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A long-held grief tradition the royal family still observes

The world has watched as Queen Elizabeth has been laid to rest. News channels have covered every aspect of the Queen’s passing from family relationships, who is caring for the corgis, and even how the Queen’s beehives took the news.

“Telling the Bees” is a long-held grief tradition that dates back centuries, and–as it turns out–is still observed on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. The Daily Mail reports how John Chapple, the palace bee-keeper, “placed black ribbons tied into bows on the Queen’s hives, home to tens of thousands of bees, before informing them that their mistress had died and that a new master would be in charge from now on.”

While foreign to many, the practice of Telling the Bees has deep significance for mourners. Flip through this slide deck to learn more about this long-held grief observance from Amanda Opelt, author of A Hole in The World: Finding Hope in the Rituals of Grief and Healing.

  • Infographic explaining the origin of the grief ritual of telling the bees
  • Infographic explaining the protocol of the grief tradition of telling the bees.
  • Infographic explaining the importance of the grief tradition of telling the bees.
  • We all experience grief differently. Image: photo of new book titled A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in the Rituals of Grief and Healing.

    TELLING THE BEES

    1. Origin

    Though the origin of the superstition of telling the bees is unknown, it may have emerged from the ancient Celtic belief that the soul of the dead would leave the body in the form of a bee.

    The ritual requires that you inform the family beehives when a member of the household, particularly the bee-master, has died, or else the bees will get sick, die, or fly away.

    2. Protocol

    Protocols on how to “put bees in mourning,” vary from place to place. Hives were often covered in black crape, and some regional beliefs stipulated that you tap on each hive, one by one, with a house key before sharing the news… Some traditions required that you shout the news to the bees; others insisted that you whisper or sing the news.

    3. Timing

    While tradition held that bees were to be informed of all kinds of important family events such as weddings and births, communication about death seemed to be the most consequential. There are plenty of anecdotal stories of bees dying or leaving the hive because they had not been told of their master’s death.


    To learn more about the practice of Telling the Bees and other grief traditions, download a free chapter from A Hole in the World by Amanda Held Opelt.


    Meet The Author: Amanda Held Opelt

    Amanda Held Opelt is a speaker, songwriter, and author of the book A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing. She believes in the power of faith, community, ritual, worship, and shared stories to heal even our deepest wounds. Amanda has spent the last 15 years in the non-profit and humanitarian aid sectors.  She lives in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina with her husband and young two daughters.

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