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.[1] The charm is named for its opening words, "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 sigewif, "victory-women". The word 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, similar to or identical with the Idise of the Merseburg Incantations.[3] Some scholars have theorized the compound to be a simple metaphor for the "victorious sword" (the stinging) of the bees.[4]

Lorscher Bienensegen manuscript

In 1909, the scholar Felix Grendon recorded what he saw as similarities between the charm and the Lorsch Bee Blessing, a manuscript portion of the Lorsch Codex, from the monastery in Lorsch, Germany. Grendon suggested that the two could possibly have a common origin in pre-Christian Germanic culture.[5]

Charm text

Sitte ge, sīgewīf,[lower-alpha 1]
sīgað tō eorðan,
næfre ge wilde[lower-alpha 2]
tō wuda fleogan,
beō ge swā gemindige,[lower-alpha 3]
mīnes gōdes,
swā bið manna gehwilc,
metes and ēðeles.[lower-alpha 4]

Settle down, victory-women, sink to earth,

never be wild and fly to the woods.

Be as mindful of my welfare,

as is each man of border and of home.[4]


  1. Sige is a homonym for both victory in war and sunset[2] and it is related to the Sigel (Sowilo) rune.
  2. Jacob Grimm proposed wille instead of wilde for grammatical or poetic reasons but it does not fundamentally alter his translation.[6] Wilde means wildly, whereas wille means willfully, as well as a literal or figurative stream.[2]
  3. Beo may mean both "bee" and "be thou".[2]
  4. Eðel may be both the name of the Odal rune as well as having all of its variant implications ranging from home, property, inheritance, country, fatherland, to nobility.[2]


  1. Kemble (1876), pp. 403-404.
  2. Bosworth (1889).
  3. Davidson (1990), p. 63.
  4. Greenfield (1996), p. 256.
  5. Grendon (1909).
  6. Grimm (1854), p. 402.

External Links

  • This charm is edited, annotated and linked to digital images of its manuscript pages, with translation, in the Old English Poetry in Facsimile Project:


  • Kemble, John Mitchell (1876). The Saxons in England, A History of The English Commonwealth, Till The Period of The Norman Conquest. 1. London: B. Quaritch.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Grendon, Felix (1909). The Anglo-Saxon Charms.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Grimm, Jacob (1854). Deutsche Mythologie (German Mythology). Göttingen: Dieterische Bechhandlung.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Bosworth, Joseph; Toller, T. Northcote (1889–1921). An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary with Supplements and Corrections by T. Northcote Toller.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Greenfield, Stanley B.; Calder, Daniel Gillmore (1996). A New Critical History of Old English Literature. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-3088-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Davidson, Hilda Ellis (1990). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-013627-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)