Tupelo Masonic Lodge No. 318 F&AM - Forum

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012



Bro. P.D. Newman, 32°
Valley of Corinth, Orient of MS

The flies seek filth: the bees seek honey.
 I shun the habits of the flies, and follow that of the bees.[1]

   Throughout a Mason’s career, he is confronted with a multitude of different symbols and allegories in numerous different Degrees and Rites. Among the many symbols presented to the attention of the Candidate upon his being Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason is that of the beehive. This, he is told, “is an emblem of industry, and recommends the practice of that virtue to all created beings[2]…” But, as we shall see, legends surrounding the symbol of the beehive, as well as its cognates such as honey and the bee itself, are not only numerous throughout history but are also widespread among a number of diverse cultures.

   In describing the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris, France, during its occupation by the emperor Napoleon, historian Benjamin Winkles observes that “[t]he throne occupied the whole breadth of the nave of the church, and was ascended by twenty-four steps, covered with carpets, the pattern of which was strewn with bees. On the steps were placed benches for the marshals, ministers, and officers of the household, covered with blue velvet, embroidered with golden bees. The emperor’s seat on the throne was elevated under a canopy of crimson velvet, embroidered with golden bees.” Commenting on this fact, Manly P. Hall adds in his The Secret Teachings of All Ages that “[a]t one time the bee was the emblem of the French kings. The rulers of France wore robes embroidered with bees, and the canopies of their thrones were decorated with gigantic figures of these insects.” He tells us further that “[t]he bee was used as a symbol of royalty by the immortal Charlemagne, and it is probable that the fleur-de-lis, or lily of France, is merely a conventionalized bee and not a flower.”[3]

   The ancient Greeks called bees the Birds of the Muses and held that Zeus, the King of the Gods, was raised by the nymph Melissa who fed him on a steady diet of honey as opposed to milk. The name Melissa literally means honey bee, and was bestowed upon all of the nymphs who took part in nursing the deity.  In other areas surrounding the Mediterranean, it was believed that bees were produced magically and spontaneously from the carcasses of rotting bulls. In his poem Fasti, Ovid recounts the story of Aristaeus from the Geoponica, an ancient book of agricultural folklore, which tells of a young shepherd who, after witnessing the total destruction of his hives, asks of a local wizard how he might recover his loss. “Kill a heifer” the wizard tells him, “and bury its carcass in the earth. The buried heifer will give the thing thou seekest of me.” Ovid goes on to assure his reader that “[t]he shepherd did [the wizard’s] bidding: swarms of bees hive out of the putrid beef...”

   A similar motif can be found in the literature of the ancient Hebrews regarding the Biblical Samson. In chapter 14 of The Book of Judges we learn of Samson’s violent run in with a “young lion” which Samson impressively “rent[…]as he would have rent a kid.” Coming across the carcass at a later date, as we are told in verse 8 of the chapter of the same, Samson “turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of [it].” Thus, while the decomposing animal may have changed from a heifer to that of a lion, we see that the curious association of bees and honey with a rotting carcass is by no means unique to the shores of the Mediterranean.

   Another example can be found in Angelo de Gubernatis’ exhaustive Zoological Mythology. Quoting from the works of Porphyrios, Gubernatis says that “the moon was also called a bee….[A]s the moon is the culminating point of the constellation of the bull[1], it is believed that bees are born in the bull’s carcass. Hence the name of bougeneis[2] given by the ancients to bees.” Gubernatis goes on to point out that “[s]ometimes, instead of the lunar bull we find the solar lion[3]; and the lion in connection with bees occurred in the mysteries of Mithras.”

  In the words of Albert Pike, Mithras is “[t]he Sun, the Archimagus, that noblest and most powerful agent of divine power…” The Mysteries of Mithras were celebrated in Rome from the first to the fourth centuries and entailed, like Masonry, the progressive ascent of a hierarchical ladder of initiation[4]. Archaeologist Franz Valery-Marie Cumont explains in his The Mysteries of Mithra that upon reaching a certain level of attainment, the initiate of the mysteries then came to be known as a ‘Lion,’ at which point, Cumont says, “honey was poured on his hands and applied to his tongue, as was the case with new-born children.”

   Thomas D. Worrel, in his talk The Symbolism of the Beehive and the Bee which he delivered to Mill Valley Masonic Lodge in 2000, observed that “[i]n Hindu myth and iconography, the bee surmounting a triangle is a symbol of Shiva. Sometimes we see a blue bee on the forehead of Krishna, as the avatar of Vishnu. Kama, the god of love, like Cupid has a bow and arrows, and the bow string is made up of bees. In the yogic doctrine, where each chakra emits a different sound in meditation, the lowest chakra (muldhahara) emits a hum likened in the writings to a bumblebee. Note that the first chakra represents our strongest bond to the material world and Eros or Cupid in Greek philosophy is the natural impelling force towards sensual objects.” Turning again to the work of Manly P. Hall, we read the following: “In India the god Prana – the personification of the universal life force – is sometimes shown surrounded by a circle of bees.” He later asserts that “[b]ecause of its importance in pollenizing flowers, the bee is the accepted symbol of the generative power.”

   The mystique of the honey bee has often led to its description as being an insect of otherworldly virtues. The ancient Egyptians, for example, believed that bees originated from a tear in the eye of the sun god. Similarly, the Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen says in her monumental Physica, one of the earliest works on medicine in the West, that “[t]he honey bee is from the heat of the sun.” Manly P. Hall tells us that “[t]he bee is sacred to the goddess Venus [which], according to mystics, it is one of several forms of life which came to earth from the planet Venus millions of years ago,” and to quote once again from Angelo de Gubernatis, ”[t]he souls of the dead were supposed to come down from the moon upon the earth in the form of bees.”

  Lastly, in his Curiosities of Literature, Isaac D’Isreali recounts a story from the Jewish Talmud regarding the mysterious Queen Sheba who, “attracted by the splendor of his reputation, visited [Solomon] at his own court; there, one day to exercise the sagacity of the monarch, Sheba presented herself at the foot of the throne; in each hand she held a wreath; the one was composed of natural, and the other of artificial flowers. Art, in the labor if the mimetic wreath, has exquisitely imitated the lively hues of nature; so that at the distance it was held by the queen for the inspection of the king, it was deemed impossible for him to decide, which wreath was the production of nature, and which the work of art.” Following a moment of admitted perplexity, Solomon, “[o]bserving a cluster of bees hovering about a window,[…]commanded that it should be opened: it was opened; the bees rushed into the court, and alighted immediately on one of the wreaths, while not a single one fixed on the other.” Solomon also happens to be the alleged author of the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, wherein we are cryptically told that “wisdom is like honey...”

   Thus we see the emphasis that has come to be laid upon the beehive and its cognate symbols, bees and honey, throughout history and across cultures. Given the extraordinary characteristics attributed to these remarkable insects, it is no surprise that the beehive has also been a persistent and integral icon within the symbolism of the Craft. It is hoped that, whether these diligent creatures speak something to us of our own sense of industry, royalty, immortality or wisdom, they will speak nevertheless. For, the buzz of the hive resounds ever within the heart of every Master Mason, and the utterances thereof, if he but lend an ear to its incessant hum, shall be to him as honey from the comb, both rich and sweet.

[1] Hindu monastic vow
[2] For a consideration of the concept of the drone as it is understood in Masonry, refer to Bro. Shawn Eyer’s The Beehive & the Stock of Knowledge.
[3] This theory was first popularized by Hargrave Jennings in his enigmatic yet influential The Rosicrucians: Their Rites and Mysteries.

[1] Taurus, the sign in which the moon is exalted according to classical astrology
[2] meaning ‘bull-born’
[3] Leo, which in classical astrology is ruled by the sun
[4] The similarities between Freemasonry and the Mithraic Mysteries were explored by William Wynn Westcott in his paper Resemblances in Freemasonry to Mithra.

Berube, Conrad. The Bee-Riddled Carcass
Cumont, Franz Valery-Marie. The Mysteries of Mithra
De Gubernatis, Angelo. Zoological Mythology
D’Israeli, Isaac. Curiosities of Literature
Duncan’s Ritual of Freemasonry
Eyer, Shawn. The Beehive & the Stock of Knowledge
Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages
Jennings, Hargrave. The Rosicrucians: Their Rites and Mysteries
Ovid. Fasti
Pike, Albert. Morals and Dogma: Annotated Edition
Prabhavananda, Swami. How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali
Ransome, Hilda M. The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore
The Holy Bible: Master Mason Edition
Von Bingen, Hildegard. Physica
Winkles, Benjamin. French Cathedrals
Worrel, Thomas D. The Symbolism of the Beehive and the Bee

This article can be found in the upcoming Feb 2012 issue of "The Working Tools Masonic Magazine", where this content was originally published.

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  1. Excellent, look forward to reading more by Bro Newman. Ever considered lecturing?

  2. Incredible analogy of the bee brother Newman. Hope to read more from you and possibly meet you one day.


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