I had an enlightening email conversation with a 74-year-old fourth-generation Dutch beekeeper who has been in the apicultural business since he was 12. Now, that’s a lot of beekeeping! Even though he learned the craft from his father and grandfather, Evert Jan van Tongeren remains fascinated by new ideas and the latest insights into beekeeping.
He says, “Although harvesting of honey is quite agreeable, it was never my main objective in life. It’s the reading about and experimenting in the bee world that’s holding my interest.”
In a colorful juxtaposition of the old and the new, Evert Jan sent a photo of his bee house along with some of its history. He explained that the bee house was constructed of 200-year-old oak timbers salvaged from the old torn-down bee house of Hackfort castle, one of eight castles in his village of Vorden.
Ban mask repels evil spirits
Of particular interest to me was the blue mask. It turns out that Evert Jan made the mask himself to fit over the opening of a skep hive so the bees could enter and leave through the mouth of the mask. Ban masks were used to keep away evil spirits and date back to pre-Christian times. Unfortunately, this particular mask didn’t fit over the skep entrance, so Evert Jan hung it from a post. Apparently, it still works because he reports that no evil spirits have been seen in the area. He writes:
“The ban-mask, with bees passing through its mouth, originates in pagan beliefs in which the soul was to leave the body through the mouth during sleep (dreaming) and at dying. It used to do so in the shape of a honey bee.
Imagine the thrill of a simple Teutonic tribesman as a swarm settled near his homestead. The souls of his ancestors could easily be amongst them. Of course these bees had to be treated with reverence and respect.”
Remnants of this belief, though disappearing, are to be found until this day, like putting Christmas wreaths on the hives at Christmas time. It’s only common decency to include one’s ancestors in the festivities, isn’t it?”
Other beekeeper traditions
Similarly, many of you have heard about the practice of announcing the beekeeper’s death to the bees. According to German tradition, if the beekeeper’s passing was not announced to the bees, they would abscond or die. Evert Jan says, “My father performed this solemn duty when my grandfather died. I did it for my father when he passed away and my son promised me to inform my bees when my time has come.”
Because swarm season is approaching, Evert Jan also sent me a copy of the Lorsch Bee Blessing, a magic charm intended to make a swarm return home. He said, “With the kick-off of swarming season it could come in really handy.” So, in all fairness, I will pass it on to you.
Lorsch bee blessing
Here is the blessing and translation provided by Evert Jan:
Thank you so much, Evert Jan! You have expanded my bee knowledge. Living next to a forest as I do, I will put this blessing to good use!
Honey Bee Suite