When I first started my relationship with honeybees, they were not in the popular eye like they are now. Nowadays , thanks to the decline of domesticated honeybees, most Americans who don't live under a rather large (however proverbial) rock have gotten wind of the "Save the Honeybees" theme that's the result of what is now called Colony Collapse Disorder (funny we use that word disorder, commonly applied to psychological conditions).
But I am not really interested in disease here. I am interested in celebrating the honeybee and its strong presence in the symbolic/archetypal lives of human beings all over the world (well I'm sure there are no honeybees in Antarctica...)
Which brings us to the first point I want to make, since it seems many folks in my life, who've had other things to think about, have missed this; when we talk about honey bees, we are talking about a very special bee, classified these days in Western scientific terms as Apis (Bee) mellifera (honey). There are many, many kinds of bees; Wikipedia has it as almost 20,000. And they do not by any means all make honey from nectar (though there are other bees besides A. mellifera that make honey). They all are, however, flower pollinators.
The reason I want to make this point is because I often make remark about not seeing any honeybees around, and then folks get all excited about showing me the tons of bees they have been seeing in their garden which they think are honeybees, having understandably never really thought about all the other bees much and all. And then I feel I must, in the interest of, shall we say, fact-based truth, reveal that, however discouraging, those are not honeybees you are seeing.
Obviously humans are especially concerned about the honeybee because we cultivate or 'keep' them (I've even heard some people say 'grow'). We breed them for different genetic traits, and harvest and use their several products worldwide, while all the other bees go unnoticed for the most part. And one reason Apis mellifera holds such a strong place in the archetypal imagination is indeed their many talents and creative products, all somehow manufactured from the plants in their environment within tiny bodies that weigh a tenth of a gram. Bees harvest sap from trees (propolis) and pollen from flowers (they also mix it with honey to make 'bee bread' to feed the larvae and others), make beeswax (manufactured from abdominal glands) and royal jelly (from the workers' heads, used for larval nutrition and queen food), and, of course, process harvested nectar into that much loved product, honey. This alone is enough to boggle the human mind, and set us to thinking in the miraculous zone. I suppose their ability to manufacture poison is worth mentioning, and also that the drones haven't these skills (queens don't, either, though they can sting).
There are other traits besides products that earn the bee colony its very religious level of archetype, as if their association with an astounding level of productivity weren't enough. Having made the distinction between bees in general and honeybees, I will now use the word bee in reference to honeybees unless obviously otherwise. Out of literary (literal?) laziness.
The photo above is not Apis mellifera, but a native Australian honeybee (there are several, genera Tetragonula/Trigona and Austroplebeia). This hive has created a wax art symbol that perfectly expresses the infusion, if you will, of the greater (the wider circle), the ostensibly unlimited, cosmic consciousness, into the 'smaller' (the point of the apex), more focused experience of limitation that is the ordinary human experience. Though the spiral above is amazing, it's not a common form for Apis mellifera to build, though this Australian bee seems to get into it.
Since the building form is not Apis m. (or A. mellifera- more laziness) I would say Apis m. get their designation of unity or cosmic consciousness due to 1. their overall creative powers (mentioned already), 2. their labor as seemingly a labor of love, and 3. their humming. As for the first, anything or anyone that displays exceptional creativity, whether it be popping kids out or making great sculpture or producing a lot of apples and flowers (in the case of a tree, not a tree owner) or thinking lots of deep thoughts, etc., once bore the stamp of more than average connection with The Allness, since the Allness power is, essentially, creative power. This Unity power is that which created it All! And we here do create with that same power.
Apis is also a god of the dead, for (as many important gods like Jesus do) he is transformed into another very powerful form when he dies. He (and the ritually chosen Apis bulls of the temple) becomes Osiris/Serapis, god of the Underworld/Otherworld (not necessarily different back in the day). Bees have the same association with the dead, with the spirits, with non-physical beings. Thus in the ancient Mediterranean a practice called bugonia, a ritual sacrifice of an Apis bull which supposedly generated honeybees (undoubtedly sacred) from the sacred bull's carcass. I'll talk about that later. Death as a transformative event is one of the most prevalent and overarching of religious concepts.
Below a beautiful watercolor by Justin Gibbens of bugonia as transformation, though the idea of a lonely bull collapsing in its tracks is far, far from the old Apis ritual sacrifice of a bull which was seemingly revered, and treated, like the very Pharoah himself.
Apis is actually, as were the Pharoahs, considered to be the voice of the big, big god (Ptah, Osiris, or Atum). Again, he is the intermediary between Divinity and human, Apis as a Son of God as the religious Jesus is said to be (well actually he supposedly said it, but he also said we all are). The role of intermediary is the essential role of all religious figures; being the voice of God brings this home in a big way. And here is another interface for the Apis bull and the bees; signifying the voice of the divine. We get this in the word 'mellifluous', honeyed speech. Honey is pretty universally the 'nectar of the gods' which bestows the power of divine speech, song, and poetry. Mead (honey wine) is used in old stories the same way.
Another currently more famous god in Euro-Western culture, Apollo, carries the same attribute of the voice of God (he is also, of course, the son of the Big Solar Guy Zeus):
So the omphalos that Apollo and his prophetesses sat on (can't remember if there historically were any males in there) is a place of emergence of the Divine, too. Prophecy is the Divine Word, the All spiraling into Form. I don't know the details of Greek prophecy protocol, but most famously the later Apollonian oracles sat on stools, with the omphalos somewhere else in the temple. The image below may show the priestess with her feet on an omphalos stone, which does not need to be shaped like the famous one above. Though definitions for the Greek word are hazy for us now, there are many examples of such stones that serve as a religious meeting point between human experience and the Divine, like the Jewish Dome of the Rock stone and the Stone of Scone or Stone of Destiny. But I digress.
Notice the clay bee omphalos is actually the shape of a pregnant belly, precisely the place where navels are made. Likewise all life here enters first into, and then proceeds from, the constantly pregnant Earth, the feminine divine archetype.
It's going to be a general rule that the bee, an animal that navigates (at least partly) by the sun and whose most popular products (honey, beeswax, pollen) are most often of a golden color, will be associated with a solar being. Honeybees are very, very dependent on the sun, and they remind us that we are, too. And in Euro-Western tradition overall, sun=masculine. So taking the strong masculine fire association (sun) and adding the fact that honeybees are a matriarchy, we have a pretty gender balanced little community, archetypally or symbolically speaking.