Honoring the Bien; For the Love of Honeybees
Author: Interview with Michael Thiele
Issue: Summer 2008: Honeybees as wise messengers - Issue #52, Vol. 13
Michael Thiele grew up on a farm in a tiny village in central Germany. He has been deeply influenced by the German biodynamic beekeeping movement and now teaches classes on natural and holistic beekeeping in the United States. He worked for seven years as the beekeeper at Green Gulch Farm, a Zen center just north of San Francisco. He takes care of the hives at The Melissa Garden, a honeybee sanctuary––including several “alternative” hives. Melissa Garden utilizes biodynamic methods and will seek Demeter certification. By extension, their beekeeper, Michael Thiele, is practicing biodynamic beekeeping methods according to the standards put forth by the international Demeter Association. Michael was interviewed over the phone by LILIPOH editor, Christy Korrow.
LILIPOH: Please introduce us to the concept of the bien. What does it mean, and how is it related to beekeeping?
M. Thiele: It’s interesting that, let’s say, maybe 150 years ago, before the introduction of modern beekeeping, beekeeping was not something special and not performed for any agro-industrial production. The crops, so-called crops, were not really the focus of beekeeping. It was just part of agriculture. Part of regular life. Culturally, the bees have always been important to humans. But it was not about the crop itself.
Then, at a very interesting time, when modern beekeeping emerged, meaning the Langstroth hives (square boxes), some people started raising their voice and said “wait a moment.” The tendency of the modern human mind is to approach the world through reduction and to look only at certain aspects of the bee hive. Due to this, the notion of the one-being was created ( Einwesen, in German) also called the Bien (bee in German is: Biene)
The concept of the bien reveals itself as an undividable entity. As something which is beyond the sum of its small and many parts. The modern equivalent to bien could be called super-organism. More like the biological term for this. A super-organism is something which goes beyond individual organisms, so this is what the beehive is. It’s something which goes far beyond its individual parts. So that is the basic understanding of bien.
LILIPOH: If we are to approach the hive with this in mind, then it affects the choices we make on how to prepare their home, where to place them, and in general how we treat our bees.
M. Thiele: Once you approach the honeybees with this kind of understanding, everything gets turned upside down, beginning with how we name the individual parts. For example, “worker bees.” Calling them this is so limiting to the female bees, and I always feel it doesn’t do them justice. These names we have for bees were derived from our own intention...Read the entire interview