Historic Housewife- Tell it to the bees.

Hello, my name is Pearl, you will have to forgive my lack of cheer, you see my husband Robert died this morning. It didn’t come as much of a shock, the poor fellow had been ill for some time, and as they say at least he is at peace now. I have to make the arrangements and tell the necessary people, including the bees that he is gone. 

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We knew the end was near, so our daughter Lucy had left her job as a live-in maid and moved home to help me care for her father. When he died, at 11 o’ Clock, I stopped all the clocks, so we didn’t have any more bad luck, and Lucy covered all the mirrors, and made sure the curtains were closed so Robert’s image didn’t get trapped in the looking glass. 

Then, I sent Lucy to fetch her brothers and pick up a black wreath from the flower shop, which would be hung outside the front door to let all who passed know we are in mourning. Once she was gone, I set about washing, preparing, and dressing Robert.  We had decided on him wearing his best suit, but left out the tie, because he hated them so much in life. When the children returned they were accompanied by the men from the local undertakers, who brought the coffin with them. Once Robert was placed in his coffin the men carried him down to the parlour where we could all say our goodbyes over the next few days. There were so many flowers surrounding the coffin, the beauty of it took away some of the sadness, and they would help with the inevitable smell that accompanied death. 

Whilst the men arranged the parlour, I changed into my black mourning dress and vail before going downstairs and preparing for the guests who would soon start arriving. Endless cups of tea and slices of cake were given out.

We had debated having a memento mori picture taken but he had been changed so much by his illness that we didn’t want to remember him that way. Instead, I cut a lock of Robert’s hair and I’ve put it in a locket, so I will always have him with me. Our home welcomed a steady string of visitors, as family, friends, and acquaintances came to pay their respects.  The vicar came by and we chose the hymns that would be sung, starting with Abide With Me and then All Creatures Great and Small, which was one of Robert’s favourites. His funeral will be held on wednesday, three days from now.

On the morning of his funeral, the undertakers will collect him and when they carry him out of the house, he will go feet first so he doesn’t look back and decide to stay in the house or take someone with him. Then we will follow him to the church. Afterwards, friends and family will come back to the house for food and drink to celebrate Robert’s life. 

Now the last of the visitors has left, there is just one task left; to tell our bees. 

Like most of the families around us we have several bee hives, not only is the honey wonderful, but we find beeswax candles give off more light than other kinds. Robert would always tell them the big news, when the children moved out and married, when our grandchildren were born, and now it is my turn to tell them about his death. It might sound like a silly thing to do, but I assure you, everyone does it. If you don’t the bees might leave, or die, or some other misfortune might strike the family. Some believe it started with the Celts, who believed that bees were a connection between this world and the spirit world, and if you had a message for someone who had died all you had to do was tell the bees and they would pass it along. If that’s true, I hope they tell Robert that we miss him. 

Others think it came from Greek mythology and that the bee was the symbol of the soul. It was associated with the goddess Demeter, and her daughter, Presephone’s descent into the underworld and therefore they were a bridge from the natural world to the underworld. I can see the link as bees disappear in the winter only to return in the spring, much as Presephone does in her story. Some tombs in Ancient Greece were shaped like bee hives. 

In Christianity bees monasteries became centres of bee-keeping and so they became symbols of industry and fidelity and virginity.

Anyway, the first thing I do is knock gently on the hive to get their attention, then in a soft voice I say; “The master’s dead, but don’t you go; Your mistress will be a good mistress to you.” I make sure to do this for every hive. Then taking some black fabric I wrap the top of the hive. With this done, I know they have been put into mourning correctly and all will be well with them.

Author-Gemma Apps. 

Sources:

Gemma’s Nan, otherwise known as Mrs V Apps. 

A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees. By David Goulson. (2013) 

Botanical Folk Tales By Lisa Scheidau. (2019) 

The Signs and Symbols Bible: The definitive guide to the world of symbols (Godsfield Bibles) By Madonna Gauding. (2009)

Victorian History. 

http://vichist.blogspot.com/2008/06/victorian-funerals-and-mourning.htm

13 Fascinating Victorian Funeral Customs. 

Amusing Planet. 

https://www.amusingplanet.com/2019/04/the-adorable-custom-of-telling-bees.html

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