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Charles_Napier_Hemy-Telling_the_Bees

Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917) – Telling the Bees

Telling the Bees

The telling of the bees is a traditional English custom, in which bees would be told of important events in their keeper’s lives, such as births, marriages, or departures and returns in the household. The bees were most commonly told of deaths in their master’s family.

To inform the bees of a death their hive might be hung with a black cloth, while a “doleful tune” is sung. Another method of “telling the bees” would be for their master to approach the hive and knock gently upon it. The house key might also be used to knock on the hive. When the master of the house had the attention of the bees they would tell the bees the name of the person that had died.

Food and drink from a beekeeper’s funeral would also be left by the hive for the bees, including the funeral biscuits and wine. The hive would also be lifted a few inches and put down again at the same time as the coffin. The hive might also be rotated to face the funeral procession, and draped with mourning cloth.

A section from John Greenleaf Whittier‘s poem “Home Ballads” describes the practice:

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back
Went, drearily singing, the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened; the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”

Source and to read more: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telling_the_bees

Video animation of John Greenleaf Whittier via YouTube posted by poetryreincarnations

Video of Holland beekeeper telling the bees via Youtube posted by Historical Honeybee Articles