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Early Celtic folklore and the mention of bees

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

By: Konni Vukelic

March is a month that has me connecting into my Irish heritage and the folklore and fun to be found around bees. In general Celtic history is deeply interwoven with poetry and folklore and there is no shortage of the mention of bees within those.

One of the earliest known pieces of written literature known to Ireland, ​the Song of Amergin​, mentions bees twice. Though many animals are mentioned, only bees were prominent enough to be mentioned more than once.

The line” I am a tear the sun lets fall”, is a metaphor for honey and the other mention, “I am the queen of every hive” further suggests the importance and understanding of the bee to the natural world and humans as a powerful and life giving force.

The old Welsh saying, “The day the bees stop humming the world will end.” further exemplifies a core value present in Celtic culture. Celtic spirituality understood there is an essential relationship between humans and bees and the land. This connection is often emphasized to impart the importance of the relationship between people and the land as essential to health.

Here’s the folklore behind Amergin, Bard of the Milesians, who laid claim to the Land of Ireland in 600 BC and a translation of ‘The Song of Amergin’.

According to legend, Amergin arrived to battle against the Tuatha De Danann of Ireland for treacherously killing their king. A conference took place upon arrival with the three kings of the Dé Danaan. The Kings agreed if the Milesians withdrew for three days they would decide upon a course to submit or fight. Amergin was arbiter and agreed since the island belonged to the DéDaans he and his troops should retreat over 9 green waves. If they could land again and conquer the island it should be rightfully theirs.

The Milesians returned to their ships and the Druids of the Dé Danaan summoned a devastating storm that threatened the destruction of the Milesian fleet. Amergin, witnessing the death of his wife and son, sang the magical song in a final attempt to aid his people and reach the shores of Ireland. He sang what is since known as ‘the song of Amergin‘ or ‘the song of triumph‘, which parted the storm and helped him arrive safely on shore.

I am a stag: of seven tines,

I am a flood: across a plain,

I am a wind: on a deep lake,

I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,

I am a hawk: above the cliff,

I am a thorn: beneath the nail,

I am a wonder: among flowers,

I am a wizard: who but I

Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

I am a spear: that roars for blood, I am a salmon: in a pool,

I am a lure: from paradise,

I am a hill: where poets walk,

I am a boar: ruthless and red,

I am a breaker: threatening doom,

I am a tide: that drags to death,

I am an infant: who but I

Peeps from the unhewn dolmen, arch?

I am the womb: of every holt,

I am the blaze: on every hill,

I am the queen: of every hive, I am the shield: for every head, I am the tomb: of every hope.

Song of Amergin translated by Robert Graves, from The White Goddess.

Bee Goddess from Rhodes, 7th Century BCE

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