THE BEE: PART 1 – BEEDAZZLED
by ANDREW GOUGH
History is rife with lost knowledge and traditions whose meaning has blurred with the passage of time. I believe the ‘Bee’ is one such tradition, and that its symbolism was important to civilizations of all ages. Inexplicably, the Bee is dying and nobody is quite sure why. Legend asserts that when the Bee dies out, man will shortly follow. We will review the implications of the Bee’s apparent demise in due course, however in this – our first instalment, we will examine the genesis of the Bee’s symbolism in the mist of prehistory.
The Bee in Prehistory
Anatomy of a female Honey Bee
Thanks to fossilisation, Bees over 100 million years old have been discovered in amber, frozen in time, as if immortalised in their own honey. The Greeks called amber Electron, and associated it with the Sun God Elector, who was known as the awakener. Honey, which resembles amber, was also known as an awakener, a regenerative substance that was revered across the ancient world. The resemblance of honey with amber led to the Bees exalted status amongst ancient man and secured its favor over other fossilized insects. Marcus Valerius Martialis, the first century Latin poet renowned for his twelve books of Epigrams, commemorates the symbolism:
“The bee inclos’d, and through the amber shewn,
Seems buried in the juice, which was his own.
So honour’d was a life in labor spent:
Such might he wish to have his monument.”
A Bee fossilized in amber over 100 hundred million years old – from Southeast Asia
Bees accompanied Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and during the mythical Golden Age, honey dripped from trees like rain water. In Egypt, Bees symbolized a stable and obedient society, mantras that would later be adopted by Freemasonry – and the United States of America. The Bee’s ability to pollinate was not lost on prehistoric man and contributed to its reputation as a regenerative, transformative and mystical creature. Indeed, paintings from prehistory confirm that the Bee has been revered for tens of thousands of years.
In the Cave of the Spider near Valencia Spain, a 15,000 year old painting depicts a determined looking figure risking his life to extract honey from a precarious cliff-side Beehive. Honey hunting represents one of man’s earliest domestic pursuits and hints at the genesis of the Bee’s adoration in prehistory.
Honey Hunting in Spain – approximately 13,000 BC
Veneration of the Bee continued in Neolithic Spain, as the highly stylised rendering of a dancing Bee below illustrates. The image underscores the quandary with Bee symbolism; that is, most of us would be hard pressed to identify the image and others like it, as a Bee. The tradition of the Bee worship in Spain has been preserved to this day, albeit under the rather macabre guise of Bull fighting. The modern day ‘sport’ is actually an extension of Mithraism, the ancient mystery school whose rites included the ritualistic slaughter of bulls. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, for to understand how bulls are related to Bees we must examine the Bee in prehistory still further.
Bee Goddess, 5000 BC – Neolithic Spain
The Bee is the only insect that communicates through dance, yet this largely forgotten trait is one of the reasons why Bee imagery from antiquity is often lost on the untrained eye. In her authoritative and oft quoted book, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, Marija Gimbutas examines imagery on artefacts from Old Europe, circa 8000 BC, and concludes that they portray the Bee as a manifestation of the Mother Goddess, as depicted below.
Mother Goddess, thought to have been carved between 24,000–22,000 BC
The Mother Goddess is arguably the oldest deity in the archaeological record and her manifestations are numerous, including likenesses of butterflies, toads, hedgehogs – and dancing Bees. In the ancient world, dancing Bees appear to have been special – the Queen Bee in particular, for she was the Mother Goddess – leader and ruler of the hive, and was often portrayed in the presence of adorning Bee Goddesses and Bee Priestesses.
Dancing Bee Goddesses, from The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe
© Marija Gimbutas
Dancing Bee Goddess, from The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe
© Marija Gimbutas
In addition to dancing Bee symbolism, Gimbutas identified images of Bees as stick men, or schematized figures, with their arms arched over their head like the Dancing Goddess motif so common in Sumerian and Egyptian reliefs.
Bees as stick men, or schematized figures © Marija Gimbutas
Clearly, the Bee was depicted in manners unidentifiable to the casual observer. And to be fair, this is no wonder, for the Bee was often portrayed in a highly stylized fashion anyway, and occasionally its features were distorted due to the unrefined skill of the artist in antiquity, as well as fact that the artist may have been in a shamanic, drug induced trance at the time the image was created. Furthermore, the image of the Bee was often prejudiced by the surface it was created on, i.e. rock wall, statue or mud brick, etc, and the perspective that this afforded.
So let’s look at several more examples, starting with a well known image that few would associate with Bee symbolism; a 10,000 year old Anatolian Mother Goddess wearing a Beehive styled tiara. The Beehive inspired motif was popular in earliest society and confirmed the Goddesses exalted status as a Queen Bee who ‘streams with honey’, a substance of considerable importance, and status, in ancient times.
Goddess wearing a beehive tiara from Turkey, circa 8000 BC
Also in Anatolia, this time at the Neolithic settlement of Catal Huyuk, rudimentary images of Bees dating to 6540 BC are painted above the head of a Goddess in the form of a halo. Nearby, paintings of Beehive comb cells adorn rock strewn temple walls, recalling the day when such symbolism was widely understood – and important. In Anatolia, Bee veneration continued for thousands of years, as demonstrated by the 18th century BC Hittites, who relied on honey as an important element of their religious rites.
Catal Huyuk; a wall depicting a Beehive comb – 6600 BC © James Mellaart
Catal Huyuk was first ‘discovered’ in 1958 and is widely regarded to be the most important site of its kind in the world. The complex was excavated by James Mellaart between 1961 and 1965 and found to feature two prominent images: the Mother Goddess, and the bull. Together with the Bee, these images comprise the essence of our research, as we shall see. However, images of Bees from antiquity are not limited to Old Europe, for in far away lands such as Australia, Aboriginal cave paintings of Beehives have been dated to 10,000 BC.
Beehive painting near Prince Regent River, Western Australia. © Eva Crane
In addition to cave paintings, Aboriginals also carved images on the inside of eucalyptus tree bark, including drawings of men with bags of honey over their shoulders.
Tree bark carvings of men with bags of honey over their shoulders © Eva Crane | An old print showing Aboriginal men carrying sacks of honey over their shoulder
Similarly, the following images illustrate how the Bee can be misinterpreted as representing other, more esoteric or otherworldly creatures. For instance, spiraling circles appear frequently in rock art, and on occasion have been interpreted to represent planetary alignments or symbols of advanced civilisations. In fact, the image below represents rock art from the sacred store house of Australia Honey Ant shamans, who hunted Honey Ants as the only source of honey in an otherwise dry and arid desert landscape (Spencer and Gillen, 1899). The rocks are located in a valley where shamans performed rituals designed to increase their supply of honey, for the sacred nectar provided a variety of medicinal and nutritional uses. Ironically, the conical images hints at the origins of the ancient Labyrinth design, a structure that played an important role in Egyptian, Greek and of course, Atlantian mythology; cultures that venerated the Bee.
Rock drawings from sacred store house of a group of Honey Ant Totem. © Eva Crane
Images from the ancient world are frequently interpreted through modern eyes as representing supernatural or even extraterrestrial events, due to the extraordinary images they portray. This is especially true of images whose symbolism includes figures in flight. Most notably, Zecharia Sitchin, linguist and writer of the controversial Earth Chronicles series, has devoted a lifetime to interpreting Sumerian reliefs and believes they represent extraterrestrial contact on earth.
For example, the Sumerian stele below is one of many believed by alternative history writers to depict figures of alien origin. However, more measured interpretations believe that this scene, and others like it, depict the worship of the Mother Goddess, manifest as a Queen Bee or Bee Goddess; a figure who is frequently adorned by her followers – the Bee Priestesses. Again, this should not be viewed as unusual, for honey was regarded by Sumerian physicians as a unique and vital medicinal drug. In fact, it has been suggested that the Sumerians invented Apitherapy, or the medical use of Honey Bee products such as honey, pollen, royal jelly, propolis and bee venom. And least we forget, it was the Bee that led ancient man to the plants whose hallucinogens transported consciousness into the spirit world of the gods. Furthermore, objects cast in Beeswax were discovered in the earliest of Sumerian societies. Why then, should the source of these important byproducts – the Bee, not have been worshipped?
Sumerian stele – extraterrestrial Gods or Bee Goddess worship?
The Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer is believed to have flourished between 5300 – 3500 BC. In addition to producing dozens of cultural firsts – or inventions, Sumerians appear to have been the first to depict winged figures in art, including humans with wings. Might this symbolism be attributable to worship of the Bee Goddess? Could the Bee have been the inspiration for winged figures of all kinds? Was the Bee the archetype for biblical angels? Although alluring, such assertions are rather speculative at this juncture, and so we will reserve judgement until we have examined the Bee and its evocative symbolism in further detail.
Gigantic statues from the Assyrian city of Nimrud – now modern Iraq, and Persepolis – now modern Iran, appear to have continued the Sumerian ‘winged tradition’ by depicting bulls with wings. This is intriguing, for ancient cultures the world over have maintained that Bees are born of bulls, and here we have statues depicting bulls with wings.
A Bull statue with wings from Persepolis, another from Nimrod
The ancient custom of placing a Beehive in the head of a bull was at first a domestic exercise, and enabled the bull’s head to be purified of all matter before being used for practical purposes. Only later did the tradition morph into a highly symbolic ritual where Bees found on the carcasses of dead bulls represented the regeneration of souls. As we shall see, the belief that Bees were born of sacred bulls was especially prevalent in Egypt and Mediterranean cultures such as the Greeks and Minoans. Like the Sumerian reliefs that depicted humans with wings, the representation of bulls with wings will be duly noted and no conclusions drawn – just yet.
The Bee featured prominently in another ancient culture – the Dogon, a tribe from the West African region of Mali whose Nommo ancestors and Sirian mythology were made famous by Robert Temple in his book, The Sirius Mystery. The Dogon belief system is ancient, and until approximately 140 AD, its zodiac featured the Bee as the symbol of the constellation presently occupied by Libra. The Bee’s position in the Dogon Zodiac is significant to esoteric thought leaders such as Cabalists, who recognize the Bee’s role in establishing balance and harmony in the zodiac – and in life. Curiously, two of the most common Dogon symbols resemble schematized figures identified by Marija Gimbutas as Bees; one is associated with vital food supplies and the other with reincarnation. Together, the Dogon images reflect the essence of the Bee’s perceived value in ancient times.
Common Dogon Symbols ©
The Bee in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians shared many similarities with the Sumerians and Dogons, including the veneration of Bees. Sophisticated Apiculture, or the organized craft of Beekeeping, was practiced in Egypt for thousands of years. According to Bee expert Eva Crane, whose authoritative book, The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting remains the primary reference work in the genre; “beekeeping was very important before 3000 BC, especially in the Delta.” In other words, the agricultural, nutritional, medicinal and ritualistic value of the Bee and its honey was important in Egypt from pre-dynastic times onwards, as demonstrated by the fact that King Menes, founder of the First Egyptian Dynasty, was called “the Beekeeper”; a title ascribed to all subsequent Pharaohs. Additionally, the Kings administration had a special office called the ‘Sealer of the Honey’, and Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt bore the title “he who belongs to the sedge and the bee”. An image of the Bee was even positioned next to the King’s cartouche.
The Bee, next to the signature of Hatshepsut, the 5th Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty
EgyptologistWallis Budge translated the Book of Opening the Mouth, and in doing so provided insight that confirmed the Bees’ importance in Egyptian mythology. One phrase simply read, “The Bee, giving him protection, they make him to exist”, while another adds: “Going about as a bee, thou seest all the goings about of thy father.” The later may in fact refer to the Ka, or an individual’s soul – or double, who is nurtured after death.
Egyptian mythology contains countless references to the Bee, including the belief that Bees were formed through the tears of the god RA. To put this into perspective, we are informed that the most important god in the Egyptian pantheon had Bees for tears. The ancient writings of Am-Tuat (the Otherworld) explains:
“This god cries out to their souls after he hath entered the city of the gods who are on their sand, and there are heard the voices of those who are shut in this circle which are like the hum of many bees of honey when their souls cry out to Ra.”
And similarly, the Salt Magical Papyrus states:
“When RA weeps again and the water which flows from his eyes upon the ground turns into working bees. They work in flowers and trees of every kind and wax and honey come into being.”
The Egyptian God RA, who cried Bees for tears
The Bee’s association with the tears of RA is interesting, for the ideogram of the Bee has been interpreted by Egyptologists to represent honey, and its eyes the verb, “to see”. Many have studied its meaning, such as the Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner, who featured the Bee in his book Egyptian Grammar. So did the German Egyptologist Kurt Sethe, who believed the Egyptians had forgotten the original word for Bee. Similarly, the Egyptologist Hermann Grapow felt that the Bee’s title was completely “unreadable”. The point being, Egyptologists agree that they have yet to ascertain the symbol’s true meaning.
A description of the Bee ideograph from
The Rosetta Stone: The Discoveries of Dr. Thomas Young:
The Classification of the Egyptian Alphabet by Champollion
Intriguingly, Northern Egypt – the land stretching form the Delta to Memphis was known as “Ta-Bitty”, or “the land of the bee”. Similarly in the bible, the Lord promises to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey. Poetically, later civilizations referred to the land of milk and honey as a sort of mythical utopia; a bountiful, abundant and fertile region, reminiscent of the Mother Goddess herself.
Bees are portrayed on the walls of Egyptian tombs and offerings of honey were routinely presented to the most important Egyptian deities. Indeed, honey was the ‘nectar of the gods’, and like the Sumerians before them, Egyptian physicians valued its medicinal value in many important procedures. In other words, they too practiced Apitherapy. Egyptian medicine men were often indistinguishable from sorcerers, and Beeswax was an essential ingredient in the creation of effigies used in rituals. In her 1937 book, The Sacred Bee, Hilda Ransome recounts several examples, stating that “One of the earliest instances of the magical use of wax is in the Westcar Papyrus.” In her example, Ransome recounts how a Beeswax effigy of a crocodile comes alive and eats the lover of mans wife as revenge for violating his marriage agreement.
Honey was frequently mentioned in papyri and was even a vital ingredient in Egyptian beer. This linked the Bee to commerce, for beer was often used as a form of wages. In fact, the versatile nectar was so cherished that promises of honey from husband to wife were included in marriage contracts, and even the Pharaoh Ramses III offered up 15 tons of honey to the Nile God Hapi, in the 12th Century BC. The Health Benefits of Honey web site sheds further light on honey’s unique role in Egyptian society:
“The oldest hieroglyphic carvings in temples, on sarcophagi and obelisks sufficiently prove that bees and honey had a vital significance in the daily life of the population of Egypt…Honeycombs, honey cakes, sealed jars of honey and lotus blooms were placed next to the sarcophagi as food for the souls of the dead. In the tomb of Pa-Ba-Sa, in Thebes, the entire wall is decorated by rows of bees. A man is shown pouring honey into a pail, another is kneeling and praying before a pyramid of honeycombs. On the wall of the tomb of Rekh-Mi-Re all phases of the honey industry are depicted; how the combs were removed from the hives with the aid of smoke, the baking of honey cakes, the filling and sealing of jars, etc.”
Bee hieroglyph – Luxor © Kenneth J Stein
The Bee is featured prominently in many Egyptian temples, including the pillars of Karnak, the Luxor obelisk now erected on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, the 20th Dynasty sarcophagus of Rameses III, a granite statue of Rameses II, the sarcophagus of a 26th Dynasty priest and on the Pyramid of Unas, to name but a few. Additionally, at the temple of Dendera an inscription recounts how Osiris emulated the Bee and provided instructions for knowing the “hsp”, or the sacred garden of the Bee in the other world – a domain believed to contain the tree of the golden apples of immortality. And in the Egyptian Delta, in the ancient Temple of Tanis – which is said to have once housed the Ark of the Covenant, the Bee was its first and most important ideogram. In fact, the Bee is even featured on the Rosetta Stone.
An intriguing source for the genesis of Bee symbolism in Egyptian mythology is the Eastern Egyptian Desert (EED) – a desolate expanse of Wadi’s stretching eastward from Luxor to the Red Sea. The seldom visited land is renowned for its pre-dynastic rock art, etched on barren cliff sides and isolated rock faces. The region has quietly emerged as a leading candidate for Egypt’s pre-dynastic origins, and may hold vital clues as to the genesis of Bee symbolism in Egyptian society.
Sunrise over camp in the Eastern Egyptian Desert
The importance of EED rock art as an indicator of pre-dynastic Egypt settlement was first observed by two pioneering Egyptologists in the early part of the 20th century; Arthur Weigall in 1907 and Hans Winkler in 1936. The region was later popularized by Egyptologist and New Chronology proponent David Rohl, whose book Legend; The Genesis of Civilization, and subsequent catalogue of EED rock art, rejuvenated the debate over Egypt’s origins and underscored the regions importance in pre-dynastic studies. The essence of Rohl’s hypothesis is that EED rock art depicts the migration of a people who dragged their boats from Mesopotamia across the desert and into the Nile Valley, where they ultimately settled and founded pre-dynastic Egyptian civilization.
Another respected Egyptologist, Toby Wilkinson from Cambridge University, wrote of the importance of the EED in his book; Genesis of the Pharaohs, and drew his own, albeit more conventional conclusions. I toured the region with both men in 1999 and found its evocative rock art to be magical, mysterious, and well worth the journey.
EED rock art: Boats and figures with ‘antennas’. © Andrew Gough
The EED rock art features two images of relevance in our analysis, and each occurs with regularity in the Wadi’s leading westward to the Nile Valley. The first is an exalted looking figure with exaggerated plume-like attributes, as featured in the picture above. The plumed figure appears in both male and female form, and is usually depicted standing in a boat. The unusual lines extending upwards from the main figures’ heads, recall the antenna of the Bee while hinting at the shape of the plumes that would characterize the headdress of Egyptian Kingship for thousands of years to come. They also recall the god Amun, who is frequently shown with two tall plumes rising on top of a crown.
Plumed Gods in the Eastern Desert and reliefs of later Egyptian Deities
The other image of note is the Dancing Goddess motif, a woman with her hands bowed over her head just as the Bee Goddess had been depicted in Sumerian and Central European reliefs thousands of years earlier. The image is widespread in Egyptian mythology, although its origins remain a mystery. The abundance of Dancing Goddess images in the EED is especially intriguing, for they appear to support two different but equally interesting scenarios. Firstly, that the EED was one of the routes traveled by the Sumerians into the Nile Valley – as argued by Rohl, and secondly, that the EED was the path traveled by the forefathers of the Mormon religion; a group whose mythology is nothing if not obsessed with a legendary man-led migration of Bees across the ancient world and into America – or so its modern founders claim. We shall review the latter further, in our second installment, for the Mormon religion has greatly influenced the adoption of Bee symbolism in America.
AG1: An EED ‘Dancing Goddess’ etching logged in Rohl’s catalogue © Andrew Gough
With respect to the Dancing Goddess motif, Yosef Garfinkel informs us of an intriguing observation in his book, Dancing at the Dawn of Agriculture;
“In the early Neolithic period of the Near East, female figures played the dominant role in dancing, and they compromise 75% of the depictions. In Predynastic Egypt, a similar, high proportion of female figures appears in the dancing scenes (ca 83%).”
Once again, this is especially interesting when we consider that the Bee is the only insect that communicates with dance, and according to scholars, Dancing Goddesses represent Bees – and here in the pre-dynastic EED we find a wide assortment of Dancing Goddess figures.
Still another visual clue is the Egyptian ceremonial dress, which has certain stylistic similarities with the Bee, namely the headdress, or nemes, and alternating yellow and dark horizontal stripes. This visual synchronicity is discernable in many reliefs and sculptures but is perhaps best illustrated in the death mask of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh, Tutankhamen. Before dismissing the possibility that the Bee inspired Egyptian ceremonial dress, it is interesting to recall the Beehive tiara of the 8th millennium BC Turkish Bee Goddess discussed earlier – a motif agreed by scholars to represent the Bee. In this light, does the Egyptian Bee motif seem so far fetched?
A Bee | Egyptian Death Mask | Turkish Bee Goddess Tiara – 8000 BC
Once again, Marija Gimbutas provides a valued perspective: “The image of the goddess in the shape of a Bee or some other kind of insect has a very long history.” With this in mind, the notion of the Mother Goddess manifest as Queen Bee is interesting, for Bees are the definitive example of a true matriarchal society. The Queen Bee rules, and is viewed as the ‘mother’ of all bees in the hive. She’s fierce, and her power is absolute. The Queen Bee is developed in a pouch while the worker and drone Bees develop in the traditional a 6-sided honeycomb cell, and she develops in 16 days – approximately days 5 faster than other Bees. As a young Bee, the Queen in waiting is fed ‘royal jelly’ – a high protein substance derived from the heads of young Worker Bees. The young royal is groomed to become the sole, mated Queen in the hive, and is expected to kill all competitors that stand in her way. Her success as a ‘warrior princess’ is facilitated by the fact that unlike her rivals, her grooming has enabled her to sting repeatedly without dying.
The Queen Bee © www.carolinabees.com
If the Bee Goddess was a manifestation of the Mother Goddess, then we must ask; why is its symbolism not more visible in Egyptian mythology? One possibility, is that the Mother Goddess manifest as a ‘Queen Bee’ or Bee Goddess, morphed into another deity altogether. Another possibility is that the tradition was later suppressed – but why? We shall now review each scenario in more detail, in hope of finding some answers.
There are several candidates for the Egyptian deity that the Mother Goddess turned Bee Goddess morphed into, including the Egyptian God Min, who was known as the ‘Master of the Wild Bees’. Min was a pre-dynastic Bee Master, dated to 3000 BC, or even earlier. Min is traditionally depicted dressed in feathers with Bee like antenna plumes and an erect penis, and his symbols include a white bull and an arrow. Although Min is in fact a strong candidate, upon closer inspection, it appears that the Egyptian Goddess Neith is in fact the deity that the Mother Goddess turned Bee Goddess morphed into, for Neith was a warrior goddess with fertility symbolism and virginal mother qualities; all attributes of the Mother Goddess – and the Queen Bee.
Neith, wearing the ‘Deshret’ crown of Northern Egypt
Neith was an important deity from the First Dynasty (3050 – 2850 BC) whose cult was based in Sais, a town in the Western Nile Delta. Sadly, Neith’s temple is now lost from history, but fortunately some interesting accounts have survived. We are informed by the 5th century Greek Historian Herodotus, in his work Histories, that the temple had ‘pillars carved so as to resemble palm-trees’. We shall discuss the significance of palm trees further in our second installment, for they appear to be related to Bees. Herodotus also informs us that the gateway to the temple was;
‘an astonishing work, far surpassing all other buildings of the same kind in both extent and height, and built with stones of rare size and excellency’.
The Ruins of Sais and the lost Temple of Neith
The Romans later revived the cult of Neith and reenacted rituals symbolizing her summer return – on a boat, like the Bee Goddess was portrayed in the EED, as it migrated from eastern lands. In Sais, Neith was regarded as the Goddess of the ‘House of the Bee’ and the Mother of RA; the ‘the ruler of all’. Neith’s House of the Bee bore a very curious inscription, indeed, as first century historian Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus recounts;
“I am All That Has Been, That Is, and That Will Be. No mortal has yet been able to lift the veil that covers Me.”
The 18th century author and philosopher of early German Romanticism Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg – more commonly known as Novalis, paid homage to the inscription in his riddle;
“There was one who arrived there. He lifted the veil of the goddess at Sais. But what did he see? Wonder above wonder, he saw himself.”
Neith was known as the Veiled Goddess, and thus the reference on her temple inscription to ‘lifting a veil’ is intriguing, for Bees are often called hymenoptera, stemming from the word hymen, meaning “veil winged”, representing that which concealed the holy parts of a temple, as well as the veil or hymen of a woman’s reproductive organ. Only later did the veiled wing become associated with the goddess Isis.
Isis and her veiled wings
Equally as curious, Herodotus tells us that the Egyptian god Osiris – whose many symbols included the Beehive, was buried behind the ‘House of the Bee’, which is tantalizing on several levels. Firstly, Osiris is associated with the bull and the Bee, representing the transformation of souls from one to the other. Secondly, the Temple of Neith is where Plato recounted the legend of Atlantis, as relayed by Egyptian priests to the Greek law-giver Solon. Validating Plato’s account some 300 years later, a philosopher by the name of Crantor traveled to Sais to investigate the legend for himself. As Simon Cox and Mark Foster recount in An A to Z of Atlantis;
“Crantor says that he saw the columns in the temple on which the hieroglyphic inscriptions recounted the destruction of the civilization of Atlantis.”
The entire legend is interesting, for the location most commonly believed by scholars to be Atlantis is a Minoan island known in ancient times as Thera, or modern day Santorini. We will discuss the Minoans in more detail in our second installment, but suffice to say their culture shared many similarities with the Egyptians, including the veneration of Bees. Although speculative, the notion of Atlantis as a centre of bull and Bee worship is alluring, and based on the evidence, not entirely unfounded.
Fresco of a Minoan Bull – Knossos
It’s worth noting that the Western Oasis of Siwa is where Alexander The Great visited the famous Oracle of Amun; the Egyptian god with the Bee antenna inspired plumes on his crown. This is of interest, given the fact that Alexander was believed to have been wrapped in honey before his burial, a common custom throughout Egypt and Assyria. Once again, it is Herodotus who comments on the tradition when he reports that; “Babylonians buried their dead in honey, and had funeral lamentations like the Egyptians.” Might the use of honey in ancient burials hint at the earliest forms of mummification?
An Egyptian monument that inconspicuously exhibits Bee symbolism is the Saqqara step pyramid, which boasts 6 levels above ground and 1 very special level below – the Apis Bull necropolis known as the Serapeum. On the most fundamental level, the step pyramid recalls the 6-sided shape of a Bee’s honeycomb as well as the 6th god of the Egyptian pantheon – Asar, the god of life and death whose symbol is the Djed pillar, and who was often depicted as a ‘green man’.
Saqqara Step Pyramid and court where the Heb Sed Festival was performed
© Andrew Gough
The Serapeum was discovered northwest of the Step Pyramid in 1850 by the explorer Auguste Mariette, who became interested in Saqqara after traveling to Egypt to study Coptic texts. The story goes that Mariette observed the head of a Sphinx protruding from the sand near the Step Pyramid, which ultimately led him to the entrance of the necropolis where he discovered a burial hall of sacred Egyptian Apis bulls.
Herodotus described the Apis bull as sacred, stating that the;
“Apis is the calf of a cow which is never afterwards able to bear young. The Egyptians say that fire comes down from heaven upon the cow, which thereupon bears Apis.”
Furthermore, Herodotus distinguished between the fate of the male and female bull;
“it was only the black bulls with special marks – a white disc between its horns being one of the most important – who were really entitled to the name Apis.”
Hilda Ransome adds;
“the females, who are sacred to Isis, are thrown into the river (Nile), but the males are buried in the suburbs of the towns with one or both of their horns appearing above the surface of the ground to mark the place. When the bodies are decayed a boat comes, at an appointed time, from the island of Prosopitis, which is a portion of the Delta, and calls at the various cities in turn to collect the bones of the oxen.”
The description is fascinating, and underscores the ritualistic significance of the Apis bull in Egyptian religion and society. It also highlights that only certain bulls were revered, namely the Apis, which was all black except for a white triangle on its forehead, and a bull with a white body and a black head called Muntu, which was sacred to the Bee master god Min. The cult of the god Apis dates to the First Dynasty and possibly earlier, for the constellation of age of Taurus began in 4530 BC. Like the Apis bull itself, the constellation has a distinctive triangle on its forehead, with a prominent star – Alderbaran, in the location of the “third eye”, which represents with the 7th chakra, or the passage through the abyss and the notion of transcending time. Clearly, the Egyptians were obsessed with the veneration of the bull. The question remains, was their obsession intrinsically linked to the Bee?
The constellation of Taurus – the bull
Egyptologists believe that the Apis Bull was bestowed with the regenerative qualities of the Memphite god Ptah – the Egyptian god of reincarnation. They also believed that those who inhaled the breath of the Apis bull received the gift of prophesy, and perhaps most importantly of all, the Egyptians believed that the bull was transformed into Osiris Apis, after death. ‘Bee’ in Latin is ‘Apis’, which may have derived from Sipa / Asipa in Mesopotamia; Sipa meaning ‘Great Shepherd in the Sky’ and Apis meaning Osiris. This relates to the belief that after death, the Pharaoh’s soul joined Osiris as a star in the constellation of Orion. Alternatively, some believe it became a Bee star in the constellation of Cancer. And of course Sipa is Apis spelt backwards.
The god Apis was related to Osiris / Asar and carried the title WHM, meaning repetition of births. It is worth mentioning that Osiris is neither associated with regeneration – the concept of starting over at the beginning of the cosmic ladder of births, nor with reincarnation, – the progression forward or backward in the cosmic ladder based on the virtue of ones actions in this life. Rather, Osiris represented resurrection, or the obtainment of total consciousness and awareness of all that has been and will be, by willingly stepping off the ladder after death and terminating the process of reincarnation. And this required preparation, intent and ritual.
The Egyptian god Apis – the sacred bull
Curiously, Osiris’s birth was announced by three wise men – or stars, his flesh was symbolically eaten in the form of communion cakes and he was murdered under a full moon before being resurrected. Because of these, and other similarities with the life of Jesus Christ, Osiris is regarded by many as the archetype savior. And as we will discuss in our second installment, Jesus was regarded as an Aetherial Bee and the Qumran Essenes – as King Bees. So both Osiris and Jesus are linked to Bees – once again the question is; by association, were Bees also connected with the concept or resurrection?
The worship of the bull in ancient cultures predates its veneration in Egypt by thousands of years. In Old Europe – and the South of France in particular, caves deep underground depict sacred bulls, such as the 17 foot bull painted on a wall in the ‘Hall of the Bull’ at Lascaux. And in the ‘Temple of Bull Heads’ at Catal Huyuk, bulls appear to have provided an important ritualistic function, as the archeologists’ rendering below illustrates. Might the significance of the bull be related to the Bee, in each instance?
Temple of Bull Heads – Catal Huyuk
As previously noted, the Bee was regarded as sacred due to its multi-purpose nectar and ability to process pollen; a substance regarded as a life-giving ‘dust’ since time immoral. Lands that were graced with Bees flourished – those that were not frequently languished. However, the regenerative symbolism of Bees born from bulls appears to be the aspect the Egyptians revered most, for we are told that an Apis Bull produced 1000 Bees, and that the Bees represented souls. It is unclear where the number 1000 comes from, or for that matter, precisely where and how the concept originated. Nevertheless, the symbolism appears fully formed in Egyptian society from its inception, and in this context is it any wonder that bulls were held sacred? Bulls provided an important domestic function, this is beyond dispute, but could the fact that an Apis bull produced 1000 Bees (souls) have been the real reason why the bull was held sacred in the first place, like it had been 4000 years earlier in ancient Turkey and even earlier in France?
An Apis Bull from the Saqqara Serapeum
Much speculation has occurred about a statue of an Apis bull found in the Serapeum and the object between its horns in particular. The conventional belief is that it represents the Solar Disc, as depicted between the horns of the Goddess Hathor – the patroness of Alchemy, pictured below. However, another school of thought is that it represents the collective wisdom of Bees in the form of a bowl of honey. As we shall see, the belief that Bees and Beehive’s represented a ‘library’ of knowledge was quite common in the ancient world.
The horns of Hathor: solar disk, or the wisdom of Bees?
The knowledge that Bees were born of bulls leads us to suggest that the underground necropolis known as the Serapeum may have been a ritualistic centre of regeneration designed to recycle souls from the heads of bulls, and not a mausoleum for sacred Apis bulls in and of themselves. The reader will recall that it was a Sphinx submerged in the sand that led Mariette to unearth the Serapeum in the first place. Poetically, this account recalls an earlier passage from the works of Antigonos of Karystos, a philosopher and writer circa 250 BC who recorded a hauntingly similar custom in ancient Egypt;
“In Egypt if you bury the Ox in certain places, so that only his horns project above ground and then saw them off, they say that bees fly out; for the ox putrefies and is resolved into bees.”
So, the Saqqara Serapeum may have been a ritualistic centre for regenerating souls via Bees born of bulls. In our second instalment, we will explore the manner in which the bull was slaughtered and suggest that the Serapeum many have been a ritual centre for what later surfaced as Mithraism; an ancient mystery school with rites involving the slaughter of bulls.
At this juncture it is worth recalling that the Bee was the symbol of Egypt, and that Beekeeper was the title given to the Pharaoh, and honey was an offering presented to the gods in the afterlife. With this in mind, I believe that evidence suggests that one of Egypt’s most iconic images – the Djed Pillar, may also be related to the Bee. Before revealing how and why, it is necessary to review another Egyptian image of great renown – the Ankh.
18th Dynasty Ankh © www.touregypt.net
With respect to the Ankh, www.Answers.com informs us that; “The original meaning of this Egyptian symbol is not known.” Like so many evocative images, the Ankh has been ascribed a wide spectrum of origins, ranging from the knot of Isis, a woman’s womb, the sunrise, a penis sheath, the royal cartouche, and a plethora of other new-age inspired associations. Refreshingly, the Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner observed that the word for sandal strap resembled the word Ankh, and that the loop around the ankle of the sandal resembled the very image of the Ankh. For adherents of Occam’s Razor – the supposition that the simplest explanation is likely to be the correct one – this interpretation resonates, as does a variation on the theme that suggests that the Ankh was a camel shoe. Both interpretations highlight the fact that objects central to everyday life were held sacred for the domestic, yet vital service they provided.
Similarly, I noted in an earlier writing that the Ankh – whose definitions include ‘The key to the Nile’, may represent an Anchor. The two names are linguistically similar and their respective designs are visually striking.
Is the Anchor the prototype for the Egyptian Ankh?
I believe that the stability of any sea or river faring society would be indebted to the service that an anchor provides. And Pharaoh, who is often portrayed with two ankhs; one in each hand, may have symbolically been grounding himself in this life, and the next. Further, first century Saints in Rome had Ankh-like anchors carved on their tombs and the image appears frequently in the catacombs. Could the Ankh have been an anchor? Occam’s Razor seems to at least support the possibility.
Temple of Kom-Ombo: Pharaoh, anchored in this life and the next © Andrew Gough
Just as the Ankh may have been an anchor, or some other rudimentary object, the function of the Djed Pillar, arguably the most enigmatic of all Egyptian symbols, may also have its roots in domestic use. The Djed, like the Bee, is strongly associated with the concept of stability. It’s also associated with the god Osiris, creating the belief amongst many scholars that the Djed is ‘the backbone of Osiris’. As previously discussed, Osiris is associated with bulls, regeneration and the Bee. In fact, Djedu is the Egyptian word for Busiris, an ancient centre of Osiris worship. Ultimately, this symbolism has prompted some to suggest that the Djed is actually the sacrum of a bull’s spine – a common offering in ancient animal sacrifices. And in fact, Sacrum in Latin is sacer, or “sacred”, a translation of the Greek hieron, meaning sacred or strong bone.
The Djed © www.touregypt.net and the Sacrum bone
Still others have associated the Djed with the Tree of Life, due to the myth that Osiris was imprisoned in a Tamarind tree, and that the Djed resembles a tree. This is understandable, as the Djed played a vital role in the ‘Renewal’ or ‘Sed Festival’, which was sometimes known as the ‘Festival of the Tail’. During the Sed Festival, Pharaoh would run around an outdoor temple with a tail of a bull affixed to his regalia, stopping to shoot arrows in all cardinal directions in order to symbolically mark the boundaries of his kingdom.
With respect to bow and arrows, it is interesting to note that as a warrior Goddess, Neith is associated with archery – and arrows, as is Min, the pre-dynastic god whose titles included ‘Master of the Wild Bee’. The Sed Festival, which was typically held on the 30th anniversary of the king’s reign, was held throughout Egypt, although Luxor and Saqqara – site of the Apis bull necropolis of regeneration – were arguably the most special (see previous picture of Step Pyramid and the court where the Sed Festival was held).
The Sed Festival featured the Djed, which was ceremonially raised as a symbol of the potency and duration of the pharaoh’s rule. We have already noted how honey was believed to prolong life and was a vital ingredient in drinks used for magic and ritual. Not surprisingly then, the Djed is frequently depicted being presented to the Pharaoh’s mouth in various reliefs and stele. And herein lays a clue to its possible function.
The raising of the Djed is depicted in many places and perhaps most notably at Abydos, where a secretive Passion Play took place in the presence of the King. Another centre known for its Djed raising rituals was Memphis – the domain of the god Ptah, who was known as “the Noble Djed’. Memphis is also known to have had a sanctuary dedicated to the Bee where the most noble of women served as priestesses of the goddess Neith. Reliefs showing the raising of the Djed often depict the Djed with plumes, recalling the image of a Bee-like antenna, as earlier discussed, and illustrated below in a relief from Abydos.
Djed offering from Abydos. Raising the Djed – or Dead?
So, we have learned that Egypt was the Land of the Bee and that the King was the Beekeeper and that honey was the Nectar of the Gods offered to the deities in the afterlife. In this context, might the Djed have simply been the instrument that administered honey – the ‘nectar of the gods’, to the actual Gods. Might the Djed have been a form of Honey Dripper? Even the most callused of observers can observe the similarity in design, function and context.
Suggesting that the Djed may have been a real or symbolic honey dripper does not deny that it, or for that matter the Ankh, did not have a deeper, more spiritual, and esoterically important meaning. It only suggests that its origins may very well have been rudimentary and ordinary, and from that foundation sprang more sacred associations.
Lastly, before concluding our review of Bee symbolism in Egypt, we would be remiss if we did not explore the controversy surrounding the image of the Sphinx, for amazingly enough, it too may be related to the Bee. The image depicted on the Sphinx has long been the source of speculation. A lioness is the most popular theory, and is supported by the legend of the gods Akeru; two lion guardians who preside over the east / west axis, and hence the rising and setting sun. The gods are related to Horus – the god of the East, RA – the god of the midday sun and Asar – the god of the night sun. The legend of two lion guardians has in recent times given rise to the belief that a second Sphinx may exists beneath the sands of the Giza Plateau, although this remains to be seen.
Others believe the image of the Sphinx portrays the dog Anubis – or Anpu, and curiously, the vital force of Anpu’s skin is frequently represented by Bees. Anubis was also known as the ‘Lord of the Hallowed Land’, meaning necropolis, and his cult is thought to predate Osiris. And of course, we have the possibility that the 4th Dynasty King Khafre (2558 – 2532 BC) had the Sphinx re-carved in his own image, or obscured its identity – perhaps in an attempt to usurp an earlier matriarchal rule. After all, the Goddess Neith was worshiped more than most other Egyptian Gods at the time of the King’s reign.
Alternatively, as Khafre’s pyramid most closely aligns with the Sphinx, and as he was the son of Khufu, whose pyramid was the grandest in all of Egypt, perhaps he re-carved the Sphinx in his own image in an attempt to ‘one-up’ his father. Or, was it just the opposite? Might Khafre have re-carved the Sphinx in the very image of his father as a form of ancestor worship? Irrespective of these rather speculative suppositions, we may very well find a clue to the true identity of the Sphinx in its name.
The Sphinx was known by the ancient Egyptians as Hun nb and most of us forget that it was the Greeks who named it Sphinx, a word believed to stem from the Greek verb σφιγγω, or sphiggo, meaning “to strangle”. As this definition is somewhat ambiguous to our 21st century minds, we will examine what other ancient cultures knew the Sphinx as in hopes of gaining further insight.
For a start, the Sphinx was known as Abul-Hol in Arabic, which has been translated as ‘Father of Terror’. The Sabians called it Hwl, which equates to the Egyptian Hu. Furthermore, the stele in front of the Sphinx refers to Hor-em-Akhet-Khepri-Re-Atum and Atum-Hore-Akhet, with Thutmosis being described as the Protector of the Horakhti. Egyptologists have often translated Hor-em-Akhet and Horakhti as Horus of the Two Horizons, which harkens back to the two guardian gods Akeru. In short, these are the names of the Sphinx in the language of those whose monuments shared the plateau or who visited the site in antiquity. But has that helped us understand the true identity of the Sphinx? Just possibly the answer involves another culture altogether – that of the Minoans.
We will explore the Minoans in the context of the Bee in our second installment, but suffice to say they existed in the same time and in some instances, in the same place as the ancient Egyptians. The Minoans were experts in Beekeeping – or Apiculture, and we know that the Greeks adopted their knowledge of the craft from them. And again, it was the Greeks who named the rock hewn statue ‘Sphinx’ in the first place. So how does all this relate to the Bee? The Minoans had a word for Bee, and they called it ‘Sphex’ (Hilda Ransome, The Sacred Bee P64, 1937).
So what can we conclude from this revelation? The civilization that educated the Greeks in the craft of Beekeeping used the word ‘Sphex’ to describe the Bee – and the Greeks named the rock statue ‘Sphinx’. Entertaining the scenario for a moment; does this mean that the Pharaoh Khafre re-shape the Sphinx with the intent of concealing its Mother Goddess influenced origins? Could the 4th Dynasty have involved an attempt to suppress the cult of the Mother Goddess and conceal the importance of the Goddess Neith – the Goddess that existed before the other Gods? Was the Sphinx already present when Menes first established Kingship and was it known that the Sphinx represented the Bee, hence the Pharaoh’s title, Beekeeper?
The head of the Sphinx – did the image once portray a Bee Goddess?
The analysis is speculative, and further etymological work is required. At a cursory glance, the Online Etymology Dictionary states that the definition of ‘Sphinx’ includes: “Monster, having a lion’s (winged) body and a woman’s head.” Further, ‘Sphex’ in ancient Greek and contemporary language refers to Wasps – a form of Bee. Once again, expert etymological work beckons, but the implication that the Sphinx might in some way, shape, or form, represent the Bee remains highly intriguing, and as we shall see in our second instalment, legends of lions and bees and winged sphinx’s are quite common in the ancient world.
Further in the next installment, we will explore the decidedly feminine and winged Sphinxes of the Greek tradition in more detail, for lo and behold, they resemble Bees. We will also discover that another pyramid building culture may shed further light on the matter – the Mayans; a civilization that worshiped the Bee like few others. We will also review the veneration and importance of the Bee across many different cultures and epochs, right up to modern times. Not surprisingly, the lost esoteric significance of the Bee appears to be quite prevalent and significant. But is the Bee, like its once powerful symbolism, at risk of becoming extinct?
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 © | 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.