Symbolism of the Beehive and the Bee

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jdavidmitchell
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Post by jdavidmitchell » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I've been dreaming about bees and beehives lately, and I'm curious about their symbolism, especially if Jung or Campbell ever discussed their mythological importance. I've seen some references to a connection to the underworld (beehive), and some ancient Greek sites even having their tombs shaped like beehives! Any information would be much appreciated. Thanks

JD
ShantiSong
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Post by ShantiSong » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hello JD,

You may have already found this site on the web:
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 Egypt, 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 Poseidon 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 Eleusius. 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.

In the Roman Mithraic rites, there were different levels or grades of initiation. One was termed the Degree of the Lion. The neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry writes: "The theologians have used honey to symbolize many different things since it combines multiple powers, and is both cathartic and preservative in its effects. Many things are kept from rotting by honey and it clears up persistent wounds. It is sweet to the taste and is gathered from flowers by bees which incidentally are born from cattle. When they pour honey instead of water on the initiates in the Lion Mysteries, they call upon them to keep their hands pure of all that which is painful, harmful, or dirty …

http://mill-valley.freemasonry.biz/worrel/beehive.htm
I don’t recall Campbell or Jung saying anything specifically about the bee or beehive. I’ve found that when I have a very vivid dream, the meaning and symbolism becomes clear if only I spend a little time considering my desires and fears in the conscious world at the time of dream.

My best guess on the meaning the bee would have for us moderns in dreams comes from a child’s wonder. Most of us were stung by a bee, or something like it, when we were young. The pain and reverence for the bee is filed somewhere in our brains under ‘painful childhood memories’. But also, we learn very young that the bee is the source of a very sweet, delicious product that it must work very hard for, and that the bee stings to protect the fruits of its hard earned labor. Just some suggestions.

I can think of a couple of instances in Western literature where the Bee was used. I doubt that is will help you interpret your dream, but I just love both of these examples.

In Dante’s Inferno, Dante is going to be taken on a tour of the nine levels of Hell. But the first deceased people that he meets were people who didn’t really sin too much in life. Their only sin was their apathy. They are called the inefficient and indifferent. They were naked and forced to chase around a banner while being repeatedly stung by bees and flies– being stung into action so-to-speak- for their failure to take a stand in life. Scholars identify one among the group as Pope Celestine V (1294)

The other mention of bees comes from Frances Bacon (1561-1626). He uses a parable of the ant, the spider, and the honey bee to describe the best method of attaining knowledge.
The ant, he says, works hard, collects data, and makes a big pile of data. The spider takes the substance from within and constructs a beautiful web - a pure theorist with little regard for empirical evidence.

Bacon claims that we philosophers should not be like the ant or the spider, but like the honey bee that goes out and collects data, mixes it in with his own inner substance, and then spits it out to build a gorgeous honeycomb of knowledge.

Shanti

jdavidmitchell
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Post by jdavidmitchell » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Shanti

Man!…very nice images for bees you have provided. Thank you - although Dante’s image of bees hits a little close to home <IMG SRC="/forum/images/smiles/icon_razz.gif"> I really like "tears of the sun-god RA", and your description of Francis Bacon’s work parable. In my own life, I recall bees as a part of my work days (especially stings), haying in the fields, picking berries, general work around our homestead, practically because we would often disturb feeding bees or nearby nests in our "inattentive attention" to the task at hand. One of my "triumphs" in my life was my first attempt as public speaking in college. It started as very traumatic experience, and I literally thought I was going to die a couple of minutes before the speech. Yet, somehow I was able to collect myself and worked my way to the podium. I don’t recall exactly what happened next, I think I made a joke about my "condition", and then something in me just "took-over". I have never felt such a connection to people or an ability to say exactly what I wanted in that moment before or since (my speech included an anecdote about my first fly-fishing experience…hmmm). I was on cloud nine after the speech, and seemingly out of nowhere a bee promptly stung me on the underside of my arm. It is a mystery to me how a bee found its way into my shirt. To steal a quote from "Hawkeye" on M.A.S.H. (as he described inadvertently biting his lip while enjoying a meal of perfect ribs), "the pain was exquisite!". Since then I have imagined bees and their associations as a kind of messenger of destiny, although, admittedly, one yet to be fully realized (the bitter-sweet).

JD
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