Kamis, 26 Mei 2011




The Bee in Esoteric Studies

Many disciplines offer insight into the study of the Bee, such as medicine, science, literature and religion – as we have seen. In the past, these fields of study drew upon equal measures of science, mystery and magic, however today any mystical elements have been relegated to the periphery of the mainstream. The study of these elements is known as the ‘esoteric’; the ancient and often complex decomposition of life’s mysteries. Many ‘schools’ of thought fall within the esoteric genre, but perhaps none as neatly as the Cabala. At first glance, the Cabala the might seem like a curious choice for studying the Bee, however as previously noted, the author of the first ever Grail Romance – Chrétien de Troyes, needed to study with a Cabalist before he was able to write about the Grail. Why? Because many believe that the Cabala is the context by which complicated esoteric symbolism can best be explained.

The analysis of the Bee in the context of the Cabala will be explored more fully on another occasion. However, I have included a couple of examples at this time in hopes of conveying the general approach and method involved. On an elementary level, the Cabalistic tradition places importance on the numeric value of each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The discipline is referred to as Gematria – or the language of numbers, and stipulates that numbers are absolute while words are subject to variations in spelling, language and pronunciation. It also suggests that words with the same numeric value warrant further consideration and study. For example, we previously reviewed the synchronicity of words with the same numeric value when we observed how ‘Bethel’ – which means Bee in Egyptian, carries the same numeric value (443) as ‘meteorite’, a sacred stone from ‘heaven’ that is linked with Bees in mythology and literature.

In our brief examination of the Cabala and the Bee we will review two examples of Gematria; first a letter and then a word. The Hebrew letter Alef | Aleph carries the meaning ‘thousand’ and both the Proto-Sinatic Hieroglyphic and its Pro-Canaanite symbol depict a bulls head, recalling the fact that 1000 Bees – or resurrected souls, are produced by the sacrifice of an Apis bull. Additionally, Christ - the saviour archetype of Osiris, renowned for his resurrection, is written in Hebrew as ‘QRST’ and carries the value 1000. And of course Osiris has strong links with the Bee, as we have seen. The depiction of a Hebrew letter with the value 1000 and an image of a Bulls head, coupled with the theme of regeneration and resurrection, may be coincidental, that is certainly a possibility, but at the same time the synchronicity hints at a knowledge once known to an initiate but now forgotten.
The letter Alef letter ( ? ) means 1000; the number of Bees produced by the death of an Apis bull

In the previous example we looked at a single letter in the Cabala and now we shall review a word; ‘Deborah’, a biblical figure who may have represented the title / office of Bee Goddess, given that her name in Hebrew – DBVRH, means Bee. The word ‘DBVRH’ carries the value 217 in the Cabala, a number related to the sound ‘Hum’, which in turn is associated with Zumbido, or ‘Zum Zum’ - that which existed first - before the number 1 was created and which represents the infinite; a humming sound related to the primordial act of creation that recalls the sound of the Bee. The word Briah also caries the value 217 and shares a similar meaning with respect to the act of creation, as it known as the ‘world of creation’ and is associated with Archangels – figures with wings whose origins may have been inspired by earlier depictions of Bee Gods and Goddesses. In the Cabala, aspects of Briah and other words carrying the value 217, such as Deborah, would be studied for interrelatedness and further insight.
It is intriguing that the Cabala highlights the sound of the Bee, given that this is one of the most important yet underdeveloped aspects of Bee research. Greg Taylor, author and owner of an esoteric news source known as The Daily Grail, explored the subject in ‘Darklore Volume 1’, and made some intriguing observations. In addition to experiencing the sound of Bees during activities such as Yoga, near death experiences (NDE’s), and alleged UFO abductions, Taylor observed that the sound of the Bee is frequently experienced before and during apparitions. For instance at Fátima, site of the famous 1917 apparition, witnesses such as Maria Carreira recalled hearing the sound of Bees in the presence of what was believed to be the Virgin Mary. Taylor describes the phenomena;
Maria subsequently described this phenomenon, from the June apparition, to another investigator with these words: ‘Then we began to hear something like this, in the manner of a very fine voice, but what it said could not be comprehended or put into words, for it was like the buzzing of a bee.”
Taylor adds;
“Another witness described it as “the buzzing of a fly inside an empty barrel, but without articulation of words,” and on another occasion as an indefinable sound, heard throughout the duration of the experience, like that which is heard next to a hive, but altogether more harmonious. And another witness; “I thought I heard at that moment, a little wind, a zoa-zoa sound. While Lucia was listening to a response, it seemed there was a buzzing sound like that of a cicada.”

Pictures of the witnesses at Fátima
State changes in consciousness are known to occur naturally in about 2% of the world’s population. Alternatively, they can be triggered by the consumption of organic substances containing hallucinogens, such as mushrooms. This phenomenon is discussed at length in Graham Hancock’s book ‘Supernatural’, which suggests that the shamanic tradition provides a gateway to a consistent, if not repeatable set of otherworldly sights, sounds and sensations. Could ancient man’s initial fascination with the Bee derive from the buzzing / humming sounds experienced during shamanic ritual?
Other schools of esoteric thought provide insight into the Bee, or have incorporated it into their ideological framework, such as Freemasonry, the secret Sufi Society, the Priory of Sion and the Cercle Saint Dagobert II, to recall a few. But perhaps none are as infamous as the Order of the Illuminati, a ‘secret’ society founded by the German philosopher Johann Adam Weishaupt on 1 May, 1776. Curiously, Weishaupt had considered naming his order ‘Bees’ – not ‘Order of the Illuminati’. This was, in all likelihood, due to his strong Masonic affiliations and appreciation of the Greek mysteries, which of course are heavily laden with Bee symbolism. In any event, the goal of the order was nothing less than world domination and consisted of a complicated network of spies acting anonymously in what has been described as a “cell-like” structure, complete with matrix reporting to unknown superiors. Not surprisingly, from about this time onward we begin to see the Beehive depicted as a metaphor for the control of the proletariat, a word in Latin meaning "offspring". The definition is rather appropriate when we consider that a typical Beehive houses tens of thousands of newborn Bees.

Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Order of the Illuminati

It is interesting to ponder what would have happened had Weishaupt named his society Bees. It’s also interesting to speculate what he intended to convey by introducing the order on the 1st of May. In the Pagan world, the 1st of May represents regeneration and is known in Gaelic as the festival of Beltane. The 1st of May is also the day of Taurus the bull, which of course symbolises regeneration, and is associated with the Bee. However, May 1st is best known as ‘Workers Day’, an important day in the Soviet Union, for instance, whose political and labour structure – Communism, was designed to emulate the order of the Beehive. In fact, May 1st remains the day of the Worker Bee – as it were, and is known as Labour Day in America and International Workers' Day in many other parts of the world.

May Day:  A celebration of the contribution of the ‘worker Bees’

The inclusion of Bee symbolism in Communist ideals is understandable given the orderly and altruistic model of society that the Beehive represents. However, it is apparent from the heraldic shields of regions that later practiced Communism that the Bee had been an important icon for some time, as the 1777 Russian shield below confirms. The proliferation of Bee symbolism around this time – and across the globe mind you – from France to America and from Russia to Weishaupt’s Order of the Illuminati is astonishing. Might Freemasonry be the tie that binds the almost viral expansion of Bee symbolism at this time?

Russian Civic Heraldry dated 10 March 1777
© www.ngw.nl

The work of Weishaupt underwent a resurgence of sorts a century later when the British occultist Aleister Crowley – an important member of occult organizations such as Golden Dawn and Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), rose to prominence as ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’. Not surprisingly, Crowley was renowned for his unusual Beehive inspired headdress, representing the esoteric wisdom of an initiate.

Aleister Crowley and his Beehive headdress

Numerous individuals have incorporated the Bee into their own esoteric framework – not just orders and societies. Crowley was one; another was Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and esotericist who in 1923 presented a series of nine celebrated lectures on the Bee. Steiner was an esoteric master and a social thinker like few before him - or after - and believed that Bees were models of all that was important in life. His fascination, if not obsession with the Bee was evident as early as 1908 when he spoke in Berlin about the significance of the Bee relative to man;
“The consciousness of a Beehive, not the individual Bees, is of a very high nature. Humankind will not obtain the wisdom of such consciousness until the next major revolutionary stage – that of Venus – which will come when the evolution of the earth stage has finished. Then human beings will possess the consciousness necessary to construct things with a material they create within themselves.”

Rudolph Steiner: philosopher, literary scholar, educator, artist, playwright, social thinker, and esotericist

One of the reasons why the Bee is associated with esoteric and spiritual pursuits is that the Bee serves others before it serves itself. The Bee is altruistic to a fault, a characteristic observed by St. John Chrysostom, the 4th century archbishop of Constantinople and early father of the Church whose famous oratory skills earned him the name ‘golden mouth’;
"The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others. Indeed, the bee works unceasingly for the common good of the hive, and obeys without question what sometimes appears to be an inequitable hierarchy.”
In fact, the function of the Bee has been termed the ‘healer of the people’, and what better definition for a shaman, pope or esoteric mentor, whose spiritual guidance and insight is vital to the greater community?

The Bee in Folklore and Modern Society
We’ve reviewed the Cabala and other organizations that have incorporated Bee symbolism into their esoteric framework. However appreciation of the Bee is not entirely lost on society at large. For instance, many of today’s most popular expressions recall the Bee’s importance in folklore and myth. Take for example the phrase ‘Making a Bee-Line’. The Cabala would interpret the Bee-Line as representing the pilgrim’s path, the Duat of the Egyptians and the Labyrinth of the Greeks - the middle path representing balance and the Grail, the path of Osiris and the path linking the terrestrial and the celestial; the path of resurrection. In short, the Cabala would say that the Bee-line is the path of the initiate. But there are other, less esoteric explanations of the phrase.
It is difficult to say where the notion of a ‘Bee-line’ originated, although it most certainly derives from the unique behaviour of Bees. For instance, when a Bee finds a source of nectar it returns to the hive and communicates the location to the other Bees using a technique called the waggle dance, a phenomenon that was first explained by Nobel Prize winner and Bee researcher Karl Von Frisch. Thanks to the waggle dance, other Bees are able to fly directly to the source of the food – which could be as far as 3 miles away, by making a ‘Bee-line' straight for it.

Depiction of what Karl Von Frisch termed the Bee’s Waggle Dance

The website ‘Phrase Finder’ tells us that the phrase Bee-line;“is American and all the early citations of it come from the USA.” The source cites as reference the Davenport Daily Leader newspaper from January 1808, which states;
“Gustav Stengel Sr., of Rock Island, was thrown from his sleigh on Third Avenue in that city yesterday afternoon, the horse becoming frightened and turning abruptly, ripping the cutter. The horse made a bee line for home.”
The phrase – which simply means to move directly and without hesitation, remains popular to this day. However, it is unlikely that the phrase is American in origin or a 19th century invention. Quite the opposite actually, for its origins appear to stem from the time of the Phoenicians - the ancient sea-faring people who are said to have released Bees from their ships when approaching land in order to observe the direction that the land sensing swarm would travel. The Phoenicians would then make a ‘Bee-line’ in the direction of the Bees in the hope that land would soon follow. Surely, this would be a more likely candidate for the origins of the phrase, and ancient shields of strategic port cities such as Port Au Prince in Hatti seem to suggest that this may be the case.

Do ancient shields such as this allude to the practice of using Bees to locate land?

Regardless of its origins, the phrase Bee-line appears linked with the custom of ‘Telling the Bees’. The aptly named phrase consists of the practice of promptly informing Bees of a death in the family in order to preempt them from departing the hive once they realize they have lost their ‘keeper’. The customer is more common than you would think, even to this day, as recounted by the American writer Mark Twain in his famous novel, ‘Huckleberry Finn’;
“And he said if a man owned a beehive and that man died, the bees must be told about it before sun-up next morning, or else the bees would all weaken down and quit work and die. Jim said bees wouldn't sting idiots; but I didn't believe that, because I had tried them lots of times myself, and they wouldn't sting me.”

The ancient custom of ‘Telling the Bees’

In China, Beehives are turned a different direction after the death of their keeper, hinting at a superstition that harkens back to a more ancient custom. Details vary, but the essence remains the same – tell the Bees, and quickly. In England circa 1840, a woman inquired if the Bees had been informed of the death of their keeper and upon learning they had not, proceeded to prepare a dish of spice cake and sugar and presented it to the hive while jingling her keys and reciting the following rhyme; 
“Honey bees, Honey bees, hear what I say!
Your Master J.A. has passed away.
But his wife now begs you will freely stay,
And still gather honey for many a day.
Bonny bees, Bonny bees, hear what I say.”
The notion that Bees and death are closely related manifests in a variety of ways. For instance, when England’s Queen Mother died in 2004, newspapers from across Europe produced illustrations portraying her as a Queen Bee, guided up to heaven on the wings of Bees. The depiction appears related to a superstition from the Middle Ages, and one that is still prevalent in parts of America, England and Germany that states that if Bees were not promptly informed of the death of their master they would fly up to the sky and seek them out there. In a similar vein, the expression “To fall into a jar of honey” is a common metaphor for “to die”.
However, the custom of ‘Telling the Bees’ is not limited to deaths, as any information deemed important must routinely and swiftly be shared with the Bees. The practice is curious and may be a memory of the act of confiding in Bee Priestesses, shamans and priests, as practiced in ancient Delphi, Siwa and other Oracle centres around the ancient world, as well as in modern institutions, such as the Catholic Church’s confessional.
Bee customs continue to play an active role in modern times. For example, the practice of holding a competition called a ‘Spelling Bee’ where each contestant is challenged to correctly spell a word out loud, can be traced back to the early 19th century and remains a popular pastime in English speaking cultures today. Interestingly, the whole concept of a Spelling ‘Bee’ refers to a gathering where a specific function is being performed – i.e. a Quilting Bee - and thus embodies the orderly behaviour that routinely occurs in a Beehive.

Spelling Bees – a popular past time

Another custom involves presenting a bride with a Bee skep as a wedding present and token of good luck in her marriage. Similarly, it is customary to place a piece of wedding cake at the entrance to the Beehive after the ceremony. Yet another custom relates to death – or at least a funeral - underscoring the perceived relevance of Bees during life’s most notable milestones. In this instance, it is customary to leave a biscuit dipped in wine at the funeral for the Bees to enjoy once the guests have departed. Bees are also believed to be good predictors of the weather, for example, and many have observed that they choose to remain close to the hive when rain is imminent.
Perhaps the most famous Bee folk tale is the expression; ‘The Birds and the Bees’, a phrase commonly used to describe the fundamentals of sexual union, as a parent would share with a child in the context of sex education. The source of the expression is unknown, although many plausible explanations have been put forward, including the 1928 song by the American song writer Cole Porter entitled ‘Let’s do it’, which featured the then provocative lyric; “Birds do it, Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let's do it, let's fall in love.”

The popular slogan – The Birds and the Bees

Upon reflection there might be another explanation for the expression. Birds and Bees are mysterious creatures. For example, Birds are said to have their own language – the Language of the Birds, which is believed to have been a divine and mystical language spoken only by initiates. And with respect to Bees, well we have examined them in considerable depth and their symbolism is nothing if not mystical. Thus, could the expression simply refer to sexual union as something magical and sacred, something that needs to be learned by an initiate and which is unknown to a virgin?
Appreciation of the once sacred Bee has diminished in modern times, save for the odd bit of pop culture. Take for instance the ancient practice of a Beekeeper encouraging its hive to rest on their body as a form of bonding and trust. In recent times the custom has morphed into a contest to see how many Bees an individual can attract and physically sustain, especially on the face. The practice of ‘Bee Bearding’, as it is known, was reintroduced by Peter Prokopovitch, a Russian Beekeeper from the 1830’s. The rekindled tradition was soon mimicked in ‘freak’ shows in American carnivals and remains a genre of dubious merit to this day. In fact, in 1998 an American animal trainer by the name of Mark Biancaniello broke the Guinness Book of Records for "most pounds of bees worn on the body" by successfully wearing 350,000 bees, weighing nearly 90 pounds.

Bee Bearding – the ancient custom of creating a bond between Bee and Beekeeper

Perhaps the most popular and endearing account of the Bee in the 21st century has to do with a bear, which is somewhat ironic as the bear – known in Saxon times as a Bee-wolf, which later morphed into the epic poem Beowulf, is a natural enemy of the Bee, known for not only eating honey, but the entire hive as well. Bees and all! Of course I speak of the celebrated children’s story ‘Winnie the Pooh’. The popular tale consists of a honey eating bear named Winnie the Pooh and his best friend, a young boy by the name of Christopher Robin. The story is based on the real life account of Harry Colebourn, an Englishman who immigrated to Canada in 1905 and served as a Canadian Lieutenant before returning to England to fight in the First World War. While on his way home Colebourn purchased a bear from a hunter for $20 and named it after the town where he had been living – Winnipeg.

Harry Colebourn with the original Winnie

Back in England, Winnipeg became the unofficial mascot of Colebourn’s regiment. However, as war beckoned, Colebourn was forced to donate the bear to the London Zoo. Winnipeg proved to be an exceedingly popular attraction and amongst his many admirers was a young boy named Christopher Robin Milne, who was so smitten with the loveable animal that he named his own stuffed bear Winnie.
Christopher’s father was Alan Alexander Milne, a successful English writer who had trained under H.G. Wells. Inspired by his son’s affection for the bear, Milne wrote two very successful children’s books that featured the beloved animal - the first of which was published in 1926. After his death, Milne’s widow sold the rights to Walt Disney, who transformed the story of the honey eating bear into an international sensation. For the setting of his Winnie the Pooh books Milne chose a forest close to his home in East Sussex called Five Hundred Acre Wood. Although there are no bears in Sussex, Five Hundred Acre Wood is a natural home to hundreds of thousands of Bees.

Winnie the Pooh stealing a jar of honey – from the original etchings

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