In his four books Charles Fort records thousands of and all manner of inexplicable phenomena, falls of frogs, spontaneous fires and unfamiliar objects seen to pass in front of the sun to name but a few. As a proud fortean I await my first personal inexplicable experience, my encounter with 'the others' and a sojourn to the 'twilight zone'. But, every now and again something happens that I file away in a folder called experience and label as funny-peculiar.
The Malvern Hills stand above the small Worcestershire town of the same name, its ridges and summits are scarred with the paths of many feet and its once fortified slopes have diminished with time. They stood as a muse for the composer Edward Elgar and soak their feet in mysterious curative waters.
On a gloriously hot spring day with a friend I was walking towards the summit of Worcester Beacon, the highest point in the county. On each side of the path the ground fell away steeply, the wind at our backs, the beacon ahead; humming a tune as we tramped along the narrow path, something by Elgar perhaps, doggerel more likely. In accompaniment the air around us began to gently hum, we look about, see nothing and press on. The hum becomes a buzz, becomes more intense and loud, behind us a small dark cloud of insects, pushed by the wind it heads our way. We hurry along, making a beeline for summit directly ahead of us, but it's of no use as we are soon encompassed in a noisy darting cloud of bee's, we crouch down, hold onto each other and wait for them to pass. . . . .
Befuddled! That was my best idea; my best defence, too crawl into a foetal ball and wait for the bees to buzz-off, no protective suit, no steel helmet or even a guardsman’s busby. I could have perhaps uttered a charm of protection against the swarms barbarous stings, witches, wizards and warlocks are said to be able to summon up and control such wandering swarms. According to Cornish tradition had I managed to throw my handkerchief over the bees I could have kept them for myself - no thanks!
The humble bumble bee seems to be a buzz-word for folklore and animals, no other beast is so closely linked to myth, superstition and tradition. These apian archetypes are a fire symbol, a solar symbol, the tear drops of the Egyptian god Ra and they have knowledge of all secret matters. Skeedly Eedly Eddly Bees sing a hum hymn of praise to the heavens; they foretell of wealth, greatness or death, of associations with initiation, resurrection and fertility. A wise man once said that the lone bee is the natural enemy of the tightrope walker.
Humbug! Perhaps, but bee swarms have their own significance:
A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly.
A new queen bee hatches and she swarms off with half the hive's worker bees. Founding a new colony the bees have to work hard through the whole summer to secure itself for the harsh barren winter months ahead. A swarm that has established itself early in the year has greater chance of survival and is more productive that one founded later; a fact not lost in the rhymes of beekeepers.
I related my tale of busy bee's busily buzzing to a friend over a pint of Enville Ale (more bee's - beware), out of the blue he said that I or somebody close to me would soon be moving house. No move yet but I dwelt for a moment on the bee's connection to our own houses as a reflection of their own hives, it is perhaps no accident that both the bee and the hive are powerful Masonic symbols. Mysterious magical Merovingian monarchs moniker met on Malvern’s' mounds! Christian allegory presents the hive as the Church and the queen bee within, the Virgin Mary. Bee's that settle on a house are often thought to be a token of prosperity or good luck, though some believe such a swarm will foretell of a fire. Common sense warns that a swarm that enters a house is a sign of ill-fortune; tradition warns us that it is an omen of death.
. . . bees on the Malvern mountains, bees that dart about us, vibrating bees whose buzzings induce a feeling of claustrophobia, a tight enclosed space atop an open hillside! I count silently to ten and still feel their tiny hyperactive wings about me, bullet hard bodies and rapier stingers. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen; their excitement dims, I stand to watch the stragglers catch up with their companions who tumble, grumble and mumble down the hillside.
It was once held that to stand (or cower as we did) amongst a swarm of bees and not be stung was a sure sign of ones chasteness and virginity. I count myself amongst the de-flowered; my cherry proverbially popped. As for the young lady with whom I was walking, a gentleman wouldn't ask.