"Our treasure lies in the beehive of our knowledge. We are perpetually on the way thither, being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind."
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher.
The Genealogy of Morals, "Preface," sct. 1 (1887; tr. 1956).
Honey is a sweet, thick, supersaturated sugar solution manufactured by bees to feed their larvae and for subsistence in winter. The nectar of flowers is ingested by worker bees and converted to honey in sacs in their esophagi. It is stored and aged in combs in their hives. Bee honey is an important constituent of the diet of many animals, and is put to many uses by humans.
Bee honey is composed of fructose, glucose, and water, in varying proportions; it also contains several enzymes and oils. The color and flavor depend on the age of the honey and on the source of the nectar. Light-colored honeys are usually of higher quality than darker honeys. Honey to be marketed is usually heated and poured into sealed containers to prevent crystallization.
Honey is the only natural food made without destroying any form of life. Honey is also the only food that does not spoil. Honey found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs has been tasted by archaeologists and found edible. After his death, Alexander the Great's remains were preserved in a huge crock of honey. Among the ancient Egyptians, its was common practice to bury the dead in this manner.
Bee carvings have been found on the temple walls of ancient Egyptians. Indeed, references to honey and its healing powers are found in ancient papyri dating back to 5000 BC. Bee pollen then and now is described by some as "a life-giving dust". Welsh and Celtic folklore has abundant references to the sweet substance. At one point in their history, the Welsh paid their taxes in measures of honey.
Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, wrote, "Honey and pollen cause warmth, clean sores and ulcers, soften hard ulcers of lips, heal carbuncles and running sores."
Bees are, in many different cultures, a symbol of hope, and also inspire cleanliness, social organization, diligence, tireless work, honey-sweet rhetoric, intelligence, and poetry. The bee and its produce has long been recognised as inspirational, for the poets and singers of old were said to have been touched by ‘the spirit of the skilled bee’ and the gods sent bees to the lips of those whom they inspired, or anointed their mouths with honey. Plato, Virgil and Sophocles had their lips touched with honey in infancy. The bee seems to be a symbol of the original source of all life and inspiration. Indeed, the bee was usually looked upon as a symbol of the potency of nature, because while creating a magickal elixir, known for its preservation properties, they were also pollinating flowers, increasing plant fertility, and abundance. Because of these symbolic meanings, the bee has been used as an emblem by those who wish to associate themselves with the inspiration of the Gods.
The bee and its wax are important symbols for initiates of mystery religions. Beeswax was prized for the making of votive images in Pagan temples. Wax representations of various parts of the body in need of healing were offered to the Gods. Beeswax was vital even to the Roman Church, so vital that before the Reformation no abbey or monastery was without its colony of bees and resident Beekeeper. The chief church in Wittenburg was reported to have used 3,000 lbs of wax. Literary parallels were drawn between the humble, industrious and chaste bee and the monks in their monasteries, or the Church as a whole with the Pope as ‘King Bee’. The bee was even considered symbolic of Christ and Mary, for the bees were said to "produce posterity yet retain their virginity".
Not just the wax, but all the produce of the bee was special and sacred, for it was honey or ambrosia on which the gods dined, and which gave them their immortality. According to ancient writers, such as Homer and Pindar, ambrosia was extraordinarily sweet. No ancient writer actually states what ambrosia is, although nectar, its liquid equivalent, is thought to have been some sort of honey-drink, possible mead, and therefore, ambrosia was sometimes thought of as an idealized form of honey. The delicacy of the gods is also said to have been made of honey, water, fruit, cheese, olive oil and barley. Even Odin drank mead, a drink made from fermented honey, while Zeus was raised on honey in a cave of bees. Honey was offered to the gods and smeared on the lips of babies as protective magic.
Some of the priests and priestesses of old were called Melissae or Essenes (bees). Artemis herself was called a bee, and Demeter was addressed as ‘Pure Mother Bee’. The priestess of Apollo at the Delphic Temple was called the ‘Delphic Bee’ and the bee was also the symbol of Diana and Ceres, supposedly because of its virginity.
Aphrodite had a shrine at Mount Eryx, where the Goddess's fetish was a golden honeycomb. Pythagoreans perceived the hexagon as an expression of the spirit of Aphrodite whose sacred number was six. She worshipped bees as her sacred creatures because they understood how to create perfect hexagons in their honeycomb. In Her temple at Eryx, the priestesses were melissae, "bees" and the Goddess herself was entitled Melissa, the Queen Bee.
Hymn to Hermes about the bee priestesses:
"What time they fed on honey fresh, food of the gods divine, The holy madness made their hearts to tell the truth incline, But if from food of honeycomb they needs must keep aloof, Confused they buzz among themselves and speak no word of sooth."
In India and China, too, gods are depicted as bees. One such story tells of the ‘honey-whip’ of the twin Indian gods of light, which bestowed ‘life’s breath’ and ‘forceful speech’ on those it touched. This speaks of the inspirational power of the bee, for the word ‘inspiration’ means literally to draw in breath.
Hindu writings dating back from around 1500 BC also contain references to pollen and honey, as Hindus believed that eating these substances would enable them to maintain good health in both body and mind. In fact, Krishna, the Hindu deity, has been depicted as a bee.
Although the bee has not been deified by the ancient Egyptians, it was worshipped as a source of eternal life. The tomb of the ancient Egyptian king Ramses III (1198-1167 BC) has bee designs in it. In most Egyptian funeral vaults, bees are shown in all phases of honey gathering.
It has been said that the origin of bees is Paradise, and some scholars have even declared that bees possess a portion of the divine breath which was bestowed upon Adam and Eve in Eden.
The Chaldee word for a bee is DABAR which also means a WORD, thus the bee is symbolic for the Word of God, Jesus Christ. The bee is also associated with the lion, in Samson’s riddle of the lion and the bees. Another connection, for Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah. Samson unaided slew the roaring lion and from its carcass took immortal honey, and out of the LION of Judah came the WORD of God; out of His death came eternal life for man.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done. And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well. And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion. And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion.
And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
Bees were the tears of Ra, the sun god, and the giver of life and resurrection. King Menes' wife was named after the bee-goddess, Neit. The oldest recognized temple in Egypt, at Sais in the Nile delta, was named "Hwt-bit", 'Castle of the Bee.'
Krishna, as an avatar of Vishnu, has a blue bee in the middle of his forehead. Soma, the moon, is called a bee. Siva is represented as a triangle surmounted by a bee. Kama, god of love, has a bow-string of bees.
Great Mother was known as the Queen Bee, and her priestesses were called Melissae, the Bees. Bees were the emblem of Eros, Demeter, Cybele, Diana, Rhea, and Artemis. The Pythian priestess at Delphi was known as the Delphic Bee.
In Australia and Africa:
Bees are found as tribal totems. Kung Bushmen believe bees are carriers of supernatural power.
In Celtic areas:
Bees are thought to possess a secret wisdom garnered from the otherworld.
In Imperial France:
Bees were a regal symbol, and the fleur-de-lis of the House of Bourbon.
Copyright © Melissa Blakely-Merrall