“Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about.” ~ (Secret Life of Bees)
We don’t have to look far from this quote to find an analogy in Freemasonry. The beehive has been said to be a metaphor for the working lodge with seven bees flying around the hive, making a perfect lodge. Bees are thought to be exceptionally auspicious throughout the world. They have played an important part in symbolism since ancient times. Turns out, a valuable teacher in mother nature has been with us all along.
Is there anything that can be learned from our buzzing friends? What do they symbolize in Freemasonry?
In ages past, people believed that bees were prophetic – that their actions were messages not to be ignored. Bees were regarded by some as an example of a divine intellect woven through nature. In medieval times, one could find many farms that kept beehives and collected honey. In a wonderful text called the Geoponika, the beekeepers would praise the creatures, even read to them.
One of the chapters says:
The bee is the wisest and cleverest of all animals and the closest to man in intelligence; its works is truly divine and of the greatest use to mankind.
I loved reading this. The writing portrayed a scene that I imagine has been played in countless bee farms, between untold numbers of masters and their hives. The work of the beekeeper seems so magical and yet so commonplace. It was all about the watching, the learning, the reverence, and the abiding trust. The desire of looking to nature as teacher seems to me to be one of the elements that is missing from our culture.
Could it be the bees are trying to tell us something, but we’re just not listening?
It is said that Albert Einstein once calculated that if all bees disappeared off the earth, four years later all humans would also have disappeared. Pretty chilling to think about.
Why? Because there exists a global phenomenon today of bees disappearing. Many say that the mystery of the bees disappearing is a warning to all of us. If something is wrong in beehives it means something is wrong everywhere.
Andrew Gough, an expert bee researcher says:
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?
Sadly, Gough states that modern humanity has become notorious spoilers of nature’s divine harmony. The concept of nature being something “out there” is largely what is amiss with our view of it. Likewise, the bees also seem to be disappearing from masonic workings and in many places today is considered a lost symbol.
Is a lost symbol in Freemasonry something to be concerned about?
Masonic Speculative Meanings
The early Freemasons incorporated bee symbolism heavily into its philosophy and regalia. It was especially pervasive in masonic drawings and documents of the 18th and 19th centuries. At the heart of its message even today are the concepts of industry and stability, harmony and cooperation, virtues that the craft values highly. The masonic symbol of the bee does not stand alone. It also includes the beehive and the honey.
The following is taken from the monitor of the lodge.
As Masons, we must imitate the bee, be industrious, work with others and for others, take pride in our vocations, obey the rules of our society, and strive to add to our body of knowledge and understanding. Otherwise we are useless members of society.
Other monitors and masonic books give the same type of explanation. Some longer and some shorter but all what I consider somewhat along the lines of virtue and morality.
I believe we are now in an era where it is vital that we take a deeper look at the secrets of the bee symbol. What might those be?
History, Culture and Myth
In the myths and histories of ancient times is where I found some possible avenues for further inquiry. Looking back to various mythologies, bees revealed elements of the mysteries of initiation. In Egyptian mythology, bees were considered tears of the sun-god RA. The sun has been thought by some to be a very mysterious concept in freemasonry related to the initiatory process. For example, the sun’s daily “rising” in the East is the image of rebirth and new beginnings, just as its setting in the West is the image of decay and death leading to transformation.
One of the most interesting mythologies is the Egyptian Goddess of Neith who lived in the House of Bees. Neith was primarily an Egyptian goddess of wisdom, often given the title “Opener of the Ways.” Neith would say to the initiate, “Come look beneath my veil.” Her call was both a summons and a challenge. By the blessing of the goddess, the veil would be lifted. Only then would the initiate perceive the secret workings and patterns of nature. At that moment, when the veil is rent asunder, he can consciously participate in those mysteries, thus becoming a human administrator of the will of the God.
In fact, the initiate at this point fully sees his own inner divinity and the service duties to humanity that such recognition brings. He has become something more than human. To be initiate, one must take nature as his master.
This every Freemason knows. Becoming an initiate is to investigate the hidden mysteries of nature and science. This could mean ruling and governing the hidden forces of one’s own nature accordingly. It can be hard, sometimes embarrassing, to “look beyond the veil,” to admit we do not have all the answers.
I still ponder what aspect of the bee first inspired man to consider it as special and sacred, all those thousands of years ago. Where does the true secret lie? Is it something as simple as a bee’s sting? Is it the honey? Is it the buzzing sound? Is it the honeycomb? It’s impossible to know really, for any one of those traits could easily make it exalted.
“The bee has insights into the secrets of nature, the secrets of creation, and a special connection therefore to the Creator.” ~ (Koran)