Pushing Daisies: Biciulyste

November 24, 2010
This passage about bees comes from a book called Lithuania: Past, Culture, Present (Baltos lankos 1999). The English translation is awkward, but it still contains glimmers of interesting information. As the last country in Europe to accept Christianity (not until 1387, and then only reluctantly) and the center of what was once a vast pagan empire, Lithuania has kept alive many pre-Christian folk practices, including this one:

One of the most unusual Lithuanian rural traditions is “biciulyste” – friendship through bees. This is a very complex system with mythological underpinnings; it reveals the family order, the status of the woman as homemaker, relations between men and women, and generally speaking – basic social mores. Beekeeping is primarily a man’s work, and a woman has no right to interfere: taking care of bees is not unlike befriending women. This friendship through bees has become an auxiliary familial structure. A traditional wedding is the ideal model for the eldest son, the future family heir, to find himself a wife; taking care of bees and finding a family with no male heir, but with many daughters, is the duty of the younger, second son. The role of creating relationships falls to the swarm of bees, at the point when it lands and settles “where the girls are.” The people must then share the hives – and it is this manner of friendly relationship which can end in marriages between families.

Bees are considered intelligent and wise, and their queen – the goddess Austeja – is the guardian of families and married women. Bees can recognize good people; their response to people defines the public moral code, which in turn reveals the basic character of the people – the deep-rooted moral values which have survived for at least a thousand years.
 Bees dislike jealous and angry people who don’t get along with their neighbors, and misers who disobey the rules of hospitality and friendliness. Bees either sting such people, or flee. These bee-determined rules give us an insight in the the well-established strength of agrarian communities – which for a long time were the foundation of our European civilization.

For many years, neither bees nor honey were bought or sold; everyone had a right to beekeeping friendships: a peasant could be a bee-friend to a landowner as well as to any other, noble or less than noble, person. Inevitably however, this custom imposes upon the beekeeper the duty to surreder half of this honey to the landowner; this obligation, a gift in kind, later becomes a tax paid to the estate. All the same, beekeeping friendships remain alive to this day.

~ Source: Archives Bee Shamanism, Breaking Open the Head
Explore Medieval Lithuanian Faith and Paganism here.
PS: I haz beez making a home in my little courtyard!

One comment

  1. How cool! Bees are special creatures to me. I love the idea of bee friendships!

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