Interfaith Spiritual Travelers Jan. 8

Interfaith Spiritual Travelers — Jan. 8

Spiritual travelers
from all backgrounds and traditions,
sharing experience — seeking wisdom.

Debra Roberts: The Sacred Path of Bees

First Speaker:
When you first meet Debra Roberts there are two words you’re likely to hear right away: bees, and Appalachia. Debra is a natural beekeeper and international honeybee educator, speaker, mentor, advocate, artist, and writer. She stewards her bee sanctuary in the Appalachian Mountains, where she and her husband Joe live outside Asheville, North Carolina.

She travels around the world to speak and teach on subjects like:

  • Natural Compassionate Beekeeping
  • The Sacred Path of Bee: Beekeeping as a Sacred Practice
  • Love as the Ultimate Activism
  • Women and Beekeeping: Women’s Ways in the Apiary and How They are Changing Modern Apiculture

I am a honeybee educator, speaker, and advocate. I teach and travel around the world, and I am totally bee-sotted. I am not commercial and rarely harvest any honey. My bee sanctuary is right next to our house in the mountains of Western North Carolina. It is a place that is holy to me. I spend time there every day that I am in town. My path is to explore sacred relationship with the bees, to learn from them, and to inspire and support others in doing the same, and it is also to provide a safe place for bees to flourish in the world….

We depend on honeybees for over a third of the food we eat… It is my belief that many of the challenges in this world stem from our disconnect with nature — both within us and outside of us. When we steward bees in a bee-centric rather than business-centric way, there is an opportunity to learn about the interconnectedness we share with all life.

From an interview on With Five Questions.

Update: the original book title quoted in this article, The Song of Increase, Returning to Our Sacred Partnership with Honeybees, has been updated to Song of Increase: Listening to the Wisdom of Honeybees for Kinder Beekeeping and a Better World.

More at About Debra Roberts.

Part 1 — Opening check-ins

Part 2 — Debra Roberts: The Sacred Path of Bees

Part 3 — Seed Question

Part 4 — Circle of Reflection: Libby Traubman, Len Traubman, Polly Lazaron, Kamyar Houbakht, Seda Seyrek, Rabbi Diane Elliot, Wendy Berk, Rabbi Eli Cohen, Offuh James Offuh, Sonja Werner, Derya Albayrak, Akindele Bankole, Mary McHugh, Aryae

Part 5 — Debra: Further reflections

Part 6 — Closing check-ins

12 thoughts on “Interfaith Spiritual Travelers Jan. 8

  1. Pingback: A Note to the OWL Community | One World Lights

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  3. Yes, love to Wendy. Some of you met Layne Redmond and were students and friends of hers ( She was a deeply beloved friend who passed in 2013. She wrote a seminal book called When the Women Were Drummers, which really shined a much needed light on the history of women and the drum. She was a consummate documentarian and in her research for this book — of goddess cultures, ancient women’s spiritual lineages and traditions, and in particular, those in the Mediterranean — she discovered that many of the goddesses we know about were also bee priestesses. When I met Layne and fell into friendship, it is the bees that brought us together. She would talk and teach about the ancient bee priestess traditions and she would invite me to talk about sacred contemporary relationship with bees. As a contemporary woman, spending a lot of time with my bees, I can completely understand why a sacred relationship with bees would be in the weave of these ancient traditions. I mentioned yesterday about the ways that I find bees prefer I am around them, to be calm, focused, present, slow and fluid moving, respectful, maintaining a positive attitude and clear intent, and there for the benefit of the other (not myself). And one day, some years ago, I realized that since I am around bees a lot, these choices made on a regular basis (day in and day out, month in and month out, year in and year out) had become a practice, and a sacred practice, and that these were the same qualities cherished by every spiritual tradition I know. And that when I bring consciousness to really choosing to be this way around the bees, these greater feelings of devotion, reference, compassion, and generosity just naturally well up and spill out … over my relationship with the bees and with all life. Bees are the source, like all our relatives in the natural world, of a great conspiracy for good if we are paying attention. So all of this territory, to me, is very resonant with the great traditions that enliven the feminine (both within men and women), which can bring the feminine and masculine into balance. I cannot look in any direction on earth right now and not see a great need for this.

    Also, you may know that a hive of bees is almost all female. In a typical hive of Italian bees (which most bees are in the US), there can be as many as 50- or 60,000 bees in that one hive at the height of summer. In any colony, there is only one queen (the only fertile female whose eggs assure the future of the colony), some hundreds of drones (the male bees who in a different way assure that same future), and everyone else is workers (all infertile females who do the majority of the work in the hive and foraging for food outside the hive). In the winter, in the cold weather, the colony is all female (the drones are pushed out or stung to death in the late fall). So there is a unique female-ness that is part of the natural life cycle of honeybees that informs its experience in the world (and inspires those who spend time with them).

    I find it very interesting that more women are gravitating towards bees than in the whole history of bees and humans. This began around 2006 when the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder was named and a whole new set of challenges to bee health reared their head. I feel like women stepped up from a place of compassion, to help the bees be well, and not from a place of commerce. This is changing beekeeping. There is definitely commonality in all beekeeping practices, no matter the gender of person involved. And there are some lovely men beekeepers. But women are bringing their women’s ways to the bees which is generally more bee-centric, more “natural” / non-chemical in approach, can often involve painting hives and creating something beautiful in the bee yards (to receive bees and make an effort at offering a welcome home), naming hives (which creates more intimacy), not choosing to kill queens as a normal practice (those of you who have bees will have felt the pressure to do that from mainstream beekeeping “think”), and tending to grieve the passing of a hive (like the precious family of the gentleman from Nigeria who shared the story about the passing of his family’s dog when he was a boy).

  4. This is the poem by Libby Traubman that was mentioned at the circle.


    About Niko, on your second birthday From Grandma Libby Linn Traubman

  5. Debra,
    I’m curious about learning if there is any government policy in the U.S. — at the federal, state or local level, aimed at protecting bees. Are you aware of any? Any policies in other countries, or at the U.N.? Thanks. 🙂

    • Hy Aryae, I am not aware of any effective government policy at the federal level. Different states and communities around the US are more and less proactive. One great finger on the pulse is the progress Bee City USA is making ( – an organization started by my friend Phyllis Stiles that is based here in Asheville but whose reach is national. Right now, there are 35 cities in the US that have that status – they meet certain pollinator protector guidelines and commitments and then also work in a way that is most uniquely helpful to their own communities. In the US, especially, the chemical company lobbies are particularly strong and very intertwined with federal and state government policies and also with research funding in a good number of universities. So grassroots efforts like Bee City USA and other organizations are especially important (but that seems to be true across the boards these days, whatever issue we feel most passionate about). It’s another reason OWL is such a blessing.

  6. Any practical suggestions for attracting bees to your garden? Are native plant species absolutely necessary? Again, thank you for your warm and enthusiastic wisdom.

    • Hi Wendy, where you live in California, the floral life — the plants, trees and bushes in your area — will be different from where I am in Appalachia and also from other parts of California. What I suggest is contacting your local bee club (most counties in the US have them) because they are a treasure trove of what flowers bees are looking for across the year — which plants are “bee-friendly” in specific areas. Beekeepers rely on this knowledge to know where to place bees and how to keep them supported with the food they need. And they are really happy and seasoned in sharing this knowledge because the more non-beekeepers / bee appreciators who can plant bee-attractive plants, the better for everyone (wing-ed and two-legged).

      You’ll also probably have success with talking to local permaculture and biodynamic groups, and also to nurseries who are sensitive to the issues of chemicals and plants. We have some nurseries here now that specialize in what bees love and how to sustain a pollinator-friendly garden and plantings across the warm months of the year. Many areas in the US have a dearth time for bees – here that is often August and sometime mid-June – it is when there aren’t many nectar and pollen bearing flowers that the bees are interested in, when they are not able to bring as much food into their colonies. Your dearth times there will be different. So learning what to plant across the year, especially during the dearth times, is a huge service to the bees.

      And for people who have a little land, it is a wonderful thing to plant cover crops in the summer like clover or buckwheat. These plants have a long blooming season, including during the dearth times here. When the flowers bloom, I can sit in a chair near the blooms in the morning, watching thousands and thousands of winged bees are feasting. It is such a glad-hearted thing to experience. And when cover crops are finished blooming, they can be turned into the soil to enrich it.

      A last thing to think about – when buying plants from nurseries, make sure they are not plants that have neonicotinoids in them – these are systemic insecticides and now very, very common in nursery plants. If you ask a nursery, they should be able to tell you where their non-neonic plants are – buy those plants and support the nurseries that are paying attention to that. The majority of plants sold through home improvement stores here, for instance, are almost all neonic plants through some are trying to change. The problem with neconics is that as systemic insecticides, they are IN the plant (not like Seven Dust, an insecticide dust you sprinkle on plants which is a different kind of nightmare for pollinators). The neonics are expressed through the nectar and pollen in plants which bees harvest — nectar is the carbohydrate and pollen is the protein that bees live on. This ends up in the bodies of the foraging bees that bring the nectar and pollen home, in the food everyone eats, and also is retained in the wax (creating a slow toxic build-up in the brood area, where as many as 20 generations of bees can be born in a year in our area).

      Are native plants absolutely necessary? This can be hotly debated. Some people take a hard line on native plants but I don’t. I know some plants have found their way to the US and taken over and killed native species. This kind of extreme imbalance is unfortunate and I understand efforts to bring balance back in these kinds of cases (like kudzu here in the mountains). But there are many plants that have been introduced here that are lovely, like the butterfly bushes that are bursting with great numbers of pollinators who enjoy them in the summer. The world is a very global place and I don’t have a problem with what I feel is the inevitable moving around of life. Also, honeybees are not native to the US – they are utterly essential to agriculture now but are not native. They were brought with settlers and called the “white man’s flies” by indigenous peoples – essentially an indicator to them of the encroachment of these settlers and their impact and growing presence. The native species conversation in your area is probably as hot as it is in ours … lots of points of view. I’m middle path on this one.

  7. What is it like to connect with a collective like a bee community? I get communication with individual animals. I am intrigued with the idea of collective communication.

    • Hi Wendy, It is one of the great holy experiences in my life. I encourage people who are inclined to sit in a bee yard and watch them and even lay down there in the warm weather. I have extra bee suits for people who want to experience this but would be nervous doing this without protection (and that makes sense). I have sat in my bee sanctuary (and in bee yards in many places in the world) for thousands and thousands of hours. When I am quiet, still and respectful around bees, there is this opportunity for the so-called boundary between us to entirely dissolve in favor of the experience of the shared field of presence and awareness which is the only thing, in my opinion, that is ever really going on with all of us life forms. I find it very easy to recalibrate around bees and to re-remember who I really am. Bees are a brilliant old species and I am at their feet (all six of them). I feel like you and the other people in the OWL circle who gathered yesterday have an understanding of that same experience as expressed through such tender stories about animal family members and precious encounters with animals in the natural world.

  8. Debra, thank you for this fascinating OWL circle and for your warm presence. A few questions came up for me.
    Would you say a little more about about bees and the Divine Feminine?

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