The European Custom of ‘Telling the Bees’

A beekeeper and his son inspecting hives.

In Europe, there is a tradition called 'Telling the bees' — keeping them in the know. (Image: Lichtsammler via Pixabay)

Do you know that there is a European tradition called “telling the bees”? This is a custom according to which beekeepers tell the bees about important events of their life, including births, deaths, marriages, return home, and so on. The custom is prevalent in England and in some areas of Wales, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany, and so on. The tradition is also observed in some parts of the United States.

Telling the bees

Though there is no concrete proof as to where this custom initially originated, some experts have speculated that ancient Aegean civilization might be the source. One of the Aegean myths talks about bees being a bridge between the natural world and the afterlife. As such, this belief might eventually have morphed into the “telling the bees” custom. Even in Celtic mythology, honeybees were seen as messengers between the spirit realm and our world.

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In olden times, European beekeepers used to treat bees as part of their family and would confide in them all news regarding the household. The beekeeper would convey the news in a low voice and ensure that they never used harsh words so as to avoid upsetting the bees. On important occasions, like deaths, marriages, birth, etc., the hive was decorated.

When a beekeeper died, his wife or a new beekeeper would ask the bees for their acceptance as the new master. A failure to follow this custom was thought to make the bees stop producing honey or even desert the hive. In some situations, the food and drink from the beekeeper’s funeral would be left near the hive. In the Pyrenees, a garment of the deceased beekeeper would be buried under the bench where the beehive was located.

When a beekeeper died, the bees would be informed. (Image: via Pixabay)

In the German region of Westphalia, a tradition mandated that newly married couples going to live in their new home for the first time should introduce themselves to the bees or otherwise suffer from an unfortunate life. In Scotland, there used to be a practice of inviting bees to a wedding. Sometimes, the hive would be decorated and a portion of the wedding cake would be left for the bees to eat.

Bee myths: Telling the Bees, keeping them updated, and in the know

Various civilizations had their own mythology regarding bees. “Greek philosophers believed that humans could be reincarnated as bees, or that the bees were the souls of those who had not yet been born. Sometimes nymphs were referred to as bees because they were believed to be reincarnated souls,” according to Planet Bee.

According to Roman beliefs, the honeybees were gifted with their stingers by Jupiter so that they could protect their honey. However, Jupiter’s wife Juno insisted that payment must be collected for giving the stinger. As such, Jupiter put forward the condition that the bee would die if it ever used the stinger on any living being.

European custom of Telling the Bees.
European custom of Telling the Bees. In Asia, Lord Vishnu is sometimes depicted as a blue bee. (Image: via Pixabay)

In India, bees have been associated with many gods. Lord Vishnu is sometimes depicted as a blue bee on a lotus flower, symbolizing nature and resurrection. The blue color of the bee symbolizes the sky. There is a goddess named Bhrami who takes the form of a bee. Kama, the god of love, carries a bow that has a string made of bees.

In the holy book Atharva Veda, it is written: “O Asvins, lords of Brightness, anoint me with the honey of the bee, that I may speak forceful speech among men.” The verse reflects a common belief in India that eating honey would make a person’s speech eloquent and songs sweeter.

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