An appreciation for the mystery of honey bees is no surprise to those of us who are beekeepers. But, this love dates back through the ages. They are represented in many forms of mythology and literature. The bee was believed to be a sacred insect capable of communicating with other worlds. Many cultures featured a god of bees in different forms. This simple insect made a big impact on history.
Mythological Deities and Bees
Deities are supreme beings associated with religions that believe in more than one supreme power. Polytheistic religions and cultures appeal to many different gods and goddess for favor and good luck.
Bees are featured heavily in cultural myths and legends. Notably, Greek and Roman history is full of references to these favorite insects. But, it does not stop there – their influence is found worldwide.
Muses were inspirational goddesses of art, literature and the sciences. They were responsible for sharing the thoughts of the gods with humans. Bees were often featured in their works of art, poems, songs, etc.
While bees do make wonderful decorations, this was not the major purpose. We must remember that these were not just entertaining stories. They were religious traditions for the Ancient Greeks and other peoples involved.
Bees in Greek Mythology
References to bees and honey are found throughout Greek and Roman mythology. You will find them featured in works of art, jewelry and even on money. More than insects, they were believed to have special connections with the gods.
Today, beekeepers work to capture honey bee swarms. But, in ancient Roman culture – swarms of bees were to be avoided. It would be wrong to hinder them while they were carrying messages and doing important tasks for the deities.
The Greek God – Zeus was sometimes called “bee-man”. He was the son of the Titans Cronos and Rhea. Sadly, Cronos was a tyrant known for killing his sons.
Legend claims that Zeus’s mother hid him in a cave where he was raised sacred bees. They fed him honey – helping him to survive and grow to adulthood. Then, he defeated his father.
Dionysus (the God of wine) was also supposedly raised in a cave by bees. Honey remained a scared part of his worship by devoted followers. Some traditions say that he was one of the first creators of bee keeping.
In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, we are told that Apollo’s gift for prophecy was given to him by three bee maidens.
Aristaeus – Greek God of Beekeeping
While not a major figure like Zeus, Aristaeus was a minor god in Greek mythology. Also called (Arista) he was the son of Apollo and the Goddess Cyrene.
According to legend, he was raised on nectar and ambrosia and became the God of useful arts. His powers related to activities such as: making honey-mead, growing olives, cheesemaking and beekeeping.
Well known in the Athens area of Greece, Aristaeus learned the skill of keeping bees in a hive. People who wanted to be successful with this type of useful skill would appeal to Aristaeus for help.
Melissa – Goddess of the Bees
Perhaps one of the most popular legends related to a god of bees is that of Melissa. She was a nymph (minor female nature deity) in ancient Greece.
This was a valuable skill in the ancient world that was devoid of modern medicine. Honey is valuable as food, wound care and more.
Other Ancient Civilizations
The symbolism of bees in mythology was very evident in Greek culture. However, this was not the only place that bees were revered by early civilizations.
In Hindu mythology, the goddess, Bhramari Devi ( a reincarnation of Parvati) defeated the army of demon Arunasura by summoning bees, hornets and other insects to fight.
Tears of the Sun God Ra
A major figure in Ancient Egyptian culture was the sun god Ra. He was considered as the father of gods in their pantheon of supreme beings.
One legend of Ancient Egypt purports that Ra cried tears of honey that became bees. There-as in many cultures, bees were considered servants of the gods. With links to other worlds, they were able to carry messages from the heavens to humans on earth.
The role of bee symbolism in Egyptian mythology also extends to the pyramids of the pharaohs. It was believed that after death, the pharaoh would go to the next world and need supplies.
Inside the pyramids would be placed all the things someone might need in the next life. Images of bees were often included on items found inside the tombs.
Across ancient civilizations, you will find many different references to a god of bees or the goddess of bees. This is because each culture believed their way of thinking to be the correct one. Sounds a lot like today – doesn’t it.
Regardless of the one you choose to think of as the god of bees, one thing is clear. They played a significant role in the lives of early civilization.
In the Christian Bible you will find many references to bees and honey. And, that reverence for honey bees continues today.
There are many gods associated with bees across different cultures. One notable example – the Hindu gods: Indra, Krishnu and Vishnu who have a bee as their symbol.
The most popular bee goddess comes from Ancient Greek. She is called Melissa – goddess of the bees.
Ah Muzen Cab is the Mayan god of bees and honey. Mayan culture considers bees are messengers from the underworld.
Bees were considered servants of the gods and represented: knowledge, power and health.