In retrospect I'm sure I wandered quite a bit in my last post's efforts to prove why the honey bee was such a huge archetype in the ancient world, but what the heck. This post will be more narrow in its scope. I'll start with the important honey bee attribute I mentioned in the last (or the one before?), that of humming.
The lady above is the Hindu goddess Bhramari. She is surrounded by her attribute of large black honey bees. The species in India would be A. cerana or A. dorsata, I believe, pretty close to A. mellifera. There's a complicated mythic battle in Hindu tradition that features this goddess's use of the stinging bees to vanquish demons (or a demon; the evil forces morph in number through the tale, as do the good, and I do not recall).
Here's a quote from one of the sacred texts concerning Bhramari's nature:
This all the Vedas declare of Thy True Nature thus as the Absolute Consciousness in all. Thus Thou art the Highest Deity. So we worship Thee. As Thou art surrounded by large black bees, Thou art named Bhramari.
This is a pretty heavy duty endorsement, no? In this portrait of a goddess, we can identify at least three strong bee attributes: blackness, the divine feminine (I wonder if the Vedic seers were aware that the worker bees were female, unlike the Greco-Romans?), and the humming sound that is so characteristic of a bee hive, indeed of the individual bee. For a good portrait of what Western culture today understands about the bee hum, visit the BBC News by clicking here.
Going back to Bhramari and her bees and how together they represent the "Absolute Consciousness", I can symbolically combine the qualities of blackness, and the divine feminine. Though the 6th ch. thing is usually experience of unity consciousness, i.e. the experience that All Is One (as extolled in the image above), there is an even 'deeper' experience of the Divine, which is as No-Thing, sometimes referred to as The Absolute. This version of consciousness, since it is in theory what comes BEFORE any THING, is part of what is symbolized by the color black (the other meanings of black are as the opposite of white, as death, etc..) This is part of what is meant by the black in the yin-yang symbol, of the yin/feminine side of it. It is the creative Void from which All issues. The Hindus are pretty hip to it.
So the bees have always been imagined as divine messengers from, not only the black, the darkness, the unmanifest, Hades, but what we think of as heaven also. They are psychopomps, who can traverse the boundaries of the manifest and, apparently, unmanifest worlds. In medieval Catholic culture, they were thought to be directly manifested from heaven, and thus enjoying a sort of virgin birth, similar to the bugonia in the first blog in this series.
This office as messenger of the gods has carried through to very recent times. It was the custom (maybe still is in some places) to "tell the bees" of important news, especially of deaths. From Wikipedia:
Food and drink from a beekeeper's funeral would also be left by the hive for the bees, including the funeral biscuits and wine. The hive would also be lifted a few inches and put down again at the same time as the coffin. The hive might also be rotated to face the funeral procession, and draped with mourning cloth. If a wedding occurred in the household, the hive might be decorated, and a slice of wedding cake left by their hive. The decoration of hives appears to date to the early 19th century.
I'm going to close here, and though bee lore is seemingly inexaustible, if you've read all three of these blogs you might have an idea how the bees traditionally held sacred place in human culture has slipped drastically. The list of the bees' tremendous influence goes on, I assure you, and it also includes the invasion of the European A. mellifera into the New World, outcompeting the natives. And life goes on... Here's a cutie with a honey bee song.