THE BEE: PART 2 – BEEWILDERED
by ANDREW GOUGH
The remarkable service that Bees provide as pollinators of plants and trees and producers of life-affirming nectar has largely been taken for granted. Only when Bees started to disappear and actually die in alarming numbers did popular culture take notice, and only then out of a morbid sort of curiosity. But it has not always been this way. In fact, Bees were venerated in prehistory and revered in ancient cultures far and wide, especially Egypt. So how did the veneration of the Bee evolve from there? In The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford reflect on the importance of the Bee in one region in particular – the Mediterranean; “Bees have an ancient reputation as the bringers of order, and their hives served as models for organizing temples in many Mediterranean cultures.” As we shall see, these same cultures also worshiped bulls, and in doing so extended an ancient and sacred tradition into a new age.
A Minoan bull statue
The ancient Mediterranean is renowned for its sophisticated and artistically rich cultures, and the Minoans – a Bronze Age mercantile society with an extraordinary reach in overseas trade were arguably its first emissary. Few symbols were as prolific in Minoan life as the bull. The sacred creature graced Minoan frescos in palaces and temples, and the ritual of bull-leaping was an especially popular phenomena. According to scholars, the ritual consisted of an initiate leaping over a bull while grabbing its horns in order to antagonize the animal into catapulting them upwards, and while in the air, they would perform a variety of aerobic stunts before collapsing on the bull. The explanation lacks realism, promoting some to speculate that the bull-leaper may symbolically have represented Theseus, the mythical hero-king of Athens, leaping over the constellation of Taurus, the bull. Could this scenario represent the regeneration of the king’s reign and potency as a ruler – a sort of Minoan Heb-Sed Festival? Regardless of the rituals true meaning, one thing for certain is that the Minoan’s fascination with the bull was real, tangible and freely expressed in their art.
Bull Leaper, an ivory carving from the palace of Knossos, Crete
The British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans was the first to coin the name “Minoan”, naming it after King Minos; a mystical figure who commissioned Daedalus – “the cunning worker” to design the legendary labyrinth. Evans believed the labyrinth was real, not mythical, and that it existed in the Cretan capital of Knossos; the ceremonial and political centre of Minoan civilization. Descriptions of the labyrinth recall an image of a Beehive with winding passages guiding souls on a journey through the afterlife. And lest we forget that shamanic Bee inspired drawings in Aboriginal Australia portray what appears to be the precursor to the now familiar labyrinth design. Additionally, the ‘north house’ in Knossos has been identified by archaeologists as a site where rituals of human sacrifice were preformed, including offerings of young children to the gods. Might the Minoans have also offered bulls to the gods, and if so may this have been the true function of the labyrinth? Might the labyrinth have been an ancient bull necropolis for the regeneration of souls, like the Saqqara Serapeum?
Coin from Knossos depicting the Minotaur Labyrinth
In Knossos, jars called pithoi were used to store honey in preparation for the mid summer New Years celebration. Like many societies before them, the Minoans considered honey to be the nectar of the gods and an important intoxicant in rituals that honoured the deities on their feast days. Once again, Marija Gimbutas, author of the respected work, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe, comments on the tradition;
“Two lion-headed ginii clad in Bee skins hold jugs over horns from which new life springs in the shape of a plant. What do these jugs contain? – probably food of the Gods produced by the bee.”
Honey Jars – Knossos
Honey was also regarded as an elixir in Mediterranean societies; a magic potion that ensured a long and healthy life. The Roman Emperor Augustus once asked a centenarian how he managed to live to the ripe old age of 100, only to have the man reply, “Oil without and honey within.” The legendary Greek mathematician Pythagoras, whose life spanned the greater part of the 6th century BC, attributed his longevity to a steady diet of honey. In addition to being an elixir, honey was a healing substance with a variety of medicinal uses. Legend states that the Greek sea god Glaucus, the son of Minos and Pasiphae, was restored to life when buried in a jar of honey. The story reminds us of Alexandra the Great, who requested that he be wrapped in honey as part of his burial preparation for the same reason. Each example reinforces the belief that honey preserves the remains of the deceased, and in fact honey discovered in ancient tombs has remained edible thousands of years after it was first processed.
The importance of Beekeeping in Minoan society was expressed in many different ways, as Gimbutas recounts; “The Apiculture of the Minoans is documented by Hieroglyphs, representing actual beehives, engraved images and myths.” Further, Bee authority Hilda Ransome suggests that the Minoan hieroglyphs for Palace and Bee; “are grouped together in such a way that they probably denote a royal title.” Each quote recalls the role of the Bee in ancient societies and confirms that the old traditions were preserved into a new age.
Minoan Gold Bee pendant from Crete, circa 2000 BC
The Minoans were expert Beekeepers who taught the craft of apiculture to the Greeks. Once again, we turn to Gimbutas for insight; “Many gold rings of Minoan workmanship from Crete and Greece portray the bee-headed goddess or the same goddess holding bull’s horns above her head.” Below, an onyx gem from Knossos dating to approximately 1500 BC illustrates a Bee goddess with bull horns above her head, just as Gimbutas describes. In this instance, the figure is surrounded by dogs with wings, most likely representing Hecate and Artemis – gods of the underworld, similar to the Egyptian gods Akeu and Anubis. The image recalls illustrations of dancing Bee goddesses from thousands of years before.
Onyx Gem from Knossos, Crete – 1500 BC
Like the Minoans, the Greeks held the Bee sacred and featured it prominently in their mythology. Not only did the Greeks believe that honey was ‘the food of the gods’ and that Bees were born of bulls, they believed that Bees were intricately entwined in the everyday lives of their gods. Take for example Zeus, the Greek ‘King of the Gods’ who was born in a cave and raised by Bees, earning him the title Melissaios, or Bee-man. Similarly Dionysus, the Greek god of ritual madness, ecstasy, and wine was called the Bull God and was fed honey as a baby by the nymph Makris, daughter of Aristaeus, the protector of flocks – and Bees.
Additionally, Dionysus was said to have assumed the form of a bull before being torn to pieces and reborn as a Bee. Intriguingly, the cult of Dionysus consisted of a group of frenzied female worshippers called Maenads’s (Greek) or Bacchante’s (Roman), who were renowned for their dancing and who were believed to have had wings. Might these bull worshiping maidens have been Bee priestesses?
Bacchante leading the Dionysian bull to the altar, from a Bas-relief in the Vatican
The title Melissaios – or Bee-man, has a feminine counterpart in Mediterranean cultures called Melissa, of which Hilda Ransome informs us; “The title Melissa, the Bee, is a very ancient one; it constantly occurs in Greek Myths, meaning sometimes a priestess, sometimes a nymph.” This is an important observation, for the tradition of dancing Bee goddesses appears to have been preserved in a form of Bee maidens known as Melissa’s – or nymphs, and Greek deities such as Rhea and Demeter were widely known to have held the title. Additionally, the Greeks frequently referred to ‘Bee-Souls’ and bestowed the title of ‘Melissa’ on unborn souls. The 3rd century Greek philosopher and mathematician Porphyry of Tyre believed that souls arrived on earth in the form of Bees, having descended from the moon goddess Artemis, and that they were lured to terrestrial life by the promise of earthly delights, such as honey. Ironically, honey was also a symbol of death and was frequently used as an offering to the gods. The dualistic quality of honey is no coincidence, as the nectar and its maker – the Bee, appear to represent the very cycle of existence. One could say that as the Bee returns to its hive, so the Melissa returns to its god in the afterlife; the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning.
The definition of Melissa – the Honeybee
Bees, Melissa’s and caves go hand in hand in Mediterranean mythology – as we saw with Zeus, however the tradition may have commenced with the Bronze Age Mycenaean culture (1500 – 1100 BC) on the island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea. The island, which was featured in Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad – the first Greek work to feature Bees – and the Odyssey, is renowned for a sacred cave with a curious double entrance; one passage orientated to Boreas – the god of the northern wind, and the other to Notus – the god of the southern wind. The cave was home to Bee goddess nymphs – or Melissa’s called Nagaden. Here Bees deposited honey in stone containers and traveled through the Boreas entrance in order to appease the god of the southern winds, who was known for destroying crops and giving rise to the planet Sirius in late summer. The portal was believed to be a divine ‘Path of the Gods’ that no mortal was permitted to cross, and even today the cave remains elusive to the casual traveler, residing in near anonymity in the vicinity of an ancient Olive tree believed to be at least 1500 years old.
The ancient Olive Tree near the entrance to the sacred Bee cave on Ithaca
In many ways the Greeks were students of the Minoans, and one example of this is Beekeeping. The Minoans taught the Greeks the importance of Beekeeping with respect to their agricultural, medicinal and ritualistic well being, and the Greeks rapidly developed their own mythology around the practice. In the process of assimilating the insect and its valuable by-products into their culture, the Greeks would have been aware that the Minoan word for Bee was ‘Sphex’, and as we know, the Greeks renamed the rather indistinct looking statue on Giza plateau ‘Sphinx’. Coincidently, or perhaps out of respect for their Minoan elders the Greeks proceeded to feature sphinx’s in their own art, and not only was their design highly feminine, but it added an element not previously found in earlier designs; they added wings.
Two classical Greek sphinxes – each feminine and with wings
While the implication that Greek sphinx’s were inspired by Bee goddesses is both alluring and romantic, further etymological analysis is required before the notion has any real validity. However, it is safe to say that the sphinx appears to most to be the head of a lioness of some description. And curiously, the tradition of lion guardians presiding over a sacred complex – ala Akeru, the two Egyptian gods who presided over the Giza complex, is also found in second millennium BC Greece. Here, one of the most famous images from antiquity – the Lion Gate, hovers stoically over the ancient centre of early Greek civilization; a military and cultural stronghold located 90 km south-west of Athens that was known by the name of Mycenae.
The Lion Gate – Mycenae
Like the Bee and the bull, Bee and lion symbolism go hand in had in Greek mythology, as Hilda Ransome so eloquently describes:
“In a grave in north-west Peloponnese were found two pin heads, dated fifth century BC. From the volutes spring four lions, their paws resting on the cone, and between the forepaws of each rises a spiral ornament; in the spaces between the spirals are four bees, modelled with absolute realism, even to the veining of the wings. Between them are three lions, and on the bud itself there are three bees, each sucking from a small bud, and between the bees are three tiny sphinxes.”
Further, Ransome adds; “Another link between the lion and the bee is found on an Etruscan gem.” Like the bull and the Bee, did the symbolism of Bees, lions and sphinx’s once have a special meaning, now lost?
Mycenae also featured a Beehive shaped tomb style called thalamus. The choice of the Bee’s hive as the model for their most important tombs reinforces the significance that Mycenaean culture placed on the Bee in the afterlife, and suggests that its reputation as a symbol of resurrection may have been inherited from the Egyptians and Sumerians before them.
Mycenaean tomb of Tholos – 1500 BC
Archaeologists have also uncovered statues of female goddesses draped in honey laden tiaras, buried amongst other Mycenaean tomb artifacts. The finds are nearly identical to 10,000 year old statues discovered in Turkey that represent the mother goddess ‘streaming with honey’. The discovery of such a find in Mycenaean tombs is consistent with the goddess culture of the day and a society that was highly matriarchal. The statue also resembles the dancing goddess motif that appears to have originated in Sumerian culture before spreading to Egypt.
Minoan Bee Goddess – laden with honey – Mycenae
At Delphi, site of the most important oracle in the ancient world, legend asserts that the second temple was constructed entirely by Bees. In fact, the Oracle itself – the Omphalos Stone, resembles a Beehive and is designed with crisscrossing rows of Bee-like symbols, reminiscent of the ‘Net dress’ worn by Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky and keeper of the title She Who Holds a Thousand Souls.
The apparently Bee inspired Omphalos Stone – Delphi
Another instance where the Bee is linked with sacred stones is the story of the goddess Rhea, whose titles included Mother of the Gods, Queen of Heaven and Goddess of Fertility and Generation. Rhea was the wife of the Titan Kronos, who feared a prophecy that stipulated that he would soon be killed by one of his offspring. Fearing for his life, Kronos proceeded to eat his children – one at a time – before they, could kill him. The Titan’s strategy worked, except for Zeus, who Rhea hid in the Cave of the Bee. By now, Rhea was wise to her husband’s strategy and needed to be especially clever should she hope to outwit him. Thus, in a final attempt to save her only surviving son, Rhea wrapped a large stone in cloth, creating the appearance that it was in fact a child, and presented it to Kronos as his last remaining offspring, which he promptly devoured believing it was Zeus. To this day, Greeks hold their Easter ritual in Crete’s Cave of the Bee, the same cave where Rhea gave birth to Zeus, who in turn fathered Artemis, arguably the most famous Bee goddess in all of Greek mythology – as we shall see.
The cave where Rhea gave birth to Zeus © Maicar Forlag
Yet another link between the Bee and a sacred stone is Cybele, the ancient Mother goddess of Neolithic Anatolia who was revered by the Greeks as a Goddess of Bees and Caves. Curiously, Cybele was often worshipped in the form of a meteoritic stone, or a stone from heaven. Cybele was also known as Sybil – an oracle of the ancient near east who was known to the Greeks as Sibyls. The name inspired Sybil, the title of seer priestesses for hundreds of years to come, as illustrated below in a series of paintings by the German artist Herman tom Ring (1521-1597).
A Sybil, from a series by the artist Herman tom Ring © Andrew Gough
Similarly, the god Apollo anointed Pythia, his chief oracular priestess at Delphi, with the title ‘the Delphic Bee’. In ancient Greece, a High Priestess was considered to be the Queen Bee, and her rituals required honey to induce states of spiritual ecstasy. Thus, it would appear that the tradition of Bee goddesses continued with Melissa’s, Sybil’s and Delphic Bee priestesses. Might they be different titles for the same exalted position?
Pythia – the ‘Delphic Bee’ sitting on the Delphic Tripod Cauldron
Apollo was one of the most important gods in the Greek Pantheon and was known as the God of Truth and Prophecy. Remarkably, he is said to have provided a gift of Bees to Hermes; the god of otherworldly boundaries and transformation of souls. The legend is recounted in the 8th century Homeric Hymn to Hermes, for here Apollo alludes to his gift including three female Bee-Maidens who practiced divination;
“There are some Fates sisters born,
maidens three of them, adorned with swift wings.
Their heads are sprinkled over with white barley meal,
wind they make their homes under the cliffs of Parnassus.
They taught divination far off from me, the art I used to practice
round my cattle while still a boy.”
Hermes steals Apollo’s cattle © Photo by R. Schoder
The legendary Greek god Poseidon carried the title God of the Sea and hailed from Rhodes; site of many fine Bee artefacts from antiquity. In fact, one of Poseidon’s sons was a Beekeeper named Eiyrieus. Another was Theseus, who as a young man became renowned for killing the half-man | half-bull Minotaur that had become trapped inside the labyrinth. This is the same Theseus who some believe is portrayed jumping over the constellation of Taurus – the bull, in frescos that depict the Minoan bull-leaping ritual. Might Theseus’s killing of the Minotaur be an example of a ritualistic bull sacrifice and if so might this suggest that the labyrinth was in fact a place where Mithraism was practiced and that the bull-leaping ritual was the Minoan equivalent of the Egyptian Heb-Sed Festival? The notion is intriguing.
As an aside, the half man | half bull symbolism is peculiar but not entirely unique in Mediterranean mythology, for example Poseidon was worshiped as a bull on the citadel of Boeotian in Thebes. These details, combined with Apollo’s link with the Minotaur suggests an affiliation with Atlantis, as the legendary civilization is said to have featured a labyrinth and appears to be associated with the island of Crete; a culture that worshiped bulls, bees and lions.
Bust of the half-man, half-bull Minotaur: National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Another example of the Bee as an important element of Greek mythology is Pan, the god of all things wild and sexual, and the Greek God of Beekeeping. Icarus is another example. The Greek god was the son of Daedalus – the master craftsman who built the labyrinth for King Minos, and who is infamous for having flown too close to the sun before falling to earth after his Beeswax constructed feathers started to melt. And then we have Cyrene, a Beekeeper and one of 50 nymphs who road dolphins in the Mediterranean. As we have seen, Nymphs are synonymous with Bee goddesses, but could the number 50, which is associated with the planet Sirius, also be related to the Bee?
The Beeswax wings of Icarus begin to melt as he flies too close to the sun
Still another example of Bee veneration in Greek mythology is Aphrodite, the nymph-goddess of midsummer who is renowned for murdering the king and tearing out his organs just as the Queen Bee does to the drone. Aphrodite’s priestesses, who are known as Melissa’s, are said to have displayed a golden honeycomb at her shrine on Mount Eryx. The mythologist Robert Graves spoke of Butes – a priest to Athene who lived on Mount Eryx and was allegedly the most famous Beekeeper of antiquity. Butes represented the love-god Phanes, who is often depicted as Eircepaius – a loud buzzing Bee. Graves also states in his authoritative work, ‘The Greek Myths’ that Plato identified Athene with the Egyptian goddess Neith, who as we have seen, is associated with the Bee in a multitude of ways.
Melissa, the Bee goddess of Mount Eryx
Further, evidence suggests that Artemis was in fact the most renowned patron of the Bee in all of Greece. As the daughter of Zeus and twin sister to Apollo, Artemis was the goddess of nature, particularly forests, hills, rocky outcroppings and rivers; all natural habitats of Bees. Artemis’s Roman equivalent was the goddess Diana, and statues of Artemis | Diana from the Anatolian city of Ephesus portray her covered in eggs, which some have identified as Bee eggs given that a typical Queen Bee will lay tens of thousands of eggs in her short lifetime. Alternatively, others believe that the abundance of small spherical objects represent bull testicles. In either case, the connection between Ephesus and the Bee is irrefutable, for “Ephesos” is thought to derive from the word “Apasas”, which was the name of the city in the Bronze Age and a pre-Greek word meaning Bee. Bees are often depicted on statues of Artemis | Diana and her headdress frequently hints at a Beehive style design.
Statues of Artemis | Diana from Ephesus (‘the Bee’) showing Bee eggs or bull testicles, Bees and a Beehive styled headdress
The influence of Greek culture spread far and wide and images of winged sphinxes, bulls and Bees soon reached many a distant shore. For instance, the ancient Romans relied heavily on Bees for warfare and deployed Beehives as catapult projectiles in battle, although the success of the technique ultimately depleted the supply of Bees in central Italy. However, the roots of Bee symbolism in Roman mythology run far deeper than warfare. In fact, they date back to Mithraism, a mystery religion practiced in Rome between the 1st and 4th centuries, as well as in other provinces, such as Britain.
Very little is known about Mithraism, besides the fact that it involved the ritualistic slaughter of bulls and that it is linked with the concept of regeneration. Like other mystery schools, its principal rituals were maintained orally and never written down. Some believe that Mithras is connected with the constellation of Orion, due to its proximity to Taurus. If true, this further binds Mithraism with Osiris and the regenerative aspect of the Apis Bull, which hearkens back to the Saqqara Serapeum; a necropolis that may have served as a ritualistic centre for the regeneration of souls in the form of Bees.
Mithras and the Bull: Italian fresco from the mithraeum at Marino, Italy
So clearly we can see a pattern here; societies that worshiped the bull also seem to have venerated the Bee. And in Roman mythology there are many examples of Bee veneration. For example, the Roman Bee goddess was named Mellonia and Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, philosopher and some would argue the world’s first Socialist, coined the phrase; “What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee.” Likewise Lycurgus, founder of Sparta, built his model for the perfect Spartan government on the social strata observed in the Beehive. Bees were depicted on coins throughout the ancient world, such as Sicily, where a Bee is featured on a 7th century BC coin. And in Rhodes – the ancient home of Poseidon, an 8th century gold plague depicts a decidedly Egyptian looking sphinx with a Bee headdress and sternum.
Gold Plaque form Rhodes and a Bee Coin from Sicily
The dissemination of Bee symbolism was propagated by the work of many famous artists of the day, including writers such as Plato, who as we discussed in our first installment, wrote of Solon’s enlightenment at the temple of Neith in Egypt. Plato and other writers such as Virgil and Sophocles were called ‘birds of the muses’ due to the belief that as infants, their lips were touched by Bees. Their initiation by Bees was thought to have transformed their lives and set their destiny as great orators, poets and philosophers. Sophocles in particular confirms his patronage to the Bee with a haunting turn of a phrase; “the swarm of the dead hums.” However, Homer was the first Greek writer to reference Bees in his work, the Iliad;
“Even as when the tribes of thronging Bees issue from some hollow rock, ever in fresh procession, and fly clustering among the flowers in spring, and some on this side, and some on that side fly thick.”
Additionally, writers such as Virgil, and a Byzantine by the name of Florentinus – author of the Geoponica, recorded the ancient and undeniably gruesome death ritual performed on bulls. Florentinus tells us that the ritual was ideally preformed while the sun was in Taurus and involved beating the bull to death in a dark and confined space. The dead animal was left for three weeks before being inspected and re-sealed for another 10 days. After the next visit, the bull’s flesh would have mostly evaporated, leaving only clusters of Bees where the flesh once hugged the bone. Interestingly, images evoked from Florentinus’s lucid description feel suspiciously like a mithraeum – a dark and windowless cave or building where Mithraism was preformed.
A Roman Mithraeum
Bee Symbolism Beyond the Mediterranean
Beyond of the Mediterranean, Bee symbolism spread quickly, ensuring that the ancient traditions were not forgotten. For instance in Africa, Bantu tribes lived in Beehive shaped houses – as did Zulu tribes, amongst many others, and Bees were common symbols on totem poles. In fact, in Egypt Beehive shaped huts were constructed in memory of the chest or basket that housed the relics of the Egyptian god Osiris | Asar – namely his head, which was thought to reside at the temple of Abydos. One of Osiris’s symbols was a Beehive, and like the head of Osiris, the Beehive is said to represent the collective wisdom of mankind. Similarly, many stone houses across the ancient world were designed in the shape of Beehives, including some notable Bronze Age huts in southwest Ireland, called Clochán’s. Not surprisingly, Ireland’s Beehive inspired huts recalls the thalamus tombs in ancient Mycenae.
An Irish Beehive ‘stone hut’ called a Clochán, from the Bronze Age
Elsewhere in Africa, Ethiopians have a saying that Christ; “is born from the voice of his father, like the bee is born from the Queen” and believe that the Bee once defended the throne of God. In some parts of Africa, the ant is regarded as sacred, just as the fly is revered in other parts of the ancient world. In fact, many subject area experts consider the fly and the Bee to be part of the same ‘category’, and sure enough, occasionally one is mistaken for the other. An example of such a ‘mistaken identity’ can be found in 17th century astronomy.
In 1603, the German astronomer Johann Bayer labeled the previously known but unnamed constellation in the southern hemisphere, Apis, meaning “The Bee”. Inadvertently, Bayer had misidentified identified an image of a fly on his sky map as a Bee. Bayer’s naming convention lasted a couple of centuries before it was replaced by Musca Australis vel Indica, or the Southern Fly, which distinguished it from the now obsolete Musca Borealis, or the Northern Fly. Again, in many places such as Africa, the Bee and the fly are interchangeable and equally sacred, due most likely to the fact that they are sometimes indistinguishable.
Musca, the Bee, as mistakenly identified by Johann Bayer
The Bee was also worshiped in Scandinavian cultures, such as Finland, where the insect is thought to transport the prayers of ordinary people up to the creator in the sky. In certain parts of Scotland and England, Bees were said to make a buzzing sound at precisely midnight on Christmas Eve. And in ancient Welsh traditions, taxes were paid in measures of honey, and in the Welsh Bardic Triads, a sow belonging to the Anglo-Celtic sow goddess Henwen is said to have given birth to a Bee. Further, the Triads recall that Ireland was famous for its swarms of Bees and copious supplies of honey. The texts also state that Britain was known as the “Island of Honey” and that the Beehive was considered to be an example of orderly British society, as depicted in various satires of the day, such as the illustration below by the English caricaturist, George Cruikshank.
George Cruikshank’s 1867 cartoon – a political satire
On the Isle of Man – just off the English coast, it was considered a capital offence to steal Bees. Even William Shakespeare got in the act, stating “Where the bee sucks, there suck I.” Some even link the phrases “to be or not to be” and “so more it be” – to the Bee. However the tradition of the Bee in Britain goes back much further than Shakespeare. Bee expert Eva Crane observed that objects found near the River Thames were constructed with Beeswax as far back as 3000 BC. And in 488 AD, the Irish Saint Bridget is said to have visited Glastonbury, which according to legend is the home of the Holy Grail and a church built by Joseph of Arimathea – and visited by his nephew Jesus Christ. Here Saint Bridget took up residence on the ‘Island of Beckery’, which translates as the ‘Beekeepers Island’.
Beckery Island, Glastonbury – the Island of Beekeepers © www.gothicimage.co.uk
The ancient city of Wells is but a few short miles from Beekeepers Islands and boasts a 12th century cathedral with the most spectacular gothic west facade in all of Britain. Curiously, in the spring of 2008 a swarm of Bees gathered outside of the cathedral in the form of a crucifix, leaving local clergy and Beekeepers alike bewildered – no pun intended. The story was reported by the Daily Mail, the largest newspaper in the country, whose tongue in check headline read; ‘May the Lord bee with you’.
Bees form a crucifix outside of Wells Cathedral
In nearby Devonshire it is believed that Good Friday is the only safe time to remove Bees from a hive and that all other days would prove fatal. And then there is an old English adage that advises one to; “Ask the wild bee what the Druids knew.” It was even believed that druids danced like Bees in celebration of the sun’s vital life force. In Ireland, druids kept sacred commandments known as the Brehon Laws that were protected by Bees, and an ancient Irish text suggests that residents from the county of Munster were likened to Bees, as many of their family crests suggest.
Bees and Beehives were common images on Coat of Arms across the British Isles
Ireland was renowned for its consumption of mead, a beverage known in the ancient world for its ability to intoxicate; sort of a precursor to Guinness. At Tara, home of Ireland’s ancient kings, there was a residence called ‘The House of Mead Circling’, whose very name implied that mead was used in ritual. And there are even romantic tales of mead, such as the source of the phrase ‘Honeymoon’, which is derived from the tradition of providing newlyweds with one moons supply – or approximately 31 days worth – of mead so that the couple might relax and be successful in procreating while on their honeymoon. Today, mead honey wines have undergone a resurgence in popularity – as have honey based beers. Ironically, both are known for their harmony and balance, traits which we will discover in our third installment, that are associated with the Bee – and the Holy Grail.
Mead Honey Wine and Fullers Honey Dew Beer
Another country that understood the intoxicating qualities of mead is Germany, where an entire industry evolved around the olden custom of using honey to create intoxicating beverages. It’s interesting to note that the German word for beer is Bier, and that the Latin word for wine and honey is mulsum, and mel – meaning honey, was frequently translated as beor. While honey festivals and the Bee based beer industry grew in popularity in the south, aided in no small part by grants to the mead brewers by Rudolf Habsburg and his powerful descendents, northern Germany was quietly developing its own Bee legacy. And here the symbolism of the Bee is open to some educated speculation.
In northern Germany in particular, the legacy of the Bee and its importance in everyday life has been preserved by a plethora of place names starting in ‘Biene’ and ‘Immen’, meaning Bee. The later – Immen, is linked to the German Bee god Imme, and refers to sacred trees in the forest where Bees were once kept. This is interesting, for northern Germany is known for its sacred irminsuls; curious wood or stone carvings that are believed to date from the 8th century or earlier and which commemorate the veneration of sacred trees in antiquity – tree stumps in particular, which the irminsuls distinctive shape appears to recall.
Studying an Irmensul near Paderborn © Andrew Gough
The German researcher and writer Jurgen Spanuth wrote a series of provocative yet well researched books in the 1950’s that featured irminsuls. The theme of Spanuth’s work centered on ‘The Atlantis of the North’ and recounted how irminsul’s were known by the Saxons as ‘the All-Pillar that holds up the Universe’, as well as how their shape was traceable back thousands of years. Spanuth found the likeness of irminsuls in brooch’s, bowls, pillars and staffs from around the world, especially the Mediterranean. He also identified references to the ‘Pillars of the North’ in Egyptian texts, including one from the time or Ramses III that spoke of ‘upholding gods who stand in the darkness (the far North), and that Ramses III believed that the North Peoples came from ‘the pillars of heaven’. Further, Spanuth identified how the irminsuls were in fact the true Pillars of Hercules and the gateway to Atlantis in the north. Albeit fascinating, what does this have to do with Bees?
We know that Spanuth traced the design of the irminsul back to the ancient Mediterranean and found references to the ‘pillars’ of the north in Egypt, but perhaps most intriguing to our discussion is the fact that he identified the function of the irminsul as being a device used to rest the bulls head upon before slaughter, thus linking the irminsul, albeit indirectly, with Bees. And this brings me to the following hypothesis. Trees, and tree stumps in particular are common destinations for Bees that have unexpectedly swarmed. With the introduction of a new Queen in the hive, the old Queen abruptly departs, taking with her roughly half of her Worker Bees – tens of thousands typically, while the remaining Bees pledge their allegiance to the newly appointed Queen. The migrating Bees are in desperate need of a new home, and Beekeepers from antiquity were keenly aware of the opportunity that this drama provided. The practice of preparing a tree trunk in anticipation of such an event is common in Beekeeping even today, as the photos below affirm. Could the Pillars of Hercules have been irminsuls – and could irminsuls have been tree stumps prepared to house the creatures whose service ensured the vitality of the land and the health and well being of its people? Were irminsuls regarded by the Saxons as the ‘All Pillar’ that held the universe together because they provided a home for Bees?
Tree trunk Beehives – Smokey Mountains in the 1930’s © www.nps.com | UK naturalist Bill Odde with modern tree trunk hives – England, 2008
So we ask ourselves, might the sacred trees that the irminsuls symbolise once have contained Beehives that yielded honey? And might the unexpected arrival of Bees have been viewed as a ‘gift from the gods’, giving rise to the irminsuls sacredness in the first place, as well as the Bee god Imme, or as he was known in ancient times, I-me? The dilapidated ruins in the woods near Obermarsberg marks the spot where an irminsul once stood, and its tower casing appears to have provided shelter for a small cylinder shaped enclosure, suggesting the possibility that this once sacred site was intended as an emergency shelter for swarming Bees. Sadly, irminsuls are no more, as Charlemagne destroyed the pagan-looking structures during his war on Germany in the late 8th century. Whatever their true function was, irminsuls were special and appear to have been pillars of the community in one way or another – and perhaps even quite literally.
Forest sheltering where an Irminsul once resided; Obermarsberg – near Paderborn Germany © Andrew Gough
Equally as curious and arguably as speculative as the Bee’s possible link with irmensuls is the Externsteine, a dramatic rock formation hauntingly set in the Teutoburg Forest. The picturesque site is believed to have been the centre of religious worship for thousands of years and is most famous for its inaccessible mountain top temple whose alter is illuminated by the winter solstice sun through a circular hole in the cliff wall. The Externsteine’s original name was Ecce (Mother) Stan (Stone) and its deity was known as Achath – the Goddess of the unreachable level of the Absolute and Eternity. Achath, which translates as ‘One is She’, was the goddess before the other gods, and recalls many of the attributes of the Egyptian Bee goddess, Neith.
The Externsteine and the Temple of the Winter Solstice © Andrew Gough
At the base of the rock formation is an ancient series of carvings whose true meaning remains a mystery. The upper relief is believed to have been carved in the 12th century and the lower relief sometime earlier. And it’s here – on the lower relief, that we see an image of a winged bird or stylized insect whose flight is portrayed as looping towards a human figure, with a toppled irminsul in the relief above. Although the winged figure does not overtly resemble a Bee, the looping outline of its flight hints at the path of the Bee’s unique waggle dance, or the source of the insects unique communication strategy. What other winged creature is known for such aerial behavior? As far as I am aware, only the Bee.
Ancient carvings on the Externsteine | The waggle dance of the Bee? © Andrew Gough
The Teutoburg Forest is a magical place – even today. In addition to irmensuls and the Externsteine, the German Schutzstaffel – or Protective Squadron, more commonly known as the ‘SS’, established its base here. After some consideration, the SS chose the triangular shaped, 17th century Wewelsburg Castle as the centre of its ritual activity, and in the process paid homage to the Bee in a very deliberate, albeit macabre way. The present castle was built over a much earlier structure and was restored under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, whose titles included ‘SS Leader of the Realm’, and who was undoubtedly the most powerful man in Germany after Adolf Hitler.
Himmler was obsessed with all things esoteric and his renovations reflected as much. For example, he renamed rooms in the castle ‘Grail’, ‘King Arthur’, ‘Aryan’, ‘Henry the Lion’ and ‘Teutonic Order’, amongst others. More significantly, he designed and commissioned the construction of a subterranean ritual centre chamber beneath the north tower of the castle. The damp, circular room was designed with 12 seats centered along the wall beneath a Beehive shaped dome where flames from ritualistic fires scorched a large swastika in the centre of the ceiling above. In the words of the castles tourism guide, the chamber was designed by Himmler; “in memory of the Beehive tombs of Greece.” Curiously, like the north house in Knossos Greece, Himmler’s north tower at Wewelsburg was the site of unspeakable rituals.
The SS ritual center beneath the North Tower – designed in the shape of a Beehive © Andrew Gough
The SS’s most important rituals were said to have taken place in Wewelsburg’s Beehive inspired necropolis, and the subterranean ritual centre was intended to be the oracle centre of a complex that Himmler quite literally believed to be positioned at the very centre of the universe. Himmler’s reasoning was in no doubt inspired by fact that the Teutoburg Forest was revered for nearly two thousands years as the place where the Germanic tribes united to defeat the Roman legions in 9 AD. And nearby, a 368 meter tall statue called The Hermannsdenkmal commemorates the Battle of Teutoburg, and depicts a heroic warrior figure with Bee-like wings on his helmet.
The Hermannsdenkmal memorial – a warrior with a winged helmet © Andrew Gough
Bee veneration in antiquity was closely tied to ritual, and as we have just witnessed, and in some instances this tradition has carried over into modern times. Take for example the symbolic adoration of the Bee in Spain and other Latin America countries. Here, Bee veneration is perhaps unconsciously preserved in the popular, albeit controversial sport of Bullfighting; a spectacle that recalls the ancient mystery school of Mithraism and the ancient practice of ritualistically slaughtering bulls in order to regenerate souls in the form of Bees. In fact, many of Spain’s oldest bullrings are built on or near Mithras temples, confirming the association.
Bull slaughter during a Bullfight – Spain
As we are beginning to gleam, Bee veneration was practiced across the globe, in all epochs, and in many different ways. In Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, the renowned Beekeeper, Le Quy Quynh achieved the status of ‘Hero of the Revolution’ for his honey based healing techniques and patients for victims of severe war related injuries. Still further afield, in Russia, the protector God of Beekeeping was named Zosim, and was believed to be the founder of Apiculture. And in Slovenia, Beehives were hand painted with colourful religious and historical motifs.
Slovenian painted Beehives
In Lithuania, the Bee goddess was known as Austheia, and legend asserts that when the Queen Bee left the hive in search of a new home, families would pack up and follow the Queen’s swarm until the Bees established a new hive, and any families united as a result of the exodus were bound together in a special relationship called ‘biciulyste’. Austheia’s husband was a Bee god named Bubilas, as well as a household god who Lithuanians honoured with honey in hope that the Bees will swarm more effectively – in other words, in the direction of their tree trunk and not their neighbours! The Bee and its by-products were considered gifts in Lithuania, and thus neither Bees nor honey could be bought or sold, as was and still is true in many cultures. Additionally, it was considered improper to leave a dead bee unburied, and if one was discovered, it was expected that one stopped what he or she was doing and bury it in the earth immediately.
Traditional Lithuanian Bee Hive – © www.thebeegoddess.com
The god Indra was the namesake of ancient India and the deity who separated heaven and earth, and is said to have received honey as his first food. Similarly, the Indian Bee goddess Bhramari Devi derives her name from the word Bramari, meaning ‘Bees’ in Hindi. It is said that Bhramari Devi resides inside the heart chakra and emits the buzzing sound of Bees, called ‘Bhramaran’. Likewise, the sound of a Bee humming was emulated in Vedic chants and the humming of Bees represented the essential sound of the universe all across India.
The Indian Bee goddess – Bhramari Devi
The most ancient of India’s sacred books is the Rig-Veda, and it contains countless references to Bee’s and honey. So do other texts, such as the Atharva-Veda, which speaks at length about the Bee and the twin horseman lords of light known as the Avsvins; “O Asvins, lords of Brightness, anoint me with honey of the bee, that I may speak forceful speech among men.” In Indian mythology, goddesses frequently turned into Bees to ward off demons and purify the land. The god Prana – the personification of the universal life force, is sometimes shown surrounded by a circle of Bees. The goddess is said that to have applied nectar – or honey, to the roots of the ash tree in order to keep it alive and well – and green. Even Krishna, the sacred Hindu deity, was sometimes depicted as the Bee goddess Madhusudana, the divine Bee of loving mellows.
Krishna as the Bee Goddess Madhusudana © www.sivaramaswami.com
Kama, the Indian god of love, is also associated with Bees, as the famous Indian poet Kalidasa recounts;
“A stalwart soldier comes, the spring, Who bears the bow of Love; and on that bow, the lustrous string is made of bees….Weaves a string of Bees with deft invention, To speed the missile when the bow is bent.”
Kama’s ‘bow of Bees’ is reminiscent of Min, the Egyptian god who bore the title, Master of the Bees and who was also associated with arrows – as was Neith, the Mother | Bee goddess figure whose temple in Egypt was called the House of the Bee. However, the Greek fertility god Eros is associated with arrows more than any other figure from antiquity and was known to have been stung by a Bee on the nose. As an aside, Eros is typically depicted with arrows – and wings, as in the famous statue in London’s Piccadilly Circus, pictured below.
The winged Eros – London; stung by a Bee on the nose
In Hinduism, references to the Bee date back to 1500 BC, and it was believed that eating honey would ensure good health and fortify spirituality. Similarly, in Buddhism the festival of Madhu Purnima commemorates Buddha’s retreat into the wilderness, where he is fed honey by a monkey. To this day, Buddhists pay homage to the legend by donating honey to monks during the festival. And lest we forget, in India the sacredness of the cow is supreme. Might this be related to regenerative symbolism of the bull and the Bee?
Certainly, one of the more fascinating legends of the Bee is contained in the Mayan tradition. The ancient Maya used honey as a sweetener, and like many other ancient cultures before them, revered the nectar for its medicinal and ritualistic uses. While the Mayan pantheon of gods does not include a Bee goddess, it does include a number of Bee gods, such as Ah-Muzen-Cab, and another known as Mok Chi, a multi faceted figure who is featured prominently in Mayan art and mythology. In the Yucatan, it is believed that the Ah-Mucen-Cab protects the locals from ‘Killer Bees’. And in the relief below, Mok Chi is shown transforming into the Beekeeper god.
Three images of the Mayan Bee God Mok Chi; transformed into a Bee on the right
The Mayan regarded the Bee as ‘Our Lady’, or sometimes, the ‘Royal Lady’ (kolil kab in Mayan), and shamans preserve the tradition of their ancestors by chanting Bee rituals with lyrics like:
“To the beautiful lady foreign divine queen lord, I wash her wings, I give strength to her wings’, while intermixing the chant with sounds of a bee humming.”
In shamanism, an instrument by the name of the talking drum was known as the “gong of the Bee”. And in the Mayan tradition in particular, shamans were especially attuned to the importance of the Bee and reflected their veneration in ritual and religion. For instance, in the Mayan Book of ‘The Chilam Balam of Chumayel’, the Ritual of the Four World Quarters features wild Bees as the liaisons between humans and sun gods. The work features the Bee god Ah Muzen Cab, known as ‘Great Lord Bee’, who may be related to the Aztec Bee god, Xmul-Zen-Cab. Ah Muzen Cab’s ancestral home can be found at the Mayan site of Tulúm and Coba, where he is depicted guarding the temples’ most sacred sanctuaries. Not surprisingly, the famous and rather controversial Swiss author, Erich von Däniken, questioned the association of Mayan gods with Bees, and in his 1972 book ‘The Gold of The Gods’ stated that he believed the images reflected extraterrestrial origins.
The Bee god Ah Muzen Cab (left) |
A Maya bee god from the Chilam Balam of Chumalaya (right)
One of the most intriguing links between Mayan and Egyptian cultures is the word Hu-Nab-Ku. Ku in ancient Sumer means ‘light’ and in ancient Egyptian Khu means ‘Magical Body’, recalling the Egyptian name for the Sphinx; Hu Nb. And what is the Sphinx if not a magical body? The interesting thing is that Hu-Nab-Ku, whose name is sometimes written as Huun Ab Ku, meaning ‘One is God as Measure and Movement’, was actually a Mayan Divinity who created the concept of Measure and Motion in Mayan mythology. In fact, the Mayans attributed the entire mathematical structure of the universe to his creation, and his work is represented by a square within a circle. The Mayan divinity is also related to the Egyptian God Thoth, who is said to have travelled to South America and shared his knowledge with the local gods in antiquity – possibly the pre-Columbian Olmecs, but certainly pre-Mayan.
Thoth was said to have authored sacred texts on subjects related to measure and movement, and the constellation of Libra, which is sometimes called the Scales of Thoth, was known as the constellation of the Bee in the Dogon cosmology, prior to the second century AD. The synchronicity calls attention to other similarities between the two cultures – such as pyramid building. In fact, the symbol of Hu-Nab-Ku’s mathematical structure of the universe – the square within a circle, is represented in the geometry of the pyramids.
The symbol of Hu-Nab-Ku’s creation; the square within a circle
Curiously, the Bee god had another name in Mayan mythology – The Saviour God. And the concept of a Saviour god brings us to our next subject; the Bee in ancient religions.
The Bee in Religion
We have already touched upon the importance of the Anatolian city of Ephesus and its association with the Bee, including its name – the Bee, and its Bee goddess, Artemis. However, Ephesus was an important city in the development of Christianity as well, for not only did it house one of the seven churches of Asia, as listed in the ‘Book of Revelations’, but Paul spend several years there and the last house of the Virgin Mary is believed to have resided nearby. In fact, many believe the Gospel of John was written there. Yet perhaps the greatest revelation of all is that Artemis and her high priests of Ephesus were called Essenes, meaning King Bees.
The Essenes were a Jewish religious sect founded in the first century BC who flourished for roughly 300 years in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, and their base at Qumran produced one the important historical discoveries of the 20th century; the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were also Beekeepers, and the first association of the Essenes with Bees was in the 2nd century AD by a Greek traveler named Pausanias.
Essene caves at Qumran
The Essenes, or King Bees as they were known, maintained the role of priestly officials and were the forefathers of Christianity. Even the Catholic Church referred to Jesus Christ as an Aetherial Bee, a name that symbolized the personification of the clear upper air breathed by the great Greek Olympians. In fact, the ‘Book of Luke’ (24, 41-43) confirms that the first food eaten by Christ after his resurrection was honey:
“Jesus said, Have you got anything to eat? And they offered him a piece of broiled fish and a honeycomb, which he ate.”
This is intriguing, for the archetype for Jesus Christ was Osiris, the Egyptian god of resurrection, and honey was a sacred substance offered to Egyptian gods in the afterlife. Lastly, as an aside, Saint Luke was one of the Four Evangelists, each of whom was represented by one of the four “living creatures” of the ‘Book of Ezekiel’ and the ‘Book of Revelation; Saint Luke by a bull, Saint John by an eagle, Saint Mark by a lion and Saint Matthew by an angel. Perhaps serendipitously, in the Four Evangelists we not only find the esoteric teaching of four Saints, but we find reference to a lion and a bull; symbols that are linked with the Bee, this time via a theology that venerated the insect for the miraculous service it provided.
The Four Evangelists: including a Bull and a Lion
The Magi were also associated with the Bee, as a work by Jean-Baptiste Alliette (1738 – 1791), more commonly known as Etteila, the French occultist who introduced the Tarot to a mass audience recounts;
“On a table, breast-high to the Magi, were on one side a book or a series of golden pages or plates (the book of Thoth) and on the other side was a vase full of celestial-astral liquid, containing one part wild honey, one part terrestrial water and the third part of the celestial water…The secret, the mystery was therefore in this vase.”
So biblical figures looked to honey as an intoxicant, just as their ancestors did before them. In fact, in the ‘King James Bible’ honey is mentioned no fewer than 61 times, and in Genesis, honey is mentioned as a product of export. And in several instances, biblical figures such as Herod buried their loved ones in honey so as to preserve them for further bereavement. Arguably, the most famous reference to the Bee is in the Old Testament, Exodus 33:3, where we find the phrase “Land flowing with milk and honey”. The symbiotic nature of the two foods is interesting, as each was offered to the gods due to their vital nutritional and regenerative qualities, and curiously, milk comes from cows and honey from Bees. Might this fact also symbolise the bull and the Bee? It’s also interesting that many scholars believe that honey was considered kosher under Judaic Law, while other insects and their by-products were regarded as unclean.
Bees are associated with ancient theologies in many different ways. For instance, we recall from Part 1 that archaeologists observed a circle of bees painted above the head of a figure on a temple wall in the Neolithic settlement of Catal Höyük Turkey, that appear to depict the first ever halo. We also know that early Egyptian Gnostics used honey in their baptismal rituals. Additionally, a quote from Isaiah hints at another aspect of the Bee in ancient religions; “The Lord will hiss for the fly that is in uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.” The quote appears to reference the custom of making certain noises in order to attract Bees. Furthermore, Bee expert Eve Crane notes in her comprehensive work, The Encyclopedia of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting, that objects cast with Beeswax have been discovered in caves in the Judean desert, dating to 3500 BC.
Intriguingly, another link with Bees and the Judean desert is John the Baptist. John is an example of someone who survived in the wilderness on a diet of “Locusts and Wild Honey”; the term ‘Wild Honey’ implying that honey was also domesticated at the time. Intriguingly, the German researcher, Dr. Marius Schneider noted that the Bee produces a low humming sound while the locust produces a high pitched sound, representing the opposite ends of the audio spectrum. Thus, the locust and the bee represent polarity; one personifies the sound of day while the other exemplifies the sound of night. Inexplicably, a Bee shaped crop circle appeared in Wiltshire England in 2004, on the feast day of John’s birth – the 24th of June.
Crop Circle of a Bee that appeared on the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist – England, 2004
The Bee in Hebrew is ‘DBRE’, meaning Deborah, and ‘Judges 5’ contains one of the oldest passages in the Bible, and some feel, the earliest example of Hebrew poetry; the 8th century Song of Deborah, or as it is commonly known, the Song of The Bees. A short excerpt from the fascinating verse describes life under Canaanite oppression; “Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel, Until I, Deborah, arose, Arose a mother in Israel.” Was Deborah a Bee goddess? Like Bee goddesses before her, Deborah represented stability and was a prophetess, a warrior princess, and in this instance, the only female Judge of pre-monarchic Israel in the entire Old Testament.
While there are other references to Deborah in the bible, such as Deborah the wet-nurse of Rebecca, wife of Isaac the son of Abraham and Sarah (1 Moses 35, 8), and Deborah the ancestor of Tobit and his son Tobias (Tob 1.8), the Deborah of Judges 5 interests us most. That said, Abraham and Sarah were said to have been buried in a cave called Mach Pe Lach, or the Cave of the Patriarchs, in what is now modern day Hebron. The cave is said to have a dual entrance, recalling the double entrance Bee goddess cave on the island of Ithaca, Greece. The significance of double entrance caves has been studied by later day researchers such as the French mystic, Cathar expert and advisor to the Nazi grail hunters, Antonin Gadal who concluded that double cave entrances were special and recognised as such by the gods.
Gustave Dore’s interpretation of the prophetess Deborah – the Bee Goddess
Returning to Judges 5, many consider Deborah to be the mother of Israel, a “fiery” character who rendered her judgments beneath a palm tree. Again we recall from Part 1 that the columns in the Temple of Neith – a temple that was dedicated to the Bee, were shaped to resemble palm trees. The significance of the palm tree and the Bee is further alluded to in the Koran in a passage entitled, ‘The Bee’, which states (16:67 – 16:69):
“And of the fruits of the palms and the grapes – you obtain from them intoxication and goodly provision; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who ponder. And your Lord revealed to the bee saying: Make hives in the mountains and in the trees and in what they build. Then eat of all the fruits and walk in the ways of your Lord submissively. There comes forth from within it a beverage of many colours, in which there is healing for men; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who reflect.”
The passage alludes to a special honey based beverage that revitalizes men, suited for ‘people who reflect’. In The Musical Origin of the Symbols of Animals, Dr. Marius Schneider refers to a drink called ‘The Koran’, which is ‘spiritually’ considered to be a sacred honey based beverage. Additionally, Muhammad mentioned Bees and honey in the Koran, including the phrase “and thy Lord inspired the Bee.” And according to Muslim tradition, god revealed himself to the Bees. It is also interesting to note that the prophet Muhammad lived in Mecca, where a sacred stone from heaven is worshiped to this day – as it was in Delphi, where Bee Priestesses were consulted as seers. And as we shall see in our third instalment, the most famous of all Grail Romances portrays the Grail as a stone from heaven. Might it also be related to the Bee?
The Book of Judges also contains the story of the herculean figure Samson, who wrestled and killed a lion before noticing that a swarm of Bees had formed in its carcass, giving rise to the famous riddle; “Out of the eater cam forth meat, out of the strong came forth sweetness.” The answer to the riddle being; “What is sweeter than honey, what is stronger than a lion?” The riddle, which is the oldest known, reinforces that Bees are allegorically born of symbolically important animals, in this case a lion. As we recall, lions and bees are associated with sphinxes; might this be where the phrase ‘The riddle of the Sphinx’ comes from? In any case, the legend was later adopted by the English firm Tate and Lyle, whose golden syrup product borrows from the imagery of the legend of Samson to this day.
Samson and the Bees – commemorated in modern day products
The Bee has other, albeit precarious associations with religious writings and biblical figures, such as the Ark of the Covenant; arguably the most cherished of all biblical artifacts and one that is adorned with images of angels with wings called cherubs. With respect to the Ark, the famous Egyptologist Sir W.M. Flinders Petrie said;
‘In the holiest of all things, the Ark of the Yahweh of the Hebrews, there were cherubs, one on each side of the mercy seat with wings covering the mercy seat. This agrees with the description of the Egyptian Ark of the Gods with figures of the goddess Ma’at with wings covering the ark.”
So here we have the goddess Ma’at – the daughter of the god RA who cried Bees as tears, placing her wings over the most sacred artifact in religious history. As previously noted, Ethiopians believe that the Bee once defended the throne of God. Curiously, Axum – a city in Ethiopia, claims to house and protect the Ark of the Covenant to this day. Might the cherubs that stand guard over the Ark represent the Bees or Bee gods that once defended the throne of god in Ethiopia?
Representation of the Ark
In several accounts, the Bee is associated with the sound that high priests observed while in the presence of the Ark, and it is said that Aaron, brother of Moses and the first High Priest of the Hebrews, heard the sound of Bees humming while pronouncing the secret name of Yahweh in the presence of the Ark. In his book, The Trumpets of Jericho, researcher David Wilcox writes of a strange tale from war time Germany. The story recounts how the Nazi’s ordered a renowned Jewish initiate to build a modern day Ark of the Covenant in exchange for the release of his son, who was imprisoned in a concentration camp. We are told that while attempting to activate the simulated Ark, the initiate repeatedly heard the sound of Bees humming. The same sound has also been recalled by survivors of near death experiences and UFO abductees – amongst others, as the first sound heard upon passing over to the next level or consciousness. We will explore this phenomenon and the special sound of the Bee’s hum further, in our third installment.
The Bee appears to have been an important symbol in Christian orders of all periods. So much so that even Popes adopted its image. In 1626, Pope Urban III chose the Bee as his official stamp and symbol, but the Bee was sacred in Christian society long before that. Saint Ambrose, a Bishop of Milan and an important ecclesiastical figure in the 4th century, was anointed the patron Saint of Beekeeping. Strangely, Ambrose wrote extensively about Bees and virginity, and two of his more famous passages are presented below:
“Let, then, your work be as it were a honeycomb, for virginity is fit to be compared to bees, so laborious is it, so modest, so continent. The bee feeds on dew, it knows no marriage couch, it makes honey….”
“How I wish you, my daughter, to be an imitator of these bees, whose food is flowers, whose offspring is collected and brought together by the mouth….”
Saint Ambrose – the Patron Saint of Bees, depicted with a Beehive
Another notable ecclesiastical figure who is linked with Bees is Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the first Cistercian monk scheduled on the calendar of saints by the Catholic Church. Clairvaux was the patron Saint of Bees and candle makers, and of course the process of producing candles involved Beeswax. No doubt influenced by the writing of Saint Ambrose, the Catholic Church believed Beeswax was produced by virgins, due to the belief that Worker Bees did not mate. To this day, the church still requires their candles to contain Beeswax.
There is also a strange religious text called The Book of the Bee, which was translated in 1886 by none other than the Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge. According to Budge, the book was written by a Syrian bishop named Solomon (Shelêmôn) in the early 13th century, for purposes of documenting the history of the Christian Dispensation according to the Nestorians; a religious order that believed that Jesus Christ was in fact two distinct entities – a man and the divine son of god. Just why it was called the ‘Bee’ is not entirely clear, but the duelist theme is one we have seen associated with the Bee before.
In Part 1, we referenced images of winged humans on Sumerian artefacts – images that may in fact represent the adoration of Bees. We posed the question; could these images have been the inspiration for angelic figures such as archangels – or as we have just discussed, the cherubs from the Ark of the Covenant? Given that Essenes were King Bees and that Jesus Christ himself was considered a Bee – and that Popes adopted the Bee as their official symbol, we will indulge the question once more with the accompaniment of the images below.
The Bee, as inspiration for Sumerian winged figures such as Innanaishtar and the archetype for angels
Winged creatures such as vultures, eagles and the legendary phoenix were held sacred by cultures down through the ages. While some were revered due to the complex belief that birds transported the soul of the deceased up to heaven, others were venerated do to the simple belief that birds could fly close to god. However, the question that I struggle with is this; does any winged creature have the breadth and depth of importance, mythology and veneration across the globe as the Bee?
One of the more peculiar links between the Bee and religious orders is the modern day Mormon Church. Founded in 1830, the faith is largely based on the Book of Mormon; a scripture from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon Church is based in the United States of America and its Book of Mormon features the Jaredites, an enigmatic people who migrated to North America from ancient lands during the construction of the Tower of Babel.
The Book of Mormon also features “Deseret”, meaning Honeybee, and the Jaredites were said to have led the Bee on a series of migrations across the ancient world. Intriguingly, the Eastern Egyptian Dessert, as discussed in Part 1, is one of the regions that the migrating Jaredites may have traveled through during their journey westwards from the Tower of Babel, as its landscape is dotted with Bee symbolism and boats. It’s also interesting that the Red Crown of Egypt was called “dsrt” and that E.A. Wallis Budge called the Red Crown of Lower Egypt ‘Deshret’ in his book, the Hieroglyphic Vocabulary to the Book of the Dead. Could both words refer to the same root, the common Honeybee?
The Mormon religion was founded in Utah, and Brigham Young – the first governor of the territory and a leader in the Latter Day Saint movement – had hoped to name the state ‘Deseret’ due to his belief that the Honeybee was auspicious and that it represented industry and stability. Although Young was unsuccessful in his quest, Utah nevertheless adopted the Beehive as its symbol and remains the ‘Beehive state’ to this day. Bee symbolism can be found throughout the state, especially in Brigham Young’s home in Salt Lake City, a residence known as the Beehive House.
Utah – the Beehive Territory and State
Beehive doorknob from the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City
Utah was not the only state to have adopted Bee symbolism. In fact, of the 41 States that have elected ‘state insects’, the Bee remains the most popular. Humorously, in Dakota young men played a game called “War upon the bee”, where they would attack a hive with sticks and then stand their ground without crying as the Bees attacked them, or face the embarrassment of having to go and sit with the women should they run away. The game was believed to help prepare men for war by teaching them to confront their fears.
The Deseret Flag of Utah, featuring a Beehive
In his book Notes on Virginia the early American statesman Thomas Jefferson discussed how the Honeybee arrived in North America;
“The honeybee is not a native of our country. Marcgrave, indeed, mentions a species of honeybee in Brazil. But this has no sting, and is therefore different from the one we have, which resembles perfectly that of Europe. The Indians concur with us in the tradition that it was brought from Europe, but when and by whom we know not. The bees have generally extended themselves into the country a little in advance of the settlers.”
Jefferson’s theory is intriguing, and not inconsistent with the Mormon legend of the Jaredites Honeybee migration.
In addition to Jefferson, the American statesman Ben Franklin was a known patron of Thomas Wildman’s 1768, Treatise on the Management of Bees – a discussion on the management of Bees. And Wildman had been an officer in the Napoleonic Wars, and as we shall see in our third installment, Napoleon was known as ‘The Bee’. At the end of the day, all of this serves to underscore the fact that the United States of America recognized and applied the symbolism of the Bee at the genesis of its creation. However, there is one aspect of the country’s adoption of the symbol that stands above the rest. And that is this; on the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., an austere looking obelisk that was built in the late nineteenth century as a memorial to George Washington – the first President of the United States – and which was arguably the primary emblem of America’s vision as country, it pays homage to the Honeybee as the Lord of the nation. It states: “Holiness to the Lord. Deseret.”
The Washington Monument: Dedicated to our Lord, the Honeybee?
The dedication is peculiar, for it stipulates that the United States of America is founded on and dedicated to the Bee! How is that possible, and if true, what organization would have ensured that the Bee was adapted as a symbol of national unity and stability by the world’s youngest and most powerful county? Certainly only one organization would have had that power; the Freemasons.
The City of Washington D.C. – the capital of the United States of America, is home to the world’s most acclaimed Masonic symbolism, and in our third instalment, we will examine the source of Freemasonry’s association with the Bee, both in United States and in France, where Napoleon, the Merovingian’s and even the mystery of Rennes-Le-Château have a role to play in the modern day tradition of the Bee. We will also look at the symbolism of the Holy Grail, and with the insight of the Cabbalistic tradition, we explore its connection with the Bee.
Lastly, and most importantly, Bees the world over are dying. Albert Einstein is alleged to have said that when the Bee dies, man has four years left. This puts us circa 2012 – the date that the Bee worshiping Mayans calculated as the end of time as we know it. Is the demise of the Bee a real and valid threat to man? Can the Bees be saved, and if not, can we? In our final instalment we will examine these questions, and more.