Bee Folklore

Bees have long been a fixture in mythology and folklore since ancient times. Bees are a symbol of divine immortality, resurrection, knowledge, purity, sexuality, industry and hard work.

The ancient Oracle of Delphi was known as “The Bee”. In fact the ancient Greek root “dbr” means both “bee” and “word” indicating the bee’s mission was to give the Divine Word or Truth. This forever associated bees with prophecy, truth and news.


Telling the Bees

Honey bees, honey bees, hear what I say!
Your Master, poor soul, has passed away.
His sorrowful wife begs of you to stay,
Gathering honey for many a day.
Bees in the garden, hear what I say!

Northern Europeans have a custom that when a beekeeper died, the survivors must go tell the bees of their master’s death, persuading them to stay rather than take wing and follow the master to heaven.

Also marriages, birth, and other important events are in tradition shared (whispered gently and politely) with the bees, and hives have been decorated accordingly during these events. These traditions were brought to the Americas with the honey bee and are mentioned in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and a poem by New England’s John Greenleaf Whittier, ‘Telling of the Bees’ (1858) among many other popular American pieces of literature.


Charm For the Swarm of Bees

I have it under foot: I found it.
Listen! Earth has power against all creatures, every one,
Against hatred and against malice,
And against the tongue of a great man.
Settle ye down, victory-women, sink to earth!
May ye never fly wildly to the woods,
But be ye as mindfull of my goods
As each man is food and property.

Settle down, victory-women/wise women (bees),
never be wild and fly to the woods.
Be as mindful of my welfare,
as is each man of eating and of home.

Wikipedia Article


The Bees, the Wasps and the Hornet by Aesop

A store of honey had been found in a hollow tree, and the Wasps declared positively that it belonged to them. The Bees were just as sure that the treasure was theirs. The argument grew very pointed, and it looked as if the affair could not be settled without a battle, when at last, with much good sense, they agreed to let a judge decide the matter. So they brought the case before the Hornet, justice of the peace in that part of the woods.

When the Judge called the case, witnesses declared that they had seen certain winged creatures in the neighborhood of the hollow tree, who hummed loudly, and whose bodies were striped, yellow and black, like Bees.

Counsel for the Wasps immediately insisted that this description fitted his clients exactly.

Such evidence did not help Judge Hornet to any decision, so he adjourned court for six weeks to give him time to think it over. When the case came up again, both sides had a large number of witnesses. An Ant was first to take the stand, and was about to be cross-examined, when a wise old Bee addressed the Court.

“Your honor,” he said, “the case has now been pending for six weeks. If it is not decided soon, the honey will not be fit for anything. I move that the Bees and the Wasps be both instructed to build a honey comb. Then we shall soon see to whom the honey really belongs.”

The Wasps protested loudly. Wise Judge Hornet quickly understood why they did so: They knew they could not build a honey comb and fill it with honey.

“It is clear,” said the Judge, “who made the comb and who could not have made it. The honey belongs to the Bees.”

Ability proves itself by deeds.


The Day of St Haralambos

(Image courtesy of Ethnobeeology)

Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria on Friday, Feb. 10 observed a holiday traditionally associated here with bees and honey.

It was the Day of St. Haralambos, a patron saint of beekeepers, who also is known as “the lord of all illnesses.’’ Believers pray to him to protect their home and health.

Hundreds came to the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin church to observe the holiday, and many prayed for an end to the freezing weather that has threatened honey bees and farm output in this Balkan country of 7.4 million, where some 80 percent of the people are Orthodox Christians.

In the photo Bulgarian Orthodox faithful light candles with jars of honey during a holy mass for the ‘sanctification of honey’ at the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin church in the town of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria on Feb. 10. Honey and beehives are sanctified by performing a ritual for health and rich harvest.

On St. Haralambos’ Day, sick or blind people go to church and pray for healing. According to traditional concepts, St. Haralambos is the lord of all illnesses, especially the plague. Doing any housework is strictly forbidden that day, because of the fear of any coming illness. Women are only allowed to bake round bread and decorate it with a cross in the middle and a large wreath at the edge for health. Honey is consecrated in the local church and then all the bread is coated with that honey. The rest of the honey is kept in the house as a remedy. According to the belief, St. Haralambos blesses the land and it gets warmer and ready to be cultivated.

The worshippers also placed small jars holding honey and lit candles on the floor of the church to form a large cross. A priest consecrated the honey, which people here say has healing properties.


Lithuanian Bee Kinship of Families

In Lithuania, it was believed that bees chose their own homes according to how generous the farmer was; when a queen hived off, the people followed until she set up a new location, after which the two families were considered linked through “biciulyste”, a kind of kinship-via-bee. Neither bees nor honey could be bought or sold, because they were gifts, not products.
The Lithuanian language had several words for “death”, one of which was used for both bees and people, other words for other beiings. If a dead bee was found, it was buried in the Earth, not left unburied.

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