was exported all over the ancient world including Greece. Here, legend has it Melissa was one of three winged nymphs who discovered and then taught man the use of honey and also delivered the power of prophecy from signs in nature to humans.

 

Ancient Greek Bee Goddess symbols

 

Closer to home, in Celtic mythology, Honeybees were regarded as messengers between our world and the spirit realm and were associated with wisdom garnered from the otherworld. This folklore persisted through to Christian times, with folk tales in Scotland and England stating that bees would hum loudly at midnight on Christmas Day for the Savior’s birth. When the new Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, 11 days were removed and the fact that the bees could not be heard humming on the new Christmas Day was taken as a sign of God's displeasure at the changes!

For centuries, beekeepers across Europe have kept up this incredibly ancient tradition of honeybees being messengers through "telling the bees".

Draping the beehives with black crepe on the death of the beekeeper

 

This is where the beekeeper treated their bees as extended members of their own family and kept informed of any family news in the household. Beekeepers also needed to talk to the bees in calm voices and never use harsh words for fear of upsetting the bees. Marriages, new births and especially deaths were marked by decorating the hive and telling the bees what had happened.

The death of the beekeeper required the new beekeeper to introduce themselves formally as their new owner and ask for their acceptance as their new master/mistress. It was said that not doing this would encourage the bees to desert the hive or the colony to stop producing honey or even die and is a tradition that we encourage new beekeepers to continue today. I'm always talking to my bees and it's a great stress reliever knowing that they will keep my secrets and never talk back!

It’s comforting to know that the very ancient tradition of honeybees acting as messengers is still preserved today, even in a small way...


3 Responses

Tracey
Tracey

May 29, 2017

I wonder if anyone can explain what happened to me. I was pregnant with my first child 16 years ago in June (she was born in July). I lived in a very old house and there was a swarm of bees in my chimney. I contacted environmental health and they said they weren’t honey bees, they were mortar bees. They used something to smoke them out. The bees came back within a day or two. I could hear a low hum in the chimney. I had three separate pest control people come out to move the bees on. Each time they just came back. Some said they were mortar bees. Some said they weren’t. Nobody said they were honey bees. My daughter was born on the 11th July. I was worried about returning home with my baby with bees in the chimney. The day after I brought my daughter home there was a commotion in the garden from my next door neighbour : the bees were swarming in the garden, the air was full of them, they were pouring out of the chimney like a champagne bottle. They all went and never returned.

I was in an abusive relationship at the time, I was stung by a bee the first time I met him. Someone once suggested that the bees were somehow some kind of protection of maybe they left because of the birth?! I know it’s a bit way out but I have often wondered why it happened it was all very strange.

If you have any ideas I would be fascinated to learn what could be behind it in the folklore sense.

Many thanks

Tracey

col
col

August 12, 2016

I wonder if people have stopped telling the Bees because science has removed this belief?
Therefore, I actually think this is why the Bees are dying out in our country and wider word! The belief in telling Bees is a custom based on communication! Try ignoring your Cat and not feeding him. Try saying Nothing to a friend, see those reactions! Try polluting your friends garden? Your annoyed aren’t you?
These ancient civilisations of Bees really are disappointed!

Carmen Mizzi
Carmen Mizzi

July 06, 2016

I think this is really fascinating.
The way ancient peoples made sense of their world is a constant source of amazement to me.
Thanks for the info. -C

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