I posted on Twitter yesterday that bees are a significant symbol in my novel The Soul Guide and personally to my family and I. If your interested in finding out why, this blog explains all that.
Every since I can remember my family have always believed that whenever a bumble bee is near (and it has to be a bumble bee, not an ordinary honey bee) then my nan, Sybil, is visiting us from beyond the grave. Weird, I hear you say.
Well, before you click off muttering about how much of a loon I am, let me tell you the whole story.
Sybil passed away when I was just three years old so, sadly, I don’t remember much of her. But, I do remember the stories about her. My dad and my aunties’ tell me that she was always laughing, always happy and never more so than in the company of her husband, Sydney, her children and grandchildren. She was one of those people who lit up a room and kept everyone smiling.
I have vague memories of nan, sitting on her lap whilst she pushed her false teeth in and out of her mouth was one of them. I used to think it was hilarious. I also remember that she looked slightly different, she had a hair-lip which meant there was a scar between her mouth and nose, and her nose was slightly flattened. But she was always beautiful to me and to those who knew and loved her.
So, where does the bee link come in, I hear you ask? Well, firstly my nan loved bees, she wore a bee pendant all the time. Her gardens were always full of bees buzzing around the flowers she’d planted for them.
But the real link to bees came later when she passed away. On the day of Sybil’s funeral whilst we were all gathered at a family members house, I am told a rather large bumble bee flew into the kitchen and sat on the window sill. According to family, it just sat there for ages doing nothing, and those present felt as though nan had come to say, ‘hello, I’m still here, watching over you all.’
Then over the years more strange ‘visits’ happened. It was usually whenever something significant was going on, like a birth, or an illness. It was on these occasions when a bumble bee would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, and not always in summer when you’d normally expect to find them.
The first time I became aware of this family tale was when my nan’s sister passed away. I recall that my extended family were all congregated at my parent’s house following my great aunt’s funeral. I was probably around eight or nine at the time. I think it was the first death I’d experienced as a child when I actually understood the concept of death (I was too young to understand this when Sybil passed away). To me, my great aunt was my nan. My brothers and I called her that. She lived near us in Barnes and she babysat us often. I remember feeling terribly sad when all the grown-ups were talking, so I went upstairs to my bedroom. Earlier that day I’d thrown my coat on the floor and remembering that my mum had asked me to keep my room tidy I decided to hang it up. When I lifted the coat up there was a bumble bee happily sitting there, none of the windows were open and I couldn’t understand how it got into my room. At the time I hadn’t been told about the significance of bees to our family, but having run downstairs to tell my mum I was soon filled in.
On another occasion, long after nan passed away, my own dad woke up one morning with a bumble bee sitting on the pillow next to his head. A few days later dad was taken seriously ill and rushed to hospital. It was touch and go for a while and dad went through a long road to recovery after an invasive operation on his brain. It was as though nan had come to warn him.
Since then, there’s been lots of similar experiences. My most memorable was when I was pregnant with my son and due any day, I woke up one morning hearing a muffled buzz and felt something on my leg. I threw back the covers to find a bumble bee merrily crawling up my shin! Two day’s later my son was born.
There are many more stories that every member of my family could tell you about, each of them personal and individual to them. So, when I began writing The Soul Guide, I knew I wanted to include two things. I wanted bee’s to play a part in the story and I also wanted to use my nan’s name, Sybil.
Interestingly, when I began to research the bee and its symbolism I found out that in quite a few cultures the bee symbolises a link in some way or other to the ‘afterlife’. For example, in Aegean culture the bee was a sacred insect that bridged the gap between the underworld and the natural world. They are also known to be a symbol of love, and in Renaissance paintings could often be found near or around Cupid! I came across another traditional European custom of ‘talking to the bees’ where beekeepers would tell their bees about significant happenings in their lives; births, deaths, marriages and so on. Bees are also symbolic of hard work and family; (they live in colonies, and to survive must work together and look after one another, each having a role to play) their honey is a natural antiseptic, it promotes health and well-being. I knew very little of this before researching and it all seemed fitting given my family’s own personal story.
Take a look for yourself, the symbolism goes on and on.
Unsurprisingly enough, finding out all this information was perfect for my story, and all the references to bees in The Soul Guide are both a nod to all the strange bee stories my family have and also, in particular to the Aegean belief.
Take from this what you will, but for my family, whenever we see a bumble bee we always say hi, because we know Sybil’s come to call.