|The siginificance of bees
||[May. 1st, 2006|03:58 pm]
Mythical Realms: Folklore & Mythological Arts
I was not so familiar with the symbolism of bees until this week. I don't know how I ever missed that.
Thanks to an LJ friend who pointed out a very strange source of inspiration, the website for the American TV show 'Ghost Whisperer', which featured symbolic art made from dream imagery involving the characters and plots of the show with bees incorporated into the symbolism by the artist to represent the bridge between two worlds. That led me to look this up (quickly, Wikipedia, hey, it's still a great source of information) and I think it's fascinating!
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In the ancient Near East and throughout the Aegean world, bees were seen as a bridge between the natural world and the underworld. Bees were carved on tombs. The Mycenaean tholos tombs even took the form of beehives.
Hyrai in Boeotia, Greece, the birthplace of Orion, was an ancient place mentioned in Homer's catalogue of the ships that set forth to fetch Helen home from Troy. Like some other archaic names of Greek cities, such as Athens or Mycenae, Hyrai is plural, a name that once had evoked the place of "the sisters of the beehive."
Winged, armed with toxin, creators of the fermentable honey, seemingly parthenogenetic in their immortal hive, bees were emblems of Potnia, the Minoan-Mycenaean "Mistress" older than Demeter, who might sometimes be called "the pure Mother Bee." Other Hellenic embodiments of the Great Mother: Cybele, Rhea the Earth Mother, and the archaic Artemis as she was honored at Ephesus. Pindar remembered that the Pythian pre-Olympic priestess of Delphi remained "the Delphic bee" long after Apollo had usurped the ancient oracle and shrine. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo acknowledges that Apollo's gift of prophecy first came to him from three bee-maidens.
Bee-keeping was a Minoan craft, and the fermented honey-drink was the old Cretan intoxicant, older than wine. The proto-Greek invaders did not bring the art of bee-keeping with them. Homer saw bees as wild, never tame, as when the Achaeans issued forth from their ship encampment "like buzzing swarms of bees that come out in relays from a hollow rock" (Iliad, book II). Long after Knossos fell, for two thousand years, the classical Greek tongue preserved "honey-intoxicated" as the phrase for "drunken."
Main article: Merope.
The name "Merope" seems to mean "honey-faced" in Greek, thus "eloquent," but surely at an earlier level her "face" was a bee-mask. Cretan bee-masked priestesses appear on Minoan seals. One of the mythographers recalled the tradition that "Merope" was the "bee-eater" in the old Minoan tongue, before the Hellenes came to the Aegean.
This name Merope figures in too many isolated tales for "Merope" to be an individual. Instead the "Merope" must denote a position as priestess of the Goddess. But surely Merope the "bee-eater" is unlikely to be always a bee herself. Though there is a small Mediterranean bird called the Bee-Eater, which was known under that name to Roman naturalists Pliny and Aelian, this Bee-Eater is most likely to have been a She-Bear, a representative of Artemis. The goddess was pictured primitively with a she-bear's head herself, and the bear remained sacred to Artemis into classical times. At a festival called the Brauronia, pre-pubescent girls were dressed in honey-colored yellow robes and taught to perform a bear dance. Once they had briefly served Artemis in this way, they would be ready to be married. In later times, a Syriac Book of Medicine recommends that the eye of a bear, placed in a hive, makes the bees prosper. The bear's spirit apparently watches over the hive, and this was precisely the Merope's role among the Hyrai at Chios.