Known by many country folk as ‘The Little Servants of God’ or ‘The Small Messengers of God’ in Paradise and so thought to be extremely unlucky to kill. Bees were thought to have a special knowledge of the future, and in events such as the death of the keeper or if someone in the family was to marry it was thought to be important to inform the bees less they die or fly away. The bride should inform the hive directly. Since ancient times people have related family news to the hive believing that as both names suggest that bees are close to God and perhaps able to communicate their troubles to seek comfort and reassurance.
Bees were extremely important to community life during medieval times and up until the seventeenth century. The honey was regularly used to sweeten a variety of foods and drinks, used most effectively in the fermentation process for alcohol including cider, ale and mead. When sugar was discovered and imported, the importance of bees was somewhat diminished with much of the folklore disappearing too.
Seen as intelligent creatures if a death occurs in the family a relative is advised to approach the hive and utter the following phrase three times to ensure longevity and good health ‘Little brownies, little brownies, your master/mistress (name) is dead’. At all times the sound made by the bees will indicate whether they are settled or ready to move on; buzzing indicates their continued presence whereas silence should prepare you for a lack of honey. After the wedding or funeral it was believed to be only proper to leave a piece of the cake by the hive for the bees to feed on, seen almost as a part of the family and sensitive to the events taking place.
Moving the hive is not advised if the bees have not been informed first according to a Cornish (UK) belief; not only might they sting the owner but may die if moved on Good Friday. Speak too harshly to them and, as it was believed that bees responded to the tone of the voice, the bees will leave (hence swearing around bees is not advised if you want them to stay). Contrary to modern expectations a bee sting was once thought to be an effective cure for rheumatism and arthritis.
The flight of bees also indicate mixed omens. For many people the sight of a bee swarm can be terrifying and is usually seen as an ill omen, perhaps because of the thought of bees being unsettled and the stings that may be looking for a target! One rather ancient unusual belief tells that virginity could be tested amidst a swarm of bees, as one could be assured of safety if the honour was intact! If a swarm settled on the property or one was found in a dead tree on the acreage then it was once thought to be an omen of death in the family.
‘A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay,
And a swarm of bees in July
Is hardly worth a fly.’
The collection of nectar early in the year is still thought to be a positive sign that there will be an abundance of honey, and of course a great floral display. A hive should never be sold without a second thought, bartering was thought to be the best policy to appease the animals. If given away though the hive will bring good fortune to the new owner as well as a constant supply of honey but monitor how they enter the hive. If they appear to become lethargic it indicates misfortune and when the bees do not exit the hive with regularity then do not worry. It has always thought to indicate that rain is in the way.
Be prepared for a visitor to arrive if you find a bee buzzing around the house, and if one flies over a sleeping child then you are extremely fortunate as the child will have a long and happy life according to traditional European folklore.