Kamis, 26 Mei 2011

LEBAH 35 - BEEGOTTEN 3

LEBAH 35 - BEEGOTTEN 3


Beegotten

 
It is remarkable, if not peculiar, that this simple children’s story highlights both the Bee and the Bear, for the Bear was also revered across the ancient world, especially by the Merovingians. Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln comment on this fact in a section of their book ‘Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’ entitled ‘The Bear From Arcadia’. They argue that the Merovingians originated from a region in Greece known as Arcadia – a land with mystical associations with bears;
 
“It is also worth noting in passing that the bear, in ancient Arcadia, was sacred animal – a totem on which mystery cults were based and to which ritual sacrifice was made. Indeed, the very name ‘Arcadia’ derives from ‘Arkades’, which means People of the Bear. The ancient Arcadians claimed descent from Arkas, the patron deity of the land, whose name means bear.”

The authors highlight that Arkas was also the name of a Greek nymph linked with Artemis – a goddess whose association with Bees is beyond refute. The trio build on the theme:
 
“Given the magical, mythic and totemic status of the bear in the Merovingian heartland…it is not surprising that the name ‘Ursus’ – Latin for ‘bear’ – should be associated in the ‘Prieure documents’ with the Merovingian royal line. Rather more surprising is the fact that the Welsh word for bear is ‘arth’ – from whence the name ‘Arthur’ derives.”

Clearly the bear has strong esoteric connotations and like the Bee it was revered by the Merovingians. Of course the ‘Great Bear’ refers to the constellation of Orion; a series of stars depicting a ‘Hunter’ fighting a bull (Taurus). In this context, might the celestial stage of Orion represent the earliest form of Mithraism? Is the symbolic slaughter of Taurus the source of the myth that 1000 Bees are produced by the death of an Apis bull, and that each Bee represents a soul? Just as the number 40 in the bible serves as a literally device to convey ‘a considerable number’, might the number ‘1000’ be a similar convention used to suggest ‘infinite’ numbers? 

The notion that stars in Orion represent souls of the deceased king, shaman or initiate on earth dates back to the ancient Egyptians, if not earlier. Might the ‘infinite’ number of stars in the night sky have been regarded as celestial Bees, born with the processional passing of Tarus into Aries? In any case, the esoteric association of Bees with bears is interesting, especially in a children’s story.

While Winnie the Pooh bear laboured against all odds to acquire his beloved honey, by the turn of the 20th century the popular nectar had become a mass produced article of trade widely available in towns and cities the world over. As a result of the ease in which it could be acquired, the alchemistic like process of producing honey became less and less apparent to its patrons, rendering the Bee a marginalized and somewhat exploited commodity. The abstraction of the product from its source hints at the genesis of the Bee’s gradual demise in modern society, not only figuratively but also quite literally, for Bees, as we know, are dying in alarming numbers.

In her recent and sadly overlooked book, ‘Bee’, Claire Preston draws attention to the media’s systematic demonization of the once sacred insect. Preston cites the popular 1901 novel; ‘The Life of the Bee’ by the Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck as a catalyst for altering public opinion on the Bee, from tranquil and benevolent creature, to an impersonal political and corporate role model. Maeterlinck, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911, was famous for writing ‘The god of the bees is the future’. Preston comments;
 
“Maeterlinck’s simultaneous enthusiasm for and dismay about the nature of bees takes its cue not only from the Romantics, but also from the sort of Utopian scholars, including Marx’s, which yielded the exhilaration of 1917 and eventually the horror of Stalinist communism.”

With the advent of motion pictures, the themes cited by Maeterlinck and others of his generation soon morphed onto the big screen in ominous fashion, as Preston recounts;
 
“Fritz Lang’s Wellsain Metropolis (1927) imagines a future city of the year 2000 whose workers are enslaved in underground factories where they perform repetitive tasks enclosed in tiny, staked cells. The rigorous order of the hive and the comb in obedience to an overarching national imperative was later captured by Leni Riefenstahl in Triumph of Will (1934) with pictures of Nazi Rallies. Political and social metaphors, so easily attached to the bee and the hive, have by this moment become disquieting. Victor Erices’s cult film El Espiritu de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (1973), set in the early days of Fanco’s regime, adapts this disquiet specifically to bees, with the frequent cutaway shots to a glass beehive and the voiceover of the anti-Facist beekeeper recognizing that the gentle civility and industry of bees under a benevolent queen is doomed in the wasteland of tyranny. The Beehive becomes a figure for the entrapment of the workers under Franco, and an equivocal metaphor of the Republican spirit.”

The ominous urban landscape of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis where workers performed repetitive tasks for the benefit of the ‘hive’

The use of Bees as political pawns, coupled with real life - albeit rare and wildly misconstrued instances of South American Killer Bee swarms - resulted in the Bee’s shocking treatment by mainstream Hollywood. Appropriately, the sensational and overly dramatised films are regarded as ‘B-Movies’, and include the likes of ‘Mysterious Island’ (1951), ‘Queen Bee’ (1955), ‘The Deadly Bees’ (1967), ‘Invasion of the Bee Girls’ (1972), ‘The Savage Bees’ (1976), ‘The Swarm’ (1978), ‘The Bees’ (1978), ‘Terror out of the Sky’ (1979), ‘Creepers’ (1985) and 1992’s ‘Candyman’, amongst others. And this list excludes the countless ‘Killer Bee’ documentaries that have attempted to create unrest and contempt with a public that struggles to tell the difference between a Bee and a Wasp, let alone a Killer Bee. Is it any wonder that most people fear Bees, and that the very sight of one arouses anxiety and the compulsion to kill it before it strikes?

An advertisement for the 1967 film; The Deadly Bees

Refreshingly, 2007 saw Hollywood relax and produce a Bee comedy; ‘The Bee Movie’ – an animated motion picture staring the popular American comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The film was a box office hit, coining the line; “Bee’s - they’re only in it for the honey.” Contemporary society also pays homage to the Bee in media other than film and literature. Take fashion for instance. While Jerry Seinfeld was relaxing the public’s anxiety about Bees, the retro British singer Amy Winehouse was winning Grammy’s and Brit Awards while sporting a retro Beehive hairdo that drew on earlier Bee-inspired divas such as the 1950’s actress Audrey Hepburn and the 60’s singer Mari Wilson, amongst others such as the popular cartoon character Marge Simpson. Superficial pop culture aside, the 21th century saw all that was magical and profound about the Bee become exploited, corrupted and largely trivialised. Until that is, the Bee began to die.

© Bee Movie – DreamWorks | Amy Winehouse and her ‘Beehive’ Hairdo

Incredibly, while the 21st century has largely eroded the Bee’s once sacred legacy, it would appear that the ancient traditions continue, albeit on the fringes of society. In his fascinating book; ‘The Shamanic Way of the Bee’, Simon Buxton recounts his amazing hero’s journey in rural England in a story reminiscent of the 1960’s cult film; ‘Wicker Man’ – only with a happy ending. While walking through the English county of Somerset, Buxton encounters a shamanic society and is soon initiated into the ancient cult of the Bee, better known today as the ‘Path of the Pollen’ or ‘The Forest Way’ in olden times.

Buxton’s initiation took place at the home of his teacher and was followed by a ritual on ‘The Nightshade Isle’, off the coast of England. Here he was introduced to Darkflight, a psychotropic honey, essential to the shamanic experience. Buxton is founder of The Sacred Trust, an educational organisation concerned with the teaching of shamanism. Intriguingly, some of the workshops now offered provide a glimpse into the Path of Pollen, namely: The Way of the Melissae, The Serpent Flight of the Honeybee and Arte Triptych Melissae. In our private conversations, Buxton has confirmed that the old traditions are alive and well – especially across Europe, albeit entirely underground.

Site of the ancient chamber where Buxton received his final initiation into the Path of the Pollen (location withheld at author’s request)

Buxton’s journey into the Path of the Pollen should not to be viewed as ‘new age’ hokum for his experience mirrors that of other initiates, including his former mentor, a man known simply as Bridge, who as Buxton recounts in his book, had much to say about the cult of the Bee;
 
“The teachings contained within this tradition have been handed down so faithfully that it has never been in danger of extinction. The Bee cutlus was not created, but rather summoned, and the citadel of the tradition is a fortress that can never be taken. To the uninitiated, the cultus - like city of bees itself - is hidden, veiled. Nothing is known of its inner councils, of the debates and decisions, of the governors and officers, of the supervisors who allot the tasks, of the regeneration that occurs and the training that is offered.”

Buxton’s account is intriguing, sincere and encouraging for it affirms that the ancient and shamanic tradition of the Bee continues. And who are we to disagree? The mountain of evidence that the Bee has been the most venerated creature in existence is certainly persuasive. Why shouldn’t its traditions have continued? And anyway, do we really know as much about Bees as we think we do? 

Simon Buxton – has he confirmed that the shamanic tradition of the Bee continues to this day?

There are officially nine families of Bees and almost 20,000 species living on every continent, except Antarctica. The most famous species is the Western Honey Bee, which has been the source of Beekeeping, or Apiculture, for tens of thousands of years. Experts estimate that insect pollination, most of which is performed by Bees, is critical to over one third of the worlds food supply. Bees are remarkably productive creatures, as demonstrated in Nepal and China where the task of pollinating trees requires 25 humans, compared to only 2 Bees. Each Honey Bee produces 1½ teaspoons of honey in its lifetime and requires 50 million visits to the hive in order to produce 1 kilo’s worth. The phrase “Busy as a Bee” is entirely just, as Alison Benjamin and Brain McCallum recount in their excellent 2008 book, ‘A World Without Bees’; “Each Bee will fly around 800km (500 miles) in her lifetime, at times carrying loads equivalent of half her body weight; no wonder she will die exhaustion about three weeks after her first flight.” A Bee’s life is short, indeed, but with more sense of purpose than most humans. 

A ‘busy’ Bee

We are only beginning to understand the wonders of the Bee, and Nobel Prize winner and Bee researcher Karl Von Frisch is one of the bright minds who have studied the insect in considerable depth. Von Frisch concluded that Bees can see 10 times more images per second than the human eye, which is consistent with research by Jacob Von Uexkull, whose work in the German Journal Space and Time concluded that a Bees brain can process 200 images per second. However Frisch’s major contribution to the study of the Bee, and the reason he received his Nobel Prize, has to do with his realization that the Bee’s waggle dance communicated location. That is, Von Frisch was able to confirm that the Bee actually registers its complicated flight details and communicates them to the hive, empowering the others to recreate the trip even if the food is miles away; a sort of satellite navigation system for Bees! Sadly, Von Frisch was later removed from his post by the Nazi Party when it discovered that one of his grandparents was Jewish and that his work on Bees was not contributing to the ideological framework of the Nazi Party. 

Karl Von Frisch, winner of the Nobel Prize for his research on Bees

The Bee’s home – the hive - is also of considerable interest. A Beehive is a fascinating matrix of hexagonal cell structures constructed out of Beeswax whose complexities we are only now beginning to understand. The work of respected Bee researcher Jurgen Tautz has revealed that wax – the building block of the hive, is actually a living, adaptive and highly intelligent entity. Tautz observed that cells are initially rounded and only transform into hexagons when the Bee has succeeded in heating the wax to 45C. Interestingly, hexagons frequently appear in nature and are unusually lightweight and stable. Is there something inherently important in the hive's shape?  At the end of the day, we have much to learn about the complex and highly evolved creature, and its home – the hive.

Beehive honeycomb cells – close up

What we can say with some certainty is that Bees are big business. In the United States alone, over one-third of fruits, vegetables and nuts are dependent on the Bee’s pollen. What’s at stake? The value to the 2008 economy in the United States is estimated at over $15 billion. And now the Bee is dying, which is curious indeed for there is no illness in a Beehive, at least not until man intervenes. Efforts to increase the size of Bees in the hope that they would produce more honey have in fact been successful; a ‘bigger Bee’ was created, however the Bees internal organs did not increase proportionally and fewer Bees were ultimately produced. In this instance, as in so many others, man's intervention has only made things worse.

Man continues to meddle with the Bee’s natural habitat, and in America the pressure to produce a profit in the trade of Bees has necessitated that honey be substituted with sugar in many hives. Thus, is it any wonder that Bees are dying in America faster than any other region in the world? Literally millions of Bees have disappeared over the last few years alone, and in 2007 30% of the Beehives in the United States – and in some regions as high as 90% - were evacuated virtually overnight. In a recent interview with the New York Times, American Beekeeper David Bradshaw commented on the mystery of the dying Bees, simply stating that; “Box after box after box are just empty. There's nobody home.”

A Beekeeper examines a near empty hive

Sadly, the phenomenon of Bees disappearing has given new meaning to the phrase, ‘Buzz off’. Germany’s Spiegel Online recently reported that; "Experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor." Others believe that polluting of the environment is to blame, particularly the use of mobile phones. However, the feeling of many experts is that mites are in fact the culprit – a theory we will explore in more detail. Whatever the cause, the effect is now alarmingly clear; the risk to the world’s food source – and economy, is staggering. A February 28th, 2008 article in the International Herald Tribune entitled; ‘Worries about Bees spread to the boardroom’, featured companies like Häagen-Dazs, whose ice cream is dependent on the Bee for no less than 28 of its products. Häagen-Dazs is raising $250,000 towards research into the epidemic and is not alone in seeking out a cure, if only for its own survival.

In ‘World Without Bees’, Benjamin and McCallum discuss Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – the name given to the phenomena of vanishing Bees, and explain how the Bees Waggle Dance has been rendered ineffectual, causing a breakdown of society in the hive;
 
“Bees have a sophisticated navigation system that uses the sun and landmarks as points of reference. It allows them to travel up to three miles (5Km) from the hive in search of food without losing their way back home…But in a hive suffering from this strange plague the adult Bee does not return home, leaving their queen, eggs and larvae to starve to death.”

In order to combat the situation, various task forces have been established, such as the Honeybee Health Improvement Project and the Bee Task Force; a group representing farmers who produce 80% of the world’s supply of nuts. Benjamin and McCallum add that;
 
“With billions of dollars at stake and further expansion of the California almond crop at peril, the U.S. Congress provisionally approved increased funding totalling around $100M (£50M) for research. But apiarists increasingly believe that the scientists are backing the wrong horse

Studying Bees with the experts at the Twickenham Apiary, London

Many apiarists believe that the real cause of CCD is a nicotine-based pesticide called Imidacloprid that is breaking down the immune system and causing CCD in the first place. 

However scientists reject the theory, citing the fact that Bees are disappearing from hives where pesticides are not used and have mysteriously disappeared many times in the past, the first recorded instance being in 1869. As previously mentioned, the most likely culprit is a parasitic organism known as the Varroa mite, which has infested countless Bees around the world as migrating hives introduce the mite to local Bees who have not had a chance to gradually build up their immune system to the new enemy. Benjamin and McCallum describe the horrific scenario;
 
“Under a microscope, Varroa destructor looks like a cross between a jellyfish and a Frisbee, with hairy legs…To get an idea what it must be like for the honeybee, which after all is only 12mm (1/2 inch) long, to have one of these mites clinging to her, we were told to imagine carrying a monkey on our back.”

A Varroa Mite; believed by many to be the killer of the Honeybee

The cause and effect debate continues, with Benjamin and McCallum adding; “More than 18 months after CCD was discovered…and billions of honeybee deaths later, what have we learned? Scientist are no nearer to finding the assassin.” The reality is that Bees will up and leave if their environment is hostile in any way, and this ‘self-sacrificing’, or flying away to die so as to protect the hive from the impact of their own stress is precisely what many experts believe is occurring in North America, and elsewhere. The bottom line is that whatever the cause, the world has just rediscovered how vital a role the Bee plays in our lives. And it’s discovered it the hard way. 

A Dead Queen Bee

Oddly enough, there are several legends of man’s destiny being tied to the fate of the Bees – and although each account has been around for many years, their origins remain uncertain. The American Indian is believed to have said that when the Bee dies, man has 4 years left. The same belief was echoed by Albert Einstein, who is attributed with the quote;
 
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

The alarming quote is dated to the time of Einstein (1879 – 1955) but curiously has not been confirmed in his writings, prompting some to question its authenticity. The photo below reinforces the skepticism.

Modified photo of Einstein. © Illustration by ‘The Daily Green’ – original photo by AP

Photoshop sarcasm aside, the demise of the Bee is no laughing matter, and at least one scholar is on record as having predicted the demise of the Bee nearly a century ago. That would be Rudolph Steiner, who in his superb collection of nine lectures, simply entitled ‘Bees’, predicted in 1923 that the newly introduced technique of breeding Queen Bees using the larvae of Worker Bees would mean that “a century later all breeding of Bees would cease.” So where does this leave us? Allegedly, we have Bee folklore reinforced by a renowned man of science who predicted that when the Bee dies out, man will shortly follow. This is disturbing, yet curious, for 2008 has seen the death rate of Bees soar, and in 4 years it will be 2012, the year that the Bee worshiping Mayans predicted the world as we know it will cease and a new Golden Age of man would commence. Benjamin and McCallum offer a more optimistic perspective on the pending ‘end of days’, stating;
 
“If bees continue disappearing at this rate, it is estimated that by 2035 there could be no honeybees left in the US. In the UK, an estimated 25% decline in honeybees is not officially attributed to CCD, but that has not stopped Lord Rooker from warning that all of the country’s 270,000 or so colonies could be gone in 10 years.”

Clearly there is no single view of the problem, the extent of the damage, or the solution. Time is running out on the once beloved Honeybee. Is it any wonder that organizations have formed whose mantra is “Save the Bee, Save the World”?

Conclusions

My research into the Bee has led me on an amazing and unexpected journey of discovery. But what exactly does it all mean? In Prehistory, the Bee was hunted for its honey. In the genesis of society, civilizations such as Sumeria, Ancient Egypt and Greece revered the Bee as a provider of ritualistic, medicinal and agriculturally important by-products. Down through history, the Bee has been venerated as nothing short of a god whose life affirming attributes have been adopted by religions, institutions and governments alike. I’ve labelled the three eras of the Bee; Beedazzled, Beewildered and Beegotten for good reason. The question remains, will there be a fourth era, and if so will it be called Beegone?

Looking back, I wonder what aspect of the Bee first inspired man to regard it as unique and sacred, all those thousands of years ago. Was it something as simple as a Bee's sting? It’s impossible to say really, for any one of the attributes we’ve discussed could easily have catapulted the Bee to its once exalted position within society. My opinions on the matter are far from crystallized, but more and more I keep coming back to sound of the Bee and the notion of Zumbido, or Zum Zum; that which existed first; the buzzing sound of the Bee that has been experienced in shamanic rituals and moments of state changes in consciousness since time immoral. Could the collective unconsciousness of man have internalized the singular importance of the Bee over a period of tens of millions of years? Is that why its sound is experienced during moments of transcendence?

While intriguing, explanations and conclusions on a subject so vast and opaque are nothing if not futile, not to mention speculative. What is less speculative, however, is the fact that the Bee has contributed more to the physical and mental wellbeing of mankind than any other creature, large or small. On reflection, I am reminded of a quote by one of the greatest mythologists of this or any other era – Robert Graves, who spoke of the Bee and the Golden Age of man;
 
“The Bee has continued through the millennia as a symbol of the soul’s survival after death and limitless existence in the harmony of the Golden age of the World.”

Let’s hope the Bee survives - and thrives, because if it doesn’t, then we only have ourselves to blame.

Andrew Gough



Postscript
 
The author and playwright Patrice Chaplin first introduced me to Ingrid, the Cabalist featured in her book ‘City of Secrets’, in the spring of 2007. We got on famously and Ingrid soon invited me to her home on the Catalan cost near Girona - home of the birth place of the Cabala - for an esoteric study weekend. As the former esoteric guide and astrologer for Salvador Dali, Ingrid has worked with a wide assortment of initiates from around the globe and from all walks of life. Needless to say, her reputation as an esoteric master du jour preceded her.
 
The agenda for the weekend was set and we were preparing to delve into Ingrid’s 4-inch binder of detailed Cabalistic analysis on a single phrase from the Rennes-Le-Château parchments; “Shepherdess, No Temptation”. The plan was we would start after a spot of breakfast. Sitting on Ingrid’s patio in the woods, overlooking the ocean a few hundred metres in the distance, we were busy exchanging pleasantries when were visited by an extraordinary large Bee that proceeded to hover between us for what seemed like ages. Within seconds we were discussing Bees, and for the rest of the weekend – and another that soon followed, the Bee was all we discussed.
 
Studying the Bee with Ingrid
 
This three-part series only taps the surface of the Bee-related research that we’ve conducted. The truth of the matter is that most of the material is extremely esoteric and requires more knowledge of the Cabala than I presently posses or could easily transmit if I did. Perhaps someday I will rein it all in and publish it. Nevertheless, I hope the information presented here has provided fresh insight into the ‘lost tradition’ of the Bee. At times serious, at times whimsical, and at times speculative, the analysis has been an attempt to showcase the Bee’s extraordinary history, and at the end of the day, to make us just a little more cognizant of the little creature that continues to fly in and out of our lives most days.
 
Acknowledgements
  • To Ingrid, for her amazing insight, patience and friendship.
  • To my good friend Mark Foster, who next to Ingrid is the only esoteric Bee authority I know. Thanks for your guidance, and for letting me draw upon, develop, and sprinkle my work with your original insights on the Bee and sacred stones - and Atlantis. I look forward to your own work on the Bee in the future.
  • To my good friend Filip Coppens, whose insight (especially Glastonbury and Roslyn Chapel) and watchful eye was much appreciated. Thanks for inviting me along on the trip to Germany, without which I would have missed out on some of the most interesting aspects of my research. Oh, and sorry if I drove you nuts talking nonstop about Bees!
  • To my good friend Lynn Picknett, whose insight, perspective and Bee humour were invaluable. Thank you for putting up with my boring ramblings about Bees.
  • To the many Arcadia readers and friends who shared their insights, photos and suggestions throughout. Thank you!
References & Suggested Reading
 
Recommended Books: 
  • Archaeology of Beekeeping, Eva Crane. 1983. Bees: Lectures by Rudolf Steiner, by Rudolf Steiner. 1998
  • The Bee, by Claire Preston. 2006.
  • The Sacred Bee, by Hilda Ransome. 1937 The Lore of the Honey Bee – Natural History and Bee-Keeping, by Tickner Edwardes. 1908.
  • The Shamanic Way of the Bee, by Simon Buxton. 2004 A World without Bees, by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCalluk. 2008
 
Selected Bee Related Websites:
 




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