“You didn’t tell the bees,” he said. “The old superstition says you have to tell the bees when something big happens—a birth, a death, a marriage, a move.
You didn’t tell the bees.” What I thought was simply an old Appalachian superstition, is in fact, a very old tradition among beekeepers. The concept of “telling the bees” is widespread across cultures all over the world. There are countless other superstitions, myths and legends associated with the honeybee, as well. She has fascinated humans for so long, captivated us with her sweet charms and kept us at arm’s length with her power. Here are a few of my favorite myths, legends and folktales about the honeybee.
Messenger Of The Gods
The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that bees were servants and messengers of the gods and goddesses. The Romans believed that a swarm of bees was to be avoided because while the swarm was on the move, they were the carrying messages and doing the biddings of the gods.
In ancient Egypt, it was believed that Ra, the sun god, created the honeybee from his tears. The bee was then seen as the messenger of the gods, falling from Ra’s face, down to earth, where she could deliver the messages from the heavens.
The ancient Celts also saw honeybees as messengers between worlds. They considered honeybees bringers of wisdom and revered them for their role in the metaphysical.
Story Of The Stinger
Jupiter, king of the Roman gods, is said to have given the honeybee her stinger, to protect her honey. His wife, Juno, however, insisted there must be payment for this gift of a weapon, so Jupiter gave the stinger with the condition that the bee dies should she use it.
Honey played an important role in guiding the ancient Egyptians in the afterlife. Bees, beehives and bee relics, along with honey, were considered funerary gifts for the dead. The Egyptians weren’t the only culture to include honey as a gift or rites of passage for the deceased: the Romans, Hindus and Chinese all had rituals connecting honeybees, honey and death.
In the most similar tale to the Appalachian one mentioned above, Cornish folklore says that the beekeeper must inform his or her bees of an imminent move (especially not on Good Friday), lest they sting him/her to death. It’s also said you should never swear at your bees, or they will abscond the hive.
Many cultures believe that bees should be informed of their keeper’s death and sung to. It’s also customary to invite them to the funeral and offer them cake or drink from the service.
From Queen To King
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, as cultures around the world excised the role of women in powerful positions and adopted patriarchy, the perspective of the honeybee and her role changed. There was a shift towards calling the queen bee the “king bee;” the belief being that only a male could spearhead and guide such a successful, orderly living system. With that said, the honeybee, and her social dynamic, including the queen bee, have represented the divine feminine, various goddesses, Mother Earth and the nurturing space of the womb in cultures around the world.
Keeping bees is a hobby that centres around the evolution of the self—you may read all the books ever written about keeping honeybees, and you will still always learn something new, see something incredible and experience magic each new season that may never appear in print. The folklore and legends that have followed the honeybee throughout history are a testament to the magic she brings to the human world.Legends and Lore of Bees Bees have been the subject of myth and lore for ages. Image by Setsuna/Moment/Getty Images by Patti Wigington Updated May 21, 2016
In the middle of spring, a magical thing begins to happen outside. In addition to the greening of the earth, we notice a change in the local wildlife. Suddenly, squirrels and chipmunks are everywhere. Birds are twittering away madly in the trees, worms are popping up right and left in the soil, and everywhere you look, life has returned. In particular, you'll see bees buzzing around your garden, partaking of the rich pollen in your flowers and herbs.
The plants are in full bloom at this time of the spring, and the bees take full advantage, buzzing back and forth, carrying pollen from one blossom to another.
In addition to providing us with honey and wax, bees are known to have magical properties, and they feature extensively in folklore from many different cultures. These are just a few of the legends about bees:
In mythology, the bee, found in Ancient Near East and Aegean cultures, was believed to be the sacred insect that bridged the natural world to the underworld.Myth
The Homeric Hymn to Apollo acknowledges that Apollo's gift of prophecy first came to him from three bee maidens, usually but doubtfully identified with the Thriae, a trinity of pre-Hellenic Aegean bee goddesses. A series of identical embossed gold plaques were recovered at Camiros in Rhodes; they date from the archaic period of Greek art in the seventh century, but the winged bee goddesses they depict must be far older.
The Kalahari Desert's San people tell of a bee that carried a mantis across a river. The exhausted bee left the mantis on a floating flower but planted a seed in the mantis's body before it died. The seed grew to become the first human.
In Egyptian mythology, bees grew from the tears of the sun god Ra when they landed on the desert sand.
Mok Chi', patron deity of beekeepers, on a codex-style Maya vessel.
The Baganda people of Uganda hold the legend of Kintu, the first man on earth. Save for his cow, Kintu lived alone. One day he asked permission from Ggulu, who lived in heaven, to marry his daughter Nambi. Ggulu set Kintu on a trial of five tests to pass before he would agree. For his final test Kintu was told to pick Ggulu's own cow from a stretch of cattle. Nambi aided Kintu in the final test by transforming herself into a bee, whispering into his ear to choose the one whose horn she landed upon.
In Greek Mythology, Aristaeus was the god of bee-keeping. After inevitably causing the death of Eurydice, who stepped upon a snake while fleeing him, her nymph sisters punished him by killing every one of his bees. Witnessing the empty hives where his bees had dwelt, Aristaeus wept and consulted Proteus who then proceeded to advise Aristaeus to give honor in memory of Eurydice by sacrificing four bulls and four cows. Upon doing so, he let them rot and from their corpses rose bees to fill his empty hives.
According to Hittite mythology, the god of agriculture, Telipinu, went on a rampage and refused to allow anything to grow and animals would not produce offspring. The gods went in search of Telipinu only to fail. Then the goddess Hannahannah sent forth a bee to bring him back. The bee finds Telipinu, stings him and smears wax upon him. The god grew even angrier and it wasn't until the goddess Kamrusepa (or a mortal priest according to some references) uses a ritual to send his anger to the Underworld.
As per Hindu mythology, Parvati was summoned by the Gods to kill the demon Arunasura, who took over the heavens and the three worlds, in the form of Bhramari Devi. To kill Arunasura, she stings him numerous times with the help of innumerable black bees emerging from her body. The Gods were finally able to take control of the heavens and the celestial worlds again. Also, the bowstring on Hindu love god Kamadeva's bow is made of honeybees.
If a bee lands on your hand, you are very lucky indeed ! Sit quietly and don’t frighten the bee. A bee on your hand is a sure sign that money is on its way to you!
If a bee lands on you head, you can expect to be congratulated. You are going to have great success!
Similarly if a bee flies into your home it is considered very good luck. Success is on its way. Just remember to leave a window open so that the bee can fly out again after showering you with good fortune. If you try to force the bee out your luck will vanish.
Never ever quarrel in the presence of bees, nor should you use any foul language near the beehives. It is bad luck and the bees may leave the beehive. Anyone who uses bad language around bees is sure to be stung.
You should always inform the bees about all important events such as weddings, births or if someone in the household has died. If they are not told the bees will get angry and start stinging all of you.
The spiritual bond between the bees and the beekeepers has been considered very strong.
If the master of the beehive dies it is very important to immediately inform the bees and tie a black ribbon on the hive as a sign of mourning. The bees also need to be informed about who their new master is.
The Bee in Ancient Egypt
In Egypt the bee was the emblem of Lower Egypt. The bee was a symbol of the giver of life; birth, death and resurrection.
It was believed the tears of Ra became the first working bees. Ra was the Sun god and Egypt’s most important deity.
Bees in the Ancient Greece
Bees were strongly connected to the nymphs in Ancient Greece. Wild bees inhabited caves and hollow tree-trunks. Those were the same places it was thought that the nymphs had taken residence.
Bees were thought of as supporters of eloquence and songs; they were sometimes called the “birds of the Muses”.
The goddess Demeter of agriculture was known as “The Pure Mother Bee”.
Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty. One of her symbols was a honeycomb.
Priestesses of goddesses were often referred to as “Melissae” meaning bees. Many believed the bees were the souls of priestesses who had served a goddess.
Melissa is a Greek name that means “Queen Bee”.
A nymph named Melissa was said to be the first to find the honeycomb. She tasted it and mixed the honey with a little water and served it as a beverage.
The nymphs of Peloponnese were also called Melissai. They were credited with teaching man to eat the fruit of the trees and stop eating human flesh. Melissa is considered the Queen Bee goddess.
Zeus and the Bees
Zeus was the main god in Greek mythology. He was the son of the Titans Cronos and Rhea. Cronos was a tyrant who devoured his children. When Zeus was born his mother handed Cronos a rock inside a blanket instead of the baby.
She hid the baby in a cave on Crete. In some stories (among them “Hymn to Zeus” by Callimachus) Zeus is kept alive by bees.
One of Zeus’s many names was “Melissaios which means “Bee-man”.
Zeus had many affaires. One affaire he had was with a beautiful nymph named Othreis. She gave birth to a boy.
Hera was the wife of Zeus. She was extremely jealous and had a bad temper. The nymph hid the baby in the woods. The baby survived by being fed honey.
A shepherd named Phagros found the baby and named him Meliteus. Meliteus became a hero and founded a town name Melita, which means Honey town.
Bees in Christianity
It was quite common to compare the Christian monastic communities with a beehive.
The bees had all the virtues that were important in a monastery; unselfishness, cleanliness, courage, sociability, wisdom, chastity, administrative skills and spirituality.
The name Deborah means “bee”. Deborah was a prophet in the Bible. She was a judge in Israel and many refer to her as the mother of Israel. Her story can be read in the Book of Judges chapter 4 and 5.
Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini 1568-1644) had three bees in his Coat of Arms. The golden bees were chosen because they represented loyalty and diligence and can been seen on many monuments around Rome.