About ten years ago, I went to a renaissance festival I used to work for, with this girl. We stopped at an oil perfumery caravan to try on some scented oil blends on our wrists to see which we liked best, made our purchases and left. I remember I was wearing a long-sleeve, colored shirt on that sunny day. At one point, we sat down at a picnic table to eat our bread bowl baskets, resting my arms on the wood, and I felt a sharp sting on my right forearm. Instinctively, I shook my arm violently until a tiny bee flew out and that’s when my arm began to swell. I rushed to the First Aid section by which time, the half dollar-sized tattoo on my forearm was now double in diameter. After the stinger was removed and the wound cleaned, they applied a thick coat of honey to help bring the swelling down (a cruel irony), and I began to hate bees. But little did I know how essential bees are to our heritage, our history, and our planet.
According to ancient Egyptian religion, bees were created from the tears of the Sun God, Ra. For over four thousand years, they were a symbol of royalty as the Pharaoh’s sovereignty over Lower Egypt. To the Greeks, the bee was a messenger that began when a dryad sent a message of love via bee-mail to the centaur, Rhoecus. Eventually, this evolved to “telling the bees,” which is the act of updating the bees with news and current affairs as though they were family members. They were told the news of weddings, politics, deaths and births in the family, and what that milkmaid did to the stable boy. They were even invited to weddings, and if they didn’t show, a piece of wedding cake was left at the hive. If the bees weren’t kept in “the buzz,” then it was believed they would leave, die, or stop their honey production altogether. Various other superstitions formed throughout Europe over this tiny insect. In Ireland, if a bee flies around your house, you are to have a visitor, and if its tail is red it will be a man, and if it is white, it will be a woman. If a bee flies over a sleeping child, it will live long, healthy, and happy. If the bee lands on the infant’s lips, it will grow to be a great poet. To the Vikings, they were the source of their honey mead and several food staples. To many cultures, the bee was the form the soul took when leaving the body behind in death. There are also several honeybee deities like the Lithuanian Bee God, Babilos and his wife, the Bee Goddess Austeja. There is the Roman Goddess, Mellonia and the Slavic God Zosim. The Greek priestesses that attended the goddess, Demeter were known as the Melissae (the bees). The list goes on and on as the honeybee flies in and out of world mythology, folklore, and old recipes.
Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.” As dire as that sounds, bees do not just gather pollen and make sticky honey for bear-shaped containers that inevitably leak all over the cabinet shelf. Pollination goes a little further than just honey. A pollination is a form of reproduction for our plant world that relies on pollinating animals to transfer pollen from boy to girl to create a seed or fruit (literally the birds and the bees). Bees, however, are the most contributing species to pollination. About one-third of the plants, you eat required pollination to exist, and the same goes for the plants consumed by the livestock you eat, as well. And according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the pollinating services of insects (mostly bees) is estimated at 3$ billion per year in the United States. The honey crop in 2013 was valued at over $317 million. With that kind of contribution from those tiny little guys, it’s understandable how prevalent they were throughout history. And as I’m sure you’ve heard, they’re disappearing.
In just two decades, the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) has lost almost 90% of its population and in January was declared an endangered species. Last September, 7 Hawaiian bumble bee species were also enlisted as endangered, and now Buzz the Bee from Honey Nut Cheerios is gone, too! Scientists believe that the main reasons behind all this disappearance are caused by pesticides, habitat loss, parasites, and diseases (excluding Buzz the Bee who did not die from any of these reasons, but from a political action to spread awareness about the absence from his pollinating friends). To help compensate for this loss, a chemist in Japan is turning to artificial intelligence.
Eijiro Miyako created kiwi-sized drones donning a strip of statically-charged horse hairs, coated with a sticky gel so as to mimic the body fuzz on a bee. Powered by GPS and artificial intelligence, these little machines fly around to pollinate fruits, vegetables, and wildflowers. So far upon testing with Japanese lilies, the drones have successfully pollinated one-third of them. His hopes are to release 100 drones for the first trial phase to aid the bees, then possibly more in the future dependent upon its success. Though the drones could assist all the pollinating animals and insects, it would take hundreds of thousands of these to make up what we’ve lost and are losing, with bees. Not to mention, the possibility of adding a lot of electronic pollution to our planet if something happened to them out in the field. The fact of the matter is that the bees aren’t gone, there’s just less of them. So, the best we can do is to conserve what population we’ve already got and helped promote a better lifestyle for them.
- Planting native wildflowers that vary in size and color. Make sure you choose flowers that blossom Spring, Summer, and Fall for harder working bees.
- Avoid pesticides in your garden.
- Leave your grass uncut to promote habitat for overwintering bees.
- Leave a patch of bare ground in your yard, with no mulch. About 70% percent of bees dig to nest their young because many are solitary.
- Install a bee block or bee hotel that you can build yourself or find at your local garden center, or online.
- If you grow veggies and fruits, border them with flowers. This will also help pollinate your food!
Another great thing we can do is little reminders of our little friends. If you use an altar, place a bee artifact on it or wear bee jewelry. Buy locally made honey, complete with combs, and appreciate the food they supply us and concentrate on if you can tell the difference in flavor between that and store bought. Can you taste the flower that it came from, is it sweeter, thicker? As you’re enjoying the honey or pausing to appreciate your little honeybee artifact, think of a way you can help to attract more bees in your area. Maybe you don’t have a yard but a flower pot on a balcony or patio, or buy some potted flowers for a neighbor or friend (just make sure they’re not allergic first). And heck, go ahead and start talking to bees about your personal affairs, too. Maybe there is something to “telling the bees”! Or maybe you’ll just feel better getting it off your chest. I still think often of that little bee that sacrificed his stinger in my arm at that renaissance festival years ago; he just thought my scented oil and sleeve was a sweet-smelling flower, full of pollen. Luckily however, I don’t wear sweet scents anymore, and leave that for the wildflowers.
Kansas Stanton is a Naturalistic Neo-Pagan who resides in Seattle, Washington. He belongs to, and practices with, a local group of Reform Pagans and blogs at https://leavesontheroad.wordpress.com/. He also volunteers every year at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and regularly attends various Pagan festivals and events.
He is a full-time student, earning his degree in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Sustainability, after which time he will move on to law school to receive his Juris Doctor in Environmental Law. When Kansas is not in class or working his job in the art industry, he also attends heavy metal concerts both locally and internationally. He is also a vegan outdoorsman who frequents the trails and whitewater rivers of the pacific northwest and loves to spend his time with friends over a cold, dark beer.