The Ancient Sacred Origin of Honey and Bees

An article about the history and importance of bees

Summer's Solstice! In honor of this day, I put together some pieces of information about the honeybee and the roots of its symbolism and reverence for it in ancient cultures all around the world. The Summer Solstice is closely tied to honey, fertility, and the bees.

In fact, the word "honeymoon" derives from the use of mead (fermented honey) by a couple after their marriage to promote fertility. It is a nice sacrament to use in various ceremonies to observe this day and the bees certainly deserve to be venerated and honored for all they represent and all they do for us and nature.

Mythological Depictions Of Bees, The Beehive And Honey

In consideration of some of the myths surrounding our symbols, in general, bees have been thought of as messengers of the spirits. "Telling the bees" was a way to relay messages to friends and relatives who have passed over. In some folklore, the sudden presence of a bee represents the imminent arrival of a stranger. Looking back to Eqypt, bees were considered tears of the sun-god RA. Here we see a relationship with the sun that we will see later. The bee hieroglyphic is a symbol of Lower Egypt.

Because of the sudden appearances of bees they became symbols of death and rebirth. Bees also represented the soul. Honey was often offered to deities.In Hindu myth and iconography, the bee surmounting a triangle is a symbol of Shiva. Sometimes we see a blue bee on the forehead of Krishna, as the avatar of Vishnu. Kama, the god of love, like Cupid has a bow and arrows, and the bow string is made up of bees. In the yogic doctrine, where each chakra emits a different sound in meditation, the lowest chakra (muldhahara) emits a hum likened in the writings to a bumblebee. Note that the first chakra represents our strongest bond to the material world and Eros or Cupid in Greek philosophy is the natural impelling force towards sensual objects.

Further in the ancient Greek world, for the Orphics the bee symbolized the soul because they migrated in swarms. The second temple built at Delphi was said to be built by bees. The god of love, Cupid, is often pictured with bees or being stung. In the myth it is written that Venus says to her son after he is stung: "Thou too art like a bee, for although a tiny child, yet how terrible are the wounds thou dost inflict!" Periclymenus, one of the Argonauts, was granted by Posidon the power of changing his shape into a lion, a snake, or a bee. Throughout the Mediterranean the bee was also a symbol of Spring because it was associated with the blooming gorse (a broom) that turned the hillsides all over the region bright yellow as soon as the Sun's light increased. As soon as this happened the bee appeared. Here is another connection of the bee with the sun and with the idea of resurrection.

A fascinating connection regards the Rites of Eleusis. These mystery rites were widely regarded as the high point of Greek religion. They centered around the goddess Demeter who was the Great Mother deity. The myth regarded nature's seasonal death and resurrection and represented it in the story of Demeter, her daughter Persephone and her abduction by Hades. Persophone or Kore was sometimes called honey-like and the moon (among other reasons because the moon is also called a bull and Taurus is its exaltation). The rites were conducted by the Hierophant and Hiera, the Hierophantides (2 females) and the Panageis Priestesses or Milissae - meaning bees. The function of these priestesses is still not known.

There are coins from Ephesus from the 5th century B.C. that depict a queen bee as a symbol of the Great Mother. Ephesus was known throughout the ancient world for its temple to the Great Mother Goddess.(more on, in France and in ancient Egypt (associated with Râ, the Sun God).Three hundred gold bees were discovered in the tomb of Childeric I (on the year 481), which showed that the hive was the model of an absolute menarche. Napoleon I used bees as a motif on all his carpets, as well as on his coronation robes. As the workers of the hive, bees are symbol of an industrious and prosperous community governed by the queen bee. They have therefore symbolized all that is. In the Greek religion, the bee was sometimes identified with Demeter, the goddess of the earth and crops, who represented the soul sent to hell. The bee also symbolizes the soul that flies away from the body in the Siberian, Central Asian, and South American Indian traditions. As organizers of the universe between earth and sky, bees symbolize all vital principles," (Pliny) and also settled also on the lips of Saint Ambrose, the patron-saint of beekeepers. According to Virgil, they have a grain of divine intelligence and the famous Pythia, the priestess of Apollo, was called "the bee of Delphi". In some texts from India, the bee represents the spirit becoming intoxicated with the pollen of knowledge. In Hebrew, the word for bee, Dbure, has its origins in the word Dbr, speech. They settled on the mouth of the child, Plato, "Bees also symbolize: it represents his mildness and mercy on one side and his justice on the other.

Shamanism, the world's oldest healing tradition, is found in all cultures on Earth. Shamans work with their allies--the animal spirits.Bees inhabited the sacred grove, the enchanted forest, the timeless realm between the living and the dead. The sweetness of honey had a mystical sense; it was a taste of the sweetness of wisdom, the wisdom of the numinous other world.

Bees were everywhere an essential part of the depiction of wild nature. The Priestesses of Artemis, the Goddess of the mountains and the forest and the moon, were called Melissonomoi, beekeepers. A fragment of early Greek poetry, Alcman 89, describes creatures of the wilderness: Birds of the Muses "Bees have an ancient reputation as the bringers of order, and their hives served as models for organizing temples in many Mediterranean cultures. Priestesses at Cybele's temples in Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome were called Melissai or Melissae, the Greek and Latin words for bees. These priestesses were often prophets or oracles who entered an ecstatic trance enduced by preparations that included ingesting honey. (The Greek word for this state of transfigured consciousness is enthusiasmos -- 'within is a god" -- the root of our word enthusiasm.)Bees, familiars of the Goddess since Catal Huyuk, appear frequently in classical mythology. They are called the "Birds of the Muses" and are attracted to the heavenly fragrances of flowers, from which they make the divine nectar, honey. Honey is antibacterial, and its mildly laxative properties and sweet taste made it a primary ingredient in ancient medicines. It was widely believed to be a source of divine nourishment. In the myths of the ancient world, honey often nourished a divine child raised in secret by a goddess in the depth of caves. "(greatfully quoted from When the Drummers were Women by Layne Redmond)

The precise identity of the Bee Goddess remains a great mystery. Nevertheless, she is a very strong spirit for these times of great transition. Signs of her worship are evident in the Mediterranean cultures of around 3,000 years ago at the temples of Artemis. She is one of the oldest and most popular aspects of the Divine Feminine. Image Born on the Greek Island of Delos, Artemis was sister of Apollo and daughter to Zeus and Leto. When she was a young girl, her father, Zeus, asked her what was her dream? She answered that she wished to never have to marry a man and to always be free to roam in the wild forest. Artemis was known as a patron of young virgins, and a powerful protectress of the natural world of fertility. As with other early Goddesses, ceremonies to invoke Artemis were held in groves of trees, at places of special rock outcroppings, at sacred sites along rivers or at quiet springs. Ironically, Artemis's blessings were evenutally cultivated at exquisite temple sites constructed throughout the Mediterranean region.

There is an ancient Egyptian story that bees were born from a tear in the eye of the sun, touching upon their goldenness, the sense that honey is gold, materialized sunlight.Samson comes upon a lion, like Samson, the Hebrew word for "of the sun," a creature of the sun, a creature of gold. She tears the lion apart with Her bare hands. Later She finds the lion's carcass filled with bees. She reaches inside and takes some honey in Her hand and eats it. "Out of the eater came what is eaten," says Samson, "and out of the strong came what is sweet": the painful rending of strength, the hard, discloses within it what is soft, the sweetness.

Bee shows us we can accomplish what seems impossible by having dedication and working hard. It asks us to pursue our dreams with incredible focus and fertilize our aspirations. Bee teaches us to cooperate with others who have similar goals so we can learn how to help each other.Bee shamanism may well be the most ancient and enigmatic branch of shamanism. It exists throughout the world--wherever in fact the honeybee exists. Its medicinal tools--such as honey, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly--are now in common usage, and even the origins of Chinese acupuncture can be traced back to the ancient practice of applying bee stings to the body’s meridians.

Symbolism of the Bee

St. John Chrysostom in his twelfth homily: "The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others." Indeed, the bee works unceasingly for the common good of the hive, and obeys without question what sometimes appears to be an inequitable hierarchy.There are additional meanings of the bee that the Mystery traditions have left us. We cannot hope to exhaust the meanings of Her symbol, but we may at least make a start. Bees are often considered a symbol of the Goddess or Divine Feminine because they are ruled by queens. In particular, they are associated with the goddess Venus because part of their labor is the indirect fertilization of flowers, all of which come under the dominion of Venus. Without bees, many species of flowers would die out, and so the bee may justly be considered a handmaiden of that goddess. There is a Greek tradition, too, of the Nine Muses, the divine patronesses or music and poetry, taking on the form of bees. Her comports well with the ruler-ship of Venus over the arts. Another occult tradition states that the mysterious figure Melchizedek, who is mentioned in the Bible in connection with giving communion to the patriarch Abraham, is an entity that brought three gifts to earth from the planet Venus: the bee, wheat, and the mineral asbestos. The tradition is an allegorical one. The meaning of the three gifts may be partially understood as symbolizing three grades of initiation. In the first grade, one serves (bee). In the second grade, the initiate focuses on understanding and practicing the development of the many out of the one (wheat). In the third grade, the initiate becomes a channel of the Divine Fire; She burns, but is not consumed (asbestos).

In the sacred tradition known as the Qabalah, the planet and goddess Venus are associated with the Sephirah Netzach. THer Sephirah is also called "Saykel Nesether", or the "Occult Intelligence." Two of the potencies of human consciousness that have their root in Venus or Netzach are creative imagination and desire. These are two sine qua non of occult development. Without knowledge of the right use of creative imagination and desire, the aspirant makes little progress.

The bee is also a symbol for wisdom, for it collects pollen from many flowers and turns it into the nourishing honey, which is the gold of bees. Just so, the occult aspirant collects experience from the varying circumstances of Her life and from it extracts spiritual gold. As the spiritual alchemists imply, the life of the occult aspirant is Her laboratory, and Her consciousness and Her body the subjects of Her spiritual experiments. Image Yet there is even more meaning for those occultists who study the Egyptian tradition -- a tradition from which we, ourselves, draw inspiration. A well known cosmological myth from the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis --Greek for City of the Sun, but known as Annu or Iunu in Egyptian, and which is now located in a suburb of modern Cairo -- is that the sun-god Re was self-generated, having spontaneously arisen from the primordial Waters of the Nun (Footnote 1). After Her self-generation, Re began to generate other gods. Another story provides additional dimension to our subject. A lesser known tradition, and one that the priests of Heliopolis themselves are said to have taught as part of their allegorical mysteries, states that the goddess Neith was the first deity that emerged from the Waters of the Nun, making her the foremost of the Egyptian Gods. Having arisen from the Nun, she rested upon a primeval mound that had formed in the midst of the Waters. Raising her voice, she uttered the first sounds or words of power -- "hekau" in Egyptian -- and then created Light (Footnote 2). Next, she became Virgin Mother of the Sun by giving birth to Re, who appeared as a child on the horizon (Footnote 3). She granted the power of disseminating Light to Re through the vehicle of the Sun, then in the form of a bee flew off to the place where the city Sais -- called "Sau" in Egyptian, and which was situated in the middle of the Nile delta -- was to be in order to establish her cult and temple there. The Temple of Neith in Sau is traditionally known as the House of the Bee -- or "Hoot-Bit" in Egyptian.

There are a couple of other myths that support Her version of the Heliopolitan cosmology. First, there is a story from the corpus of myths surrounding the battles of Horus and Set. The Council of Gods convened to decide who should rule Egypt after the death of the god Osiris. Set had murdered Osiris and usurped the throne, but Horus was the rightful heir, though Her youth and inexperience were considered unfavorable factors in the minds of some gods. After much discussion, the gods could come to no resolution, so they suggested that Thoth, the scribe of the Gods, write a letter to Neith, whom they considered the wisest of the Gods. Thoth willingly agreed, and began Her letter: "To Neith, the Eldest One, the Mother of the Gods, who shone in the primeval time." Another myth that may indicate Re's birth from Neith is the story of Isis and Re. Isis, desiring to become as powerful as Re, decided to trick him into revealing Her magic name to her. Knowledge of that name would give Isis great power. She fashioned a serpent out of the spittle of Re that she had found amongst some cedars. She set the serpent along the path where she knew Re was accustomed to walk. Re was bitten, and the poison coursed through Her body, causing agonizing pain. Re screamed and cried in rage, and the tears that flowed from Her eyes turned into bees. Perhaps a cry for help to Her mother? The text does not say. However, since Re has been effectually immobilized, is in pain greater than She can bear, and does not know how to make it cease, it is not unreasonable to assume that She might be calling on the Eldest, the Mother of the Gods, to come to Her aid. Thirdly, the Egyptians sometimes gave Neith the title "Opener of the Ways" because it was she that was the first conscious entity to begin the process of manifestation (Footnote 4).

It is said that the statue of Neith in the House of the Bee was veiled, and that inscribed at its base were the words, "I am all that has been, that is, or shall ever be; no mortal man hath ever me unveiled." Another phrase associated with Neith is "The fruit which I have brought forth is the Sun." Now these phrases are interesting because the first implies a temporal and substantive omnipresence of Neith, which comports well with an entity that was the first to emerge from the Nun. Moreover, the first phrase is almost exactly the esoteric meaning of the Qabalistic God-Name YHVH, or Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh. THer Qabalistic name is derived from the Hebrew verb "to be." Just so, the name Neith is derived from a similarly extended Egyptian verb "to be" (Footnote 5). The second phrase implies that she is the mother of the Sun. We may reasonably take tHer as further confirmation that Neith is, at least by some accounts, the mother of the sun-god Re (Footnote 6).

The symbol of the Veil is an important one throughout the Mysteries, whether they be Christian, Greek, Egyptian, Qabalistic, Rosicrucian, etc. and meditation on the Veil will fruitfully repay the occult student. In one sense, the veil of Neith shrouds what occultists term the "mind side of Nature." The initiate in the House of the Bee was told by the goddess, "Come look beneath my veil." It is both an invitation, and a dare. When the veil is lifted to one by the grace of the goddess, the initiate perceives the inner workings and patterns of Nature, and so perceiving, thereafter learns to consciously participate in them, such that She becomes a human administrator of the will of the Gods (Footnote 7). In fact, the initiate at Her point fully recognizes Her own inner divinity and the responsibilities that such recognition brings. She has become something more than human. And though She still be man, She has not violated Neith's statement "no mortal man hath ever me unveiled." One must take Nature as Her Master before one can take Her as Her Mistress. Her every ancient Egyptian initiate knew. We modern occultists also pay great heed to tHer principle.

Neith was primarily a goddess of wisdom, but also of weaving; it is said that her gift to the newly-deceased were the cloth wrappings in which they were buried (Footnote 8). Some of her oldest and most primitive symbols were hunting equipment -- crossed arrows or spears and two bows. Because of these associations, and her associations with childbirth, the Greeks identified Neith with both Athena (the goddess of wisdom, weaving, and skill in battle), and Artemis (goddess of the hunt, the moon, and childbirth). In particular, she was associated with Artemis Dictynna, an aspect of Artemis as patroness of fisherman, particularly in Crete. Additionally, the symbolism of the net is not too dissimilar from that of the veil (Footnote 9).

In time, though still in the predynastic period in Egyptian Hertory, the figure of the bee became a symbol of royalty in Egypt (Footnote 10). One of the titles of Pharoah in Her office as King of Lower Egypt and wearer of the Red Crown was "Ny-Bit" -- "She who belongs to the Bee" (Footnotes 12 and 13). It is very likely that tHer title was derived from the association of the Bee with the Mother of the Gods, Neith. After all, Pharaoh was seen as a descendant of the Gods, if not a god incarnate himself. But Her is not all. The Red Crown of Egypt is called "deshret", but in some Pyramid texts, it is termed "net" -- a word etymologically very similar to the Egyptian word for Neith. Indeed, Neith is often depicted in temple drawings wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.

It is also of interest that the root word for bee in Egyptian was also used to describe persons of fine character or good quality. Those that are familiar with the curricula of the modern schools of initiation will know that the development of fine character and good qualities is one of the primary aims of the beginning student's work in the Lesser Mysteries.

To summarize, we have associated the bee with service, diligence, the right use of creative imagination and desire, and the collection of wisdom from the experiences of life. From the association with the Egyptian goddess Neith, we have linked the bee to the discernment, and consequent use and administration, of the veiled laws and patterns of Nature, as well as the process of coming to know our own inner divinity as a spiritual fact. Finally, we have seen the bee as a symbol of spiritual royalty and the development of fine character.


Royal Jelly is the substance that turns an ordinary bee into the Queen Bee. It is made of pollen which is chewed up and mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in the nursing bee's heads. This "milk" or "pollen mush" is fed to all the larvae for the first two days of their lives. The larvae chosen to become a queen continue to eat only royal jelly. The queen grows one and a half times larger than the ordinary bee, and is capable of laying up to two thousand eggs a day. The Queen Bee lives forty times longer than the bees on a regular diet. There is no difference between a queen bee and a worker bee in the larval stage. The only factor that is different between them is that a developing queen bee continues to eat only royal jelly. Scientists decided to try feeding the queen bee's diet to other animals with surprising results. The life spa of pigs and roosters showed as much as a thirty- percent increases. Fruit flies fed royal jelly increased in size and in rate of production. Chickens given royal jelly laid twice as many eggs, and older chickens began to lay again.

In France, there have been reports of women fed royal jelly during menopause, showing complete remission of their symptoms. Some were even able to become mothers again. France also claimed that their studies showed royal jelly to have rejuvenating and sexually stimulating effects on both men and women. Canada has approved royal jelly as a natural dietary supplement for its athletes. Royal jelly is not a drug, but a nutritious, quickly assimilated food.

In Germany, Drs. Chochi, Prosperi, Quadri and Malossi (in separate studies) used royal jelly as an aid to badly undernourished and premature babies. The infants fed royal jelly increased in weight and health. Another doctor, Telatui, reported that neuro-psychic patients given royal jelly regained normal weight, a more stable nervous system, and a greater degree of stamina for physical and mental work.

Chemical analysis of royal jelly found it rich in protein and the B vitamins (especially panothenic acid). However, analysis of royal jelly fails to break it down into all its different components. It cannot be synthesized. Royal jelly has proven to be a potent bactericide. It also acts as a catalyst, stimulating intercellular metabolic activities without significantly modifying normal physiological activity. Thus, it hastens cell recovery with no side effects. Royal jelly has been known to speed up healing of wounds and to reduce the amount of scarring.The beneficial effects of royal jelly seem not to depend entirely upon its vitamin content, but upon some type of enzymatic or catalytic action of an as yet unknown factor; or perhaps, the known factors working in combination with a co-enzyme through a process that has not yet been defined.

Since the action of royal jelly seems to be systemic rather that one which affects a specific biological function, it has been recommended for a great variety of purposes: to retard the aging process, for menopause, correction of under-nutrition, for arthritis, vascular diseases, peptic ulcers, liver ailments, nervous instability, skin problems, improvement of sexual functions, general health and well being.

Why bees?

All elements of an ecosystem are important to the functioning of that ecosystem. Remove one element and the system will need to make adjustments. The effect of that adjustment may often not be known until after it has happened. It may be positive or negative, from a human standpoint, but we cannot look at nature from a human standpoint only. Why? Well, ecosystems are complex, possibly too complex for us to be able to understand all the connections and actions and interactions that takes place within them. If we do not know what will happen if something changes, it makes no sense to rush in and make those changes.

Now, with bees and honey bees, in particular we know that over one-third of our food supply relies upon them for pollination services and we know that pollination is essential for the reproduction of the plants the bees service.The honey bee is a major pollinator of many of our food crops, almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon and many other crops all rely on honey bees for pollination.

So if honey bees disappear and we do not find replacements that can do the work they do then foods that we take for granted will decrease in supply and increase in price.The pollination service provided by insect pollinators, bees mainly, was €153 billion (euros) in 2005 for the main crops that feed the world. This figure amounted to 9.5% of the total value of the world agricultural food production.The main reason that the honey bees is important for our world is as simple as this; if the honey bee does not pollinate the crops, the crops do not grow and produce the food that gets harvested and brought to the store where we buy it and bring it home to feed ourselves and our families.In other words there is a direct connection between the bees pollinating the crops and our ability to provide food for our families. The honey bees do provide a second service; they make honey!

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." Albert Einstein

Long Live the Queen and Her Hive! Bee Blessed!