The Secret Life of Beekeepers

Occasionally the Chatham Record would report on items featured in other news publications around the country and the world. This one comes from England, and covers a most unusual topic. From October 22, 1885:

A Bee Superstition.

Says an English exchange: The instance given of the carrying out at Geeston, in Rutland, of the superstition that bees will not remain after a death in the house of their owner, especially of the owner himself, unless an intimation be given to them of the fact, might be multiplied indefinitely, for it prevails over a considerable portion of England. In the case mentioned, the widow knocked at the beehives one after the other, repeating each time the formula, “He’s gone, he’s gone.” And as the bees hummed in reply it was understood that they accepted the news and would stay. In Herefordshire it is considered sufficient to tie a piece of crape to a stick set in front of the hives, and in other counties those or similar precautions are always observed by persons who would not lose their bees. It is difficult to account for this widespread belief, or to give any possible conjecture as to its origin.

I found this article just 24 hours after hearing told aloud the story of Aristaeus and the Bees from the Greek poem in four books, the Georgics – a funny coincidence, though that story involves sacrificing many cows to revive dead bees, not a dead owner. Thankfully, that particular tradition did not persist! The story is also referenced in the popular novel The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, available in both print and audio versions at the library. The particular superstition mentioned in this article does persist today in some areas, according to varied sources, along with other superstitions regarding the sale and borrowing of bees. These little insects have certainly garnered their share of fame over the years! I’ll leave you this week with an excerpt from a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier entitled “Telling the Bees”:

“And the song she was singing ever since
In my ear sounds on:–
“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”


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