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Thread: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

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    Default The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    There was a time when almost every rural British family who kept bees followed a strange tradition. Whenever there was a death in the family, someone had to go out to the hives and tell the bees of the terrible loss that had befallen the family. Failing to do so often resulted in further losses such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey or even dying. Traditionally, the bees were kept abreast of not only deaths but all important family matters including births, marriages, and long absence due to journeys. If the bees were not told, all sorts of calamities were thought to happen. This peculiar custom is known as “telling the bees”.

    Humans have always had a special connection with bees. In medieval Europe, bees were highly prized for their honey and wax. Honey was used as food, to make mead—possibly the world's oldest fermented beverage—and as medicine to treat burns, cough, indigestion and other ailments. Candles made from beeswax burned brighter, longer and cleaner than other wax candles. Bees were often kept at monasteries and manor houses, where they were tended with the greatest respect and considered part of the family or community. It was considered rude, for example, to quarrel in front of bees.

    The practice of telling the bees may have its origins in Celtic mythology that held that bees were the link between our world and the spirit world. So if you had any message that you wished to pass to someone who was dead, all you had to do was tell the bees and they would pass along the message. Telling the bees was widely reported from all around England, and also from many places across Europe. Eventually, the tradition made their way across the Atlantic and into North America.

    The typical way to tell the bees was for the head of the household, or “goodwife of the house” to go out to the hives, knock gently to get the attention of the bees, and then softly murmur in a doleful tune the solemn news. Little rhymes developed over the centuries specific to a particular region. In Nottinghamshire, the wife of the dead was heard singing quietly in front of the hive—“The master's dead, but don't you go; Your mistress will be a good mistress to you.” In Germany, a similar couplet was heard—”Little bee, our lord is dead; Leave me not in my distress”.

    In case of deaths, the beekeeper also wrapped the top of the hive with a piece of black fabric or crepe. If there was a wedding in the family, the hives were decorated and pieces of cake left outside so that the bees too could partake in the festivities. Newly-wed couples introduced themselves to the bees of the house, otherwise their married life was bound to be miserable.

    If the bees were not “put into mourning”, terrible misfortunes befell the family and to the person who bought the hive. Victorian biologist, Margaret Warner Morley, in her book The Honey-Makers (1899), cites a case in Norfolk where a man purchased a hive of bees that had belonged to a man who had died. The previous owner had failed to put the bees into mourning when their master died, causing the bees to fall sick. When the new owner draped the hive with a black cloth, the bees regained their health. In another tale, an Oxfordshire family had seventeen hives when their keeper died. Because nobody told them about the death, every bee died. There are plenty of such tales in Morley’s book.

    The intimate relationship between bees and their keepers have led to all sorts of folklore. According to one it was bad luck to buy or sell hives, because when you sell one, you sell your luck with your bees. Instead, bees were bartered for or given as gifts. If bees flew into a house, a stranger would soon call. If they rested on a roof, good luck was on its way.

    But the relationship between bees and humans goes beyond superstition. It’s a fact, that bees help humans survive. 70 of the top 100 crop species that feed 90% of the human population rely on bees for pollination. Without them, these plants would cease to exist and with it all animals that eat those plants. This can have a cascading effect that would ripple catastrophically up the food chain. Losing a beehive is much more worse than losing a supply of honey. The consequences are life threatening. The act of telling the bees emphasizes this deep connection humans share with the insect.
    Source article here
    Last edited by Sue (Ayt); 20th October 2020 at 13:38. Reason: added source

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Thank you for a lovely article. When I joined a beekeeping group in rural Wales about 15 years ago, all the beekeepers there would go out to their hives to tell their bees all the family news.

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Thank you and good to know you have had first-hand experience ...

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Very touching story. But... worker bees live on average about six weeks in summer and about five months in their winter cluster. Drones can live eight weeks and are usually kicked out of the hive as winter nears. Queens can live for two years but it is extremely rare that they don’t get replaced by swarm or supercedure annually or even quarterly. Bees do not hear, but can sense vibrations but can discern between different types of vibrations. Bees communicate with each other with a series of movements including a waggle dance that a returning forager will dance to alert the other foragers to good food sources. Nurse bees, guard bees, foragers queens and drones use pheromones to set the mood of the hive. Hence the use of a smoker when doing hive inspections. Every frame of bees contains on average 7000 bees. The queen lays about 1600 eggs per day, with an incubation period of 16-21 days workers/drones). So any hives’s population is always in a state of being turned over. The hive today is not the same hive in a week. Constant metamorphosis. A lot of bees die every day. A lot of bees hatch every day. More than possible that any family news of significance would keep the beekeeper from tending his colonies and as such probably missed a clue that led to the demise of the hive (pests, disease, etc). But it is still an incredibly sweet story.
    “The World is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
    Albert Einstein

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Quote Posted by AriG (here)
    Very touching story. But... worker bees live on average about six weeks in summer and about five months in their winter cluster. Drones can live eight weeks and are usually kicked out of the hive as winter nears. Queens can live for two years but it is extremely rare that they don’t get replaced by swarm or supercedure annually or even quarterly. Bees do not hear, but can sense vibrations but can discern between different types of vibrations. Bees communicate with each other with a series of movements including a waggle dance that a returning forager will dance to alert the other foragers to good food sources. Nurse bees, guard bees, foragers queens and drones use pheromones to set the mood of the hive. Hence the use of a smoker when doing hive inspections. Every frame of bees contains on average 7000 bees. The queen lays about 1600 eggs per day, with an incubation period of 16-21 days workers/drones). So any hives’s population is always in a state of being turned over. The hive today is not the same hive in a week. Constant metamorphosis. A lot of bees die every day. A lot of bees hatch every day. More than possible that any family news of significance would keep the beekeeper from tending his colonies and as such probably missed a clue that led to the demise of the hive (pests, disease, etc). But it is still an incredibly sweet story.
    Yes, the hive's population is always in a state of being turned over, but with their 'hive mind' perhaps they all know what their predecessors knew and experienced and so the hive has a continuous living record of 'hive information'?

    (Pure speculation from me here..)

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Quote Posted by pueblo (here)
    Quote Posted by AriG (here)
    Very touching story. But... worker bees live on average about six weeks in summer and about five months in their winter cluster. Drones can live eight weeks and are usually kicked out of the hive as winter nears. Queens can live for two years but it is extremely rare that they don’t get replaced by swarm or supercedure annually or even quarterly. Bees do not hear, but can sense vibrations but can discern between different types of vibrations. Bees communicate with each other with a series of movements including a waggle dance that a returning forager will dance to alert the other foragers to good food sources. Nurse bees, guard bees, foragers queens and drones use pheromones to set the mood of the hive. Hence the use of a smoker when doing hive inspections. Every frame of bees contains on average 7000 bees. The queen lays about 1600 eggs per day, with an incubation period of 16-21 days workers/drones). So any hives’s population is always in a state of being turned over. The hive today is not the same hive in a week. Constant metamorphosis. A lot of bees die every day. A lot of bees hatch every day. More than possible that any family news of significance would keep the beekeeper from tending his colonies and as such probably missed a clue that led to the demise of the hive (pests, disease, etc). But it is still an incredibly sweet story.
    Yes, the hive's population is always in a state of being turned over, but with their 'hive mind' perhaps they all know what their predecessors knew and experienced and so the hive has a continuous living record of 'hive information'?

    (Pure speculation from me here..)
    Now wouldn’t that make a fascinating study!! It’s also possible that they are receptors if intent not unlike water. They are mysterious, and truth be told a LOT of work.
    “The World is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
    Albert Einstein

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Great story, I enjoyed it - thanks for posting.

    7 Secrets About Honeybees

    Okay, so these may not be secrets, but rather, not-so-well-known facts... Here we go:

    1. The drones (male bees) mate with the queen and then die. Who needs them after they've done their job?

    2. After her mating flight, the queen never leaves the hive. The worker bees feed her and remove her waste...until they remove her.

    3. A colony may contain up to 60,000 bees at once!

    4. Foraging bees drink nectar from flowers and store it in special honey stomachs where enzymes start breaking it down into simple sugars. Once their stomachs are full, they return to the hive and regurgitate it. Hive bees drink up the modified nectar and further break it down in their honey stomachs. They later deposit the almost-honey nectar into cells of the honeycomb where it is cured and capped with wax. Pretty cool!

    5. If the sister bees feel that their queen is failing them, or for some reason they dislike her, they'll kill her and produce a new one.

    6. The bees maintain a constant temperature in the hive above 90 degrees all year long.

    7. Bees will produce a new queen by feeding a larva large amounts of a substance called royal jelly. This develops a bee more fully for reproducing.

    Source: https://www.queenfarina.com/beeblog/...bout-honeybees

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    RGray222-

    A few interjections

    The queen does not mate with drones from her own colony. Even bees seem to understand that is a recipe for disaster, but rather, the newly hatched virgin queen will take a series of mating flights to “mating fields” in hopes of mating with multiple drones from other colonies.

    A 90 degree temperature is not always maintained year long. In hot weather, the bees fan to attempt to bring the temperature to 90, but often it is much more hot. This will cause a bearding of bees ((mostly drones) to cling to the outside of the hive often even overnight. In cold weather, many colonies perish when they are not able to maintain an adequate temperature. Beekeepers can avert this by overwintering their hives with insulation, leaving at least 60 lbs of honey, and supplemental feeding of sugar water in the summer and fall during dearth, and installing “candy boards” on the top box ( a solid sugar mix, much like fondant). Feeding pollen or pollen substitutes also helps as pollen is the preferred food of bees. Honey (and nectar) are stored as emergency food. The nurse bees also create a food for the developing larvae called bee bread- a mix of royal jelly and pollen. Supercedure cells (made for replacement queens) are fed just royal jelly.

    Bees are not native to the Americas- perhaps why we have to work so hard to create the ideal environment for them. With the curse of the Varroa destructor mite, foulbrood, small hive beetle, wax moths and Nosema and chalk brood, we are facing an uphill battle. Pray for the bees and those who keep them. It’s not about honey. It’s about the survival of the planet.
    “The World is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
    Albert Einstein

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Edit to add (without editing). This thread appears to be about honeybees. There are a multitude of other pollinators that do a lot of the heavy lifting that honeybees cannot do. bumblebees, carpenter bees, solitary bees, Yellowjackets and affiliated wasps, sweat bees etc. Many of our most common crops are not pollinated by honeybees as their proboscus’ Are not compatible with the flowers produced ( squash, tomatoes, melons as examples). But a plethora of other crops and plants rely upon honeybees. Felt compelled to illustrate the difference. Bee Nerd out!
    “The World is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
    Albert Einstein

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Dear Le Chat,

    Fascinating stuff, thank you very much for this very interesting, inspiring and thought provoking post.
    Our connection with nature and mother Earth is far more profound and mysterious than many of us could even imagine.

    PS: bit off-topic sorry, but, I've heard one Indian guru speaking about how when one family member dies, if you go to a stall you will find cows crying and mourning for the death of a "family member".

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Having read your great thread...
    I just have to bump this other wonderful thread, that william r sanford 72,
    keeps us informed about amazing bees.
    http://projectavalon.net/forum4/show...Bees-need-you-

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Hello XelNaga,
    Thank you for taking the time to thank me for the thread
    Yes, our connection with Mother Earth and Nature is very profound and mysterious.
    I haven't heard about cows in India mourning the loss of a family member. That is very interesting

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    This is sort of touching too...


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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    Bee Folklore from the Celts

    The Celts, who lived during the Iron Age and Medieval Europe, believed bees were intermediaries between this world and the next. They believed bees could help carry messages from this world to the world of the dead, serving as conduits between humans and their dearly departed. Bees were respected for their abilities, so much so, there were even legal documents created with the express purpose of protecting any bee-related practices.

    The Brech Bretha was a set of laws that protected beekeepers and beehives. Stealing a hive was considered a capital offense. Plus, anybody who sustained a bee sting and did not retaliate was owed a meal of honey from the beekeeper.

    Some people believe the “telling the bees” tradition originated during Celtic times, but this is unclear. Either way, we do know the tradition was most popular in Western Europe and the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries.


    England Believed in “Telling the Bees”

    If you’ve never heard of “telling the bees,” it’s a tradition that requires beekeeping families to show respect towards their yellow and black companions or risk the consequences. Essentially, any major changes in the family must be communicated to the bees in the hive.

    For example, if the beekeeper were to pass away, it was customary to cover the hive in a black veil and to notify the bees their caretaker had passed. Otherwise, the bees might up and disappear, leaving the surviving family bee-less and honeyless. Some people even believed the bees would die of grief if not properly notified.

    In one iteration of this tradition, the surviving spouse or eldest son would knock on the hive three times with a pair of keys and recite, “Little bee, our lord is dead; leave not while we are in distress.”

    In Cornish traditions, people believed bees might sting the beekeeper to death if the bees were not notified of an impending move. When a beekeeper passed away, Cornish people believed singing to the bees would prevent them from deserting the hive.

    “Telling the bees” was carried with immigrants as they came to the United States. There are anecdotal examples, even relatively recently, of what happens should you not tell your bees.


    A Modern Example

    Charles D. Hitt was a farmer in Missouri who grew watermelons and supported his agricultural pursuits with beehives. When he unexpectedly passed away in 1959, mourners at his funeral were surprised to see a swarm of bees. These bees buzzed around their heads and the grave of Mr. Hitt. As the funeral ended and everybody tried to make sense of what they saw, it became apparent that Mr. Hitt’s bees had deserted their hives. Perhaps, a member of his family should have told the bees of his passing.


    Persephone

    The Honeyed One, in statue form
    Roman Mythology and the Bees

    In Roman mythology, the importance of bees is shown through story. The story of Jupiter and the bee, told by Aesop’s fables, is as follows:

    A bee came up Mt. Olympus to give Jupiter a gift of honey. He was so delighted by the gift, he promised her whatever she would like. She asked for the ability to sting the humans who tried to steal honey from her hive. Jupiter was taken aback by the ill-nature of the request and granted it with a caveat: the bee would have the ability to sting if she would like, however it would cost the bee her life.

    The lesson here is clear, careful what you wish for as it may come with unintended consequences, especially if your wish has mal intent.

    As the story shows, sometimes the consequences for maliciousness is death itself. Bee folklore teaches us how to live.


    Greek Mythology and the Bees

    In Greek mythology, bees are associated with both life and death. Ambrosia, the nectar of the Gods, is often described as being a form of honey, for example.

    On the darker side of things, the Greeks believed openings to rock faces and caves were entrances to the Underworld. Since bees often constructed their hives in similar places, people naturally associated them with death.

    Some Greek philosophers believed humans could be reincarnated as bees after they passed. The ancient Greeks believed Cerberus, guard dog for Hades, could be distracted by honey cakes, allowing entrance to the Underworld. Persephone, the wife of Hades, was often referred to as the “Honeyed One”.

    Honey was everywhere in the land of the dead, as far as the Greeks were concerned.


    Ancient Egypt and Bee Folklore
    Egyptian

    For the Egyptians, bees were an important part of life and death

    When you look back at ancient Egyptian beliefs, bees are everywhere. Bees were seen as symbols of royalty and were a part of everyday life; beekeeping was common in ancient Egypt, with beekeepers moving hives along the Nile depending on the season and what plants required pollination. Bees were just as much a part of death as they were a part of life.

    It was common to use honey to embalm and beeswax to seal sarcophagi. Additionally, honey, beeswax, and other hive products were commonly placed inside tombs, often as a way to provide the dead with something to eat on their journey to the afterlife. Some believed the soul of a man took the form of a bee once he passed away.

    One book of rituals, Am-Tuat, notes ancient Egyptians believed the voices of souls sounded like the hum of bees. Bees were significant in all parts of Egyptian life.


    Think of Bees, Even When It’s Dark

    During the darkest times of the year, bees are still valuable. Use the beliefs of cultures, some more ancient than others, as a model for all bees can mean to us. Remember bee folklore as you navigate the darkness. We can think of honey as both nectar and a resource to help us navigate the darkness. If we keep bees, we can make sure we tell them if we have changes in the family, to let them know they are just as much a part of our lives as they are of ours.

    (Taken from Beepods)

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    Default Re: The Adorable Custom of ‘Telling The Bees’

    My gran kept bees and she used to recite the first verse of this poem to me when I was little:

    The Bee-Boy’s Song by Rudyard Kipling

    Bees! Bees! Hark to your bees!
    "Hide from your neigbours as much as you please,
    But all that has happened, to us you must tell,
    Or else we will give you no honey to sell!"

    A maiden in her glory,
    Upon her wedding - day,
    Must tell her Bees the story,
    Or else they'll fly away.
    Fly away -- die away --
    Dwindle down and leave you!
    But if you don't deceive your Bees,
    Your Bees will not deceive you.

    Marriage, birth or buryin',
    News across the seas,
    All you're sad or merry in,
    You must tell the Bees.
    Tell 'em coming in an' out,
    Where the Fanners fan,
    'Cause the Bees are just about
    As curious as a man!

    Don't you wait where the trees are,
    When the lightnings play,
    Nor don't you hate where Bees are,
    Or else they'll pine away.
    Pine away -- dwine away --
    Anything to leave you!
    But if you never grieve your Bees,
    Your Bees'll never grieve you.
    Last edited by loungelizard; 24th October 2020 at 15:03.

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