A group of Ashland beekeepers believe honeybees are more than just insects that happen to help gardeners and farmers.
They see bees as sacred and conscious beings that need to be loved and cared for because their "magic" with pollen, nectar and honey hold the web of earthly life together.
At Ashland's Goddess Temple, which operates out of Jackson WellSprings on Highway 99, the beekeepers have set up apiaries (colonies of hives) to pollinate their big, organic, vegetable gardens and to foster plant life in the surrounding five-mile area. They've also started College of the Melissae, whose graduates study the craft, science and ritual surrounding honeybees.
The Melissae believe the biosphere is threatened by human activity and that the wisdom of honeybees can help show us how to live in balance with nature, says chief beekeeper and college director Laura Ferguson.
"As we develop a deeper relationship with the bees, we find it's a tender and intimate experience," says Ferguson. "And as we learn what they want, it's clear that's what the Earth wants, for its own health, survival and happiness."
Like bee-whisperers, the Melissae speak lovingly of their intimate kinship with the creatures. Each of the 24 hives is shepherded by a Melissa who names her queen bee, with such monikers as Persephone, Chaska, Nubia, Britannia, Marina, Paulina and Pliedia, and they tell of singing to the bees and sleeping on the ground before a hive, listening and humming along with the bees in the night.
"They represent a love affair between earth and sky, and they serve humanity," says Ferguson, "And they have the most delicious smell, like a baby's head and breaking bread open."
"When you open the lid of a hive," says beekeeper Ruth Rhiannon, "there are 15 of them all lined up on the edge looking at you and determining if you're friendly, and they have face-recognition capabilities, so we become part of their constant song."
The honeybees are used in spiritual practices and wisdom-seeking meditations, says Graell Corsini. "I begin in silence and listen, then sing her (queen) name, the vibration of the sound current of her name. I ask my question. I empty my mind and open my heart, and I trust."
The Melissae are using the apiaries for spiritual and educational purposes and eventually will sell the honey, but only if the hives don't need it to get through the winter, as they do this year, says Ferguson.
The college accepts new students in March. To earn a "yellow cord," they will study for one year, including history, mythology, beekeeping science, hive management, service in the bee sanctuary and dance, music and chanting associated with beekeeping.
"We believe we're the first and only sacred beekeeping institute in the country," says Ferguson, "and several times a week now, we're getting applications and speaking invitations from places like Cambodia and Brazil. All this takes funding, and we need it. A hive costs about $250 to set up ... and we'll be seeking funding on Kickstarter."
To win a "black cord" in the second year, students study science and spirituality of honeybees, including fostering the surrounding environment. The syllabus calls for a three-hour class at midweek and one, five-hour Saturday session a month.
"Bees and humans have worked together for thousands of years," says Ferguson. "These are old traditions we're reviving, and as spiritual warriors, we're working to support bees."
For information, contact Ferguson at www.collegeofthemelissae.com or call 360-531-3017.