Give for them as they give to us
It takes 50,000 return bee-flights to make one pound of honey. With flowery meadows located at an average distance of one kilometre from the hive, the total distance travelled is 100,000 km. But one example among many that shows how much bees give us. Not to mention their immeasurable work pollinating the plants that are so essential to our lives.
Bees and human beings belong together. Anthroposophical research can deepen and spread our understanding of bees, suggesting how each one of us which can contribute to strengthening the vitality and strength of bee colonies.
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Bee colonies, bees and us
Bees are endangered worldwide. Their plight affects us all. What can we do for their health, to save them? How can we further the bees’ welfare? In this issue of Goetheanum Fund, you will find the background to these urgent problems and possible ways to address them.
When we look at bees and human beings, we can be struck by the fact that both have extraordinary powers that set them apart from their biological relatives:
- Among all pollinators, bees of the Apis genus are the only ones – as a colony, not as individuals – to develop their own body heat in the hive, to have a highly differentiated division of labour and to use a complex system for exchanging information. Among insects, therefore, they have a special degree of autonomy.
- Similarly, among the primates, only human beings walk upright, speak and think. They also have developed unrivalled autonomy: breeding domestic animals and cultivating plants, creating religion, art and science, and inventing economic and technical systems.
Bees and human beings belong together
A colony of bees consists of thousands of bees and a queen. The colony has a highly developed social structure, whose purpose is its general welfare. Each bee works in the interest of the colony as a whole. Bees are an integral part of the landscape, where they work to serve and enrich nature. At the same time, they give us their products. If we do not take care of them, what the bees give to humanity and to nature is put at risk.
Strengthen bee colonies naturally
Over the last hundred years, bees have come ever closer to human beings. In our latitudes, they cannot survive without our care and help. We are called on to find a better way to treat them. To begin with, we can provide emergency assistance, but that is only short-term symptomatic treatment. More crucially, we can foster natural bee-friendly beekeeping so that bees are again able to live from their own forces.
With care and attention we can reciprocate the bees’ precious gift to us: a natural pharmacopoeia. Their products are a blessing to us. To neglect or ignore them is to refuse this precious gift. As well as being responsible for the bees, beekeepers are representatives of humanity. Their vital challenge is to collect, develop and use ‘fair’ quantities of the products offered by bees – such as honey, pollen and wax – while respecting the needs of the colony.
Cave paintings show man and bees as equals
There has always been a close relationship between bees and human beings. This can be seen in the 8,000 year-old rock paintings in southern Spain’s ‘spider caves’ (Cuevas de la Araña). In this, humanity’s oldest work of art, we can see this relationship documented: climbing to a considerable height on a shaky rope ladder, we can see a thin, delicate figure approaching a colony that has built its comb in an egg-shaped, rounded hollow. In one hand he carries a basket, in which he clearly intends to place his harvest for taking down safely. This form of ‘beekeeping’ is still practised by today’s honey hunters in Nepal.
With its aesthetics and the ‘non-realism’ of its proportions between human beings and bees returning to the hive, this image is very moving. It is also surprising to find the figure’s head and the swarm at the same height. Both elements artistically represent the relationship between bees and human beings: suggesting an affinity between them.
“Animals are not only good for eating; they are also good for thinking.” In this sentence, the researcher Claude Levi-Strauss drew attention to the fact that the prehistoric cave drawings not only reproduced scenes from everyday life but also depicted a spiritual and religious relationship between human beings and the animal kingdom. Right into the Middle Ages, many representations tell of this double relationship: from the priest-beekeeper of Ancient Egypt, kneeling with hands raised in front of his hives, to the bee represented on the garment of Artemis in the temple of Ephesus or on the stole of the first bishop of Ravenna, St. Apollinaris.
Even today, we can experience the archetypal relationship between human beings and bees. We sense this in the echo in today’s media concerning bee mortality. The success of the documentary film More than Honey also says a lot about the subject. However, the real meaning of the extraordinary relationship between human beings and bees has not yet been fully understood. Understanding this is a task that calls on all beekeepers and interested people to pay close attention to the colony, its nature, needs and mission. The various articles in this issue of Goetheanum Fund focus in more detail on this topic: How to strengthen and save bees throughout the world.
Excerpts from interviews with beekeepers Martin Dettli and Johannes Wirz, conducted by Susanna Küffer Heer.