Image by Magnus Manske
A Guest blog by Heather Awen
In early spring many people’s thoughts turn to gardening. Deciding what to plant and where to plant it, some start growing seeds inside while others make a list of flowers to buy and seed savers trade precious heirloom varieties. Gardening is commonly thought of something that people with yards only do, but there are many ways to garden even if you have no private patch of land.
This year why not plant a bee garden as a living shrine to a Deity or bioregion? Bees are dying in such great numbers there is now a term for it: Colony Collapse Disorder. According to Bees Free, http://www.beesfree.biz/The%20Buzz/Bees-Dying “Since 2006, North American migratory beekeepers have seen an annual 30 percent to 90 percent loss in their colonies; non-migratory beekeepers noted an annual loss of over 50 percent. Similar losses were reported in Canada, as well as several countries in Europe, Asia, and Central and South America.”
During this time of peril for bees, the great pollinators, an offering can be made of a safe haven. Traditionally Pagan rituals focused on the renewal of the interconnected world. Today with 2 in 3 bites of food linked to the need for bees, renewal ceremonies for the pollinators in practical form are needed. Beyond Pesticides One Page Fact Sheet http://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/bee-protective-pollinators-and-pesticides/bee-protective
states the biggest threat is “Neonicotinoids—including, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid—are a class of insecticides that are highly toxic to honey bees and other pollinators. They are systemic, meaning that they are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar, and guttation droplets from which bees forage and drink.” They not only kill the bees, but sublethal levels cause bees to get lost.
Photograph by Onderwijsgek
Neonicotinoids were banned in the EU in 2013 but this may be overturned according to The Soil Association. “The temporary EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides is looking like a fragile barrier against the political and financial muscle of the chemical companies.”
http://www.soilassociation.org/banneonics Unfortunately 100% of the soil samples from the UK’s hedgerows are still filled with neonics, especially the hawthorn, a favorite for bees.
Honey is connected to many ancient pagan sacred rituals while Deities of flowers are abundant. In folklore Fairies are connected to flowers. Eco-pagans working to regenerate the land where they live recognize the important role of flowers, bees and other pollinators. No matter what your spiritual path, creating a native flower garden for bees is a practical ceremony that can be a living temple or offering to whomever or whatever you consider sacred. Consider it for a group ritual or a private meditation.
Your living shrine could be a container garden, a flower box, seed balls thrown into vacant lots, guerrilla gardening or planting flowers in the land where you live. Even if you are an apartment dweller there are many ways in which you can create a bee garden.
Step 1: Who (besides the bees!) is your bee sanctuary a living shrine for?
In designing a garden the first thing is to decide who will be the recipient of this devotion. If you are bioregional animist take time getting to know the place where you will be gardening. Listen to its needs, to its past, intuit its hopes for its future. Research what the land was like before industrial civilization changed it so drastically. Look carefully and talk to the land about the garden and sense what it needs. There are a lot of benefits which the land may want to hear about such as bringing beauty to the people and how that could result in the land being treated differently . When doing this sort of work think of yourself as a diplomat reaching out to a land that may not have much reason to trust you. Form a relationship by being honest with your intentions and listening to the environment. Any vow that you make about tending to the garden including watering be certain you will keep. You are not just creating a place where bees can pollinate; you are reestablishing a sacred relationship with place.
Whether you are a hard polytheist, believe that the different gods and goddesses are aspects of the divine or a duotheist Wiccan and believe that all goddesses are version of the Lady and all gods to be versions of the Lord, there are many Deities connected to flowers and honey for who you can plant a living temple. If there is one with whom you have a strong relationship or one with whom you would like to develop strong relationship, consider dedicating the garden to Her or Him. You can also dedicate the garden to several Deities perhaps, arrange a section for the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone or have yellow flowers for a solar Goddess and red flowers for a sacrificed God. Most of all follow your intuition. Please take a look at the following information about the Gods and Goddesses in ancient Pagan cultures and imagine how important the bee must have been.
In the Germanic tradition we have Freya, with flowers falling from her hair; Freyr’s female helper Beyla whose name is suspected to be connected to honey, from
Photo by Umberto Brayj
which the sacred mead is made; and the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the Dawn and Spring Eostre. Brythonic Britain gives us Blodeuedd “flower face;” Flora is the Sabine Roman goddess of flowers and springtime; Gaelic Scottish Bride is the Goddess of Spring; and the Gaelic Airmid is a healing Goddess of herbalism. Maia is an ancient Italic goddess of Springtime; Mycenaean Goddess Potnia is called “The Pure Mother Bee”; and the Greek nymph Chloris is associated with flowers, transforming many Divine heroes into flowers such as Hyacinth and Crocus. Hindu goddess Parvati kills a demon by stinging him from the bees that come from her body. Bhramari is the Hindu Goddess of bees, Austeja is the Lithuanian Goddess of bees while the Mayan Goddess of bees is Colel Cab. Mayan fertility Goddess Xochiquetzal’s name means “flower standing upright;” the blossom Princess Konohanasakuya-hime comes from Japan; and the Yoruban Orisha Oshun loves honey as an offering.
The world of flowers and bees is not limited to the feminine. Ah-Muzen-Cab is a Mayan bee God; the Egyptian sun god Ra’s tears turned to bees when they landed on desert sand; and the Hindu love God Kamadeva’s bowstring is made from honeybees. Melissus “honey man” comes from Crete; Aristaeus is the Greek God of beekeeping; and the Lithuanian God of bees is Bublias. Chinese mythology has the 12 Deities of Flowers. In Haitian Vodou Papa Simbi is the herbal healer and magician and Grand Bois is associated with trees and herbs, often given offerings of honey. The Egyptian fertility God Min is offered honey.
Wiccans could create gardens for the Triple Goddess, perhaps focusing on the Maiden or Mother depending on the type of flowers planted. If focusing on flowers of the underworld, the shrine could be for the Crone. The Green Man is an obvious candidate for a fertility pollination garden. If you are a bioregional animist these bee gardens are be offerings to the spirits of place.
Different deities are associated with different flowers. The Lily was a symbol for Ishtar, Hera, Juno and later the Virgin Mary, and of Upper Egypt. Venus and Epona both received roses as offerings. In Scotland Bride brings snowdrops with her in the Spring. In Greece the red anemone is linked to the death of Adonis while the violet is the blood from Attis, killed while hunting a wild boar. Carnations in Mexico are the flowers of the dead. Asphodel is the flower of the underworld, sacred to Hades. Ganesh Jee is known to love red flowers. Irish Diarmaid and Grainne made beds out of Heather to hide when they eloped. Celtic water goddess Coventina is depicted holding a water lily. Freya is associated with milkwort, cowslip, primrose and daisies “day’s eye.” The roots of Aster, the “starflower” of the Greeks, were crushed and fed to bees in poor health. When Virgo scattered star dust to the earth it became aster flowers. The Greek goddess Iris led the souls of dead women to the Elysian Fields, so purple irises were planted on the graves of women. Pansies were white until pierced by Cupid’s arrow when they turned purple. A maiden named Clytie fell in love with the sun God Helios who abandoned her and the Gods turned her into a sunflower. The Brythonic Olwen’s name means “white clover.” Weyland the Smith used to be left Valerian in exchange for horseshoes.
If planting a garden for the Good People, land spirits or elves consider some of these flowers. Fairies love strawberries and St. John’s wort. In folklore fairies meet in gardens of chrysanthemums. The spear thistle is the emblem for Scotland. In Wales foxglove or Maneg Ellyllyn (“the Good People’s Glove”) is sacred to fairies. Elecompane is a good offering for the Alfar who, like the Fey, also love Sweet Cicely. The Dutch called Rosemary “elf leaf” and once believed it to be haunted by elves. Daisies are helpful with forming relationships with nature spirits who also connect strongly to the highly poisonous Lily of the Valley, which should never be transplanted lest the land be offended.
Honey is part of the ambrosia of the gods of Olympus; one of the five ingredients for the elixir of immortality in Hinduism; the basis of the Scandinavian holy drink mead, while in Buddhist myth Buddha made peace among his disciples when a monkey brought him honey to eat. Even the oracles at Delphi originally are thought to be connected with honey.
Obviously honey has been an important part of human ritual for centuries! In the nation of Georgia archaeologists have found honey in an ancient tomb about 5000 years old. The dead had three different varieties of honey for the journey to the Afterlife.
Photo by Severnjc
Step 2: Designing the Garden
In planning where your garden will be check where the sunlight is at different times during the day. Bees like sunny places with protection from the wind. Most packages of seeds will tell you how much sun the plant needs and may say what soil conditions are best. Some plants like sandy soil while others prefer clay. Your seed or plant seller should be able to help. In a container garden the right soil seems especially important.
Here is a list of common plants that bees especially love:
English lavender Lavandula
Giant hyssop Agastache
Globe thistle Echinops
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia
Creosote bush Larrea
Joe-pye weed Eupatorium
Oregon grape Berberis
Purple coneflower Echinacea
Wild buckwheat Eriogonum
(Remember to make sure that they are native to where you live.)
Bees also feast on the flowers in vegetable gardens, especially:
Image by Wojsyl
Bees like variety, especially the colors blue, purple, white and yellow. Because different bees have different tongue lengths, include a variety of shapes of flowers. To keep them fed all season, plant a few varieties that bloom in spring, summer and autumn.
Plants that are traditionally considered weeds are the sturdiest. They make flowers, too, and many of them are helpful medicinal magickal or culinary herbs. We have seen bees excited about lemon balm and oregano. You may want to consider having your flower shrine double as a garden for cooking, magick and medicine, which may tie into any deities to whom you devoted the garden.
If you are buying seeds be positive that they are organic seeds, with nothing that could kill the bees. Beyond Pesticides has a webpage dedicated to the safe companies in the US. http://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/bee-protective-pollinators-and-pesticides/what-can-you-do/pollinator-friendly-seed-directory Look for heirloom, organic seeds if you can because those are plants in danger of becoming extinct and we want lots of diversity. Be sure to focus on native wildflowers which will be hearty and support the entire ecosystem. You do not want to risk harming the bioregion while doing something to help it. Every area has a beautiful diverse variety of indigenous plants. Many stores sell an organic native wildflower mix. eNature has a state guide for the US, http://www.enature.com/native_invasive/ Bee Happy Plants https://beehappyplants.co.uk/ready-ship-bee-pastures/
lists organic pre-19th Century Pollinator Cover Crops (which you could buy from them) or you can look online.
Finally if you need to, buy organic soil at your local garden shop.
If you do not have a patch of land where you can plant flowers perhaps you have a windowsill, rooftop, stone patio or balcony where you can have a container garden. There are many resources for creating a container garden. Check your local library or these websites Rhode’s Organic Life http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/container-gardening-101
And Popular Mechanics http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/lawn-garden/how-to/g59/container-gardening-460709/
(Please remember Popular Mechanics is not about organic gardening.) Avoid shipping pallets as they have chemicals sprayed on them to prevent rotting, plastic as it leaches off chemicals and other containers that may be toxic.
Another option is guerrilla gardening. From WikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Start-Guerrilla-Gardening
“Guerrilla gardening is a term used to describe the unauthorized cultivation of plants or crops on vacant public or private land. For some practitioners, Guerrilla Gardening is a political statement about land rights or reform; for others, it is primarily an opportunity to beautify and improve neglected, barren or overgrown spaces. Guerrilla gardening can be conducted either via secretive night missions or openly in an attempt to engage others in the idea of community improvement….”
Many of the community gardens in New York City were guerrilla gardens in the 1970s. Guerrilla gardening is very popular in Europe especially England. Where there has been gay bashing pansies have been planted and recently there was an international sunflower guerrilla gardening event. The Guerilla Gardening blog has a Getting Started page http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ggwar.html
to help you with the process as does WikiHow. http://www.wikihow.com/Start-Guerrilla-Gardening (Remember, you will have to return for watering and caring for the plants.)
Seed balls are actually a farming technique started by Fukuoka which has caught on with many people. “Homemade seed balls are a clever way to sow seeds (single species or a mix) without digging. It’s inexpensive, easy and you can cover a lot of ground. They are just scattered onto the soil surface, not buried. Then they just sit there, ensconced in their mud-and-compost ball until it rains, safe from birds, rodents, drying out, and they won’t blow away. They are especially useful in areas with unpredictable rainfall.” Explains permies.com
with great instructions on to make them. The balls are made of clay, compost and seeds, one of which should be a nitrogen fixer like Clover. Bees love Clover. Making seed balls is not hard and it is a fun group project. The Druid’s Garden https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/making-seed-balls-and-scattering-seeds-for-wildtending/
has the most truly environmental way to make seed balls, although many of us probably won’t be able to locate clay locally. (Please note that in the Druid Garden blog post there is no nitrogen fixer added to the seed balls because these balls are going into places where there already are a lot of nitrogen fixer is growing. Their post is about restoring native medicinal plants to the land.) Other instructions may be found at Mother Earth Living http://www.motherearthliving.com/gardening/how-to-make-seed-balls.aspx
Step 3: Ceremony for the Shrine
Let the process of gardening be an act of magic. If making seed balls, envision peace, health and safety for the community. Bless all the seed balls at the end with a sacred intention for the land. If working with a group, chanting or singing as you make them can enhance the ritual atmosphere, even creating a trance state.
Planting in your yard or containers offers you a chance to experience a new form of moving meditation. How you approach guerilla gardening may require different enchantments. Planting at night with a lookout, you may want to ask for invisibility. Many people have stated that planting during the day, especially if they look like a city worker (some even wear a neon vest), makes them almost invisible because they act as if they are “just doing my job, sir.” If you are on friendly terms with your neighbors, they probably will be happy you are planting flowers in the abandoned hole where once there was a tree or nailing flower boxes on to the fence. Some businesses have space for flowers but no money for landscapers and could be receptive to you brightening up their storefront or parking lot, especially when you mention you will be returning to care for the plants.
If your bee garden is going to be for a deity you might want to think about painting, wood carving or making a mosaic sign in honor of that deity, perhaps something like “Flora’s Sacred Shrine,” “Potnia’s Protection” or “The Field of Mead.” Symbols related to that God or Goddess can be painted onto the pots, buried into the ground or hung from a fence or tree. Images of bees or honeycombs, the Gods drinking their honey drinks, and open flowers are all appropriate. Finding images at the garden store for a Fairy garden should not be hard.
When the flowers are in bloom and the space feels settled consider having a dedication ceremony. Perhaps invite some like-minded people over and explain how you are working with nature to repair the damage from Colony Collapse Disorder. Let them know the dangers of pesticides. A group meditation to raise energy to attract bees or requests to the Deity for whom it is a living shrine about honey and nectar could be the central focus of the ritual. Then drink mead or eat honey sweetened cakes as people sign international online petitions about protecting bees at Care2 and http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/673/611/950/
Greenpeace http://sos-bees.org/#petition to cement the energy in the political world. Toast to the sweetness of life and bees themselves. Tending to the living temple (not needed with seed balls) continues your offering to the land, Fey ones, Deities and bees.
Imagine garden after garden united in the sacred return of the blessed bee!
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