Telling the bees is a traditional custom of many European countries in which bees would be told of important events in their keeper's lives, such as births, marriages, or departures and returns in the household. If the custom was omitted or forgotten and the bees were not "put into mourning" then it was believed a penalty would be paid, such as the bees leaving their hive, stopping the production of honey, or dying. The custom is best known in England, but has also been recorded in Ireland, Wales, Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Bohemia, and the United States.
Little is known about the origins of this practice, although there is some unfounded speculation that it is loosely derived from or perhaps inspired by ancient Aegean notions about bees' ability to bridge the natural world with the afterlife.
Following a death in the household, there were several ways in which bees were to be informed and, therefore, put into proper mourning.