A North German custom and superstition is, that if the master of the house dies, a person must go to the Beehive, knock, and repeat these words: “The master is dead, the master is dead,” else the Bees will fly away. This superstition prevails also in England, Lithuania, and in France.
“In some parts of Suffolk,” says Bucke, “the peasants believe, when any member of their family dies, that, unless the Bees are put in mourning by placing a piece of black cloth, cotton or silk, on the top of the hives, the Bees will either die or fly away.
“In Lithuania, when the master or mistress dies, one of the first duties performed is that of giving notice to the Bees, by rattling the keys of the house at the doors of their hives. Unless this be done, the Lithuanians imagine the cattle will die; the Bees themselves perish, and the trees wither.”
At Bradfield, if Bees are not invited to funerals, it is believed they will die.
In the Living Librarie, Englished by John Molle, 1621, p. 283, we read: “Who would beleeve without superstition (if experience did not make it credible), that most commonly all the Bees die in their hives, if the master or mistress of the house chance to die, except the hives be presently removed into some other place ? And yet I know this hath hapned to folke no way stained with superstition.”
A similar superstition is, that Beehives belonging to deceased persons should be turned over the moment when the corpse is taken out of the house.’ No consequence is given for the non-performance of this rite.
—Frank Cowan: Curious Facts in the History of Insects, Including Spiders and Scorpions (1865)
Image: Illustration from John Levett’s The Ordering of Bees: Or, The True History of Managing Them (1634)