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The folklore of "Telling the Bees"

The traditional European custom of “Telling the Bees” has existed for generations. Important events were told to the bees such as marriages, births and deaths. If the bees weren't told about a death event, they wouldn't go into mourning and it was believed a penalty would be paid, such as the bees would leave the hive, not produce enough honey for the beekeeper or even die. Celtic mythology has always held that bees were the link between our world and the spirit world and if you wanted anyone to stay informed, that had already passed, you could tell the bees and they would pass along the information.

Woman placing a black crepe over the top of the hives as she informs them that their master is dead

The head of the household, using the key to their home, would softly knock three times on the hive in order to get their attention, then pronounce, in a low soft voice, the name of departed. The ”goodwife of the house” could also announce a passing by putting a black fabric or crepe over the top of the hive and then humming a quiet tune, ending with the announcement of the passing and the persons name. In Germany, the announcement would read “Little bee, our lord is dead; Leave not while we are in distress”. In Nottinghamshire, the old tale goes, “The Master's dead, but don't you go; Your mistress will be a good mistress to you”. Much of the lore also adds, “and your new master is now ____________” at the end, in order to allow the bees to learn the name of their new master.

The bees would also be invited to the funeral. Mourning cloth would often be attached to the hives for a month. This would also be a clear sign to passers by that the family was mourning a loss.

Other folklore in the beekeeping tradition from over the many years:

  • Swarm in May worth a load of hay, Swarm in June worth a silver spoon; Swarm in July not worth a fly”

  • If you sell your bees and receive payment into your hand, you have sold your luck with your bees. To sell bees, you must have the buyer lay the money on a rock and refrain from touching it until the bees have been removed from your property and are out of sight.

  • If a bee flies in and then back out of your house or business, then it is considered to be great luck!

  • Bees do not like a quarrelsome family, nor do the like bad language. Bees like to be talked to politely and quietly.

  • Harvest your honey under a new moon and the bees will produce more the next time around.

  • Banging on a dishpan in front of the hives, before you get into them, to calm the bees.

  • If you talk to your bees, they will become more familiar with you and won't sting as much.

Do you know any folklore on bees or perhaps something a family used to do to their hives?

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