But what the bee knows,
the wisdom that sustains our passing life
– however much we deny or ignore it –
that for ever remains.”
Over more recent years I have begun to discover a new level of love and respect for what is becoming one of Britain’s most neglected and endangered insect species…the Bee. Since I started to brew my own Mead, I realised just what an expensive and therefore precious commodity Honey was becoming…paying around £30 per kilo and that’s not to mention the expense and seeming rarity of good quality Beeswax products…how precious their makers must be!
I have been dipping in and out of research related to the magical Bee who produces the sweet liquid gold many of us take for granted as we pour it complacently over our morning toast or Porridge, or into our tea. It’s very easy for us go about our craft business day to day, each of us upon our homeland. The land is, as we know, emphasised over and over again as the hub or core focus of many of our craft practises and for good reason, but we should remember the whole isn’t necessarily greater than the sum of its parts. Everything is connected, an infinitely complex web joins each living thing to a thousand others, some obvious, some subtle and discrete. It sounds pretty blatant and it’s harped on about all the time in Magical Circles but how often do we stop to appreciate what this means for a species including us Humans? I suppose what we are talking about here are Ecosystems…a fancy term used by Biologists, Ecologists and Environmentalists to describe what Witches and the like have known about and worked with for hundreds of years. Every insect, every fungus, every tree, every worm, every flower and every rock is connected to another and the next ad infinitum, balanced predator to prey, scavenger to the scavenged, growth to decay.
Bees are an integral part of Britain’s Ecology…but more than that Bees are integral to Britain’s economy. Britain’s declining Bee population has appeared frequently in the news as a real concern for Britain’s farmers and horticulturalists (who ironically are in part responsible for the dramatic decline thanks to use of pesticides etc). I think it’s time the British, nee the world’s, Bee population also became a real concern for us Witches also.
Other than what I’ve stated above, I suppose I have come to see a lot of Craft Lore in the life of the Bee and the symbolism of the Hive and The Queen and the relationship between the Bee’s and the flowers, the flowers and the Sun and so forth…Honey really is liquid Sunshine. By its very nature Honey is a magical substance produced neither wholly on land or in the air, it is a substance which has been transmuted from one thing to another. And what’s more, honey has known health benefits for the skin and respiratory system among others. From our forefathers’ perspective Honey provided the means to turn unsanitary water into perfectly safe, sweet and delicious mead…even my local river, The Medway is said to have gotten its name from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Medu’ meaning Mead. The products of the Hive were always seen as sacred gifts…and I think it’s time they were considered such again.
In Christian lore the Bee was considered a symbol of Christ and the resurrection, the Hive possibly representing the Tomb from which he rose again (Bee’s hibernate!) More than that however the Hive came to represent the Monastery, the sweet honey being the eternal rewards in heaven for a life of dedicated work, service and complete devotion. Church candles were always traditionally made from Beeswax instead of the more common animal fats and tallows. They burn cleaner and longer and without them, there can of course be no mass and without Mass there can be no salvation, no prayer or redemption! The Patron Saints of Bee’s, Beekeeping, Honey and Candle making are St Ambrose and St Benedict. Here is a Christian prayer to St Benedict to bless one’s Hives on his feast day (July 11th)
O Lord, God almighty, who hast created heaven and earth and every animal existing over them and in them for the use of men, and who hast commanded through the ministers of holy Church that candles made from the products of bees be lit in church during the carrying out of the sacred office in which the most holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ thy Son is made present and is received; may thy holy blessing descend upon these bees and these hives, so that they may multiply, be fruitful and be preserved from all ills and that the fruits coming forth from them may be distributed for thy praise and that of thy Son and the holy Spirit and of the most blessed Virgin Mary.
Quite some lengthy prayer for what many consider a simple bug…
Many prominent Goddesses such as Artemis and Demeter have been associated with the Bee as a symbol for fertility and growth (no pollination, no seed or fruit!) but also the family or clan, possibly why the Bee has also become a symbol for high Ranking Masons. Bee’s often held a close association with Apollo, Greek God of the Sun and his Oracle at Delphi…the Bee has been held in high esteem for millennia but have been around longer still!
As I said above, my personal ‘shift’ in perspective came about because I started using Honey to make Mead, and Beeswax to create my own candles and ointments and once upon a time humans had a real dependence on Bees to make drinking water safe, make candles for holy mass, and ointments and herbal syrups for medicine and so on. Long before Tate and Lyle, honey was the only source of sweetener! We were involved in the life of our Bees and they were involved in ours, I suggest we become so again. As Witches we are perfectly positioned to do so…we use Candles so why not try making our own from local beeswax, why not try making Mead, or a few simple ointments… Once we all start spending time (and yes a little money) I think we would all start to appreciate the Bee much more and then in turn think twice about what chemicals we use in our Gardens and instead actively seek to please them.
But talk is cheap, it’s one thing to go all activist and fight for the plight of the Bee but what am I actually doing to help them? Well for one this blog… even if only two people read this and change their opinion on the ‘pest that only exists to sting the kids’ then I’ll be happy. I am however also changing the garden a little. Usually my garden peaks around July or August….everything bursts into bloom around then. However last year and this year I am trying to grow flowering plants in succession, in other words plants which will provide a nectar source throughout the year.
Another way to help Bees (including the Solitary Bees, Bumble Bees, Buff Tails etc) is to plant things with simple open flowers (things with daisy like flowers…so no complex double flowers etc). Bees also love plants like Foxgloves, Alliums, Lemon Balm, Rosemary and Ivy (Ivy is especially important as its one of the last plants to flower and thus provides nectar late in the year when little else remains). There are hundreds of plants which Bee’s like and these can be easily researched…so try a few and try to go for a range which flower from spring to autumn (Michaelmas Daisies are a good late flowering perennial!) and if you have space which to be fair very few of us do…go all out and sow a wild flower meadow!
Around late Autumn I also start leaving sugar syrup out for the Bee’s to use as an overwinter fuel source and you can also buy Insect houses now for the Solitary Bees to hibernate in, look online or better yet make your own with some old Bamboo canes!
Ok so this blog has been a little light on the Craft but…Imagine for a moment life without Bees…a life without the herbs we use in our incense, the fruiting trees which make our Sacramental Wines…a life without honey…a summer without that quintessential drone from the hedgerows. With a little thoughtful respect I strongly believe the Bee can be a real ally to those of us who wish work with Her, She can gather all the sweet things life has to offer on our behalf, her symbol will help strengthen the family unit and is a powerful ‘totem’ for any Clan or Covine…be kind to Her and maybe she’ll put a kind word in to the rest of the hive, or maybe even The Queen herself!