Bees in Spain 15,000 BC sketched by Michelle Snyder
Bee keeping is a prehistoric activity. In Spain, depicted on a wall, is an image of a human collecting honey, ca. 15,000 BC. In Egypt there is an image of a beekeeper that dates to 1300 BC. Bee symbolism was associated with kings until the discovery that the king-bee was a queen, after which bees became linked to the Great Goddess, representing communal and mutual support, as well as fertility. A beehive displays an industrious gathering of workers, who toil with seemingly endless energy. The bee’s wings and their ability to distill heavenly honey from the fragrance of flowers contribute a spiritual dimension to the bee’s symbolism. Honey is sweet yet beneficial, a healer of wounds, and is associated with ambrosia, the food of gods. In Ireland bees produce the honey from which mead (the drink of immortality) is made, and are protected by law. To the Celts, the bee represents secret wisdom from the otherworld, and Celts refresh themselves with honey-sweetened wine. In Greek mythology bees are connected to Zeus, who was born in a cave sacred to bees and was nourished by honey.
Bees are associated with priestesses, prophets, poets, and philosophers: the spiritual associations with bees link them to purity, inspiration, eloquence, and intellect. One legend tells of bees alighting on the lips of babes, granting gifts of eloquence and poetry to Pindar, Plato, Sappho, and St. Ambrose. Christianity considers that bees embody a spark of divine intelligence, imparting symbolic property to the buzz, or song, of the bees. The bee’s honey and song represent Christ’s sweetness and pain, mercy and judgment. Here, the bee symbolizes the Christian, the hive represents the Church.
Bees are disciplined, and they collectively ensure the survival of their species, and thus symbolize the survival of the human soul. An individual bee symbolizes the quickening power between heaven and earth. Carved on tombs, bees signify immortality. Because bees disappear for three months of winter only to reappear in spring, they have become a symbol of resurrection. Plato declares that the souls of the dead are resurrected as bees. The Path of the Bees, a German expression, refers to the “wind” that carries the souls.
In antiquity the Great Mother was also known as the Queen Bee; at Eleusis and Ephesus her priestesses were called bees. Given the long history of feminine association, it is reasonable to conclude that the bee was later used as a cryptic symbol for those who still worshiped the Great Goddess during the time when the Church suppressed such ideas. Charlemagne had bees embroidered on his royal robes. Napoleon also had bees on his robes, symbolizing cooperation and prosperity.
The next time you observe a bee hovering over a delicate flower, remember that they produce the food of the gods, and listen for the buzzing song as you run away.
Bee Tray, Michelle Snyder