In this season of gifts, both given and received, it is appropriate to consider the bounty we receive from the bees. The ultimate largesse is to have been chosen by the bees, a process described quite beautifully by Heidi Herman in the 2018 Beekeepers
Annual. “Should a time come when they call you, I fancy that you will heed them and invite them into your life. They might arrive as a swarm since they are very capable of divining your soul’s inclinations, and they might change your
life and you will never look back and will dwell in the joy of it. I’d say it is probable, and wish it greatly for you.”
Bee people are significantly more numerous than beekeepers, by which I mean those who
are aware of the presence and significance of honey bees without feeling the need to manage them directly. History suggests such people were more numerous when agriculture was dominant and bees were sacred, offering a spiritual connection to nature,
if not the cosmos. This was most evident in the late middle Ages, when boles were built into the foundations of most monasteries to hold skeps, the monks lovingly tended to the occupants, and besides the products of the hive, and because there was no
knowledge of how they reproduced, bees were symbolic of a mystifying virgin birth. As one Catholic site explains, “Since virginity is a virtue we find exemplified to its highest capacity in Our Lady, the bee quite naturally becomes one of Her symbols.”
With the Age of Reason spirits were banished from nature as we supposedly took dominion over the earth, to the extent that even honey bees fell victim to the laws of industry and the production line. At 1:30 pm on September 21,
the climate clock unveiled in New York City by artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, warned that there were 7 years, 101 days, 17 hours, 29 minutes and 22 seconds until Earth’s carbon budget is depleted, based on current emission rates. According to the
artists, a total depletion will engender even more flooding, wildfires, worsening famine, increased air pollution, greater concentrations of chemicals, and extensive human displacement. In October a number of scientific organizations added to the predictions
of Sir David Attenborough that it is now too late to stop climate change; we can only hope to mitigate the damage.
It is my hope that, in this time of great diminishing, the bees will not give up on us in the way that we gave
up on them.
Whether you were chosen by the bees, became involved accidentally or made a deliberate choice, there are two significant gifts we can share with the increasing number of bee people. In an age of rapid
environmental degradation that threatens an entire planet, and in the words of the C16th French cleric, St. Francis de Sales, “the bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he(sic) leaves
them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.” Secondly, in an age of divisiveness and intolerance, the honey bee offers us a glimpse of the beauty of interdependence in which communal interests and the well being of all are aligned.
Beekeeping, at its best, is both a symbiotic relationship between humankind and the natural world and a gentle reminder of our short time on this earth. Bee colonies are not necessarily utopian societies but they have flourished for
at least four thousand times longer than have modern humans. The honey bees are our teachers, if we allow them to be so, and in this season of hope and celebration my wish is that we re-discover the gifts that come with a healing of the communal soul
and a reminder of what love means.