Tuesday 10 October 2023

Telling the bees


Telling the bees

                         From ‘The Bee-Boy’s Song’ by Rudyard Kipling

Bees! Bees! Hark to your bees!

"Hide from your neighbours as much as you please,

But all that has happened, to us you must tell,

Or else we will give you no honey to sell!"

In Celtic folklore honey bees were regarded as messengers between the present life and the life hereafter, imbued with knowledge from the spirit world. Folk tales told of bees humming loudly at midnight on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

For centuries, beekeepers have honoured the tradition of bees as messengers, treating the bees as members of an extended family. Bees are so important to our lives that they must be treated with respect. In the British Isles tradition holds that the bees must be informed of important events in the beekeeper’s life. If this is not observed there could be dire consequences – the bees might desert the hive, or die. In short, no more honey would be forthcoming.

Marriages, births and deaths are three of the most important events in a lifetime. The beekeeper should address the bees in a calm voice so as not to upset them. If he, or she, should fail to tell the bees of a death in the family and they are not ‘put into mourning’, sometimes with a black cloth tied over or round the hive, the bees might sicken and die.

When Queen Elizabeth II died in 2022, the Royal Beekeeper, John Chapple, tied black bows on the hives before telling the thousands of bees at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House that their mistress had died. He also told them that King Charles III was their new master.

If the bees have not been informed of a death, the catastrophe following would affect the family and also anyone unrelated who bought the bees. A report from Norfolk tells how a family bought a hive of bees at auction. The previous owner had died but the bees had not been told. The bees were not in good health and not expected to survive but as soon as the new beekeeper understood and tied a piece of black material to the hive the bees recovered. Everyone agreed that it was because the bees had been ‘put into mourning.’

 Bees are also told about happier events. In the 1950s, a report in the Dundee Courier described the custom of inviting bees to weddings. The hive could be decorated and a piece of wedding cake left by it. Meanwhile, in Westphalia, Germany, newly-wed couples going to their new home, should first introduce themselves to the bees or run the risk of a less than satisfactory marriage.


  1. I have never heard of bees as messengers before today. That's interesting. I know they communicate with each other.

  2. Most Interesting Facts About Bees & Honey...
    A single bee can produce 1 tablespoon of honey
    in its lifetime...
    Bees can fly up to 12 mph...
    Bees heat and cool their own hive to keep it between
    93 and 95 degrees year-round...
    A Queen Bee will lay 800,000 eggs in her lifetime...
    Bees communicate by dancing...
    Bees are known to raid other hives and steal honey...
    🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝

  3. I'd never heard of bees being regarded as messengers, but how interesting, particularly the custom of telling bees when someone has passed away. I love it that the tradition is held up at Buckingham Palace! xxx

    1. I like to hear of quaint customs being observed in modern times. x x x

  4. lovely stuff - as I've probably mentioned before I love anything Bee related :-)
    Alison in Wales x

  5. We'll be in dire straits without them. x Janice


Thank you for visiting. I love to read your comments and really appreciate you taking the time to respond to posts.

I will always try to repay your visit whenever possible.