“Ask the bees what the Druids knew”
Old English adage
Historically, there are many cultural beliefs that surround bees. Some are true; some are mythological. It is well-known in current observations of “bee-havior,” that bees hate the odor of cattle and horses. Indeed, bees find most human’s scent to be offensive. Yet, there are stories told about “Bee Shamans,” people who can handle bees without a suit and who never get stung! Science and myth, when taken together, often blur the lines of understanding when studying records kept by those living in the past. For example, several sources indicate examples of longevity from a diet of honey. Pythagorus, the mathematician, ate honey consistently and lived to age 75; quite an achievement for ancient times! However, within past cultures, there is evidence of some interesting human behavior in regards to bees. Here are some examples.
Celts maintained a bee cult. They believed that bees had a “secret wisdom,” and that mead (fermented honey and water) was a ritual drink. Newly married couples were given full honeycombs for a moon’s worth (month) of mead. This is the origin of the word “honeymoon.” Egyptians believed that bee venom in cream form was an ancient remedy for arthritis and rheumatism. (The sting offsets uric acid.) Bees were referred to as the tears of the sun god, Ra. Ancient Greeks worshiped Aristaios, the god of shepherds and beekeepers. They also believed that good souls were reincarnated as bees. Zeus, the king of gods, was believed to have been fed by bees as babies.
Chinese fairy tales have a bee (which they call “Feng”) help young men find the right bride. The Maya of Central America held a festival in the month of Mol (our December) so that the gods would provide flowers for the bees. In addition, the Maya produced balche (ball-CHAY), an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey and an extract from the balche tree, which is still made today. In India, the Hindu gods Vishnu, Krisna, Indra, Karma, and Siva all have either been depicted as a bee or have a bee somewhere on their statue. They are often referred to as the “nectar-born ones.”
Ancient Christians made frequent reference to bees. To many, bees symbolized purity, abstinence, diligence, and a sense of order. These were put forth as desirable qualities for proper Christians. The symbolism doesn’t stop there. Bees represented “The Holy Ghost,” and the sweetness of honey stood for Christ and His Divine Mercy! Beware the stinger in the form of The Last Judgment. Bees carved on caskets represented resurrection, as did the Greeks. It was believed that it was unlucky to kill bees and that a virgin could pass through a swarm without getting stung. More recently, as bees are dying off at an alarming rate throughout the world, many fear that this will lead to world wide famine because of the lack of plant pollination, fulfilling in part the prophecy of Matthew 24:7; “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places.”
Beliefs may differ over decades and across oceans but it is hard to doubt the mystical power of bees…