Grief is a sacred journey

The Queen Bee and the Honey Crone

Beekeeping, 14th Century, wikipedia

Beekeeping, 14th Century, wikipedia

“In Minoan Crete, the Goddess and her Priestesses, dressed as bees, are shown dancing together on a golden seal found buried with the dead.  …the bee signified the life that comes from death…. “Bee Goddess,” Temple of Theola

Gold seal ring, c. 1450 BC. Knossos. Crete

Gold seal ring, c. 1450 BC, Crete (with permission)

On my last day in North Carolina, my son David and his wife Liz built a new bee hive. Liz held things steady—something she does in many realms—as David sawed and drilled. They taught me how to put delicate wax foundations in each frame to give the workers an easy place to build hexagonal celled honeycomb.

After David and Liz loaded boards, blocks, and the new hive into the pickup truck, we drove to their three established hives. It was 7 pm and 90 degrees. David worked next to the active bees, shoveling, scraping, and leveling the soil. The bees ignored him.

“Don’t stand near their entry or flight path,” David said when I got too close. “Blocking their way makes them mad.”

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We arrived at the beekeeper’s home at twilight when bees are quiet. She had a Queen for sale. David and Liz put on protective gear and carried their empty box toward her row of hives.

“Stand back,” the bee lady called as she waved me away. I was the only one without protective gear. She had cropped gray hair and was no older than I, but she was in charge.

DSC06334Three shrouded humans stood out against the darkness like cowled monks performing a ritual in the Middle Ages. I imagined bowed heads of ancient religious supplicants as they honored the mysterious magic of the bees. Deliberate, slow, a dance-like meditation.

To avoid harming bees, the beekeeper worked with bare hands as she moved frames from the old hive to the new. She occasionally flipped a bee from her fingers or sent out a puff of incense-like smoke to settle the bees. She spotted the Queen. Thumbs up. The new hive would thrive.

DSC06335“Two honeybees crawled through my hair,” I told the beekeeper later as I paid for the Queen. It was my gift to David and Liz. “I shook them out. I didn’t get stung.”

“You’re lucky,” she said.

“Yes, I am lucky,” I said. “And you’re the Honeybee Crone.” She smiled. I smiled, too.

We got back to David and Liz’s place after dark. David put the new hive in the place he’d prepared and removed seals he’d put over the hive entrances for the drive.

Bhramari Devi | Wikipedia

Bhramari Devi | Wikipedia

Sumerian Bee Goddess (goddessgift.net)

Sumerian Bee Goddess (goddessgift.net)

Bees have always been part of human culture and often part of our religion. The Egyptian Goddess Neith (3050-2850 BC) was associated with bees. Honey was found in 3000 year-old Egyptian tombs. In Sumeria, a seal (~2000 BC) honored the honeybee goddess and her devotees. Bhramari Devi is the Hindu Goddess of Honey Bees. In Ancient Hindu texts, the humming of bees represented the essential sound of the universe.

DSC06350The next morning, I visited the bees. Last year’s bees were most active as they took off for known wildflower fields. The hive from the swarm David found a few weeks ago was busy, but with fewer bees. Bees moved in and out of the new smallest hive, slowly, tentatively. To survive, they needed to find the nearby stream and wildflower fields.

A few hours later, as I watered a bed of parched plants, honeybees sipped from tiny puddles cupped in green leaves. I was happy to help.

DSC06369After I returned home, David reported the new hive is doing well. As before, he visits twice a day.

Will I get hives for my land? I don’t think so. I’m already a honeybee supplicant.

***

Are you fascinated with something you hadn’t considered in the past? I’d love to hear about it. Like many of us, I’ve been concerned about bee disease and hive collapse, so it was wonderful to be exposed to healthy hives and successful beekeepers. Last week, I wrote about capturing a honeybee swarm in Honey Bees and Humans: Our Sweet Interdependence.

There is so much to know about bees and about the mythology of bees. I enjoyed these two sites: Temple of Theola for mythology and Think Like a Bee for beekeeping, bee lore, and great photos. Thanks to Shirley Showalter for recommending “Think Like a Bee.”  For other posts about the gifts of nature, see Finding the Sacred Feminine in Nature and in Friendship.

 

 

 

21 Comments
  1. Elaine–your description of beekeeping with David and Liz is so interesting and compelling! I’d like to add to the ancient references: The Hebrew name Devorah (Deborah in English) means “bee.” She was an important prophetess, teacher, and judge. Meanwhile, the d’vash (honey) of ancient Israel times is thought actually to be date syrup (though currently the word refers to honey, and date syrup has another name).

    • Thank you, Myra. I love it. I did a little reading about honey and bee references in mythology and ancient literature–enough to find how pervasive the interconnection between the two. There are many honey references from the Middle East, beginning with Sumeria and Egypt and coming down to the religions of the Middle East–Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. Thank you for adding Devorah. It’s a name I know, but I don’t remember anything about her except that she was a prophetess. I’m sure there’s a honey scholar out there somewhere.

  2. The mythology of bees fascinates me too. But because the Beamans have a beekeeper, I also enjoyed your busy bee story of family superintending and observing bee hives.

    Photographer/teacher/beekeeper Joel uses the letterhead “Lucky Dog Honey” for his side jobs. “What an odd name for a business,” you think. True story: While Joel was working with his hives, their cocker spaniel Teddy snuck up on the bees, got stung dozens of times, and lived. They have the vet bills to show for it – and a lucky dog.

    • Marian, the magic of the bees was entangled with my love of watching my family tend them (and their garden). I loved being part of this project in the role of observer and photographer. (In the garden, my role is more hands on weeding, pruning, and harvesting.) Lucky Dog Honey! A great story and, yes, a lucky dog. I’d love to see a photo of your son’s hives. How many does he have? How urban are they?

      • Joel has two hives. Since their move in May, the neighbor next door to their former home has graciously allowed them to stay in her back yard.. (The hives would need to be moved when they are more or less dormant.)

        Urban means a neighborhood in the heart of Jacksonville, FL – a hive of buzziness. I don’t know how to post photos here, but you could check out his Facebook posts (Joel Beaman)

    • I love this story, Marian!

  3. How fascinating Elaine. Thanks for sharing all about how the honeycombs are built, and the Minoan history. You were certainly brave to be in such close contact without being properly clothed, and not getting stung.
    Incidentally, my full name, Deborah, goes back into the Hebrew religion, known as Queen Bee, lol. And I’m allergic to bees. 🙂

    • Debby, look at the comment by Myra who says a little more about Devorah, a prophetess and judge of the Old Testament. You have a power name.

      I’m grateful not to be allergic to bees and, even though I work in flowering plants a lot in the summer, I can’t remember the last time I was stung. I don’t swat if they land on me. I twirl or shake–sort of like the Honey Crone who flipped them away. My camera has a good zoom, so I wasn’t as close as these photos appear.

      • Isn’t that funny that Myra and I both mentioned my name derived from (my Hebrew name) Devorah. Yes, I forgot to mention she was a prophetess. I am power.

        And you bet when a bee approaches me, I do a dance to shake it away. I don’t like killing anything. Evens pesky spiders get carried and thrown outside, lol. 🙂

        • Myra knows the Old Testament stories. Thanks to both of you for passing along a little about Devorah. So many powerful ancient stories out there to instruct us, if we would only listen.

  4. Lovely to read this Elaine thank you! I remember a woman coming to get the queen bee from a garden wall in old home some years ago. I think she put it in a match box …

    It’s always a concern about bee disease. If the bees go, so do we. I love seeing bees buzzing around, it makes me hopeful.

    Gorgeous photos and history of the bees, as well as your involvement with them recently at your son’s home.

    • Thank you, Susan. There was a hail and wind storm at my son and daughter-in-law’s home in North Carolina yesterday. My first concern after knowing they were OK: “How are the bees?” David had already checked first thing and they’re doing fine. Their plants and trees took a big hit.

  5. Fascinating post. On our recent trip we visited the deCordova sculpture garden outside of Boston. They have a bee “house” with information about bee habitats, and I’m sure many of the plants in the garden are there to attract bees, butterflies, and birds.

    • Thanks for your comment, Merril. I love bee exhibits and butterfly gardens and I love creating the right habitat on my land for bees, butterflies, and birds. Some years are better than others. I saw wild honeybees in milkweed flowers yesterday. I”m waiting for Monarchs, although last year I only saw a few. No wonder bees, butterflies, and birds have become soul images for humans. Nature’s magic.

  6. I have always had a healthy respect for bees. I’ve been stung about a half dozen times in my life and I can clearly remember those times. So it was interesting but maybe a bit itchy-scritchy to read about you and your family taking such care to keep bees. It reminded me of the time I bravely took a wooden spoon dipped in honey to coax a bee away from my terrified young daughter. Actually scared stiff myself, I pretended to be friends with the bee because I did not want my daughter to be afraid of bees.

    • The spoon dipped in honey is a good trick to remember, Robin. I assume it worked. I’ve been stung, but not often. I work around honeybees in the garden (when I’m lucky) enough to have them pay a visit). They love particular flowers such as Shirley Poppies and Cleome. I grow these for beauty, but also to feed the bees–and maybe get a photo or two.

  7. I came home the day after my husband’s memorial in the country — a long, painful, lonely drive.

    Almost immediately, my neighbor came over to tell me a large swarm of bees had appeared in our shared driveway and had taken up residence, through a hole in a working gutter of my house, two stories up. Right under my bedroom window. It had scared quite a few people, including some leaving the church next door.

    I tried for ten days to find someone who could get the hive down — they had not had time really to establish a nest — and relocate them. Because of the location, gutter, up so high, I couldn’t. I finally had someone come and destroy the nest and the bees, in the evening, when they were mostly “home”. It broke my heart, but my neighbor had children and was dead set against my keeping them.

    I read you said in Minoan Crete, bees were a symbol of life coming out of death. I am devastated with the loss of my husband and cherished friend of 40 years. Perhaps I can take it as a sign? Of what — I don’t know, but I am so seeking some meaning in the shock of his sudden death, his terrible goneness…

    • Oh, Claudia. Such times of agony. I feel the “terrible goneness” of your husband and remember that feeling so well. I remember that sense of meaninglessness and that I couldn’t go on. After eight years, I feel “goneness” with a sense of my husband’s constant presence within me. A sudden death is shocking and makes it all the harder to make this transition.

      I don’t know how to interpret your bee experience. It’s the sort of thing I’d ponder for a long time, but there are seldom definitive answers other than the ones that come from within ourselves. It sounds like the bees had to go and there was no choice. You did the best you could and sometimes that’s all we can do. After my husband died, I adopted a rescue dog–trying to do something for the world–who was fine and affectionate in the shelter cage and in three days of walks outside the shelter. Once home, she turned savage and wild. She tried to kill everything in sight for over three months despite all my efforts to tame her, so my vet insisted I let them euthanize her. I waited for help or a sign. There was nothing, so I took her to the vet and said goodbye. What did that mean? Did I deserve that after my husband’s death? I was sure I didn’t, but had to make the choice to kill anyway.

      I hope you have support, Claudia. Lots of support. I got help from Hospice bereavement services. In New York, bereavement support isn’t dependent on whether or not the person you grieve was with hospice, but I don’t know how it is wherever you are. I also kept seeing a therapist I started seeing in my husband’s last months. I needed help holding and understanding what was happening to me. Sending you love and gentleness.

  8. The queen bee’s abdomen is noticeably longer than the worker bees surrounding her and is longer than a male bee’s . Even so, in a hive of 60,000 to 80,000 honey bees, it is often difficult for beekeepers to find the queen with any speed; for this reason, many queens in non-feral colonies are marked with a light daub of paint on their thorax. The paint used does no harm to the queen and makes her much easier to find when necessary.

    • Thanks for your comment. How interesting. I didn’t know about marking the queen, but then I don’t know much about honeybees. I only know the magic of the human-bee interaction and then explored some of the ancient mythology about honeybees. My son’s four hives are thriving this summer.

      The woman who raised the queen bee sold the queen with a whole frame of honeybees. The keeper had many one or two frame hives for this purpose. I know it’s also possible to buy just a queen, but my son bought a family.

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