This lovely little piece comes from Save the Bees Australia. “At least twice in our short history #honeybees have attended their #beekeepers#funerals. In 1934, when Sam Rogers died in Shropshire, England, his bees paid their farewell at his graveside funeral. They landed on a nearby tombstone and as soon as he was buried they departed. When John Zepka of Berkshire Hills near Adams, Mass. died on April 27, 1956, thousands of his bees clustered inside the tent at the open grave site to pay their respect to the beekeeper who never wore any protective gear. As his coffin was lowered into the earth, the bees left the tent and returned to their hive on Zepka’s farm.”
I remember this. My Uncle Perce kept bees. I saw him lots of times carrying an armful of bees, a clump of bees who had swarmed, back from a tree to give them a home in one of his hives. He wore no protective clothing, bees were crawling on his arms and head and neck, and a few would still be flying and so would follow him home; the ones in his arms would be purring, all buzzing together and he would be humming to them.
When Uncle Perce died we had a ceremony by the hives. Like they say in this post, the new head of the house – in this case my Aunt Ida – knocked gently on each one of the hives to get the bees attention, and then she told them that Uncle Perce was dead and asked them if they wanted their hives to go to another neighbour who also kept bees. And she used the old song …
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!
We all knew you must always tell the bees what’s happening in your – and their – home and life. If you didn’t they would leave you, and that often presaged more calamities for the household, and also for the next person who was to look after the hive. As the post says, trust, honour and respect are important between species and, when you practise them, they evolve into a collective consciousness between and across all species. The old ones who taught me as a child, in the village, all knew this and Aunt Ida was one of those, she was guardian to the village’s sacred well.
I have bee-keeping friends now who also, hold and cuddle their bees. And they talk to them, and not just when somebody dies! Midwinter is one of the times when they talk with the bees. It’s a big festival, after all it’s the shortest days of the year and the time when the sun is lowest in the sky. It’s also the time when the sun turns around, changes its path and its arc begins, again, to rise higher and higher each day in the sky. On 21st December the sun begins its standstill – that’s what the word solstice means, standstill – and then, for 3 days, the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, it appears to rise at the same point on the horizon each day. Finally, on the 25th, it moves, rising at a new point on the horizon and turning its arc upwards again, so bringing more light to us each day.
We always use those standstill days and one of the things we do is talk to the bees, tell them how it’s been for us over the past year and ask them how it’s been for them. The past year? Yes, indeed, for us Midwinter is the turning of the year, and Sun-Return (what we call the 25th December) is the real new year. After all, 1st Jan is just a government concoction, for the convenience of business, and has nothing to do with the reality of the stars and the Earth or real cosmic time. So we follow the stars, the time the sun gives us, and our Earth, in their dance through the heavens. And the new year, the turning of the sun, is a very good time to go back over all that has happened in the past year, learning and giving thanks.
I don’t keep bees, not in hives, but my garden is extremely bee-friendly and lots of wild bees and bumble bees come every year. They make nests in the ground, in hollows in the trees, and holes in the old stone walls, all sorts of places, so one of the things I do for Midwinter is to go round to these holes and talk with the bees who use them. Many are asleep now, the queens waiting for the rising arcs of the sun to bring the flowers and the pollen back so they can breed and feed their young again. But they hear me in their sleep, in their dreams …