BEE LORE
Written and Researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

Apis Mellifera/Honeybee (larger than life) ..... Bombus sp/Bumble Bee

Ask the Bee what the Druids knew.
......................Old English Adage.

The bee has significance in many cultures. The bee carries pollens from plant to plant, so it associated with the success of crops. That is why many farmers, fruit growers, and gardeners keep bees. Bees are coated all over with fuzzy down to which pollen adheres. Their legs have "pollen pockets." The common honey-bee belongs to the order Hymenoptera, and the family Apidae. Each hive has between twenty to forty thousand worker bees, with one queen. The queen lives for three to four years and lays as many as three to four thousand eggs in a twenty-four hour day. The queen mates once with a drone and she has fertilized eggs for life. The eggs produce bees after a twenty-four day gestation period.

Honeybees are normally tree cavity nesters. In South America, domesticated honeybees were crossed with a ferocious strain of African honey bees, in an attempt to improve honey yields. Some of the African bees escaped from their Brazilian test lab. These bees are called "killer bees." They attack in large swarms and over 300 people have been killed from 1957 until 1979. Now these bees have traveled north from Brazil and some have entered Mexico and the southwestern U.S.A.

The Bumble Bee can bore into wood to build a nest. Their elongated mouth-parts enable them to pollinate red clover, which no other bee can do.

Two of my great-grandmothers had Iroquois blood, and one raised bees. Bees used to swarm all over her and she never got stung. My father said she never used netting. You could say she was a "Bee Shaman." She had healing skills and was also considered a "medicine woman." I have her bee book and was told some of her bee legends, by both my dad and grandmother. My grandmother, Ermina, would go to a hive and carefully subdue the bees with smoke before removing the honeycombs to get the honey from same.

As soon as there were humans, they began to collect honey. Sweet bush clover is a good source of honey. Honey is easy on your stomach. Two teaspoons of honey added to a cup of hot water is soothing to the throat.

Bees were thought to be conductors of souls from this world. There would be no fruit and flowers without bees to pollinate them, by flying from blossom to blossom.

Bees sting beekeepers that go to the hives right after cleaning up their barns. Bees hate the odor of cattle and horses. Kicking or bumping the hives make bees angry.

FAMOUS PEOPLE OF LONGEVITY WHO ATE HONEY:

It has been studied and beekeepers do not seem to get cancer.

  • Appolonius ate a diet of milk and honey and lived to age 113 years.
  • Pythagorus had a diet that included lots of honey and lived to age 90.
  • Pliny the Elder recorded 124 centenarians that ate lots of honey.

THE BRITONS AND THE CELTS:

  • Briton was called the "Isle of Honey," OR "Yr Fel Ynys ("land of milk and honey") signifying a healthy place.
  • There were ancient bee cults.
  • Celts thought that a river of mead (honey wine) would flow through Paradise.
  • Newly wedded couples were given full honeycombs for a moon's worth of mead.
  • The Celts thought that bees had a secret wisdom that came from the Otherworlds.
  • When a bee flies into your house, it means a stranger is coming.
  • Wild honey was the food of the gods, and mead (fermented honey and water) was a ritual drink.
  • Scottish Heather was said to produce the finest honey.

ANCIENT EGYPT:

  • The bee was the hierogyphic symbol of the kingdom of Lower Egypt.
  • Bees were called the tears of the Sun God Ra, and represented birth, death, and resurrection.
  • Bee venom, in the form of a cream, is an ancient remedy for arthritus/rheumatism. The bees sting offsets the uric acid.

GREEK AND ROMAN:

  • Aristaios was worshipped by peasants as the guardian of beekeepers.
  • In Greece, it was thought that good souls come back as bees.
  • Zeus and Dionysus were fed by bees when they were babies.
  • Dionysus was said to have made the first hives and showed his people how to gather honey.
  • As the legend goes: Melissa (meaning bee) cared for the infant Zeus while he was being hidden from his father, Chronos, the king of all the gods. Melissa fed Zeus a diet of honey that she stole from the hives. When she was discovered, she was turned into a lowly form of an insect. Zeus knew she kept him alive, so he turned her into a bee. Bees were considered a higher form of an insect.
  • Pan and Priapus protected and kept bees.
  • Mellonia was the Roman goddess of bees.

THE CHINESE:

  • The Chinese word for bee is feng.
  • In Chinese fairy tales (as in Europe) the bee helps young men to find the right bride.
  • The Chinese thought the bee was a fickle insect since it flew from flower to flower.

MESOAMERICA:

  • An important beverage, in Maya ritual, was balche, which was an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey and an extract of the bark of the purple-flowered balche tree (lonchocarpus longistylus). Balche was a ceremonial, recreational, and medicinal drink.

    Spirits can be distilled from anything which can be induced to ferment.

    Anything containing sugar can be turned into alcohol.

  • Another Mayan alcoholic drink was made of honey and water.
  • In the month of Mol (starting on December 3rd), the beekeepers held a festival so that gods might provide flowers for the bees.
  • In the month of Tzec (starting on October 4th) the Mayans made offerings to the four chac (rain) gods. They put beeswax candles on four separate plates. The plates had a border of figures or glyphs that represented honey. This was to bring abundance of flowers, which was the purpose of the ceremony. The festival ended with wine made from honey that the hive owners provided for all to drink.
  • Ah Muzencab was the bee god of the Mayan people. They were shown on the tops and bottoms of stone columns at Chichen Itza. They were represented by aged men with long beards and upraised arms. They wear loin cloths.
  • The Aztecs had a bee god.
  • Honey was the main source of sugar.
  • Honeycombs supplied bee's wax for candlemaking.
INDIA:

  • The Hindu gods Vishnu, Krisna, and Indra are called Mahhava, the "nectar-born ones," in the Rig Veda.
  • Vishnu was normally depicted as a blue bee sitting on a lotus, while Krishna has a blue bee on his forehead.
  • Karma, the Hindu god is portrayed as a bee on a lotus.
  • Shiva is a bee above a triangle.

VIKINGS:

The Finnish Kalevala tells how Lemminkainen was restored to life by magic honey from Mehilainen, the bee.

CHRISTIANITY:

  • The bee is called "The Bird of Our Lady" OR "The Bird of Our Lord," since the bee symbolizes the soul.
  • St Ambrose likened the beehive to the Church, and the devout parishioners to the bees, who collected only the best flowers and eschewed the smoke of arrogant pride. Bees symbolized purity and abstinence.
  • Bernard of Clairvaux thought of bees as the symbol of the "Holy Ghost."
  • The bee was a royal symbol.
  • The sweetness of honey symbolized the eloquence of St Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom. Sweetness was the symbol of Christ and his divine mercy. However, a strong sting came with the Last Judgment.
  • The bee is carved on caskets and tombstones to represent the resurrected soul.
  • It is unlucky to kill a bee, since it is the servant of God.
  • A Virgin is thought to be able to pass through a swarm of bees without getting stung.
    Pope Urban's COA

  • Pope Urban VIII arms featured the Italian Barberini honeybees.

POLAND:

Knipnikas is a Lithuanian honey liquor, similar to mead ((a fermented liquor of honey and yeast), but with ginger, cloves, and nutmeg for flavor.

IN HERALDRY:

In heraldry, bees usually appear in groups, as in the arms of the Corsican Buonaparte family. They symbolized diligence and a sense of order.

SOURCES:

Biederman, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism New York: Meridian Books, 1992.

Biggle, Jacob. Biggle Bee Book. Philadelphia: Wilmer Atkinson Co., 1913.

Buxton, Simon. The Shamanic Way of the Bee. Rochester, Vt.: Destiny Books, 2004.

Conway, D.J. Animal Magick. St Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2001.

Jordan, Michael. Encyclopedia of Gods. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1993.

Saunders, Nicholas J. Animal Spirits [part of the "Living Wisdom" Series]. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1995.

Sparrow (editor), Linda. Ancient Healing. Lincolnwood, IL.: Publications International, Ltd., 1997.

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Last updated on August 3, 2006.

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