The title, Telling the Bees, comes from the old custom of informing your hive of important family events (deaths, marriages, births etc.); otherwise it is believed that they will leave or die out completely. Beekeeping, along with other traditional crafts, was often entwined with folklore, superstitions and stories, which is thoroughly investigated in this book.
The author Mark Norman is a keen folklorist and host of The Folklore Podcast, which is a wonderful resource if you are interested in any aspect of folklore. For a well-researched, almost academic book, Mark Norman’s writing style is lively, engaging and accessible and will appeal to anyone who picks the book up.
There are 5 chapters: Wool, Thread and Cloth; Bees and Beekeeping; Blacksmith and Metal work; Beer and Brewing; Milling and Baking – each chapter packed with all manner of fascinating information from anecdotes, snippets of old songs and unusual folk stories to noteworthy medicinal uses. I particularly enjoyed learning some of the origins and mythology surrounding each craft, especially singular world myths, which is a refreshing and positive aspect to an already well-crafted piece of work. Although difficult to choose, my favourite section was knitting (in the Wool, Thread and Cloth chapter) which Norman links to knot magic, used by sailors to raise a wind and commonly cast by witches in sea faring communities. He then brings everything up to date with a feature on Yarn Bombing as a form of peaceful protest. At the end of each chapter is a list of sources, which is extremely useful should the reader want to further their own investigation into that particular subject.
Telling the Bees is a well written and articulate book that will interest everyone, layperson or enthusiast, who wants to understand our rural crafts and the folklore that grew up with them.
Book Details: Mark Norman. Telling the Bees – and Other Customs. (The Folklore of Rural Crafts.) The History Press. ISBN: 9780750992152
Review Details: Telling the Bees was reviewed by Thea Prothero for Indie Shaman magazine and published in Issue 46.
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