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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Telling The Bees

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In many places there is a beautiful tradition that Bees are considered
part of the family and must be informed therefore of all family deaths
and special events. Superstition tells us; if their master dies, they must
be told and put into mourning, for if this is not done, they will pine away
and die, or abandon their hives and fly away. The formula for telling the
bees varies little from place to place; A family member walks somberly to
the bees, with becoming reverence and sorrow a piece of black crape is
draped over the hives to put the Bees in mourning, -for the bees are supposed
to have sorrow upon sorrow on account of the death of their master. Like their
masters friends and relations, they must, as they do, wear the signs of mourning.
The informant informs the bees by tapping three times on each hive with the
house key and says; "Bees, Bees, Bees, your master is dead," He then says;
"your new master is ________." Superstition holds that it is bad luck to purchase
Bees of a dead man, so the Bees are always given to their new master.

If a family member dies, the bee master will inform the bees by the degree
of relationship only, as your master's brother, sister, aunt, &c., is dead. In
Devonshire, telling the Bees was considered such vital importance that a
correspondent of 'Notes and Queries ' tells us; "I once knew an apprentice sent
back during the funeral precession by the nurse to tell the bees, as it had
been forgotten."


Premium Member
6,176 Posts
I can't see the Facebook link for some reason. I don't know if you have to be on Facebook but I'm definitely NOT. However, I love this poem which is sometimes copied here on Beesource:

Telling the Bees

There is the place; right over the hill
Runs the path I took;
You can see the gap in the old wall still,
And the stepping-stones in the shallow brook.

There is the house, with the gate red-barred,
And the poplars tall;
And the barn's brown length, and the cattle-yard,
And the white horns tossing above the wall.

There are the beehives ranged in the sun;
And down by the brink
Of the brook are her poor flowers, weed-o'errun,
Pansy and daffodil, rose and pink.

A year has gone, as the tortoise goes,
Heavy and slow;
And the same rose blows, and the same sun glows,
And the same brook sings of a year ago.

There 's the same sweet clover-smell in the breeze;
And the June sun warm
Tangles his wings of fire in the trees,
Setting, as then, over Fernside farm.

I mind me how with a lover's care
From my Sunday coat
I brushed off the burrs, and smoothed my hair,
And cooled at the brookside my brow and throat.

Since we parted, a month had passed,—
To love, a year;
Down through the beeches I looked at last
On the little red gate and the well-sweep near.

I can see it all now,—the slantwise rain
Of light through the leaves,
The sundown's blaze on her window-pane,
The bloom of her roses under the eaves.

Just the same as a month before,—
The house and the trees,
The barn's brown gable, the vine by the door,—
Nothing changed but the hives of bees.

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!

Then I said to myself, "My Mary weeps
For the dead to-day:
Haply her blind old grandsire sleeps
The fret and the pain of his age away."

But her dog whined low; on the doorway sill
With his cane to his chin,
The old man sat; and the chore-girl still
Sung to the bees stealing out and in.

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!"

Premium Member
2,182 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
A quote from:
ca. 1878 - Gleanings in Bee Culture, Page 144

I would like your opinion in regard to the old story of
telling the bees when a person dies. A neighbor of
mine says, when her uncle died, the man that laid him
out told them, if they did not go and tell the bees, they
would die or go away. They did not do so, and, sure
enough, the next morning the bees were all dead
-2 colonies -and it was in the middle of summer!
She says she saw it herself. How do you account for it?
Please let us have your opinion on it.
You know Whittier's poem on the subject.

Ledyard, N. Y. March 18, 1879

Premium Member
2,182 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
A Quote From:
circa. Dec. 7, 1892 ~ Bye-gones: Relating
to Wales and the Border Countries, Page 458

OLD SUPERSTITIONS (Jan. 13, Feb. 17, May 2.5, Aug. 10, 1892).
—Referring to a reply of August 10, connected with bees and a
death in the family, I will relate an incident that occurred in my
family. Some three and twenty years ago we lost a little son.
We had eleven hives of bees. My wife said that she forgot to
tell the bees of his death (the formula I believe is to whisper
on the night of the death into the mouth of the hive), and she
was certain that all the bees would die; and during the winter
every bee in the eleven hives did die. I leave the solution of
the matter to your contributors.

Premium Member
2,182 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
A Quote From:
circa. 1896, Folklore ~
Staffordshire Folk and their Lore, Page 385

A farmer's wife of my acquaintance at Eccleshall lost her
husband in the summer of 1892, and in her grief and
distress forgot to tell the bees. Some time after all the
hives but one were found to be deserted, and she hit on
a plan for preserving this last. She gave it to her little boy,
and explained to the bees that they had a new master
and must stay and work for him.

Premium Member
6,176 Posts
Thanks Joe, I'm grateful. I hate it when you can't see stuff on Facebook. I don't know why it's like that sometimes and other times you're shut out. Not fair. Appreciate you doing this.

Premium Member
2,182 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
A Quote From:
The British Bee Journal. ca. August 1, 1876, Page 67

The correspondent of a contemporary writes:— 'The custom
of informing the bees of the death of their master prevails
more or less in most of the southern counties. A person told
me a few days ago that her grandfather, who lived in Oxfordshire,
had seventeen beehives, and when he died the bees were not
informed of it: "The consequence was, every one of the bees died."
By the same person I was told that it was customary in Oxfordshire
not only to inform the bees of the death of their master, but also
of a change of masters; and this is done by giving the hives a few
gentle strokes with a stick, and at the same time saying such words as,
"Your master is dead," &c. In some parts of Dorset, too, the custom
is very prevalent. A person living near Shaftesbury told me that he
forgot to inform his bees of the death of his wife, and soon after
every one of them died, " leaving honey in the pot," thus showing
that they did not die of starvation. On the death of his sister this
person hung a piece of crape on the hive, and at another time gave
the bees a piece of " funeral cake " to feast on.

Premium Member
2,182 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Quote From:
Merry's Museum. ca. 1849
Wonders of the Honeybee, Page 104

'I will tell you what happened when I lived in Vermont. There
was a man died, who owned a large number of hives. When
he was dead, one of the neighbors said that it was a pity
that all the bees must die too. Another neighbor said that he knew
a remedy. This was, for the eldest son to go and inform the bees
that their master was dead; but that he hoped they would be good,
and continue to work, and that he would take care of them. This
was told to the son; but he would not believe one word about it.
At length, however, he thought he would make the experiment.
"May be," said he, "after all, there is something in it. It will do no
harm, and I will try it." So he went to one hive, and giving it a slight
knock, waked all the bees up, and then told them, in a low tone of
voice, that their master was dead; but he hoped that they would be
industrious, swarm well, lay up honey, and that he would take care of
them. So round he went; but, at length, coming to one hive, he gave
a knock, and was about telling it the same story, when a bee, which
had come out to see what was the danger, stung him. Upon this, he
told the bees of that hive that they might die, for he would not tell
them. And they did die; but all the rest lived, and continued prosperous.'"
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