I have wanted to do a piece on honey bees for a long time and it is finally coming together. In the process, I started questioning exactly what it is that draws me to honey bees. I think the answer lies in their dedication to the greater good. All the bees work together for one queen and one objective- to survive and procreate. In my mind the queen has always been the lucky one. After all she gets to sit in the hive and dine on the honey, made by her countless drones. However, after reading the book, A Short History Of The Honey Bee, by E. Readicker-Henderson, I found out that the queen isn’t exactly living the high life, and it’s not even the drones who make the honey.
From Henderson’s book I learned that bees are 100 million years old and to my surprise, I found out that the first bees were solitary animals. There are between 16,000 and 20,000 species of bees in the world and only about seven species make honey. Flowers began blooming 65 million year ago and with that event, came the evolution of the honey bee. About 80 million years ago, is when bees started hanging out with each other and forming independent groups. So honey bees evolved slowly over time into what we see today. It appears that is was through trial and error that bees figured out they did better as a group.
Life in the hive consists of one queen whos every need is attended to by her sister bees. The male stingless drones are merely there to mate with the queen, and when their job is done they are cast out of the hive. Female bees are the ones who build and maintain the hive, rear the young, collect the pollen, make the honey, and care for the queen. The queen on the other hand, is stuck in the dark hive for countless hours-carrying the entire colonies future in her hands. Although, the queen is the hives prized possession she is also replaceable. As a matter of fact any female bee in the lava stage has the potential to become a queen, if she is feed a special diet of royal jelly.
The post card below is made using vintage ephemera and public domain images. It is free to use for any personal art or craft project. (However, it can not be resold in any form.) Right click on the image and print a 4×4 post card.
So know that I’ve skimmed the surface of the amazing life of the honey bee, I want to know what they have come to symbolize and mean to people. I found an ancient Egyptian myth in a book called, Feasts of Light, by Normandi Ellis that captured my attention. The story claims that the sun god Ra was born out of water when Atum, the god of being and nonbeing, called out into the dark world. A lotus flower answered the call and arouse out of the murky waters. When the lotus flower began to bloom, a light emerged from the flower, and this light was the sun or sun god Ra. Ra became the ruler of earth and the heavens.
Henderson elaborates on this story and states that Bees were actually created out of Ra’s tears and therefore held a special place to ancient Egyptians’. As a matter of fact, the symbol of a bee is found in hieroglyphs dating back to 3500 B.C. and it is known to be the sign for king. It was also believed that after death the soul could take on the form of a bee and ancient Egyptian bodies were sometimes preserved in honey. So it’s no surprise that images of bees appeared in ancient Egyptian tombs.
I have come to the conclusion that the fascination with the honey bee is well deserved. Their dedication the “greater good” as I call it has been noted way before my life time. As a matter of fact, I find it quite telling that the ancient Egyptians idealized the honey bee considering their societies similarities. Today I think it’s easy to brush aside these kind of societies and claim to be more civilized. However, after deeper contemplation I see honey bee hives all around me. Sure people have a variety of roles, but are we really that different?
The collage below, can be found for sale at my Etsy store. (It is copyrighted and can’t be printed or copied for any purpose.)
(Readicker-Henderson, E. A Short History Of The Honey Bee. Oregon: Portland, 2009.)
(Ellis, Normandi. Feasts of Light. Il: Wheaton, 1999.)