“We are all in service to all of life,” shares Debra Roberts, Master Beekeeper, natural beekeeping educator and Founder of Holybeepress.com. As we wander together through her bee yard, she tells me that at this time in history, an unprecedented number of women are stepping into beekeeping — more than ever before. This is reflected in the swelling numbers of women in apiaries and also in bee clubs and associations all around the world. Debra says that most of the women beekeepers she knows are more about relationship with bees than business with them. The well-being of their bees is the priority. As Debra walks about her yard, checking on the hives, she reflects, “Some women I know, including myself, don’t harvest honey at all, and if they do, they wait until late fall to ensure that the bees have enough honey for their own winter needs.”
Debra designed and coordinates Ashevillage Institute’s Bee Immersions, teaches natural beekeeping workshops, speaks about women’s ways in the bee yard and beekeeping as a sacred practice, and is one of the remote faculty at the College of the Melissae, Center for Sacred Beekeeping in Ashland, Oregon. She mentors beekeepers around the world (in person and by email, phone and Skype) and is also a mentor for Hamaatsa, an indigenous learning center in northern New Mexico. This spring, she has been invited to teach natural beekeeping in Istanbul and in various other places around Turkey. In the fall, she will head to Miami to teach bee at an urban farm in the city. And at home, she will continue to offer workshops on subjects like “The Choreography of Beekeeping, How to Get In and Out of a Hive Gently”, teaching beekeepers how to navigate a hive as a gentle hulk among thousands of delicate and precious little bodies.
Women’s sacred connection with the bees transforms their yards into sanctuaries. If you have never visited a woman’s bee yard, you may be surprised to find beautiful objects everywhere… small things of beauty and personal meaning that are part of the sacred space and intent for the bees. From decorating each individual hive (because these are the bees’ homes), to singing to the bees, talking and listening to them, and making offerings, the ordinary business of day-to-day beekeeping shifts to something more profound. More often than not, after a woman has begun keeping bees, she comes to call it her sacred practice. In fact, Debra says that she and many of her women beekeeping friends consider they are not so much beekeepers as “kept by their bees”.