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For a Swarm of Bees


For a Swarm of Bees

For a Swarm of Bees is an Anglo-Saxon metrical charm that was intended for use in keeping honey bees from swarming. The text was discovered by John Mitchell Kemble in the 19th century.

Despite the ostensibly mundane intent of the magic charm, many scholars have seen the sigewif ('victory-women') as metaphors for supernatural beings to be called on for aid in battle, or a direct reference to them. There are similarities between the Anglo-Saxon bee charm and the 9th-century German Lorsch Bee Blessing.


  • Charm text 1
    • Old English 1.1
    • Translation of the text 1.2
  • Sigewif 2
  • Lorsch Bee Blessing 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5

Charm text

The charm is named for the opening words of the text that was found by John Mitchell Kemble,[1] which were in Old English, "wiþ ymbe", meaning "against (or towards) a swarm of bees".[2] In the most often studied portion, towards the end of the text where the charm itself is located, the bees are referred to as "victory-women" (Old English sigewif). the scholar Felix Grendon noted remarkable similarities between this charm and the German Lorsch Bee Blessing (Lorscher Bienensegen).[3]

Old English

Sitte ge, sīgewīf,[4]
sīgað tō eorðan,
næfre ge wilde[5]
tō wuda fleogan,
beō ge swā gemindige,[6]
mīnes gōdes,
swā bið manna gehwilc,
metes and ēðeles.[7]

Translation of the text

Settle down, victory-women,
never be wild and fly to the woods.
Be as mindful of my welfare,
as is each man of border and of home.[8]


Literally meaning "victory-women" or "victorious women", sigewif has been associated by Kemble,[1] Jacob Grimm, and other scholars with the notion of valkyries (Old English wælcyrian), and "shield maidens", hosts of female beings attested in Old Norse and, to a lesser extent, Old English sources. Grimm[9] offers equivalents for the term sigewif in other languages: siguwip in Old High German and sigrvif in Old Norse.

Among some scholars the term has been theorized as a simple metaphor for the "victorious sword" (the stinging) of the bees.[8] However, still other recent scholars maintain as was proposed in the 19th century that sigewif represent a variety of supernatural beings to be called upon in battle and are similar to or identical with the Idise of the Merseburg Incantations.[10]

Lorsch Bee Blessing

Lorscher Bienensegen manuscript

From the monastery in Lorsch, Germany, famous for the Lorsch Codex, a manuscript portion known as the Lorscher Bienensegen or Lorsch Bee Blessing, was identified by Felix Grendon[3] as having remarkable similarities to the Anglo-Saxon bee charm, possibly reflecting some common origin in pre-Christian Germanic culture.


  1. ^ a b Kemble (1876:403-404).
  2. ^ Bosworth (1889).
  3. ^ a b Grendon (1909).
  4. ^ Bosworth (1889) gives sige as a homonym for both victory in war and sunset and it is related to the Sigel (Sowilo) rune.
  5. ^ Grimm (1854:402) proposes wille instead of wilde for grammatical or poetic reasons but it does not fundamentally alter his translation. Wilde means wildly, whereas wille means willfully, as well as a literal or figurative stream per Bosworth (1889).
  6. ^ Bosworth (1889) gives beo as meaning both "bee" and "be thou".
  7. ^ Bosworth (1889) gives eðel as the name of the Odal rune as well as having all of its variant implications ranging from home, property, inheritance, country, fatherland, to nobility.
  8. ^ a b Greenfield (1996:256).
  9. ^ Grimm (1854:402).
  10. ^ Davidson (1990:63).


  • Grendon, Felix (1909), The Anglo-Saxon Charms 
  • Greenfield, Stanley B. & Calder, Daniel Gillmore (1996), A New Critical History of Old English Literature, New York:  
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