Before I leave Apollo, I want to mention that his son Aristaeus (below) was a patron of beekeeping and other pastoral and domestic arts, as well as of the bugonia ritual. Aristaeus was raised by the great god Hermes on bee food (nectar and honey) in a cave.
Pretty stylin' outfit, hey? Reminiscent of 300 (film)
And now you ask in your heart,
"How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?"
Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.
The only thing I would add to this is that flowers are also messengers of love. If you are a serious flower lover, as I have been, you know that their essence is one of very powerful divine energy. I have personally gotten lost in flower-gazing as I might get lost in a lover's gaze. And I'm willing to bet that insects enjoy this magnetic luxury, too. Surely if you garden you've gone to the flowers at dawn in summer and seen bees lolling drunkenly inside a flower, too intoxicated to leave in the evening. Or maybe that's just my take...however, Gibran seems to agree with me somewhat, as do myths of old.
The physical truth of the bees' being such a love messenger is that they pollinate; they bring the male pollen from the stamen/anthers to the female stigmata, little Cyrano de Bergeracs. So here is the sexy-time pollinators' role, including that of our specific subject, A. mellifera.
Though my culture does a good job of separating the sexual act from love to some extent, on a symbolic/archetypal level the merging of the opposites of masculine and feminine creates a whole, creates a unity from which often springs Creation itself (procreation) and therefore IS unity or divine love. This is the meaning of the yin/yang symbol. Of course everything here is hung together with love, but certain beings end up exemplifying that truth more especially, embodying that magnetism for all to witness if they will. My knowledge of this lover's role is part of the reason I think the bees are leaving in the wake of factory farming, which extends to beekeeping. The bees can't keep up the work when the love's not there.
I imagine that the workers not only love her, i. e. sometimes feel a strong attraction to her and experience a heightened state when they are in her presence, something modern science explains in terms of pheromones and survival instincts. I think also that she is sort of like the sun in the hive. It's like the way humans gather around a warm fire on a cold night to tell stories and rub their hands. The fire, a small bit of sun energy, relaxes us and provides a sense of well-being, i.e. a heightened state.
Bees are storytellers, too, like the humans around the fire. The field workers come into the hive, this buzzing superorganism, and relate through their touch, smell, dance (one of their archetypal skills) and through the products they carry (and undoubtedly more). They tell stories of the world they have enjoyed, perhaps been endangered by, as they foraged under the sun's gaze. The indoor bees, the queen's attendants and the nursery bees and the guard bees and the drones and the queen, tell of the larvae and the eggs laid, the honey stores and the healthy or ill baby bees and the growing-songs drones have sung in the nursery.The indoor bees rely on the news of the outside world, and they are stored in some important way in the queen's DNA.
For the queen, the mother of everyone in the hive, though she has flown over the trees only a few times in her life, is the only one who lives long enough to tell certain of these tales and pass them on to the next generations. These stories of the world are what both delight the bees, and keep the hive thriving. Without the information about sky and water and pollen and (unfortunately) insecticides and robber bees and droughts and more, the lineage will not adapt properly, and the hive will die out.
Though humans have assisted the bees to thrive in some sense by creating a moveable home, they also arrest the bee's ability to leave a bad one. Beekeepers want as many bees as possible in the hive (more production) so they try to keep them from swarming- making a new queen and dividing, pioneering, migrating to a new place. This pioneering spirit may be one reason for the Mormons to choose a beehive as symbol for their religious community. Perhaps the more domestic strain of honey bee (there is increasingly more breeding going on, as apiaries become huge factory farms) can no more imagine the proper protocol and the risky adventure of striking out for new territory than could most folks in the U. S. today imagine leaving their cityscape lives with the illusion of security and control.
Though it may seem a digression just occurred, the beauty and the difficulty of writing about symbolism is that archetypes (please visit my Metaphor 101 page if you have no clue to the word, or as a refresher) are created through observing the characteristics of the 'thing' used as a symbol. Therefore, in order to know all about the honey bee's symbolism, you would have to know everything about the honey bee- and I bet very few people have accomplished that! I am certainly far, far from that state, though I might know more than the average human. From the information just imparted about bee's storying, their love for the queen and its associations with the sun and with love, their pioneering spirits, etc., etc., we absorb and experience and enter into the essence of Honeybee. We get a feel for how the current world view of these little ones with the big talents were once revered as a great earthly power of a religious and spiritual nature, go-betweens and models of the cosmic order.
So hey, who's that lady with an omphalos (discussed in last post) on her head? Well let's see. The omphalos is situated like a crown, right? So there is an association between this beehive shape and royalty again. In fact all crowns, like halos and even fancy hats of all kinds, are meant to emphasize the crown chakra, the place on the top of the head where the undifferentiated white light enters our energetic bodies and is then diffracted into the rainbow of colors. This white light is the cosmic light of unity consciousness, of divine love, that runs the whole show here (and everywhere, I guess). So crowns are meant to denote or emphasize this 'higher' energy.
At casual glance, I would first assume this goddess was Demeter, the great grain goddess of the Greeks. Demeter is an agricultural goddess, with her most prominent attribute being grain, corn, wheat. However, since bees are associated with pollination/flowers, with productivity, and with love, they are likewise associated with Demeter and all the agricultural goddesses I know of.
However, this omphalos has what looks like an urn (there are many different sorts of religious containers in Greek culture, and I'm no expert in that specialty) in front, and some flowers flanking it. This image is tagged as Persephone, Demeter's daughter, who famously was initiated into the Greek underworld, Hades. She then became a Queen of the Dead (her form above, I assume) alongside her uncle Hades, ruler of the underworld.
The painting above (Waterhouse, I think) shows Persephone at the beginning of the Eleusis story (religions are collections of stories, are they not?) as a maiden or Kore, rather than the regal queen with the omphalos on her head. The maiden Persephone is picking flowers, and here are the flowers on the omphalos, flanking the urn. This is symbolically similar to Little Red Riding Hood picking flowers on her way to Grandma's house. The symbolism tells us that what follows is a story about flowering, something Persephone is symbolically seeking as she picks flowers. The cosmic answer to her desire is her abduction by Hades; a visit to the darkness is important in her flowering, just as the narcissus she picks required a time below the light in order to bloom. But you might have heard of Persephone's story as a cruel rape scene, and perhaps as a primitive explanation for the seasons, or whatever.
That's OK, though not the big picture.
The story engaged countless folks for thousands of years because it is a generous framework for human transformation/initiation/enlightenment in general, however. And it starts with the symbolism of the flower. That's code for 'flowering'- flowering into love and all that, the stuff that ties bees, with flowers, with the Divine.
Persephone/Kore and maidens everywhere symbolically embody this longed-for human experience of blossoming, just as the bees wait shivering in the dark hive in wintertime. In some sense, it is what humans are awaiting as winter and its cold, dark, heavy vibration nears its close. And surely the Demeter/Kore story explains to us that the darkness (Persephone's stay in Hades) is important in contrast to the light, in order for spring (notice Persephone picks a spring flower, the narcissus) to come to us.
When the season of flowers comes, we are renewed because the flowers themselves bring into our environment renewal energy- they channel it very well, being the embodiment of ethereal beauty whose purpose is procreation. Flowers open to the sunlight and its love, just as lovers open to one another (most archetypally women open to the masculine), just as the flower opens to the sun and to the bee.
Remember the theme of renewal that includes bees in Apollo's rite of the bugonia, from the last post?
So though it seems Persephone is a victim and needs to phone home, she's actually getting enlightened in the process of her abduction and stay in Hades. She's embodying the renewal of the earth after winter, too, in concert with Mom. And the flowers on the omphalos above are representing that truth.
We'll say that because we already know that Persephone is Queen of the Dead, a bit of knowledge that allows us to interpret her symbology. I remind you that, unlike my culture which has several different 'otherworlds' or nonordinary states of consciousness of a psychospiritual nature in the collective imagination (Hell, Heaven, the unconscious/dream world, etc.), the Greco-Roman imagination set the world of the dead in with the unconscious psyche/dream life. Which means that those gone by are influencing our dream lives and our unconscious in general, a very truthful orientation that underlies all 'ancestor worship'. Aside from the big gods and their home in the sky, and ordinary human consciousness, everything else was happening in Hades for them.
So though Persephone may be seen as a morbid figure, which appears to be in contrast to the lovely maiden in the bloom of youth picking flowers in a fragrant field, she is Queen of the Dead for a complexity of reasons, because Hades (the underworld/otherworld place) is complex, not just a place where bad dead people go like the Christian Hell.
And the priests/priestesses of Demeter and Persephone (as well as other deities) were called melissae, honey bees. The given name Melissa is the same. Melissae are not only followers of the given deity (Diana, Aphrodite, Demeter, Cybele, etc.), magnetized by divine glory as the bees are magnetized by the queen and cows are magnetized by the bull, as so much of life here is magnetized by the sun, by Apollo or Zeus. The folks who were deeply involved in the rites and mysteries of any given divinity were also initiated into the manner in which the divinity embodied/embodies the human experience of transformation and en-lighten-ment. Such mysteries, being caught up in the honey bee attributes of love and death (bees can actually kill with their sting), flowering, devotion and worship, creativity, and unity, have come to be associated thus. So in addition to Persephone, the divinities Demeter, the Celtic Henwen, Artemis and Aphrodite and Isis and more, are all associated with bees, and the Greco-Roman initiates into the cults were seemingly often designated melissae.
Whew! Well I told you this lore was pretty big time! Hopefully I'll wrap it up in the next installment. Let's lighten up with a silly guy and his silly song (nevermind the second "Chirrup" thing unless you wish- one goofy song is enough more than likely if you are over 7 years of age).