Bee sting

Mathias Maurer

The stinger is quickly removed, the poison sucked out, a slice of onion applied and some Apis Globuli pills administered. Despite the cool pad, the foot swells up mightily so that her shoe no longer fits. For three days Lena has to hobble about. Lena likes to play outside but since that time she gives anything that flies and could sting a wide berth. She carefully avoids the flowering lavender bushes which are busy with bustling bees and bumblebees, and when her slice of bread and jam is attacked by hungry wasps, she makes a quick exit.

A few years later, I see her standing in the school garden next to the open beehive. A few honey bees crawl across her fingers. With a steady hand she pulls a frame out of the box. The gardening teacher points out the queen. The children quietly and attentively watch the bee colony at work which with its fascinating social behaviour – which we often see as exemplary, but sometimes also as rigid – forms the exception among the 20,000 bee species. For the vast majority of bees are solitary.

Handling bees teaches us mindfulness. It changes and extends our view of the world. For the bees live in the environment of their hive and mirror the vitality of the flora which surrounds them. Their flight radius is three kilometres when they are in search of nectar. Wild bees pollinate even more effectively than their domesticated cousins and ensure agricultural yields. But a lack of biodiversity and the use of pesticides threaten their populations. Since 2017, the UN has declared 20 May to be World Bee Day in recognition of bees as the messengers of sustainable development.

Even the gods would not have survived without bees. Rhea hid Zeus in a cave on Mount Ida from his father Cronus, who devoured his children. The infant was fed by the bees who lived there. Zeus was under the protection of the Cretan King Melisseus (man of bees), the first beekeeper. In punishment, Cronos transformed his daughter Melissa into a worm. When Zeus overthrew Cronus, he gave her the shape of a bee. Since then Zeus insisted on having honey. Aristaeus, god of rural inhabitants, was instructed in beekeeping by Melissa and passed on his knowledge to farmers.

The priestesses of the goddesses Artemis, Demeter und Aphrodite were called Melissae and the Oracle priestess of Delphi was called the “Delphic Bee”. They are said to have possessed the gifts of prophecy and healing. The philosopher Porphyry reports that Demeter reawakened soulless bodies to life using nectar (ambrosia) with the help of bees, the mediators between the earthly and the divine – a reference to their action in the life ether.

Lena is not Melissa but she overcame her fear of bees. Her favourite cake is “bee sting” cake.