The Ancient Egyptians believed that the bee was created out of the Tears of the sun god, Ra. At the temple of Aphrodite, the priestesses were called the “Melissae”, which means “honeybees,” and Aphrodite herself was called Melissa, the Queen Bee. Pythagoreans worshipped bees as Aphrodite’s sacred creatures, who in their honeycombs create perfect hexagons; their endless symmetry exemplified the underlying order in the cosmos. In Lithuania, the goddess of bees is Austeja. She was responsible for fertility and growth and was also the patron deity of families.
Bees are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. Flowers that are visited more often by bees will produce larger and more uniform fruit than those visited less often. This beneficial effect of pollination is most obvious in tree fruit. More than 100 important crops are pollinated by honeybees. 80-95% of the plant species found in natural habitats require animal-mediated pollination.
Bees also provide health benefits. Bee pollen is known to ward off infections and is typically present in raw, unfiltered honey, but absent from filtered/processed honey. Raw honey can counter pollen allergies and contains natural antioxidants called polyphenols, which help block free radicals and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. It heals ulcers and promotes healthy sleep by fostering the release of melatonin in the brain.
Royal Jelly, a secretion bees use to provide nutrients to their larvae and adult queens, is said to boost fertility and help women become pregnant. Recent research has shown that royal jelly improves short-term memory in Alzheimer’s patients by combating the free radicals that plague the fragile, unsaturated fatty acids that compose brain tissue. It also helps with menopause symptoms and improves collagen in the skin.
In ancient times, honey was also used to treat burns and wounds because of the observable healing properties. We now know that by reacting with the body’s fluids to make hydrogen peroxide, raw honey creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria thus sterilizing wounds.
Bee colonies are divided into groups based on jobs: drones, worker bees, nurse bees, etc. Each bee has an important job that must be performed as part of their unit or the whole hive with suffer. Jobs are assigned based on ability and have nothing to do with gender. For example, the nurse bees, who secrete the royal jelly and care for the young, are not all females. Worker bees are not all males. Gender, in the social hierarchy of bees, is not a concern. The only bee that has to be female is the Queen. Out of the millions of bees in the colony, only one has a gender-role—and that is the one whose job is tied to physical procreation.
Fertility is not about gender. Traditional Beltane festivals that celebrate copulation (and make children’s rites very awkward) are focusing on that one job: but the entire ecosystem relies on the efforts of many, many more. Mirrored in our own society, we have long been fighting for equal rights and equal pay for equal work. There is a gross misconception that some genders are better suited to certain types of work. The bees teach us that this just isn’t so. Gender isn’t a box that we must live in, limiting who we can become as we evolve as humans. Gender doesn’t define our strengths and weaknesses.
What about bees and the ways they relate to one another can we hope to apply to our communities? In addition to acceptance of the gender spectrum, bees are very organized, laborious, disciplined, and tireless. Bee spirits have a strong work ethic and are capable of high levels of productivity. They are social creatures that live within communities, all working together for the health of the colony. These are traits we can and should strive to espouse.
When a new queen is ready to take over, the old queen leaves with a large portion of her offspring to form a new colony. The swarm is the mobile colony with the queen at the center in search of a new place to call home. It is this behavior that has led to the Wiccan/Pagan practice known as “hiving off.” As the new High Priest/Priestess completes their training, it is expected that they will create and foster their own “colony” and continue to practice and begin to teach on their own. Swarms are highly misunderstood and often seen as a threat, but they are actually a natural part of the healthy growth of the community. New covens, groves, or practicing groups are not a threat. New groups need to coexist along side the groups with more tenure so they can learn and be prepared to continue the work when the Elder group has reached end-of life. This is what is supposed to happen, and we need this diversity and room to expand.
Beltane is about the fertility of the land, and there is no greater symbol of the healthy ecosystem, all aspects in balance, than the bee. The hive is the symbol of community and harmony. The fruits of their labors are beneficial to all. During this time of heightened awareness of the growing and changing landscape around us, remember the lessons of the bees. You can follow your dreams and be who you want to be. You can work together with your neighbors and friends to keep your community healthy. And your healthy community will improve the health of the world. New hives will arise, and instead of viewing this as a threat, give them room to grow and feed the community in their own way. We don’t have to all be the same. How much different would it be if we were each given the freedom to succeed? Listen to the bees.