Bee Folklore and Superstition: Telling the Bees

Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay

Bee Lore

Bees are a familiar sight around the world being native to al continents except Antarctica.  There are 16,000 known species and the most common is the western honey bee, also known as the European honey bee.  It is this species that this work mostly refers to.  Since early times humans have watched bees go about their everyday business and marveled at their sheer industry while being intrigued by the mystery of their societies.  This has led to the evolution of a rich body of folklore and tradition and many superstitions and customs.  Present here are a few small samples of this bee lore mingled with a few facts.

Bee Products

Bees provide us with many different useful products including honey, royal jelly, pollen propolis, wax and even bee venom. However, there are many other less obvious products of bees we depend on that are more important and more widely used.  Bees help pollinate many different fruits, vegetables and plants of all kinds which we make into many different products such as jam, dried fruit, even alcoholic beverages such as mead and much more.   They are not just useful to humans but also other animals and plants and are an essential part of local ecosystems which integrate into the global system.  An army of bees and other insects help pollinate these products and many other vegetables and plants used by humans. Without bees this army would be sorely depleted.  Our ancestors may not have realised the full extent of their usefulness but knew enough to want to develop an intimate relationship with them.  

Telling The Bees

It was seen as important for a beekeeper to keep his bees updated on any important information as news came in.  This was because bees could become upset and stop producing honey, abandon the hive or even die if not kept informed.  Therefore, it was seen as important that news that might affect them was broken gently but not withheld.  The origin of this custom is not known but there is an idea it may have evolved because people in many countries in ancient times thought  bees had the ability to bridge the living world with the afterlife. 

Deaths

There is a longstanding custom of telling the bees important events such as births, deaths and marriages that happen in the life of a beekeeper.  This tradition is found in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Switzerland and other European countries as well as North America.

When someone in the household passed away it was deemed essential that the bees should be informed so that they could mourn properly.  Furthermore, it was essential that the bees were informed of any death in the family otherwise some tragedy would afflict the keeper’s family or perhaps jinx the hive.

Image by Charles Napier Hemy – Public Domain

An English custom required the wife of the house, or housekeeper, to drape something black over the hive while humming a sad tune.  In Nottinghamshire the words to one such tune were,

“The master’s dead, but don’t you go; 

Your mistress will be a good mistress to you.” (1)

Whereas in Germany the song was, 

 “Little bee, our lord is dead;

 Leave me not in my distress.” (2)

In some places the head of the household was required to knock on each hive until he thought he had the attention of the bees.  Next, in a sombre and serious voice he explained a certain person had died revealing the name of that person.  Sometimes the key to the family home was used to tap upon the hives.

Funerals

Where it was the case that the beekeeper had passed away food and drink from the funeral was left near the hives for the bees.  Sometimes the hive would be lifted and then put down at the same time as the funeral. It was draped in a mourning cloth and rotated to face the funeral procession.

In parts of the Pyrenees they buried an old piece of clothing belonging to someone who had died under the hive.  Many people believed the bees and hives should never be given away, sold or swapped after their keeper had died as it brought bad luck.

In the USA in parts of New England and Appalachia it was important to tell the bees when a family member died.  Whoever was the family beekeeper would ensure the bees were properly informed of the death so that the news could be passed around.

Weddings

In some regions it was believed bees liked to be told about weddings  and happy events  as well as funerals.  A tradition from Westphalia, Germany says to ensure good fortune in their married life, when moving into their new home, newlyweds must first introduce themselves to the bees.  A Scottish  newspaper, the Dundee Courier reported on the tradition in the 1950s, stating that the hive should be decorated and a slice of wedding cake left for the bees near the hive.  A custom from Brittany involved decorating the hive with scarlet cloth which would allow the bees to join in with the celebrations.

Messengers of the Gods

There was a belief in ancient Greece and Rome that bees were the messengers and servants of the gods. Romans avoided a flying swarm of bees but not for fear of being stung.  Instead they thought they were swarming at the command of the gods and bearing their messages and did not want to impede them in their work for the divinities.

Ancient Egyptians believed honey bees had been generated from the tears of Ra, their sun god, that had fallen to earth becoming his messengers between him and humanity.  Between 3000 b.c.e. and 350 b.c.e., the honeybee was used as a symbol by the  pharaohs of ancient Egypt.  Similar to the Egyptian and Roman view, the ancient Celtic people saw the honey bee as a messenger between heaven and earth. 

Importance of Bees

Bees continue to play an important role in the ecosystems and their importance to humans is undiminished, if anything, as we learn more about the world around us it increases. 

© 19/08/2020 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 19th, 2020 zteve t evans

Folklore, Superstitions and Customs around Hertfordshire Puddingstone

Image by Chris Reynolds – CC BY-SA 2.0

Puddingstone Folklore

Hertfordfordshire puddingstone is mostly found in areas of England in the county of Hertfordshire and  Plumstead Common in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in south-east London. It is a conglomerate silicrete composed of pebbles embedded in a mass of silica making it very hard and enduring.   There are different types made of different materials from different regions. Here we look at the folklore, traditions and superstitions that have become associated with Hertfordshire Puddingstone.  

Supernatural Qualities

In folklore and tradition Hertfordshire puddingstone was believed to possess certain supernatural qualities and local people long believed it protected against witchcraft.  According to the parish records of the village of Aldenham in 1662 a local witch had a piece of puddingstone placed upon her coffin lid before it was covered over to prevent her from returning from the dead (1). Because of the supernatural connotations it was also given various names reflecting this. For example it was also known as Witch stone, Hag stone, or Woe stone.

However, there was a less sinister side to puddingstone, though arguably more bizarre.  Although geologists are not in exact agreement how puddingstone was formed local people believed it grew from the ground and gave birth to new stones which also grew and gave birth. Proof of this was seen when it was split open revealing many smaller pebbles and stones stuck together inside and was called the Breeding stone.  Because it appears out of the ground and said to grow it was called the Growing stone. A piece of puddingstone was given to the happy couple at weddings possibly to promote their fertility and bring luck.

This tendency for it to appear from the ground made it troublesome for arable farmers who can damage their ploughs upon it but its association with breeding makes it a good luck charm for dairy farmers  and it was believed to increase milk production. Pieces of it were kept in the milking shed for this purpose.

Uses for Puddingstone

Puddingstone was used in construction of the Church of St John the Baptist. (2), During Roman times it was used as a millstone for grinding corn.  It was later built into the walls of a number of Hertfordshire churches such as the tower of the church of St. Nicholas in Harpenden.  Nevertheless, it was not widely used for building because although it was a good material it was scarce. 

Puddingstone was used for grave markers and coffin stones and it was placed on top of the coffin to protect the deceased from evil spirits.  It was also used in this way to ensure witches could not come back from the dead. In the churchyard of Great Gaddesden there are still large pieces of puddingstone marking the graves.

 Despite having an unattractive  surface similar to concrete when it was sliced and polished it became something very attractive and desirable.  After it had been sliced and highly polished the sliced surface displayed a variety of multicolored pebbles turning it into a very attractive and beautiful material.  In Victorian times it was made into ornaments, jewellery and small table tops (3).

Lucky Charms

There are many superstitions centered on puddingstone and local people often used pieces of it for a good luck charm.  Because of its associations with good fortune it was also placed in doorways and gate posts. People also carried a small piece in their pockets for luck.

Names of Puddingstone

As well as those already mentioned, Puddingstone has many alternative names that reflect the use it was put to.  For example, to ward against witches it was called Witchstone or Hagstone. For good luck and positive purposes it was called Angel stone. It was also known as Plum puddingstone because it looks like a plum or Christmas pudding when sliced.

© 08/4/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 8th, 2020 zteve t evans

Philippine Folklore: Maria Makiling of Mount Makiling

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By kellepics – Pixabay – CC0 Creative Commons

Maria Makiling

As is often the case in many parts of the Philippines and around the world, mountains and volcanoes became associated with legends, myths and ancient traditions and Mount Makiling is strongly associated with a mythical female entity named Maria Makiling. She is also known as Mariang Makiling and is considered to be a spirit or forest nymph known as a diwata or lambana in Philippine folklore. Before the Philippines were colonized she was known as Dayang Masalanta or Dian Masalanta who could be called upon to stop or prevent natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or storms. She is also identified with the amount of fish caught in Laguna de Bay which is part of her realm and appears to be a spirit of abundance influencing the functioning of the natural world. She was seen as a benign spirit of nature that poor people could approach and ask for help whenever they needed it.

It is said that it is Maria who goes through the forest after a storm fixing broken branches and trees and repairing the nests of birds that have been damaged. She walks through the forest healing the broken wings of butterflies and clearing away debris from the forest floor and streams. Wherever she walks the sun shines and the birds sing and the flowers bloom and the animals frisk and play as she tidies up the forest after the storm.

Maria and the Mountain

It is not known whether Maria Makiling was named after the mountain, or whether the mountain was named after her. However, some people think that when seen from different locations Mount Makiling looks like the profile of a sleeping woman and this is said to be Maria.  In Philippine mythology, there are other similar supernatural entities who are also mountain goddesses or spirits such as Maria Sinukuan who are found on Mount Arayat, Pampanga and Maria Cacao of Mount Lantoy, Cebu.

Tradition says that Maria Makiling is a beautiful young woman in the prime of life and never grows any older. She is said to have long black shiny hair, bright sparkling eyes, and a light olive complexion. Her personality mirrors the enchantment and serenity of the mountain environment she is found in and she is also associated with the mists that often appear on Mount Makiling. In some traditions, her skin or hair is said to be white but in most stories, she wears radiant white clothes confuses people into believing the wisps of mist they saw through the trees on the mountain was Maria. According to tradition she lives in a small hut sometimes situated in a village while other traditions say her hut is on the mountain and can only ever be found if she allows it.

Tradition and Superstitions of Maria Makiling

Maria Makiling stories were part of the Philippines oral tradition long before they were written down. Some are not actual stories but more like superstitions which abound about her. One tells how that every now and then men who went into the forests on the mountain would not return. It was believed Maria had lured them away to her home hidden somewhere in the mountain wilds to be her husband. There they would spend the rest of their days in happiness and marital bliss alone with Maria in her hut hidden on the mountain.

There is another tradition that says that although anyone can go into the forest to pick and eat fruits no fruit should be taken home because this may anger Maria. Offenders have been known to lose their way and this is believed to be caused by Maria changing the paths to take them into thick thorn bushes, or become beset by stinging insects she has sent or led them into. If this happens the only thing the victim can do is leave the fruit in the forest and reverse all clothing which is seen as proof that they no longer carry the fruit of the forest with them.

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Mount Makiling – By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC Mount Makiling – BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Transforming Ginger into Gold

One of the best known stories about Maria Makiling is that she can transform ginger into gold which she does usually to help someone. In these stories, she often lives in a village as one of the community and is called upon to help one of the community in some way. Sometimes it is a mother with a sick child, or perhaps a husband may be seeking a cure for his sick wife.

However, when diagnosing the problem Maria recognizes the signs of malnutrition and poor diet rather than a disease or sickness and gives them ginger to take home. Invariably, by the time they get home the ginger has turned to gold which they can then sell or exchange. One foolish villager finding the ginger becoming heavy threw it away rather than carry it home.

In some traditions, Maria is a well-loved and respected part of the local community for her kindness and help. However, there is also a tradition that says that the villagers became greedy and went to her garden pulling up plants to see if they were gold. This distressed her so much that she ran away to live on the mountain.

A Loser in Love

In many legends, Maria Makiling is cast as a rejected lover. One story tells how she had fallen in love with a hunter who had wandered into her territory. The two soon formed a relationship and became lovers and the hunter would climb up the mountain everyday to see her and they promised eternal love to each other.  However, Maria was shocked to discover that her lover was being unfaithful and had married a mortal woman.

Naturally, Maria was devastated and concluded she could never trust the local people again realizing she was so very different to them and came to believe that they were just taking advantage of her good nature. Therefore, she withdrew her consent which allowed the trees and bushes to bear fruit and she stopped the animals and birds roaming the forest for the hunters to catch and stopped the fish from breeding in the lake. From then on she withdrew to the mountain and was seldom seen except occasionally by the light of the pale moon as she wandered through the forest alone.

Another legend tells how Maria would watch over a farmer she had fallen in love with. Because of this protection, the people said the farmer was living a charmed life or had a mutya that protected him. He was a young man of good nature though rather shy and reserved.  He would never reveal anything to his family or friends of his visits to Maria. Then one day the army came into his village recruiting single young men to fight a war. So that he would not have to enlist he decided he would marry a village girl.

Visiting Maria for the last time he tells her of his decision. She tells him,

“I believed you to be devoted and in love with me. I have the power to protect you and your family, but I now see you lack faith in me and need and earthly woman for your earthly needs.”

After telling him this she left and was never seen by the villagers again and no trace of her hut could ever be found.

The Curse of Maria Makiling

Another version of the story was supposed to have happened during the later years of the Spanish occupation. This tells how Maria was wooed by three suitors. One was a Spanish soldier named Captain Lara. Another was a student named Joselito who was studying in Manila and the third was a poor farmer named Juan.

Of the three, Maria Makiling preferred Juan despite his humble status. The two rejected men plotted together to frame Juan for the crime of setting on fire the Spanish barracks. Juan was taken and tried and sentenced to be shot as an enemy of the Spanish. As he was about to be shot he called out Maria’s name.

High up on the mountain she heard his cry but was too late to save him. Fearing her anger Joselito and Captain Lara fled to Manila. On discovering how Juan had been framed and shot she placed a curse on Joselito and Captain Lara and all men who cannot accept rejection in love. Maria’s curse quickly took effect and Joselito fell sick with an incurable illness and died and Captain Lara was killed fighting revolutionaries.

According to the legend from that time onwards Maria was never again seen by humans and whenever someone loses their way on the mountain they remember the curse of Maria Makiling and also of the great love she had for Juan.

© 30/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 30th, 2017 zteve t evans