Tuesday, July 16, 2013

IT'S THE BEES KNEES - A day in the hive

"... Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt, marvelous error! - that I had a beehive inside my heart.  And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures."        from Times Alone: Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly

A Bee's Knee from "Bee" by Rose-Lynn Fisher

In her book "BEE", photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher blends art and science in sixty extraordinary photographs of honeybee anatomy in magnifications ranging from 10x to 5000x.  The stunning detail reveals the honeybee's pattern, form and structure.  Comprising 6,900 hexagonal lenses, their eyes resemble the structure of a honeycomb.

Bee's Eye - Visuals Unlimited

"The honeycomb is absolutely perfect in economizing labor and wax."
      - Charles Darwin

There is a wonderful piece by Science writer Robert Krulwich:  "What is it About Bees and Hexagons" at www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich. A solution to the question of why bees have chosen the Hexagon shape.   He says: "more than 2,000 years ago, in 36 B.C., a Roman soldier/scholar/writer, Varro, proposed an answer, which ever since has been called "The Honeybee Conjecture." Varro thought there might be a deep reason for this bee behavior. Maybe a honeycomb built of hexagons can hold more honey. Maybe hexagons require less building wax. Maybe there's a hidden logic here. I like this idea — that below the flux, the chaos of everyday life there might be elegant reasons for what we see. 'The Honeybee Conjecture' is an example of mathematics unlocking a mystery of nature." Read the piece and see the wonderful illustrations to find out more. 

Egyptian Hieroglyphs
The Egyptians believed that bees were created out of the tears of the Sun God Ra, but I wanted to see for myself, so I took a one day beekeeping course at Charente Bees' La Petite Ferme Galloise in Pillac.  Unfortunately we can't keep bees at the Chateau.  A French couple who used to live here had some hives, but some of the owners got their undies in a bundle about the liability so they took their hives and honey with them when they sold their apartment.  I was sad to see them go.

Charente Bees - La Petite Ferme Galloise

After a morning of preliminary slides, history & factoids, e.g. 25 to 30,000 bees to a colony; life span of a Queen about 6 years; making royal jelly; all about propolis (which is basically the glue the bees collect from tree buds to seal and varnish the honeycomb), and lots o' cautionary bee sting tales...off to the hives we went, deep into the forest.  The day was skillet hot and I was crisped around the edges already, so the rubber Wellies, kitchen gloves, netting, & bee costume with extra layer below made me angry as a hornet.

Off to the Hives
                     The Bee Goddess of Rhodes looks so much more comfortable & posh

Some people were quite nervous about having hundreds of bees buzzing around their heads and crawling all over their bee apparel, but it didn't bother me.  As I child of 9 or 10, I remember when my younger brother, five or six at the time was stung over 90 times by a swarm of bees at our front door.  His face swelled up like a gigantic, burnt orange Jack O' Lantern, his eyes like slits, his mouth a gash.  But he survived & maybe that is where my original fascination began. 

Remember Gloria Swanson from the classic 1950 film, "Sunset Boulevard"? The faded movie star, Norma Desmond (a turban for every occasion) falls in love with a younger man, William Holden.  This film has one of my all time favorite movie characters, her butler Max, played by Erich Von Stroheim.  And some of the best lines: "I am big; it's the pictures that got small"; "We didn't need dialogue, we had faces"; and "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." She should have won the Oscar instead of Judy Holliday, who cares about her now? She's so "Born Yesterday". 

Twenty four years later, Gloria staged a real come-back in her last film, "The Killer Bees", where she plays Madame von Bohlen, a strong willed matriarch, who not only runs her family wine business, but also has a mysterious power; she has psychic control over a swarm of bees that reside in her vineyard.  Actually beekeepers are an amazing lot, deeply connected to their bees in mystical ways. To participate in their rituals is to enter into and share a sacred tradition.***

Pulling out the frames (cadres)

Searching for the Queen
Still searching for the Queen

Scraping the propolis

Beekeeping 1568 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Someone found the Queen
Mostly we pulled out the cadres (frames) from the brood box where the main colony lives, identified worker bees, drones, and searched endlessly for the Queen.  She doesn't really stand out and some beekeepers actually place little colored dots on the Queen so they can locate her easily.  My favorite part was working the "Smoker", which makes the bees docile and sleepy. 

14th c. Beekeeping
Beekeeping is hard work, lots of loss - blood, sweat and tears, especially in these times of Asian Hornets, Varroa mites, and worst of all, pesticides, which according to many beekeepers is the greatest danger facing today's bee populations.

Medieval Apiary - Sainte Suzanne, France
A couple of years ago I went to a Tarot conference held in the 17th c. Chateau de Sainte Suzanne, France.  Sainte Suzanne is the third most popular village for the french themselves to visit and it IS drop dead gorgeous with the added plus of tarot sculptures throughout the village.

Sainte Suzanne France, Chateau fortifications
I spent some time in the medieval gardens which have an area dedicated to beekeeping medieval style

Illustration Mounted in the Jardin

Medieval Garden - Sainte Suzanne
Squash - Medieval Garden

One of my other favorite hive hangouts is Les Jardins du Luxemboug in Paris. The hives there remind me of little pagodas.

Luxembourg Gardens Apiary in Autumn
Beekeepers at apiary school, Rucher du Luxembourg (looking like stylish Klu Klux Klanners)
More Beekeepers Luxembourg Gardens

Bee mosaic
Of course no discussion of bees is complete without mentioning their presence on certain Tarot cards.  In the Thoth deck, bees are found on the bodice and cloak of the Emperor and Empress, long associated with royalty who promoted their own intuition, wisdom and divine right to hold power.  Some believe that the fleur de lis (a stylized lily) is actually a stylized bee.  The Empress and Emperor carry over to The Lovers with their bee studded ermine cloaks, finally buzzing onto the ART card where the androgynous figure is wearing a green dress covered in bees. 

BEES -- spiritual pathfinders and communicators. They collect the pollen of poetry, honeyed words, sacred inspiration.  They nourish our souls & we can't live without them.

Lipari 4th c. BCE

***If you really want to learn more about bees from true Bee Priestesses go to Layne Redmond's & Debra Roberts 6 part series, live on-line video course:  The Sacred Path of the Bee -- Ancient Traditions of the Bee Priestesses awakening in our lives today. http://www.youtube.com/hatnofer

You can also listen to music made with the bees, Hymns from the Hive - http://www.layneredmond.com/Hymns_from_the_Hive.html

Layne Redmond’s musical career focused on the frame drum, the world’s oldest known drum.  Since 1981, she has researched the history of this drum in the religious and healing rites of the ancient Mediterranean world culminating in her book, When The Drummers Were Women.  

Many of these drummers were also sacred beekeepers, their titles were the Melissaes, which means bee in Greek and Latin and the Deborahs, which means bee or swarm of bees in Hebrew.  These ancient women, kept by their bees, inspired Layne to spend time studying the sacred traditions connected to beekeepers around the world. 

She discovered that the Sanskrit word, Anahata, means the unstruck, unhearable, celestial buzzing sound of creation.  Old texts from India say that the audible sound most similar to the Anahata is the sound of bees humming.  In the summer of 2008 she spent much time listening to bees buzzing and heard beautiful songs from deep within the hive.
End of the Day - Leaving the Hives
Anglo-Saxon Charm for a Swarm of Bees:
Take earth with your right hand and throw it under your right foot, saying:

I've got it,     I've found it:
Lo, earth     masters all creatures,
it masters evil,     it masters deceit,
it masters humanity's     greedy tongue. 

Throw light soil over them [the bees] as they swarm, saying:
Sit, wise women,     settle on earth:
never in fear     fly to the woods.
Please be mindful     of my welfare
as all men are     of food and land.

Les Abeilles - Tuileries

I am an image in stone
I was put here by Seikilos
Where I will remain forever
the symbol of deathless remembrance
As long as you live, shine, be radiant 
Let nothing grieve you beyond measure
for your life is only too short and time will call for you.

Epitaph of Seikilos from Layne Redmond's recording:  INVOKING APHRODITE



  1. Bee's have been a kind of totem for me ever since I went into anaphylactic shock from a bee sting at age six. I have a lot of stories about them. I love the Egyptian frieze of bee's - and that they were Ra's tears. Lovely blog Rudy.

    1. Merci beaucoup! love to hear more of your bee stories--
      this from my friend Jeanne: "According to ancient writers, the beehive was called the gate of man & was a place that souls [or spirit depending upon which source you are reading] pour through, to come into being in this plane."

      So Bee is an amazing totem for you, perhaps like a "sting of consciousness" an entry, an initiation at such a young age!