Monday, November 11, 2013

Honeybee in Goddess Mythology

The honeybee has a long tradition of being worshiped and venerated as a symbol of the goddess in many ancient civilizations. Some of the oldest images of bee goddesses date back 10,000 years. For example, the Anatolian Mother Goddess wearing a Beehive styled tiara confirmed the Goddess’s exalted status as a Queen Bee who ‘streams with honey’ in this early Turkish society.

The Bee is the only insect that communicates through dance, yet this largely forgotten trait is one of the reasons why bee imagery from antiquity has been misinterpreted according to some art historians. Many old images depict the bee goddess dancing. In The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, Marija Gimbutas examines imagery on artifacts from Old Europe, circa 8000 BC, and postulates that they portray the bee as a manifestation of the Mother Goddess.

The bee is featured prominently in many Egyptian temples, including the pillars of Karnak, the Luxor obelisk now erected on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, the 20th Dynasty sarcophagus of Rameses III, a granite statue of Rameses II, the sarcophagus of a 26th Dynasty priest and on the Pyramid of Unas, to name but a few. Additionally, at the temple of Dendera an inscription recounts how Osiris emulated the bee and provided instructions for knowing the “hsp”, or the sacred Garden of the Bee in the other world - a domain believed to contain the tree of the golden apples of immortality. And in the Egyptian Delta, 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.

The Bee Goddess in Greek Mythology

The Thriae was a trinity of pre-Hellenic Aegean bee goddesses named Melaina (“the black”), Kleodora ("Famed for her Gift"), and Daphnis ("Laurel"). They were magical winged nymphs that were attributed with the power of prophecy and the ability to interpret information from signs in nature. They fed the great god Zeus and taught the art of divination to young Apollo, giving him the gifts he needed to become the god of light, music, and poetry. They were Fates representing the life cycles of birth, death and regeneration.

In the fourth century Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the Thriae are located on Mount Paranassus, where they have taught the art of divination to the youthful Apollo:

Apollon to Hermes, ‘There are certain holy ones, sisters born--three virgins gifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white meal (pollen), and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassos. These are teachers of divination apart from me, the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak the truth; but if they be deprived of the gods' sweet food, then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight you heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do often will he hear your response--if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia . . .’
So he spoke. And from heaven father Zeus himself gave confirmation to his words, and commanded that glorious Hermes should be lord over all birds of omen . . . and also that he only should be the appointed messenger to Aides, who, though he takes no gift, shall give him no mean prize."

At Delphi, site of one of the most important oracles in the ancient world, legend asserts that the second temple was constructed entirely by bees. In fact, the Oracle itself – the Omphalos Stone, resembles a beehive and is designed with crisscrossing rows of bee-like symbols, reminiscent of the ‘Net dress’ worn by Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky and keeper of the title She Who Holds a Thousand Souls.

Another instance where the Bee is linked with sacred stones is the story of the goddess Rhea, whose titles included Mother of the Gods, Queen of Heaven and Goddess of Fertility and Generation. Rhea was the wife of the Titan Kronos.

Clearly, the honeybee has maintained a strong association with the feminine throughout history and using products produced by the bees keeps the connections to this sacred female alive and thriving into our modern day collective unconscious. 

Post by Tamara Wolfson 

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