Bees in mythology

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Gold plaques embossed with winged bee goddesses, perhaps the Thriae or perhaps an older goddess,[a][2] found at Camiros, Rhodes, dated to 7th century BCE (British Museum).

Bees have been featured in myth and folklore around the world. Honey and beeswax have been important resources for humans since at least the Mesolithic period, and as a result humans' relationship with bees—particularly honey bees—has ranged from encounters with wild bees (both prehistorically and in the present day) to keeping them agriculturally.[3][4] Bees themselves are often characterized as magically-imbued creatures, and their honey as a divine gift.

Mythology and folklore[edit]

African mythology[edit]

The Kalahari Desert's San people tell of a bee that carried a mantis across a river. The exhausted bee left the mantis on a floating flower but planted a seed in the mantis's body before it died. The seed grew to become the first human.[5]

In Egyptian mythology, bees grew from the tears of the sun god Ra when they landed on the desert sand.[6]

The Baganda people of Uganda tell the legend of Kintu, the first man on earth. Kintu lived alone, save for his cow. One day he asked permission from Ggulu, who lived in heaven, to marry his daughter Nambi. Ggulu set Kintu a trial of five tests to pass before he would agree. For his final test, Kintu was told to pick Ggulu's own cow out from a group of cattle. Nambi aided Kintu in this final test by transforming herself into a bee and whispering into his ear to choose the one whose horn she landed upon.[7][8][9][10]

American mythology[edit]

Mok Chi', patron deity of beekeepers, on a codex-style Maya vessel.

In Mayan mythology, Ah-Muzen-Cab is one of the Maya gods of bees and honey.[11] One of the Maya Hero Twins, Xbalanque, is also associated with bees and beekeeping under the name or aspect of Mok Chi'.[12]

Asian mythology[edit]

According to Hittite mythology, the god of agriculture, Telipinu, went on a rampage and refused to allow anything to grow and animals would not produce offspring. The gods went in search of Telipinu only to fail. Then the goddess Ḫannaḫanna sent forth a bee to bring him back. The bee found Telipinu, stung him and smeared wax upon him. The god grew even angrier and it was not until the goddess Kamrusepa (or a mortal priest, according to some references) used a ritual to send his anger to the Underworld that Telipinu was calmed.[13]

In Hindu mythology, Parvati, in the form of Bhramari Devi, was summoned by the Gods to kill the demon Arunasura, who took over the heavens and the three worlds. To kill Arunasura, she stung him numerous times with the help of innumerable black bees emerging from her body. The Gods were finally able to take control of the heavens and the celestial worlds again.[14] In addition, the bowstring on Hindu love god Kamadeva's bow is made of sugarcane, covered in bees.[15]

In mythology found in Indian, ancient Near East and Aegean cultures, the bee was believed to be the sacred insect that bridged the natural world to the underworld.[16][17][18]

European mythology[edit]

Greek mythology has several gods who are associated with bees. Aristaeus is the god of beekeeping. After inadvertently causing the death of Eurydice, who stepped upon a snake while fleeing him, her nymph sisters punished him by killing every one of his bees. Witnessing the empty hives where his bees had dwelt, Aristaeus wept and consulted Proteus who advised him to give honor in memory of Eurydice by sacrificing four bulls and four cows. Upon doing so, he let them rot and from their corpses rose bees to fill his empty hives.[7] Prophecy in Ancient Greece seems to have been associated with bees. The Homeric Hymn to Hermes acknowledges that Apollo's gift of prophecy first came to him from three bee-maidens, usually but doubtfully identified with the Thriae, a trinity of pre-Hellenic Aegean bee goddesses.[19] In addition, the Oracle of Delphi is referred to as "the Delphian bee" by Pindar.[b][2][20]

In Mycenaean Greek and Minoan myth, the bee was an emblem of Potnia, also referred to as the "Pure Mother Bee".[21] Her priestesses received the name of Melissa, ("bee").[22] According to the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, the priestesses of Demeter were also called "Melissae", and Melissa was a name of Artemis.[20] Melisseus was the god of honey and bees, whose daughters Ida and Adrasteia fed the infant Zeus with milk and honey when his mother hid him from Cronus.[23]

In European folklore and custom, telling the bees of important events in the family (particularly births and deaths) was vital to keep the bees content and happy in their hive.[24]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ One was illustrated in a line drawing in Harrison 1922:443, fig 135[1]
  2. ^ Melissa Delphis, according to Pindar's Fourth Pythian Ode, 60.



  1. ^ Harrison (1922), p. 443.
  2. ^ a b Cook, Arthur Bernard. "The bee in Greek mythology" 1895 Journal of the Hellenic Society 15 pages 1–24
  3. ^ Dams, M.; Dams, L. (21 July 1977). "Spanish Rock Art Depicting Honey Gathering During the Mesolithic". Nature. 268 (5617): 228–230. Bibcode:1977Natur.268..228D. doi:10.1038/268228a0. S2CID 4177275.
  4. ^ Crane, Eva (1999). The world history of beekeeping and honey hunting. London: Duckworth. ISBN 9780715628270.
  5. ^ Chrigi-in-Africa. "The First Bushman / San". Gateway Africa. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  6. ^ Norton, Holly (24 May 2017). "Honey, I love you: our 40,000-year relationship with the humble bee". The Guardian.
  7. ^ a b McLeish, Kenneth (1996). Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-2502-8.
  8. ^ Ssemakula, James; et al. (eds.). "Kintu the Person vs Kintu the Legend". Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  9. ^ Yoder, John (1988). "The Quest for Kintu and the Search for Peace: Mythology and Morality in Nineteenth-Century Buganda". History in Africa. 15: 365. doi:10.2307/3171868. ISSN 0361-5413. JSTOR 3171868. S2CID 145063130.
  10. ^ "Kintu – The First Human in Buganda". Archived from the original on 18 November 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  11. ^ Milbrath, Susan (1999). Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars. The Linda Schele series in Maya and pre-Columbian studies. Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 162. ISBN 0-292-75225-3. OCLC 40848420.
  12. ^ Kerr, Justin. "The Transformation of Xbalanqué or The Many Faces of God A1".
  13. ^ Hoffner, Harry A.; Beckman, Gary M. (1998). Hittite Myths. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. pp. 15–16, 20, 22. ISBN 978-0788504884.
  14. ^ "The Devi Bhagavatam: The Tenth Book: Chapter 13". Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  15. ^ Beer, Robert (2003). The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Serindia Publications. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-932476-03-3.
  16. ^ Cook, Arthur Bernard (November 1895). "The Bee in Greek Mythology". The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 15: 1–24. doi:10.2307/624058. JSTOR 624058. S2CID 161354512.
  17. ^ Ransome, Hilda M. (1937). The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore. London: George Allen & Unwin. pp. 19–41.
  18. ^ Karttunen, Klaus (2009). "Bhramarotpītādharaḥ: Bees in Classical India". Studia Orientalia Electronica. 107: 89–134. ISSN 2323-5209.
  19. ^ Scheinberg, Susan 1979. "The Bee Maidens of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes". Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 83(1979), pp. 1–28.
  20. ^ a b Harrison (1922), p. 442.
  21. ^ G.W. Elderkin (1939) "The Bee of Artemis"The American Journal of Philology 60 pp. 203–213
  22. ^ Neustadt, Ernst 1906. De Jove cretico, (dissertation, Berlin). Chapter III "de Melissa dea" discusses bee-goddesses and bee-priestesses in Crete.
  23. ^ "Melisseus". Theoi Project. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
  24. ^ Steve Roud (6 April 2006). The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland. Penguin Books Limited. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-14-194162-2.

General and cited sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]