Today is International Women’s Day. What better day to honor the Archetypal Woman, especially as She is symbolized by the Bee.
The Bee has been a symbol of the Divine Feminine since time began. This post barely scratches the surface of what is a fascinating and illuminating subject.
For an excellent and thorough discussion of Bee symbolism, I highly recommend Andrew Gough’s website Arcadia. I owe much of this post to his brilliant research.
Bee Goddess, 5000 BC – Neolithic Spain
The Mother Goddess is the oldest deity in the archaeological record, and she is often manifested as a dancing Bee. In the ancient world, dancing Bees were special – the Queen Bee in particular, for she was the Mother Goddess – leader and ruler of the hive, and was often portrayed in the presence of adoring Bee Goddesses and Bee Priestesses.
The Sumerian stele below depicts the worship of the Mother Goddess in the form of a Queen Bee or Bee Goddess surrounded by her followers – the Bee Priestesses. Sumerian physicians considered honey to be a unique and vital medicinal drug. It has been suggested that the Sumerians invented Apitherapy, or the medical use of Honey Bee products such as honey, pollen, royal jelly, propolis and bee venom.
Sumerian stele – a depiction of Bee Goddess worship
The ancient Egyptians also venerated Bees. The agricultural, nutritional, medicinal and ritualistic value of the Bee and its honey was important in Egypt from pre-dynastic times onwards, as demonstrated by the fact that King Menes, founder of the First Egyptian Dynasty, was called “the Beekeeper”; a title ascribed to all subsequent Pharaohs. Additionally, the Kings administration had a special office called the ‘Sealer of the Honey’, and Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt bore the title “he who belongs to the sedge and the bee”. An image of the Bee was even positioned next to the King’s cartouche.
The Bee, next to the signature of Hatshepsut, the 5th Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty
The Bee is featured prominently in many Egyptian temples, including the pillars of Karnak and the Luxor obelisk, now erected on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. In the ancient Temple of Tanis – which is said to have once housed the Ark of the Covenant, the Bee was its first and most important ideogram. In fact, the Bee is even featured on the Rosetta Stone.
The Egyptian Goddess Neith is the Bee/Mother Goddess. She was a warrior goddess with fertility symbolism and virginal mother qualities; all attributes of the Mother Goddess – and the Queen Bee.
Neith, wearing the ‘Deshret’ crown of Northern Egypt
Neith was known as the Veiled Goddess, and thus the reference on her temple inscription to ‘lifting a veil’ is intriguing, for Bees are often called hymenoptera, stemming from the word hymen, meaning “veil winged”, representing that which concealed the holy parts of a temple, as well as the veil or hymen of a woman’s reproductive organ. Only later did the veiled wing become associated with the goddess Isis.
Hilda Ransome informs us; “The title Melissa, the Bee, is a very ancient one; it constantly occurs in Greek Myths, meaning sometimes a priestess, sometimes a nymph.” This is an important observation, for the tradition of dancing Bee goddesses appears to have been preserved in a form of Bee maidens known as Melissas – or nymphs, and Greek deities such as Rhea and Demeter were widely known to have held the title. Additionally, the Greeks frequently referred to ‘Bee-Souls’ and bestowed the title of ‘Melissa’ on unborn souls.
Cybele, the ancient Mother goddess of Neolithic Anatolia was revered by the Greeks as a Goddess of Bees and Caves. Curiously, Cybele was often worshipped in the form of a meteoritic stone, or a stone from heaven. Cybele was also known as Sybil – an oracle of the ancient near east who was known to the Greeks as Sibyls. The name inspired Sybil, the title of seer priestesses for hundreds of years to come.
Apollo was one of the most important gods in the Greek Pantheon and was known as the God of Truth and Prophecy. He is said to have provided a gift of Bees to Hermes; the god of otherworldly boundaries and transformation of souls. The legend is recounted in the 8th century Homeric Hymn to Hermes, for here Apollo alludes to his gift including three female Bee-Maidens who practiced divination;
“There are some Fates sisters born,
maidens three of them, adorned with swift wings.
Their heads are sprinkled over with white barley meal,
wind they make their homes under the cliffs of Parnassus.
They taught divination far off from me, the art I used to practice
round my cattle while still a boy.”
Still another example of Bee veneration in Greek mythology is Aphrodite, the nymph-goddess of midsummer who is renowned for murdering the king and tearing out his organs just as the Queen Bee does to the drone. Aphrodite’s priestesses, who are known as Melissas, are said to have displayed a golden honeycomb at her shrine on Mount Eryx.
Artemis was the most renowned patron of the Bee in all of Greece. As the daughter of Zeus and twin sister to Apollo, Artemis was the goddess of nature, particularly forests, hills, rocky outcroppings and rivers; all natural habitats of Bees. Artemis’s Roman equivalent was the goddess Diana, and statues of Artemis/Diana from the Anatolian city of Ephesus portray her covered in eggs, which some have identified as Bee eggs given that a typical Queen Bee will lay tens of thousands of eggs in her short lifetime.
Dear to my own heart is the fact that the Bee in Hebrew is ‘DBRE’, meaning Deborah, and ‘Judges 5’ contains one of the oldest passages in the Bible, and some feel, the earliest example of Hebrew poetry; the 8th century Song of Deborah, or as it is commonly known, the Song of The Bees.
A short excerpt from the fascinating verse describes life under Canaanite oppression; “Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel, Until I, Deborah, arose, Arose a mother in Israel.” Was Deborah a Bee goddess? Like Bee goddesses before her, Deborah represented stability and was a prophetess, a warrior princess, and in this instance, the only female Judge of pre-monarchic Israel in the entire Old Testament.
Gustave Dore’s interpretation of the prophetess Deborah – the Bee Goddess