The Mythology and Folktales of Bees

Published on November 14, 2018



Nobody is really fond of bees because they sting and they’re buzzing noise is terrifying. But they sure make great honey!


The bee is one of the most important creatures in the animal kingdom. Though tiny, it has greatly shaped our world and without the bee, our planet would be much less colorful than it is. Since ancient times, the bee has played a significant part in human spiritual interest and symbolism. Accounts of different mythologies and folktales exist throughout the world that none of us probably knows.


So to make it easier for you, here are a few stories narrating the tale of the mighty bee.



The Celts


In Celtic myth, bees were believed to bring good luck and was regarded as a symbol of great wisdom and was also thought to carry secret knowledge. In the region of the the western isles of Scotland, bees were thought to represent the ancient knowledge of the druid, the priest of ancient Celtic religion. This became the basis for a Scottish lore and to the old English expression, “Ask the wild bee for what the druid knew.” They revered them for their role in the metaphysical.


They were known to be messengers between realms, able to travel to the Otherworld, bearing messages given by the gods.  During sleep or while in a trance, the highlanders claimed that a person’s soul transforms into an image of a bee after it leaves the body.


In many Celtic traditions, mead, which is an alcoholic drink made from fermented honey, imparts a significant role, and in Celtic lore, its people believed that the drink would bring them immortality. This led them to impart a law that protects the bees from any harm.



Africans


The Big Bee theory originated in some African cultures and bees were known to play an important part in creation of man. In the Kalahari desert, the San people tells a story of Mantis who needed to cross a flooded river to go home to his family. Bee, a kindly creature, offered to help and carried Mantis on her back. She flew over and fought the raging waves of the river but was beaten down by a strong wind. Being so dangerously close to the waters, Bee gave all the strength she had and finally saw a floating flower on the river. Bee put Mantis on the flower but eventually she fell beside her, and died of exhaustion. As the rays of sunrise fell towards the flower, curled up inside it was the first human being, a symbol of Bee’s sacrifice.



Greeks


As were in Celtic myths, the ancient Greeks also regarded the bees as messengers and servants of the gods and goddesses, carrying messanges and doing their biddings. While honey was believed to be a drink of the gods as well as a symbol of knowledge and wisdom.

 

In Greek mythology, was the son of the Titan Kronos and Rhea. However, his father was a tyrant who devoured all his children, so when Zeus was born, his mother deceived Kronos by giving him a blanket with a rock inside instead of the baby. Rhea secretly went in a cave in Crete and hid the baby inside. According to the “Hymn to Zeus” by Callimachus, the bees took care and protected Zeus which kept him alive. Zeus, among many names, was given the title “Melissaios”, which means “Bee man”.

 

Zeus ruled as the king of gods in Mount Olympus and married Hera, goddess of marriage and family. Nymphs were strongly connected to the bees and was thought to inhabit caves and hollow tree-trunks. Zeus had an affair with one of the nymphs, beautiful Othreis, who gave birth to a baby boy. Hera grew extremely jealous and planned to kill the baby so Othreis hid her baby in the woods. It was believed the baby survived by being fed honey and grew up to be a hero named Meliteus. He founded the town of Melita, which means Honey Town.

 

Another tale, as described in Homer’s Hymns to Hermes, accounts a story of Apollo giving the gift of prophecy to Hermes in the form of three bee maidens, which was usually identified with the Thriae. The Thriae were a trinity of pre-Hellenic Aegean bee goddesses, regarded as maidens with heads of women and the bodies of bees. Honey was also deemed an elixir, or as food of the gods. This tale of honey as a life-giving elixir was narrated again in the story of Glaucus, the sea god, who, upon burying his body deep inside a jar of honey, was supposedly brought back to life.

 

 

Romans

 

Roman mythology, delivers a story of the way that the bee received its stinger. On a fine day, the queen bee of the hive was getting very tired and irritated with the mortals for taking away their honey so she decided to seek help from Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, by offering him fresh honey. Delighted by the taste of it, Jupiter promised to grant her one of her wishes. The queen bee, therefore, requested by saying, “Give me, I pray thee, a sting, which if any mortal approaches to take my honey, I may kill him.” Jupiter, however, was displeased upon hearing her words for he loves the human race but could not break his promise. He said, "You shall have your request, but it will be at the peril of your own life. For if you use your sting, it shall remain in the wound you make, and then you will die from the loss of it.” So Jupiter granted her the stinger with the condition that she dies should she use it.

 

 

Egyptians

 

In ancient Egypt, the honeybees were an emblem of power. It was believed that the sun god, Ra, created the bees from his tears. They were considered as messengers of the gods, falling from Ra’s face, down to earth, where they transformed into bees which immediately began to pollinate flowers and produce honey and wax. They also acted as messengers, delivering messages from the heavens to earth.

 

In Lower Egypt, bees were a symbol of birth, death, and resurrection. Bees guided the ancient Egyptians in the afterlife as they make passage into the world of the dead. Honey, beehives and bee relics were used in religious ceremonies and regarded as funerary gifts for the dead.

 

 

Hindus

 

The Hindus believed that honey was highly associated with the bliss of nirvana. In many Hindu traditions, the gods Vishnu, Krishna, and Indra were depicted as bees sitting on lotus flowers, and Kamadeva, the Hindu love god, is depicted carrying a bowstring made of honeybees.


Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Hindus and whatsoever, it doesn’t matter what myths or folktales about bees are out there because one fact is known throughout the world, it’s that bees make our planet a better place to live in.


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