Bees in Mythology: Reflections of the image of the Bee in mythological representations are known already in the Neolithic era (images in Catal-Huyuk in southern Turkey) and, apparently, are associated with the development of primitive beekeeping, primarily in the area of Asia Minor, the Caucasus. Middle East, Egypt (there were other isolated centers of beekeeping). One of the important variants of the fertility motive is associated with the Bee – the “opening” of spring. In Russian spring flowers, the Bee appears in the same contexts (“… You close the winter …, open the summer …, the summer is grain-growing”) as other symbols of spring – the lark, the sandpipe. But the Bee sometimes acts as an instrument of the god, contributing to the awakening (evocation) of the deity of fertility.
Bees in Mythology
In the Hittite myth, the fertility deity Telepinus disappears, and plants, animals, people, and gods perish, everything is covered with a cloud of a (bee) swarm. The mother of the gods Khan-Nahana sends a Bee in search of Telepinus, who finds and stings him. God goes berserk. His anger is tempered by special rituals by the goddess Kamrusepa (literally, “the spirit of the bee swarm”, corresponds to Hatti Kattahtsi-Furi, “queen goddess”). When Telepinus’ anger subsides, the (bee) swarm disappears. Evidence of the connection between the Bees and the image of the world tree has also been preserved in the Russian ritual tradition “A tree and a cypress tree grew. As in this tree and three sows: along the top of the tree and the nightingale sings songs, in the middle, there are trees and bees of Yary (compare the rage of Telepinus and the connection with the Bee Yarila) they build nests. According to the Scandinavian myth, the Yggdrasil tree is impregnated with life-giving sacred honey. In several traditions, there is a connection between the Bee and the oak, which acts both as a world-tree and as a thunderer tree.
In the Russian tradition, the motive for the appearance of Bees in Russia from the overseas side is stable: God sends Zosima and Savvaty to bring the “God’s worker” (or Sviridin that is, the male and female Bees) to Russia from the land of Egypt (from the mountain, from the cave to the country of idols or, conversely, paradise); in turn, the archangel Gabriel raises all the “bee power” and tells her to fly to Russia. According to conspiracies, the transfer of the Bees to Russia is patronized by the Savior and the Mother of God, located on the stone altar. This is supported by the presence in Russia of a bee holiday – April 17, the day of Zosima, whose image is one of the experiences of the pagan era with its cult of the bee god, whose real name was lost (the hive with the icon of Zosima and Savvaty, the Solovetsky saints was called Zosima).
Bees participate in cosmogonic myths and legends, acting on the side of God and against the evil spirit. The Bogomil binary legend combines the motives of Bees, arrows, the wedding of the sun against the background of a duel between God and the devil. In one Romanian cosmogonic legend, the Bee is partially defeated by Satan (which is why the Bees have a thin cut on the body). But more often it is the Bee that stings the enemy of the god. A reduced version of this motif is presented in an animal fairy tale, for example, about a thrashing goat, which climbed into the hut, having survived a hare from it, and did not let anyone go there until the Bee stung it (Afanasyev, no. 62). For this scheme, it is possible to assume that the thunderer, with the help of the Bees, summoned an animal (goat) that embodies fertility. In this case, the immediate precedence of the bee holiday to the first spring holiday of fertility (Yegoryev Day, Yarilian holiday, etc.) is explained. An indirect reference to the characters of the “main” myth can be considered the widespread connection of the Bees with the Mother of God as the wife of God (or his mother).
So, among the Circassians, the name of the ancient deity of the Bee is unknown, but Meriem is considered the patroness of the Bees (compare in the Christian tradition: according to Saint Brigitte, the Virgin Mary said: “I truly was a hive when the most sacred bee – the son of God – settled in my womb”), among Abkhazians – Anana-Gunda, among Ossetians – Anigal. The patron saint of the Bees is also a male character, typologically continuing the image of God, the husband of a female character from the “main” myth (Jarg among the Svans, Jege among the Mingrelians).
In some traditions, the relationship of the Bees with fertility deities from the class of Great Mothers (or mother goddesses) is formalized as preferable. Until the Hellenistic era in Asia Minor, the priests of Cybele, similar to the mother goddess, were called the “Bee”. The bee theme determines many features of the structure and organization of the ancient sanctuary of Artemis at Ephesus. Artemis herself was considered as the image of the Sacred Bee, the Bee was considered her cult animal, the priestesses of the sanctuary were called bees, the priests-eunuchs – drones, Bees were also called the priestesses of Demeter, Persephone, the Great Mother (possibly Rhea as Uranus and Gaia, wife of Kronos and all Kronids). In Epidamne, rich in honey, the ancestor of the Bees, the nymph Melissa, was especially revered. The bee was the symbol of the “honey” Indra, Vishnu, and Krishna; the image of Krishna is known in the form of a Bee hovering over the head of Vishnu; The bowstring of the bow of the god of love Kama was a string with Bees strung on it. In early Christian art of the catacombs, the Bee symbolized the Christ who rose from death, immortality. At the same time, the Bee was also an image of royal power (for example, in Egypt), a special vital force – mana, royal wisdom, accumulated in the same way as Bees collect nectar. The ideal structure of society in its monarchical version, which was often correlated with a beehive, was contrasted with an anthill as an image of a democratically equalizing community. The high degree of “organization” of Bees and honey (especially honeycomb), personifying the beginning of the highest wisdom, makes the Bee and honey universal symbols of the poetic word, more broadly – of poetry itself. In the ancient Greek and Roman tradition, poets often compare themselves with the Bee. However, another motivation, based on the connection of Bees and honey with the sphere of death ( the dedication of honey to the chthonic deity Hecate and honey cakes to the mother goddess – mother earth; the customs of inviting Bees to funerals, draping the hive with mourning and using honey for ritual libations on metals, sends to the mythologeme of a poet descending into the realm of the dead, to death for the sake of gaining the highest creative power – new life, immortality).
In the Atharva Veda, spiritual knowledge is likened to the production of honey by bees. A similar symbolism can be traced in initiation rites. Several positive symbolic meanings are associated with the beehive: eloquence, hard work, order, frugality, wisdom. The queen bee usually acts as a symbol of supreme power, fertility, the mother goddess (emblem of the Virgin Mary). In heraldry, images of bees and a flower, a queen bee, a bee swarm, bees, and honey, etc. are especially frequent.
A huge number of mythological and fairy-tale motives are associated with the Bees. One of them is the origin of the Bees from the body of a dead animal, based on the fact that the Bees really willingly arrange a hive for themselves in the corpses of cattle, in the skeletons. It is this motive that is assumed by Samson’s riddle, based on the episode when Samson found a swarm of bees and honey in the corpse of a lion he had recently killed, took honey and fed them to his family. Sometimes a motive about the origin of the Bees develops from tears or a tear that fell from the eyes of the crucified Christ (in one Breton tale), or from the tears of the sun god Ra (in the Egyptian version of the myth). Often, bees are given to a person ready-made by a cultural hero (as, for example, among the South American Indians of the Kaingang). Among the widespread are the fabulous motives of the Bee – “God’s helper”, the Bee – as the soul of the deceased or an image of reincarnation. In many traditions, the Bee is united with people for a number of reasons: they greet the Bee, congratulate them on Easter. Announcement of important facts to the Bees (about death, any secrets, etc.) is a characteristic feature of the “bee” rituals. Bees are usually (both in Africa and Australia) totem animals (Nuer combine Bees and pythons into one type of totem due to the similarity in body color). The broadest sphere of taboo is associated with the Bee – from taboo names, the number of which is sometimes very significant, including special prohibitions (for example, on the purchase of bees on Friday; they are tamed, Bees are shared or owned together and to a special “magic” technology of beekeeping, sometimes kept in the deepest secret).
The bee is a wonderful insect – a true storehouse of extremely positive symbolism. The bee personifies such wonderful moral qualities as diligence, hard work, wisdom, liveliness, modesty, moderation, restraint, sociability, physical and spiritual cleanliness. The little proud bee is a symbol of courage, dignity, and dedication since it can always stand up for itself, although, having stung the enemy, it dies itself. However, only a fool can curse a bee that has bitten it, because its poison, unlike the venom of a black mamba or a scorpion, is not only not dangerous, but also curative.
Indirectly, the useful products of the bee’s vital activity also made it an emblem of eloquence (by analogy with honey flowing speeches) and enlightenment (because of the wax used to make a candle).
The outstanding minds of the Middle Ages endowed the beehive with a separate most important symbolic meaning, seeing in it a vivid allegory of the feudal state of their day, where the queen bee personifies the imperious queen, worker bees act as hardworking peasants, and drones represent idle noblemen parasitizing peasant labor.
In mythology, a bee looks like a divine being, a companion and assistant of immortal celestials. Its very origin is often surrounded by a halo of holiness: according to ancient Egyptian myth, bees were born from the tears of the sun god Ra.
In Hittite mythology, the bee is portrayed as the savior of the world from drought, and in Greek mythology, as the nurse of Zeus himself, storing up a supply of honey and wax for the winter. The honey of wild bees from the mythical Golden Age is nothing more than ambrosia – the immortal food of the gods.
Every people involved in beekeeping had similar beliefs about the gods – the patrons of bees. The Circassians prayed to the goddess Meryem about sending down a rich harvest of honey, the Ossetians to the bee god Anigal, the Lithuanians to Bubilas, etc. In gratitude for their patronage, people donated the first jug of fresh, fragrant honey to them.
Bees were also companions of some ancient goddesses: Phrygian Cybele, Greek Artemis, Roman Diana, and the priestesses of the goddess of fertility Demeter was even called “bees”.
In the religion of the peoples of the world, the image of a honey-bearing insect was idealized, and often, due to a misunderstanding, qualities unusual for it was attributed to the bee. So, some peoples, mistakenly taking her hibernation for death, depicted the bee on the tombstones as an emblem of resurrection, and the Greeks, Aryans, and Muslims saw in it an allegory of a pure soul.
Christians also fell into this kind of error: believing that the bee reproduces in some chaste way, they made it a symbol of the immaculate conception and the emblem of the sinless Virgin Mary. The bee was idealized by many Christian fathers. The famous preacher Bernard of Clairvaux, for example, saw in her the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the image of the Savior himself is closely connected with the bee in Christianity: her honey was associated with the grace of Christ, and the sting – with his suffering. In Hindu iconography, a bee is a symbol of the reincarnation of powerful gods. A certain emblem corresponded to this or that deity: a bee sitting on a lotus pointed to Vishnu; the bee above the triangle was the hallmark of Shiva, and the deep bee on the forehead is the emblem of Krishna. In blue Freemasonry, the bee is a symbol of hard work. The brothers of the order were sometimes likened to these zealous insects, and the Masonic lodge was a hive, where their tireless work constantly boils.
In the military science of antiquity and the Middle Ages, bees were often used as living weapons. One of the most striking examples takes us back to the romantic era of the Crusades. During the Third Holy Cross, troops of Jerusalem, French, English, Danish, and Flemish crusaders for almost two years unsuccessfully besieged the Saracen fortress of Accra on the coast of Syria. The situation changed when in the summer of 1191, the famous English king Richard the Lionheart arrived at the Kpecto-bearers’ camp near Accra, amazing the imagination of his contemporaries with his enormous physical strength, reckless courage, and unrestrained imagination. Before the decisive assault on Accra, on the orders of Richard Katapulta, hundreds of beehives were thrown into the fortress. When the knights attacked, the Muslims had no time for them: under the stings of the maddened bees, the Saracens fled in panic, and the crusaders protected by armor could not fear the revenge of angry insects. So the bees helped the Christian army to take possession of the strongest citadel in Syria.
In the emblems of the countries of the Ancient Bost, the bee became a symbol of royal power, and during the period of the Old Kingdom, it was also the emblem of the whole of Lower Egypt. The Golden Bee is the personal emblem of the French king Chilperic (539-596) and the great Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1804, during the coronation of Napoleon, his purple imperial mantle was embroidered with golden bees. In the Middle Ages and in modern times, the deeply symbolic emblem of the beehive was very popular. During the activity of the 1st International, this emblem distinguished its French section. In Russian urban heraldry, the emblem of the hive, devoid of symbolic content, indicates areas of developed beekeeping. In this sense, it appears in the coat of arms of Tambov, wherein the azure field has depicted a hive with three golden bees soaring above it.
The bee in heraldry symbolizes hard work. For the diligence and diligence shown in the civil service, the coats of arms of many Russian nobles were decorated with golden bees. This emblem is not alien to Western European heraldry. Three golden bees are even depicted in the coat of arms of Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644).
The weather mantle, based on centuries of observations of the behavior of bees, has long developed many truthful folk signs.
If in the morning the bees are walking and do not fly out of the hives, then bad weather is approaching. If the bees, leaving the hive, fly away not far, then rain should be expected soon. If the bees work tirelessly from early morning until late at night, then long bad weather is ahead. If the bees stop working early, then the next day will be clear weather.