If Honeybees Could Speak, Would We Listen? (Part I)

In 1923 Rudolf Steiner warned beekeepers that to continue down the road of industrialized beekeeping would result in the disappearance of the bees within 80 years. The first report of what is now known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was in November of 2006.  Since then up to 70% of bee colonies have collapsed in industrialized countries where manipulation of natural hive life has become the norm. The fact that over 70% of our crops depend on pollinating insects (the honey bee foremost among them) makes this an urgent global crisis.


My experience as a fledgling biodynamic beekeeper hardly qualifies me to speak on behalf of the bees. However, the story of what has happened to the bees and science’s struggle to try to explain their mysterious disappearance struck a passionate chord within me that I am qualified to address. If the bees could articulate the lessons of their last 100 years, we would clearly see that what we have imposed on them, we have also imposed on ourselves. The bees are the prophets of our own collapse. I believe we can and must change this outcome for the bees, and for humanity.


It is my intent, in a series of these articles, to explore this remarkable relationship between our human “being” and the “bien”, the spirit of oneness within the hive. Every dysfunction affecting the bees is also affecting our culture. There is no one thing that has caused honeybee collapse, just as there is no one cause for ADHD. We, like the bees, find ourselves in an industrial-based paradigm that has no future. What do we do in a situation like this? We create a different future guided by a new paradigm. Where do we begin? We begin where it really matters – the children.


Whether instinctively or knowledgeably, you have already taken one important step by choosing the Waldorf curriculum for your children. In the conscious parenting talks I have given, the developmental benefits of Waldorf are intellectually explored through the presentation of compiled, meaningful information gleaned from the work of gifted child development researchers. In these articles, I would like us to step within the “bien” on soul level, where wisdom guides and mystery gives vision to the future.


Throughout these articles, we will explore a number of pivotal stress factors leading to CCD, beginning with artificial manipulation of the queen, which I will call The Loss of the Natural Order. Each of these will then be used to draw a parallel to our culture’s model of childhood and education. Though Waldorf Education is built on a sustainable model, we are members of a culture permeated with industrial-based materialism. As adults, we can work to shift ourselves into a new paradigm through greater awareness and progressive change, at the same time creating our own version of the “bien”, a living spirit of community in which to raise our children.


The Loss of the Natural Order

Let’s begin back in 1923, when Rudolf Steiner challenged the industrialization of beekeeping. He was giving a series of lectures, at their request, to a group of workmen who were building the original Goetheanum in Dornach. One of the workers, a Mr. Müller, was a professional beekeeper. He was always quick to interject the very latest technical advances in beekeeping, perhaps to offset the unsettling otherworldly descriptions of the “bien” presented by Steiner.


The artificial breeding of queen bees had already been in practice for 15 years and Mr. Müller was quite convinced that these new advances were the future. Often the thorn in one’s side becomes the stimulus for brilliance as indicated in Steiner’s challenge to Mr. Müller and prediction that the bees would be gone in 80 years if these practices were adopted  – “Let’s talk to each other again in one hundred years, Mr. Müller, then we’ll see what kind of opinion you’ll have at that point.”


Since the dawn of agriculture, we have never been content to let nature take its course. Our meddling in the reproductive lives of bees, now 100 years down the road, has demonstrated that we are extraordinarily clever but innately stupid. The bees are willfully vanishing in response to our cleverness. We have applied our industrial paradigm to beekeeping. That means more production, more efficiency, more honey, more pollination, more production, more money, more, and more, and more. The truth of this model is that we humans are driven by scarcity whilst nature is abundant. The result? We have manifested a scarcity of bees! This is not a sustainable model.


In the “bien” no bee is more important than another, even if you are the queen. The queen holds the “grail codes” of selfless service to the “bien”. Her long life (up to 5 years compared to 6 weeks for a worker in high forage time) is the heart and spirit of the whole. Yet she cannot survive without the rest of the hive. Her mission is the rhythmic laying of eggs until the “bien” as an organism must rebirth itself.


That brings us to one of the mysteries of the “bien”. Typically, a hive becomes overcrowded in late spring when the first huge runs of fruit tree nectar cause a population explosion, and the “bien” shifts. That shift is palpable to any beekeeper.  It is then that the queen takes off with over half the worker bees in a swarm. Besides her singular nuptial flight, swarming is the only time she leaves the hive. She will have left behind a new virgin queen or one about ready to hatch. This hive will continue after her nuptial flight – a story for another article.


The old queen flies to a nearby tree limb and the swarm gathers around her as a single superorganism of pulsating warmth. They are actually in an altered state of consciousness and can easily be captured. An observant beekeeper will catch the swarm and take them to a new hive increasing the apiary. Natural swarming is the bees’ enactment of Christ’s resurrection. It is a high-risk necessity since they have only 3 days of food stored within, but the only option for the rebirth and future of “bien”.


Into that perfect magic, comes our commercial beekeeper – our modern Mr. Müller. This beekeeper is irked by the very idea of swarming. It is a waste of time and energy to rebuild colonies. He has a better idea. It may be lacking in magic but favors profits and it is very clever indeed. First, he adds supers (smaller frames above the main hive) for added honey storage and harvest but with a queen excluder so eggs cannot be laid there, disempowering her as the heart center of the “bien”. He clips her wings so she cannot lead a swarm.


He artificially inseminates the clipped queen with his chosen drone sperm (unnatural selection, usually for docility) to doubly deny her the cosmic nuptial flight to the sun, an act of freedom the beekeeper cannot see, let alone control. He has taken over the role of drone bee so he provides plastic comb with only small cells to prevent the queen from laying drone eggs, which need bigger cells. It must be plastic because the worker bees would quickly remodel wax to provide room for drone eggs. He wants only female cells for workers and potential queens and if he supplies the artificial comb they can get right to work without wasting time building the hive.


He breeds his own queens with royal jelly. He can sell these queens, wings clipped and artificially inseminated, to eager commercial beekeepers for $25. And since the egg laying capacity of even the strongest of queen’s will diminish over her lifetime, all the commercial beekeepers now replace their queens with his $25 counterfeits every 2 years. It is now a honey and pollinating factory, not a “bien”. The soul of bee has been destroyed. These adopted practices of commercial apiaries are just one aspect of the collapse. It is a $200 billion industry worldwide - or it was.


The Natural Order of Childhood

It is easy to see how the natural rhythms of the hive have been completely ignored. The spirit of the hive, the “bien” is not recognized in commercial beekeeping. Those who raise bees naturally can feel that spirit and those who use biodynamic practices additionally respect and honor it. This brings to mind the natural rhythms of childhood and the potential we have to raise children in recognition of soul and spirit, not just their physical development. It also brings to mind the clipping of children’s wings – the degree of control we have over their lives, their creative instincts, talents, and potential.


Our culture no longer provides a model of natural rhythms in family life that honors the inner life of our children. Bees are rhythmic by nature and so are we, especially young children. A child’s sense of security is grounded in predictability and the rhythms of creative play, reliable, attentive relationships, restful periods and, as time goes on, the important responsibility of appropriate tasks. As school becomes part of the child’s life, the additional petals of the flower of childhood open to meet a bigger world. It should be a seamless transition.


In today’s world, family life is no longer simple and rhythmic. Driven by scarcity – the mindset of a consumer culture - it is often chaotic, over scheduled, complicated by two working parents, single parenthood, and consequently, daycare. If children are not lucky enough to have a grandmother step in to care for them while parents work, they are left in the care of strangers. Fulfilling a simple request from a child can turn into a logistical nightmare. It’s easier to rent a movie, buy another toy, turn on the TV or setup a computer game to distract them. This need to keep our children entertained is part of a cycle of guilt that is hard to shake. Typically, everyone ends up on one or more prescription drug to cope, including the children and some parents cannot stand to be around their own children.


Children raised in chaotic environments without rhythmic stability have no coping skills. We no longer know how to protect them from the pervasive adult world, but we must. We must reestablish rhythms to nourish their souls. We must allow them to spread their wings living in a fantasy world of their own imagining, and provide them with a fluid sense of time in which to do it. Mainstream education is running on an outdated paradigm from the industrial revolution. When you have some alone time, do a web search for Sir Ken Robinson on U-Tube and watch his RSA animated short on creativity. What Sir Ken articulates so well is exactly what Rudolf Steiner saw damaging the children of his era.


Steiner created the Waldorf curriculum to insure that there would be conscious adults in the future to lead humanity through perilous times. Just like the bees, our manipulated, unnatural culture will collapse because it is unsustainable. It needs to collapse for the paradigm to shift. For that reason, it is important to establish communities living the new paradigm well ahead of cultural collapse to provide a model of transition.


Whether you are conscious of it or not you have been drawn to participate in a new paradigm by choosing Waldorf education for your children. I see a Waldorf-type school at the heart of these communities (along with a biodynamic farm and a “bien” of golden honey bees) because it is the only curriculum that can educate children from soul and spirit as well as the material world. It requires the restoration of natural rhythms and the spreading of magical wings. Children, like the bees, cannot articulate their needs. They demonstrate their frustration through behavior. We need to consciously follow that behavior back to the origin of dysfunction and make the necessary changes to create a different reality for the precious souls who have come to us in order to change the world.