The law of the beekeeper and the goodness of sharing

The law of the beekeeper is found in the Bech Bretha (Bee Judgments) – set of laws governing the keeping of bees and also the distribution of their bounty. It exists in The Brehon Laws – the indigenous Irish system of law, developed from customs from pre-Celtic and Celtic times, passed on orally from one generation to the next. Documented In the 7th century AD and surviving in practice until supplanted by the English common law in the 17th century. What it shows is the fostering of sharing in establishing/maintaining communal cohesion.

The following extracts serve as a sample and example:

• If a person found/tended or harvested a swarm in a faithche (a small green surrounding/belonging to a house/family) then one-fourth of the produce to the end of a year was entitled to the finder/tender with the remaining three-fourths due to the owner of the house.

• If a person found/tended or harvested a swarm in a tree growing in a faithche then the split was one-half each of the produce for a year between finder and land owner.

• If the swarm was found/nurtured in land which was not a green but still private property then the finders/tenders portion was one-third with the remainder to the owner of the land.

• If the swarm was found/nurtured in waste land or location not belonging to an individual, but rather the common property of the tribe then the finder/tender had rightful ownership/guardianship of the bees and their honey but should pay/supply a dividend of one-ninth to the chief of the tribe.

• In other locations/situations or where bee ownership was established by a single beekeeper the share was enshrined thus – because bees gathered their honey from the surrounding locality, the owners of the four adjacent fields/farms have contributed to the harvestable portion and so are entitled to receive small proportion of the honey.

The Bech Bretha goes on to recommend that if beekeeping is on-going in a district then after the third year of production each of the surrounding farms should be gifted or could claim entitlement to a share of the swarm to start their own hive.

Later this law would be echoed in the proverb Bíonn an rath I mbun na ronna – There is luck in sharing a thing Indeed there is luck in sharing but we must understand what luck is – in the Irish psyche – luck is good fortune – it is the positive energy of the day, it is the cultivation of good will. Yes the cultivation of good will – the manifestation of grace – the participation of life beyond your own thoughts and motivations.

Sharing opens the world, sharing brings you into contact with otherness, with ‘separateness’ from your individual self – uncoupled from personal concern you can join the world.

For some the mindful path can be all breath and no real life – breathing is key, breathing is a key but living opens the door. We can get lost on the path and removed from the physical world over the rim of our spiritual shield. Retreat and distance from the mayhem is no harm and all good but don’t absent yourself from life altogether.

Sharing is communion – it is communication with the interrelatedness of all life. There is more to life than the anapanasati sutra – mindfulness brings you into contact with the energies and reality of your living spiritual self but that self is not in isolation to every other self on the planet – share some breath in that direction – there is luck in it.

Luck and chance are esteemed in eastern philosophies but in an analytical west – luck is often seen as superstition. Far from it, the luck of this proverb is the manifestation of grace through compassion – through generosity of spirit – through sharing. Through being real in the company of somebody else.

Share yourself – participate with people. The monk in silence, the hermit in solitude, the guru in seclusion, the greedy beekeeper advances little but selfishness.

In the Irish psyche, Luck is fortune – fortune is abundance. In the Irish psyche we reap reward by not just harvesting but by sharing. This is evident in our ancient Brehon laws, none less than in The law of the beekeeper. Bees and humans share a trait – Ultra-sociability – the ability/desire to live in communities and be altruistic.

So today share a joke or a smile or a good story – there is luck in it. Invite friends over and share a meal and good times – there is luck in it. Share some of yourself with the world – there is all the luck in the world in that.

To explore more Irish proverbs and their positive psychology potential see the book – by time is everything revealed.

About The Holistic Gardener

author of wellness books, columnist, keynote speaker.
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