An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.




To: General Insects Page


Note: mini-reviews of recommended books are near the bottom of this page

"Cosmic Bees"
Copyright © Brooke Steytler
From Fahrusha.Wordpress
In the name of the bee
And of the butterfly
And of the breeze, amen!
                                                  -Emily Dickinson

Author's Note
4 June 2009

Bees: most of the food we eat would not exist without being pollinated by them. Their gentle hum in our gardens reassures us that somehow all is well. They have entered our language as worker bees, busy as a bee,  making a beeline, a bee in one's bonnet, the bee's knees, honeybunch, honeybun, and honeymoon. They have entered our kitchens with their golden sweetness, our churches as candles made from their beeswax, our myths as messengers of the gods, our skies as the constellation Apis, and our celebrations as mead.

Lately, I have created lengthy, elaborate, complex pages on wolves, insects, and fireflies. I could also spend more weeks exploring information about bees, pouring over online papers, old paintings, weaving together odd mythic synchronicities. But because of time constraints, this page needs to be more like a string quartet than a symphony. I hope you will enjoy its smaller pleasures nevertherless.

Update: Summer Solstice, 21 June 2009, 10am. I had thought this page would be long behind me by now but it is still incomplete. After over a decade of working on Myth*ing Links, I should have known better than to plan a brief page. These pages take on a life of their own and can be very demanding. A single link (e.g., to a Maya bee/honey ritual) can immerse me in days of pondering as I explore art and related links, writing and rewriting. Individual subsections may begin as "string quartets" but soon become "movements" within a much larger whole. Sagmun, one of my reader-friends, wrote recently: "You are relentless as the salt machine at the bottom of the ocean.  And like the ever shifting ocean current,  your insatiable curiosity explores every depth, reef, grotto, and shore...." There is some truth in that.

Understanding & Protecting Them

Anatomy of the Honey Bee
Paul Pfurtscheller (1855-1927)
1st Art Gallery
The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Science Channel and other channels in the Discovery Company sponsor this marvelous 7-page site with great colored drawings to illustrate "how stuff works," in this case, bees. Here is one small section:
Interesting facts about bees
* Fossil bees found trapped in amber probably lived 80 million years ago.
* The largest bee is Chalicodoma pluto, a mason bee about 1 1/2 inches (3.8 centimeters) long. The largest honey bee, called the giant honey bee, is about 3/4 inch (19 millimeters) long.
* Size of a bee colony. A strong, healthy colony may contain between 50,000 and 60,000 bees.
* The smallest bee is Trigona minima, a stingless bee only 1/12 inch (2 millimeters) long. The dwarf bee, the smallest honey bee, is under 1/2 inch (13 millimeters).
* Speed. Worker bees fly about 15 miles (24 kilometers) per hour.
* Taste. Honey bees can identify a flavor as sweet, sour, salty, or bitter.
* A worker honey bee collects enough nectar in its lifetime to make about 1/10 pound (45 grams) of honey.
About the body of a bee:
...A bee's body, like that of other insects, is divided into three segments: the head; the chest, or thorax; and the abdomen. The insect has two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs.

Some bees have a defensive organ called a stinger, which is a modified ovipositor (egglaying organ). The stinger is usually a barbed shaft at the end of the abdomen. At its base is a gland that secretes poison. When the stinger is stuck into the skin of an animal, poison is pumped into the victim. When the bee attempts to pull away, the stinger is torn from its body and the bee dies. Bumblebees, however, have a barbless stinger and can sting repeatedly. Bees generally will not sting unless they are irritated or threatened. For most humans and animals, a bee sting is painful but not dangerous. However, some persons are allergic to the poison and require immediate injections of antihistamines when stung....

...Pollen accumulates on the hind legs in large clumps. It is then brought to the hive. Pollen is the bee's main source of protein.

The bee's mouth parts include scissorlike jaws and a long, tube-shaped tongue for sucking nectar from flowers. Nectar is stored in a special stomach called the crop. Two enzymes in the crop change the nectar into a sugary fluid. The sugary fluid is regurgitated and later turns into honey. Nectar is the bee's main source of carbohydrates. Glands in the abdomen produce a liquid that hardens into beeswax, a substance, as explained later, that is used to build the honeycomb....

About social bee species:
...Colonies are divided into three social classes, or castes: queens, drones, and workers. Each colony contains a single queen—a sexually mature female whose function is to lay eggs. She is ordinarily the mother of the whole colony....
After mating, the queen stores sperm in a pouch in her body. She releases sperm periodically during egg-laying. Eggs that come into contact with the sperm, and are thus fertilized, develop into females; eggs that are not fertilized develop into males. The queen usually stores enough sperm to last her lifetime (two to five years).

A worker develops from a female larva fed mainly on beebread, a mixture of pollen and honey. A queen will develop from a female larva fed only on royal jelly, which is secreted by glands in the head of an adult worker.

About honey bees:
...Honeybees are not native to North America, but were imported from Europe in the 17th century. The Italian honeybee, a gentle bee originally from Italy, is the most widely raised variety in the United States. Other varieties include the Caucasian from the Caucasus Mountains, the Carniolan from Austria, and the German....
About the queen bee:
The queen is slightly longer than the other bees. She has a smooth, curved stinger used only in battles with rival queens. A queen sometimes lives four or five years, during which all her time is devoted to producing eggs. In summer she lays about one egg a minute....
On beekeeping:
       From:Tinker Nature Park
    ...Formerly, bees were kept in cone-shaped hives, called skeps.... A modern hive is generally a tightly closed box with a small entrance for the bees. The box contains vertical frames, any one of which can be taken out without disturbing the others....

...Before disturbing a hive, a beekeeper blows smoke into it with a device called a smoker. The smoke quiets the worker bees and makes them much less likely to sting...

This site also looks briefly at bumblebees, solitary, carpenter, miner, cuckoo, leaf-cutter, and mason bees. Here are some excerpts on bumblebees:
There are many species of bumblebees found throughout the world. Bumblebees are the only social bees native to North America.... Bumblebee colonies do not survive the winter. The queen hibernates in her burrow, but the rest of the colony dies. A queen usually lives about five years....

...Bumblebees are of great importance in plant pollination. They are the only bees whose tongues are long enough to reach the nectar of red clover blossoms and are needed to pollinate this important plant. The honey produced by bumblebees has an unpleasant flavor....

And this is the section on solitary bees:
There is no worker class among solitary bees, but only fully developed males and females. Each female builds a nest in a protected place. Although many nests may be found close together each female solitary bee provides for her own young and gathers her own food. Like all wild bees, solitary bees are chiefly valuable as pollinators of plants.
The data throughout is sound and interesting. A great introduction to the bee world!

Queen Bee (marked with big white dot near top, right)
Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
 Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis

This website is less detailed than the "How Stuff Works" site above but it has its own merits. It comes from the Open Door Web Site in the UK and is an informative and well illustrated page (I really like the large, expressive B&W drawings). Most people, including me, until I started researching this page, think of bees as highly social creatures. This turns out not to be true in all cases. Here is how the page opens:
There are over 10000 different species of bees. Many species lead solitary lives while other species show a high level of social organisation. The [wild] honeybee colony lives in a hive which is often constructed in a hollow tree. The colony has only one queen whose function is to lay eggs in the hexagonally shaped wax cells in the centre of the hive.
There's a brief but interesting passage on the queen bee and also a description of the work of worker bees, "all sterile females." I never realized that worker bees change their jobs constantly, depending upon their age. A chart lists these changes -- there's one job on days 1-2, this changes on days 3-6, it changes again on days 7-11, on days 12-17, on days 18-21, and yet again on days 22-34 (when they finally get to visit "flowers to collect pollen and nectar," which is what I had assumed they did -- at least part-time -- every day). Days 35-45 then mark the end of the worker bee's life (whenever I now see bees gathering nectar, I send blessings to each one, knowing they only have a few more days of life left). The chart details the tasks connected to each age. I found it exhausting just to read about them. No wonder human workers are so often compared to worker bees -- the bees really do seem to replicate the lives many humans live, albeit within a highly compressed timeframe.

On drones:

The drone's only function is to mate with the young queen.
Below the task-chart is a link to a second page but because the link isn't highlighted in a different color or font, I completely overlooked it for several days. Lest you do the same, here it is:
This second page is longer, adds color photos to the B&W drawings, and continues with information on drones and the young queen:
Drones develop in special cells from unfertilized eggs laid by the queen. The young queen may mate with several drones before returning to the hive. The queen takes only one mating flight. She receives enough sperms from the drones to use throughout her life. The sperms are stored in a sac inside her body.

Bees will swarm when the hive becomes overcrowded. The old queen leaves the hive with thousands of workers to search for a suitable place to start a new hive.

The beekeeper waits for a swarm to settle on a branch of a tree. Then he covers the swarm with wood smoke which makes the bees drowsy. The next step is to tap the branch gently so that the bees fall into a cloth sack. This sack is then taken to an empty beehive and placed on the ground just in front of it. The beekeeper puts a plank of wood against the hive, leading up to the entrance. The bees leave the sack and walk up the plank of wood and into their new home....

The page has a remarkable, large, seemingly endless color photo of what looks like trillions of bees in a hive (no wonder some species prefer to be solitary). It also offers data on the bee's sting, how nectar is gathered and then regurgitated as proto-honey when the bee reaches the hive, fanning the hive to keep it cool, and the bee dance used for communication. Over her brief lifetime, each worker bee will collect about 45 grams of honey (approximately 1.5 ounces). That doesn't sound like much but it means that it would only take 5 or 6 bees to produce a full pound. That's awesome.

But pity the poor drone:

...Worker bees chase the drones out of the hive once the new queen has been fertilized. The drones are not capable of finding their own food and they quickly die....
I am hoping I'll find another website that explains why drones couldn't have evolved with the ability to adapt to another task, just as worker bees do. Pain is pain, no matter what the scale. Starvation seems a poor reward.

To follow this line of thought still further, bees are often lauded for their ability to think not of themselves but of their hive, which implies a deep spirit of unselfishness. That's from the human perspective, of course. The more I read about them, the more their system seems totalitarian. Bottomline: despite, admittedly, some significant areas of latitude, the world's so-called democracies only mask their own totalitarianism. We pride ourselves on being caring and compassionate, of, by, and for the people, yet we too ruthlessly eliminate our workers when it no longer suits corporate interests at the top (as the current mess with banks and GM makes very clear). Bees have evolved their social structure over millions of years. I may find aspects of it disturbing but we've been here a far shorter time and I have no right to criticize the bees. We, however, know the difference between treating one another kindly or as a "thing." Yet, like the bees, we pamper and provide only the very best food to a chosen class, which repays us by finding ways (ranging from wars, famine, and epidemics to the denial of health care, decent wages, and education) to purge lower and middle classes when they become redundant or "uppity." An advanced race from the Pleiades, studying us without regard to our elaborate masks and "toys," might find bees the more interesting of our two species because bees at least produce honey.

Having written all this however, I would still like to think that if I were to interview a young worker bee gathering nectar, she -- unaware that her life is nearly over -- aware only of fragrance and exhilarating frequencies of light I'll never experience -- would tell me with deep gratitude in her eyes that as hard as her life is, she's tasted bliss, honey, a wondrous, soaring glory and she'd be willing do it all over again.

On the other hand, it wouldn't surprise me if she says simply (as I probably would, under similar circumstances), "Life sucks." Still, those frequencies of light that she sees must really be spectacular and might make it worthwhile.

Pollinating Bee
[Unknown Source]
From the Smithsonian's Zoo Goer: This significant 1999 article, "Saving Pollinators" by Alison Emblidge and Emily Schusteris, sounded an urgent warning. Unfortunately, under Bush for most of the past decade, things only got worse....
Note: on my Insects page I included lengthy excerts from this important article on pollinators, among which bees are only one of the many species that pollinate our fields, orchards, and gardens. On this page, which is focused specifically on bees, I am only including passages that relate directly to them (for the Malaysian bee fable with which this article frames its data, and which I included on my Insects page, see the Mythology section below):

...Plants and pollinators have been evolving together since at least the early Cretaceous period—that’s 144 million years and more than a billion bee generations—and their relationships have become increasingly specialized.... Habitat loss, fragmentation, pesticides, and exotic species all jeopardize plant/pollinator relationships....

...Some farming methods also threaten pollinators by destroying their habitats. Large-scale modern agricultural operations produce extensive fields of a single crop, and when the crop’s short season is over, nothing remains for bees to eat. Extensive irrigation also destroys solitary bees’ underground nests and increases the damage that fungi do to their broods.

Habitat fragmentation can be equally harmful to pollinators.... In Peru, 50 percent of the economy depends on Brazil nuts, an entirely wild commodity that cannot be grown in plantations because of the plant’s dependence on orchid bees for pollination. Realizing the importance of the crop, Peru passed laws to protect Brazil nut trees, but failed to protect the surrounding forest as well. This led to a highly dysfunctional ecosystem consisting of isolated Brazil nut trees surrounded by pasture. Without the forest, orchid bees could not survive to pollinate the trees. The decline of the Brazil nut has implications for more than Peru’s economy, as the Brazil nut tree is a key player in its ecosystem. In a healthy ecosystem, when the trees’ seed pods of nuts open, they fill with water and become home to mosquito larvae, toad tadpoles, damselfly larvae, and dart poison frog tadpoles....

...When asked what is the biggest threat to bees in the D.C. area, entomologist Suzanne W. T. Batra of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) replied, "Pesticides, pesticides, pesticides."...

...The University of Guelph’s Kevan stresses three important concepts: species, spaces, and systems. We need to focus conservation efforts not just on species, but also on the spaces they inhabit, and devote time and energy to understanding how ecological systems operate. For example, Kevan disagrees with attempts to save honeybees by developing mite repellents because this approach focuses on one species, not spaces and systems. Kevan says that a variety of pollinators working one crop enhances the number and the quality of fruit produced. "There is a crying need to diversify ‘domesticated’ pollinators," he said. The Forgotten Pollinators Campaign of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum also recommends combating the effects of the European honeybee decline by investing in alternative pollinators, both wild and managed, including alfalfa leafcutter bees, alkali bees, bumblebees, mason bees, and blue orchid bees....

...Things are looking up for the Brazil nut as well. The Peruvian government, anxious to preserve the economically vital Brazil nut crop, is now working with scientists to learn how to preserve the ecosystem, and the Bolivian government is interested in following suit. Interest in lowering pesticide use is also gaining support around the world. Sweden has lowered pesticide use by 50 percent without a loss in yield, according to Pimentel. In the U.S., insecticide use on Texas cotton fields has been reduced by nearly 90 percent since 1966. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is now making grants available to organizations that wish to restore pollinator habitats....

Girl and Bee Hives
Lexden L. Pocock (1850-1919)
1st Art Gallery
If the above Smithsonian's "Saving Pollinators" article has inspired you to want to do more about the plight of the world's pollinators, especially bees, you'll enjoy this non-profit site, Bee Guardian. Here is what a Bee Guardian is:
One who is committed to serve and shelter the bees as a species on the planet in a time when this most valuable species is endangered. A Bee Guardian is not a commercial beekeeper in the traditional sense of artificially maintained bee strains, chemical treatments and forced methods of productivity for capital gain....

...The Bee Guardian is committed to the nature of the bee, allowing the bees to maintain a strong immune system through organic practices and methods that do not overly stress the colonies. In this way our local strains will begin a process of natural selection, building up immunity against diseases and adapting to changes in local climate. The bees will have a consistent home and environment enabling them to reestablish genetic diversity by reallocating fitness resources toward adaptive evolution rather then hanging on the thread of pure survival in a extremely demanding mechanized beekeeping industry....

Bee weathering rainstorm on dandelion
Photo by Bee Guardian
--- Bee Guardian is a beautiful site -- no surprise there! -- it was created by two of my friends, artists (and beekeepers) Corwin Bell and Karen Sadenwater, who are passionate about protecting and nurturing bees. They also created the three extraordinary biofeedback-based Journey to Wild Divine video games, for which I was their mythology/psychology/religion consultant in 2005. Among their current projects is a film still in production, "The Bee Guardian."  Corwin writes: "We are using our skills as animators to bring awareness to a wide ranging audience of what can be done to help the honey bee." There will soon be an online trailer for this film.

Corwin Bell removing a comb
Photo by Gaiam
Corwin lives in Colorado. I live in Michigan. I shouldn't even have looked at his local "Classes" page, yet I did -- and now I'm sorrier than ever that we don't live closer. Here is very moving information about Corwin and his approach to working with bees:

Corwin has been passionately working with bees for over 14 years. He practices a holistic approach in caring for bees that focuses on enhancing the bee’s immune system through attentive listening, meditative communing, right timing and sustainable methods. In his courses he reveals a connection between bees and humankind as symbolic of a broader interconnection between humans and the natural world.  Corwin promotes a "backyard" hive method and philosophy in which he encourages and inspires interested and willing individuals to connect with bees through an altruistic Guardianship that goes beyond hobbyist beekeeping....  He is currently working on a book The Bee Guardian, which delves into this approach.
If you're interested in exploring further, scroll down to the "Beekeeping: Now" section and you'll find a link to another website from Corwin and Karan, BackYardHives, with information on starting and tending your own hive of bees.
This Sept. 2, 2009 photo shows beekeeper Nicolas Geant taking care of bees on top of the Grand Palais museum in Paris. In Paris, the bee business is thriving on famous rooftops and public gardens in the middle of the urban jungle even as bees are disappearing from fields across France and the world, threatening plants and food supplies. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
[9/25/09]:  It turns out that the countryside and backyards aren't the only places where bees can thrive. I was amazed to find this recent AP article, "Paris rooftops abuzz with beekeeping" by Rachel Kurowski. Here are the excerpts that most caught my attention (especially the second one below with its mind-boggling statistics):
... in the heart of the French capital, Nicolas Geant is preparing to sell off his honey. It comes from hives on the edges of the soaring glass roof of the Grand Palais exhibition hall, just off the Champs-Elysees. "Paris has many balconies, parks and avenues full of trees and little flowers that attract many bees for pollination," said Geant, who has 25 years of experience under his belt....

..."In Paris, each beehive produces a minimum of 50 to 60 kilograms (110 to 130 pounds) of honey per harvest, and the death rate of the colonies is 3 to 5 percent," said Henri Clement, president of the National Union of French Beekeepers. "But in the countryside, one beehive only gives you 10 to 20 kilograms (about 20 to 40 pounds) of honey, and the death rate is 30 to 40 percent. It is a sign of alarm."

The Luxembourg Gardens' hives alone produce more than half a ton of honey per harvest. It is sold to the public during the last weekend in September, and the income funds beekeeping classes and the facilities....

...Alain Sandmeyer, 63, a volunteer instructor at the gardens, said trees and shrubbery have grown sparser in rural areas, attracting fewer bees. Also, he said, rural bees are dying off from pesticides and fertilizers. In Paris, on the other hand, pesticides are forbidden in all parks and gardens. Urban beekeeping isn't just a Paris thing. Berlin, London, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., are among beekeeping cities. New York City on the other hand, lists bees as "venomous insects," and beekeeping is punishable by a $2,000 fine....

...For many years bee experts worried about an aging population of beekeepers, but a new young generation has suddenly taken on the hobby, said May Berenbaum, head of the entomology department at the University of Illinois. "There's definitely been an incredibly heartening increase in interest," Berenbaum said....

Who would have thought that cities would be a healthier environment for bees than the countryside!

I love the idea of raising bees on urban rooftops. Had I known about this, I would have done it when I lived on the Lower East Side of New York City in the 60s and 70s. Hopefully, many New Yorkers will see the AP article and protest the city's weird designation of bees as "venomous insects." If Paris, Berlin, London, Tokyo and even Washington, D.C. can welcome beekeeping, New York is surely too savvy not to participate as well.
[9/25/09]: A few weeks ago on 9 September 2009, some two months after I first launched this page on Bees, I received an email from Barbara ("bee") Framm, a grad student in Women's Spirituality at ITP.  One of her teachers had just sent her my bee page link and she wrote, "I LOVE it!" and then asked if she could put a link to it on her bee blog. When I had a chance to look at her blog, which covers a fabulous range of continually updated news and articles on bees (and has a fine collection of links at the end), I turned around and asked if I might use her link as well.

This afternoon, a few hours after I'd finished my comments above on "Paris rooftops abuzz with beekeeping," which I'd found on an organic site (OCA) several days ago, I took another look at Barbara's blog and discovered that she had already reproduced the entire article, photos and all.  AND she also had text, photos, and a slideshow link to New York City's June 2009 costumed "Beekeepers Ball," which mentions the city's ban on bees!  Here is one of several relevant passages from Benjamin Norman's article for the New York Times:

...Honey bees are shaping up to be the latest urban agricultural must-have, the new backyard chickens.

The wrinkle is that beekeeping is illegal in New York City. Fines, while rare, can run to $2,000.

The law is precisely why the nonprofit group, Just Food, organized the ball to kick off its Pollinator Week in the city, which includes special honey menus at restaurants and a honey festival at the Union Square Greenmarket.

In January, David Yassky, a City Council member, introduced a bill to lift the ban, written with help from Just Food; it’s currently with the Committee on Health, waiting for a hearing....

Sooooo, New Yorkers are already working to lift that ban.  And they even have a  Beekeepers Ball -- ya gotta love it.  Bravo, New York!

Bee and Flower
(See directly below)
This is a general information page on insects from the Smithsonian Institute's National Zoological Park.  Photos are good but small (see above). Elsewhere on this large website, the Smithsonian publishes 100+ articles on or about bees. For an index page and some great browsing, see: and type in bees.
From Canadian researcher, Conrad Bérubé, comes Part I on the evolution of bees -- "IN THE BEEGINNING: the genesis of the order Hymenoptera." It is witty, well written, carefully footnoted, and referenced. Here is how it opens:
Recently, fossils of what are thought to be the nests of solitary bees were found in 200-million-year-old petrified wood in Arizona. These are "trace" fossils meaning that only circumstantial evidence, like footprints, rather than fossilized parts of the organism itself were discovered-- so there is some doubt as to whether the galleries bored in the wood were made by bees or by some other insect. Much less questionable is the fossilized bee which was discovered in the late 1980's preserved in a lump of 80-million-year-old amber from what is now New Jersey.(1) That means that the poor creature became mired in the (then) sticky tree sap at a time when the dinosaurs were galumphing about the future sites of Hackensack and Passaic. The dinosaurs played their parts and then faded from center stage to become modern birds (or petroleum deposits). Today, few people would have trouble distinguishing an archaeopteryx from a flamingo (or a brontosaurus from a can of Valvoline)-- but even to the trained eye the 80-million-year-old bee is remarkably similar to existing species of bees....
Continuing......this is Conrad Bérubé's Part II on the evolution of bees:  IN THE BEEGINNING: the bee family tree -- again, it is excellent. Here is how it concludes:
...Given these contemporary counterparts to ancient ancestors, it is still sometimes difficult to retrace the evolutionary stages through which the honey bee has passed. The natural origins of the honey bee are every bit as fascinating as any myth pertaining to the creation of this marvelous creature.
Note: more of his articles will be found elsewhere on my page.
This is the July 2005 issue of a newsletter on bee data from the UK: Apis-UK. It opens with a charming photo of a rustic Slovenian bee house, but gives no explanation for what it's doing on the page. The focus in this issue is supposed to be on bee genetics. The editor, David Cramp, explains his interest:
...Bee genetics, to me at any rate, are more confusing than most for the simple reason that drone bees don’t have a father, thus making the whole matter far more complex in my mind and I’m sure in the minds of others. In this issue therefore, we include several bee genetic themes including part one of a basic guide to bee genetics which we hope will brush away much of the confusion surrounding the subject....
I had never thought of it that way -- that drones have no fathers.

Exploring further, and despite some interesting photos, I initially found the issue to be a grab-bag of clutter about local news, events announced, events cancelled, local e-zines, websites, and suchlike.  I almost decided to delete the link but as I kept scrolling down the page, I found some real gems mixed into the clutter and the site began to grow on me. Based on that, here are some tips (highlighted by color or font size below) if you don't have time to browse. At the top of the page is an untidy Table of Contents-- it's very "general," by which I mean you can't go directly to something of interest -- instead, you have to go to whatever category it's in (and the editor seems abitrary about what goes where); once there, you can explore within that area. In  Articles, Bees and Gravitomagnetism is worth a look -- it even includes data on Egyptian beekeeping that I've never come across before; Honey Bee Genetics is also worth reading -- actually quite engrossing. Under Research News, I found all the fairly brief science items of interest -- I especially liked, in light of my comments yesterday (6/7/09) on bee-totalitarianism, the chilling wit of Berlin Insect Criminologists Investigate the Murky 'Underworld' Life of the Rogue Tree Wasp [and Bees] -- this is from its conclusion about worker wasps and bees furtively laying their own "illegal" eggs in their hive:

...Most biologists who have considered insect societies see them as models for studying altruism, with the workers looking out for the common good. But according to Wenseleers, the new work suggests that the more appropriate image is that of oppressed workers in a police state....
Under Fact File, you'll find a good article on Pollen -- its remarkable nutritional values, etc. Finally, there's a convincing article favoring the use of honey in treating wounds as well as the sometimes deadly MRSA: Prevent MRSA with Manuka Honey (Europeans seem so much more sensible about such remedies than we are in the USA). But there's no mention whatsoever about this report in the Table of Contents and when I tried to do a Search & Find for MRSA, I came up with nothing. Scroll down about an inch from the top, however, and you'll find it. Some of the website's local news is also fun but if you're in a hurry, my "tips" will hopefully save you time and frustration (and it spares me the temptation to start pasting in excerpts from the articles I've highlighted -- they really are quite interesting).
This is BeeCare's useful, quick reference Honeybee Encyclopedia, defining terms related to bees. Here, for example, is "absconding swarm":
a swarm of bees, comprised of the entire colony, that abandons the hive; results from extreme colony stress, such as overheating, hive destruction, disease or parasites.  Africanized honeybees are especially prone to abscond.
A friend, knowing I was working on this page, sent me an email from the Hive Health editor about a video, "North Carolina Bees Produce Blue Honey," sent to on Sunday, June 14, 2009. I have a dial-up modem and can't download videos, but the link's text explains why the honey is a dark blue -- there's a good photo too. Here is the email with an excerpt from the article (written in rather overblown prose by the reporter):
"Bees' Sweet Yearnings Produce Blue Honey" by Chick Jacobs, The Fayetteville Observer, 6/13/2009

PINEHURST -- No one is quite sure when. No one is quite sure where. And after decades of studying, experts still disagree on why. But almost every year, somewhere in the Sandhills of North Carolina, a few lucky beekeepers strike blue gold. When they pry open the boxy, buzzing hives in a few weeks, their sticky sweet harvest will have a distinct azure tint: blue honey, colored by nature's whim and the bees' hunger…

Note: mini-reviews of recommended books about bees in amber
are near the bottom of this page

Bee in Dominican amber, of the species Proplebeia dominicana.
London: Natural History Museum
[See directly below]

From London's Natural History Museum comes "The Search for DNA in Amber" by Andrew Ross and Jeremy Austin. The page includes other really fine photos, including one of a delicate mosquito. (Click on their photos for enlargements). Here are excerpts from the text:
EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION | Amber, the fossilized resin of ancient trees, is remarkable for its ability to preserve prehistoric, organic material. These inclusions, and the successful analysis of their preserved DNA fragments, could provide scientists with incredible insights into the past. Is it now possible to extract dinosaur DNA from insects and re-create today these creatures from ancient history? Andrew Ross and Jeremy Austin discuss this controversial debate in the light of their recent research findings.
First, there is some historical background from Andrew Ross relating to the above photo of a bee in Dominican amber:
...DNA was first reported to have been recovered from amber in 1992 when scientists in California claimed to have extracted fragments of DNA from an extinct species of bee (Proplebeia dominicana) in Dominican amber.... There has been some scepticism as to whether these claims are genuine or the result of contamination. Experiments on the survival rate of DNA have shown that it breaks down very quickly, particularly in the presence of water. However, the insects in amber are dehydrated and if this happened quickly then it could possibly halt the decay of the DNA.

At The Natural History Museum in London, scientists have tried to repeat the experiments to obtain DNA from the Dominican amber bee Proplebeia dominicana. These bees are common in Dominican amber because they collect resin to make their nests. Several suitable specimens were selected, broken up and tested, but no insect DNA was recovered. This casts doubt on the earlier reports because it appears that the experiments are not replicable, which is a fundamental requirement for reliable scientific results....

There follows fascinating information on the problems involved, the fragility of DNA, and much more, with everything clearly explained and looked at from multiple angles. It's great reading just in its own right. But meanwhile, not to keep you in suspense, here is the conclusion:
... Austin: This is all highly speculative. Even if scientists were able to successfully reconstruct the DNA sequence for a dinosaur genome how would they "clone" this animal from its genetic blueprint and would they ever want to? I think the sheer complexity of first sequencing the genome and then finding a way of using this information to build a living organism makes it an insurmountable task and I personally remain convinced that dinosaurs will safely remain fascinating creatures that belong to the past.

Andrew Ross: There are many reasons why such a venture will remain fiction. First, there are no known insect-bearing Jurassic ambers. Second, contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae) are extremely rare in amber. There is one recorded from Canadian amber, although there are only a handful known in Baltic amber and a few tens of specimens in Dominican amber. There are, however, other biting insects, known from Mesozoic deposits, that may have fed on dinosaurs. Black-flies (Diptera: Simuliidae) are known from Middle Jurassic deposits and two have been found in Cretaceous amber. The oldest horsefly (Diptera: Tabanidae) was found recently preserved in limestone of Lower Cretaceous age in Dorset, England, but none are known in Cretaceous amber. Biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) have been found in Canadian, Siberian and Lebanese amber, but they can feed on the blood of many things, including other insects. A few are known in Canadian amber that have jaws adapted for biting vertebrates, however it is debatable whether they could have fed on dinosaurs. Sandflies (Diptera: Psychodidae) have been found in Burmese and Lebanese amber and one has large mouthparts similar to those of a living species that feeds on the blood of crocodiles. This type of fly could well have fed on the blood of dinosaurs. However, it is extremely unlikely that anyone will destroy this specimen on the remote chance of extracting DNA because it is a male and only female sandflies feed on blood.

Even after an insect is trapped in resin, bacteria and enzymes continue working in the gut, rotting the insect from the inside. Indeed, many insects preserved in amber, particularly Baltic, are completely hollow without any internal tissue preserved. If it is so difficult to get DNA from an insect in amber, then the chances of getting any DNA from something it fed on are even more remote. If it were possible to extract DNA from a blood meal in an amber insect, only tiny amounts of the entire DNA string (genome) would be recovered and it would probably be contaminated with bacterial and insect DNA. Key parts of the genome would be required to work out which type of animal the blood came from. Biologists could only guess at what was missing from the complete DNA string, without knowing for sure. Although scientists can manipulate and make copies of DNA, they can't make it grow into an animal.
From PBS's NOVA series, Jewel of the Earth, comes this stunning excerpt, "Amber Time Machine" by George Poinar, Jr., taken from his book, The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World (Princeton University Press, 1999). The author is a research fellow at Oregon State University who, with his wife, has coauthored a number of classic books on amber. The excerpt covers the amazing journey of a bee trapped in sticky resin during an escape from a resin bug -- and the resin's odyssey through eons of time until it finally reaches the amber collection of the author. Here is how it begins:
I lifted to the window a nugget of golden Dominican amber entombing a small stingless bee. The sunlight infused it and illuminated the bee caught forever in flight—gossamer wings outstretched and perfectly preserved down to the last hair. Stark eyes appeared to be gazing at me. I contemplated this lustrous burial chamber and thought how wondrous it would be if we could see what this insect had beheld in its lifetime. Would the vistas of just one day be sufficient to reveal the wonders of life millions of years ago? What was that last fateful day like? And what events had taken place in the eras before this specimen arrived in my hand?

One surmises that the bee was active in the dim light of early morning. She and her sisters gathered in the busy colony before beginning their various tasks. The young workers left for the nursery to attend the developing larvae. Older members flew out into the forest to collect pollen and nectar. The chore reserved for the aged bees was collecting the sticky resin utilized in nest construction from algarrobo trees. Our bee was among the resin gatherers. Off she skimmed with her companions, winding through the shadowy, towering amber forest, dodging the vines and lianas, avoiding tree trunks where hungry lizards lurked, and finally landing on the bark of an algarrobo near a large, yellow, viscous resin flow.

She scanned the surroundings, always on the lookout for hungry, sinister creatures that lurked in ambush—especially one well-adapted predator, the resin bug, a large, hairy-legged creature endowed with a huge beak that could easily penetrate the body and suck out the blood of an unwary bee....

...The bee's compound eyes registered a kaleidoscopic image of the resin flow. Trapped within the vitelline pool lay other small arthropods, plant debris, and detritus. Not discerning any dreaded enemies, the bee began the painstaking job of removing small samples of resin with her mouth, coating them with saliva, and then attaching them to the hind legs in the form of little round balls. This exercise involved concentration and diligent work to prevent getting entrapped in the adhesive deposit....

The page includes a few fabulous photos of insects in amber (click to enlarge them). There are also links to other PBS amber-related pages, including an interactive map showing where amber is found -- I had no idea it was found as far north as the Arctic!

Amber-encased ancient bee carrying small, lumpy clusters of golden orchid pollen on her back
National Geographic
[NG's photo is better but Harvard's article, below, is more informative]

This is Harvard's "First orchid fossil puts showy blooms at some 80 million years old: Pollen-bearing bee, preserved in amber, resolves longstanding dispute over orchid origins" by Steve Bradt:
Biologists at Harvard University have identified the ancient fossilized remains of a pollen-bearing bee as the first hint of orchids in the fossil record, a find they say suggests orchids are old enough to have coexisted with dinosaurs. Their analysis, published this week (Aug. 29, 2007) in the journal Nature, indicates orchids arose some 76 to 84 million years ago, much longer ago than many scientists had estimated. The extinct bee they studied, preserved in amber with a mass of orchid pollen on its back, represents some of the only direct evidence of pollination in the fossil record.

“Since the time of Darwin, evolutionary biologists have been fascinated with orchids’ spectacular adaptations for insect pollination,” says lead author Santiago R. Ramírez, a researcher in Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. “But while orchids are the largest and most diverse plant family on Earth, they have been absent from the fossil record.” The fossil record lacks evidence of orchids, Ramírez says, because they bloom infrequently and are concentrated in tropical areas where heat and humidity prevent fossilization. Their pollen is dispersed only by animals, not wind, and disintegrates upon contact with the acid used to extract pollen from rocks....

...Orchids, unlike most flowering plants, package pollen in unique structures called pollinia, which consist of relatively large masses of compact pollen grains. The 15- to 20-million-year-old specimen of a worker bee carrying orchid pollinia, recovered by a private collector in the Dominican Republic in 2000, came to the attention of Ramírez and his colleagues at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in 2005. While this particular species of stingless bee, Proplebeia dominicana, is now extinct, the scientists’ analysis of the shape and configuration of its cargo of pollen places it firmly within one of five extant subfamilies of orchids....

The article has much to say about the evolution and dating of orchids but since my webpage is focused on bees, I have mostly chosen only excerpts about them. The one exception is for the following intriguing suggestion:
...“This result is puzzling and fascinating at the same time because modern species of Vanilla orchids are locally distributed throughout the tropical regions of the world,” says Ramírez. “But we know that tropical continents began to split apart about 100 million years ago, and thus our estimates of 60 to 70 million years for the age of Vanilla suggest that tropical continents were still experiencing significant biotic exchange much after their dramatic split.”
One wonders how such "significent biotic exchange" was accomplished. Ocean currents? winds? -- would they have been that much stronger all those millions of years ago?  Why? The mind tends to glide over data in the millions but the discrepancy between a split 100 million years ago and the eventual appearance of these orchids throughout a far-flung region some 30 million years later is huge. What could have been going on over a period of 30 million years to account for it?

Cretotrigona prisca, American Museum of Natural History
Bees were found trapped in amber from the time of the dinosaurs
(See directly below from the BBC)
This is a BBC News Report from 2004: "Bees survived dino extinction." Here are some excerpts:
New evidence shows tropical honeybees survived the post-impact winter 65 million years ago that is thought to have helped kill off the dinosaurs. An asteroid is thought to have hit our planet at the end of the Cretaceous Period, throwing up dust that blocked sunlight and dragged down temperatures. Honeybees trapped in amber before the asteroid strike are nearly identical to their modern relatives, data shows....

...The finding throws up all sorts of questions, researchers say, because current models of the post-impact winter suggest global temperatures fell far enough to have killed off honeybees and many of the flowering plants they lived off. Modern tropical honeybees have an optimal temperature range of 31-34C (88-93F) in order to maintain vital metabolic activities. This is also the range that is best for their food source: nectar-rich flowering plants.

Based on what is known about the Cretaceous climate and modern tropical honeybees, Jacqueline Kozisek of the University of New Orleans, US, estimated that any post-impact winter event could not have dropped temperatures by more than 2-7C (4-13F) without wiping out the bees. Current theories about the Chicxulub impact winter estimate drops of 7-12C (13-22F) - too cold for tropical honeybees. If no modern tropical honeybee could have survived years in the dark and cold without flowering plants, says Kozisek, something must be amiss with the impact winter theory....

...Amber-preserved specimens of the oldest tropical honeybee Cretotrigona prisca are almost indistinguishable from some of their modern counterparts. This means they could even be their ancestors, researchers think.

Note: in late 2006, two years after the above report, an even older tropical bee was discovered in a piece of amber from Burma, Melittosphex burmensis. It is 35-45 million years older than any bee known heretofore. See directly below for another BBC report.......

Science/BBC: Melittosphex burmensisis the oldest known fossil bee
[For a greatly enlarged version of this photo, see Animal Pictures Archive.]
Based on the journal Science paper, "A Fossil Bee from Early Cretaceous Burmese Amber," this is the BBC's  25 October 2006 report on the oldest bee ever found.  [Note: here is a backup site in case you ever can't get through to the BBC link:  The Animal Pictures Archive -- see note under above photo -- also has a copy of an abbreviated report as well as the BBC's full text]

Here are some important excerpts:

Scientists have identified the oldest known bee, a 100 million-year-old specimen preserved in amber. The discovery coincides with the publication of the genetic blueprint of the honeybee, which reveals surprising links with mammals, including humans.
The ancient insect, trapped in tree sap, is at least 35-45 million years older than any other known bee fossil. It appears to share features with both bees and wasps, and supports theories of bee evolution. Experts believe pollen-dependent bees arose from carnivorous wasp ancestors. With the arrival of pollinating bees, flowering plants blossomed on Earth. Prior to 100 million years ago, the plant world was dominated by conifers which spread their seeds on the wind.
George Poinar, professor of zoology at Oregon State University, US, whose team reported the discovery in the journal Science, said: "This is the oldest known bee we've ever been able to identify, and it shares some of the features of wasps. But overall it's more bee than wasp, and gives us a pretty good idea of when these two types of insects were separating on their evolutionary paths."
The amber specimen, from a mine in the Hukawng Valley of northern Burma, has been named Melittosphex burmensis. It has waspish features, such as narrow hind legs, but also branched body hair and other characteristics of bees....

...Professor Poinar added: "This fossil may help us understand when wasps, which were mostly just meat-eating carnivores, turned into bees that could pollinate plants and serve a completely different biological function." ....

...Locked within bee DNA there are striking links with mammals and humans, scientists discovered. Like humans, honeybees spread into Europe from Africa, making at least two ancient migrations. They split into two genetically different European populations which, according to DNA evidence, are more closely related to African honeybees than to each other. Honey bees have an internal "biological clock" which is more like those of mammals than of flies, the research has revealed. The clock governs many activities, including time sensing, navigation, labour division, and the famous bee "dance language" which the insects use to communicate information about food sources....

If you enjoy wondering what was going on eons before humans appeared, these latest discoveries, embedded in amber, are truly exciting.



Beekeeping in ancient Egypt:
Tomb of Pabasa (25th Dynasty)
Note:  Egypt's bees were hived in pottery jars, which could be stacked or laid on the ground in rows
From Bee Bulletins. [FYI: Bee Bulletins has news, slide shows, and many photos,
including a bee on a lovely grape hyancinth, if you feel like browsing]
This "Beekeeping" page is from An introduction to the history and culture of Pharaonic Egypt, a carefully footnoted, well-referenced, illustrated series of countless pages from André Dollinger, who writes from Kibbutz Reshafim in Israel.  I enjoy his intelligence, humor, and "attitude." These are excerpts:
When the Sun weeps a second time, and lets fall water from his eyes, it is changed into working bees; they work in the flowers of each kind, and honey and wax are produced instead of water.
    From a first millennium BCE magical text, pSalt 825
    S. Birch, Egyptian Magical Text, in S. Birch ed., Records of the Past, Vol.6, 1876
The first official mention recognizing the importance of honey dates from the first dynasty, when the title of "Sealer of the Honey" is given [11]; the oldest pictures of bee-keepers in action are from the Old Kingdom: in Niuserre's sun temple bee-keepers are shown blowing smoke into hives as they are removing the honey-combs. After extracting the honey from the combs it was strained and poured into earthen jars which were then sealed. Honey treated in this manner could be kept years....

...Cylindrical hives like the ones in the picture[see above] ... from the tomb of Pabasa, dated to the 7th century BCE, were made of clay and stacked on top of each other [12] in rows up to eight high, a total of about 500 hives, with the hives on the outside at times left empty as insulation against the heat. [16]

The bees were possibly induced into building their combs across the hive, for easier removal of the honey and division of the colony at swarming time. Ancient Egyptian bees may well have been more aggressive than the placid Italian bee, which has become the dominant variety in modern times. Aristophanes of Byzantium, the head of the library at Alexandria around 200 BCE, claimed, that the beekeepers approached the hives with shaven heads, as the bees reacted very violently to the smell of perfumed oil applied to the hair,[14] but they are never shown to have used any protective gear and relied on smoke blown into the hives to keep the bees peaceful....

...The main centre of bee-keeping was Lower Egypt with its extensive cultivated lands, where the bee was chosen as a symbol for the country. One of Pharaoh's titles was Bee King, and the gods also were associated with the bee. The sanctuary in which Osiris was worshiped was the Hwt bjt [7], the Mansion of the Bee....

...The Egyptians had a steady honey supply from their domesticated bees, but they seem to have valued wild honey even more. Honey hunters, often protected by royal archers, would scour the wild wadis for bee colonies....

...Strabo reported that honey was made into mead and fed to the sacred crocodile at Crocodilopolis in the Fayum:

Our host, one of the most honoured men in Arsinoe, showed us holy things and accompanied us to the lake taking with him a cake, roasted meat and a little bottle of honey mead left over from the meal. We found the animal lying on the shore. The priests approached it, two of them opened its mouth, the third one pushed the pastry and then the meat into it and then poured the honey mead into it. The animal jumped into the lake and swam to the opposite shore.
    Strabo (c.64 BCE - 24 CE), Geography, 17th Book, 1st section: Egypt, § 38
    After a German translation by C.G.Groskurd
Claims have been made that honey was used in the mummification process. The evidence for such usage is scant and anecdotal, e.g. Abd el-Latif's unsupported tale published in Budge's book The Mummy about treasure hunters who found a sealed jar containing honey, and after eating part of it they discovered it also contained the body of a small child....

...Medicines and salves often contained honey as is attested in the Smith Papyrus and the Ebers Papyrus (§§ 3, 5, 13, 17, 20). The practice was to apply honey to open wounds—a reasonable treatment considering its antibacterial and fungicidal qualities....

An added "plus" with this site are passages from ancient literature (including magic spells). There is also a useful bibliography as well as a handful of offsite links related to the topic.
From David A Kendall, BSc, Ph.D., a consulting entomologist, comes a beautifully illustrated page on "Sacred Insects of Ancient Egypt." Here's an excerpt from his Honey Bee section:
According to one Egyptian myth, honey bees (scientific name Apis mellifera) were the tears of the sun god Ra. Their religious significance extended to an association with the goddess Neith, whose temple in the delta town of Sais in Lower Egypt [map] was known as per-bit - meaning 'the house of the bee'. Honey was regarded as a symbol of resurrection and also thought to give potection against evil spirits. Small pottery flasks, which according to the hieratic inscriptions on the side originally contained honey, were found in the tomb of the boy-king, Tutankhamun....

...Bee-keeping is depicted in egyptian temple reliefs as early as the 5th Dynasty (2445-2441 BC). These show that apiculture was well established in Egypt by the middle of the Old Kingdom. Records from at least one tomb workers' village during the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) indicate that the workmen there kept bees and this was doubtless true of other communities throughout egyptian history....

Smoking, then capturing a swarm of bees in medieval times
Tinker Nature Park
Ars Magica is fantasy roleplaying video game from Germany. I can't figure out of it's online or not and don't have time to explore that aspect (FYI: when I clicked on "Game," I was immediately disconnected, which suggests it's online and needs to recognize one's email address; frankly, since it sounds like a game to which I could easily become addicted, I'm glad I was disconnected). According to the home page, this is "a fantastic storytelling game of magic in a mythical version of 13th Century Europe." But Ars Magica is also a separate project in which roles are researched in terms of "real world" history, not neo-medievalism:
The settings of many fantasy roleplaying games use medieval European history as a source of inspiration for their canonical setting. Ars Magica takes this apporach a step further: Mythic Europe is a setting that is based firmly on medieval Europe...
Tho above link goes to a brief but handsome page on beekeeping in the Middle Ages. Here are some excerpts I like:
...Honey also was (and still is) one of the main ingredients of mead, which in the 12th century was probably the most popular drink in Germany and northern lands, where wine was still expensive and hard to get and beer was generally considered as to bitter. Thus honey was in high demand and beekeepers, although leading a somewhat remote life, were well respected.

Medieval beekeepers did not breed bees in the modern sense of the word. In Germany their bees were wild bees living in the endless forests, somewhat domesticated by the beekeepers by providing ideal nesting places and somehow guiding a new colony to these manmade places. Usually the beekeeper would cut of the top of a suitable tree near the edge of the forest or at the edge of a clearing. The remaining trunk had to be high enough to offer some protection from bears and low enough for the beekeeper to reach the bees without too much trouble. He would then carve a hole big enough for a colony into the trunk or use a natural cavity in the trunk. He would also make sure the sun could shine on the trunk most of the day and thus keep it warm....

I was unfamiliar with this use for beeswax among those who could read and write:
...Wax was used to produce the medieval equivalent of a notebook, the wax tablet. These consisted of a thin layer of wax on a plain wooden board and were written on with a wooden or bone stylus. The writeing on these wax tablets could easily be erased by warming and flattening the wax surface.
[This reminds me that whenever artists, ancient or modern, use the "lost wax" technique in casting fine art and jewelry, it's thanks to the bees that they have the beeswax.]

And here, sadly, is how and why beekeeping dwindled out, eventually bringing beer and wine to the forefront and displacing mead:

...In the course of the 12th to 14th century [...] generations spent their entire working life on the destruction of forests and creation of farmable land. This process obviously also reduced the size of the land useable for beekeeping. The consequence was a steady increase on the price of honey and wax and following that an increase on the price of mead. While mead became more and more expensive, beer became more and more popular. Beer was easy enough to brew, rather inexpensive and would keep fresh for much longer than mead - it soon became the most popular drink....

...With the destruction of the German forests, more suitable land became available for growing of wine - and thus German wine, while not as sweet as wine from Greece or Italy, soon became more available and mead was mostly a "thing of the past" by the 14th century....


Russian beekeeper calming bees with smoke so she can remove combs of honey
from an ornate "top bar" hive with 4 top bars
Russian lacquer art from Tradestone Gallery

If you're interested in getting further involved with contemporary beekeeping, I highly recommend BackYardHive. It comes from my passionate bee-loving friends who created the Bee Guardian site (above) It offers a wealth of information as well as carefully handcrafted top bar hives and other beekeeping supplies. Here you'll find photos, articles, YouTube videos, FAQs, a movie trailer, interviews, a blog, and a DVD on beekeeping.

Here is an excerpt from the mission statement:

At BackYardHive, we are committed to information and hive technologies that encourage and enable backyard beekeepers to be successful. Our primary focus is on improving bee ecology and beekeeping methods that respect the honeybee. Our hope is that by introducing new hobby beekeepers to the rewards of beekeeping that there will eventually be backyard beekeepers worldwide that will help bring back the feral bee population and improve the genetic diversity of the honeybees....
From Vermont Only comes a brief article by W.A. Cate, Jr.on beekeeping (reprinted from a Fall 1999 issue of The Potash Kettle). In the How Stuff Works site at the top of my page, the author mentions that harvesting honey from skeps required destroying the entire colony. That made no sense to me. A skep is basically a woven basket and if the bees have been calmed by smoke, how hard could it be to cut a larger opening in the skep, remove a comb, and then patch-weave the area. Our ancestors couldn't have used skeps for centuries if it meant destroying millions of bees season after season. So I deleted that comment. This article confirms that skeps are indeed bee-friendly:
Stand up close to the hive. Even in these wet and drippy late fall days you can't miss the busy humming sounds within the hive. Here, despite the outside weather, these little beings continue their work of rearranging their honey stores and keeping the hive warm.

In the early days of our state before the standard wooden hives were invented, hives were housed in Skeps, that looked like an upside down teacup made of woven straw. Early farmers, faced with long, cold winters, sometimes carried their Skeps down to the cellar in the late fall to offer some protection from the cold and wind. In the spring, when it was warm enough for the bees to fly again, the Skeps would be brought outdoors in time for the apple blossom season.

Buried deep in folklore is the belief that when one passes away, particularly if that person was the family beekeeper, it was important to go down to the hives and 'tell the bees'. Somehow there was something meaningful, if mystical, about the ending of one life, and the bee's work of pollinating growing things, thus bringing new life into being.

The website (which also offers Vermont crafts, honey, etc) is run by Mile Square Farm and if you browse the pages, you'll find some intriguing information about hilltop farms given to soldiers after the Revolutionary War, about a man who talks to trees, another man who makes Christmas fruitcakes for a whole town, and much more. Vermont seems like a different world from most other places.

Bees for Babar
(See directly below)
"Bees for Babar" from Canadian researcher, Conrad Bérubé, is a lengthy and richly illustrated page (including video links) about an ecologically-sound, beekeeping project in Ghana. Here are a few excerpts:
Peacekeeping through beekeeping: reducing wildlife
conflicts and increasing incomes with guardian hives

BfB provides rotary credit to villagers to install hives around subsistence farms near the Mole wildlife reserve in Ghana. When elephants attempt to raid crops they will upset trip-wired hives. The bees will drive off the elephants– preserving both the crops and the elephants (who might otherwise be poached by enraged farmers).

In 2003, while working as a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, with communities in the Damango District of Ghana, Conrad Bérubé and his Ghanaian counterpart, Mohammed Ali Ibrahim ... took the opportunity to visit the wildlife reserve of Mole National Park....While there we discussed with park personnel the possibility of using bee hives as a means of excluding elephants from crop areas. When animals such as elephants or other large herbivores disturb them, the fierce African strains of bees defend themselves by stinging the sensitive ears, eyes and trunks of the animals-- who learn quickly to avoid the cultivated plots so protected. This can serve as both a novel means of reducing conflicts between agriculture and wildlife at park boundaries and to provide the benefits of small-scale beekeeping: supplementation of farmers' incomes through increased productivity derived from the bees' pollination services and the sale of honey and wax. After several years of promoting beekeeping for its own merits we decided to explore the idea of combining conservation with beekeeping so in August of 2007 we formed the "bees for babar society"....

...Unfortunately for subsistence farmers elephants do not always stay on their side of the boundary. "Guardian bee hives" will help to keep wandering elephants from raiding the crops necessary to feed villagers' families-and will provide nutritious honey and useful beeswax which can be utilized by the producers or sold to buy necessities....

...The word "babar", in the Gonja language of the Northern Region of Ghana, where the project has been initiated, means "come to my aid". In addition, it is also Turkish for lion. Lions have long held an odd and almost mystical association with honeybees.... We allude to these associations to title a project to promote conservation, eco-tourism and beekeeping as an income-generating activity in developing countries...

I love the common sense behind this project -- it protects elephants from being massacred by angry farmers and it safeguards farmers' current crops as well as expanding their livelihoods with bee products.
[Also Fairytales, Lore, Literature, & Ancient History]
Note: mini-reviews of recommended books are near the bottom of this page.
For other Myth*ing Links mythic references, do a search for "bee" and "bee priestess" on one of my little search engines (I used atomz, which found over 50 references) -- or try my google search link on my HomePage.

Bhramari Devi -- India's Bee Goddess,
(From the website of one of Layne Redmond's students.)
This essay is "The Tools of the Ancient Bee Priestess" by Layne Redmond, author of When the Drummers Were Women. I had heard great things about her work when I lived in southern California and finally I signed up for one of her local frame drum workshops. I was excited and looking forward to the experience. Strangely, shortly before the day when it was to begin, it was cancelled. I learned later that she had abruptly moved from California to the East Coast so there was never another chance for me to work with her. Maybe someday <smile>.  Meanwhile, it's a special pleasure to explore this page from her website. Some excerpts:
Chanting, overtone singing and humming sacred sounds to the rhythms of the frame drum is an ancient technique for directly synchronizing the mind/body, creating conditions for psychological, physical, and spiritual healing. The ancient Bee Priestesses, called the Melissa in Greek or the Deborahs in Hebrew, served the Bee Goddesses: Aphrodite, Artemis, Cybele, Demeter, Persephone, Rhea, Ariadne, Neith, even the Virgin Mary and all are associated with the frame drum and often with the sistrum!!

The ancient Mediterranean bee goddesses...are connected to the Hindu Goddess: Bhramari Devi, the bee goddess and her connection to the teachings of the chakras. These seven realms of consciousness emanate from the first sound -- the pulse of the cosmic drum -- the heartbeat of the goddess. The Maha Devi or Great Goddess, Kundalini, manifests in sound form as a queen bee (Bhramari Devi) surrounded by a cloud of buzzing bees. This lightening like goddess awakens in a buzz of ascending consciousness and descending spiritual grace. As this buzzing energy rises up the spine it illuminates the chakras which are interconnected with areas of the brain that are silent in the unawakened state. The chakras function as switches that explode the brain into awareness as these dormant areas are activated....

...We will be concentrating on rhythms in three and six because of the link of these numbers to the hexagram, the ancient honey comb shaped symbol of the Bee Goddess and the heart chakra.... In the twelve pointed lotus mandala of this chakra is a six pointed star formed by two interlocking triangles in perfect equilibrium. The fourth chakra understanding expands in all dimensions and directions as this six pointed star. This hexagram is the symbol of air and the ancient symbol of the bee goddess. The sacred bee, the Bhramari Devi, creates her honeycomb in hexagonal shapes and buzzes within her geometrically perfect hive....

...We’ll practice...Bhramari, a pranayama practice derived from the buzzing of bees which vibrates and realigns the entire nervous system, brain and body by buzzing the vocal chords. These practices are also recommended for reproductive and endocrine health for men and women of all ages, they also relieve depression and insomnia, calming and soothing minds stressed from over-thinking....

Note: some of the practices she mentions are available on CDs from her online shop.
[9/25/09]: A colleague was intrigued enough by the above data to track down more on the pranayama practice of Bhramari. He found this link for the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School's Bindu Magazine and sent me this useful article: "Bhramari - the Bumble Bee" by Joachim Rodenbeck.  Here is how it opens:
In this article we present Bhramari Pranayama.  The name is derived from the word for the black Indian bumble bee, Bhramari; it describes the characteristic humming sound which is produced while exhaling in this breathing exercise.

The adjective bhramarin can also mean "sweet as honey" in Sanskrit or "that which produces ecstasy". Bhramari has an immediate relaxing effect on the brain. If it is practised some minutes every day it can reduce mental tension and lower high blood pressure....

The illustrated article continues with clear descriptions of two variants of this practice, one from India (I have trouble with physical-world instructions and felt a bit overwhelmed by all the details for this one), and one from Tibet, which I found less complex and thus easier to comprehend -- this variant is the one I intend to try. There is also an interesting passage on the role of Bhramari in pregnancy, where it nurtures both mother and child with noticeable results (as shown by statistics from a 1993 clinical research project). Further, there is a brief section on the value of this practice for musicians -- an excerpt:
...Through Bhramari, you become sensitive to finer vibrations. It is therefore a valuable tool for musicians to develop their ear for music and musicality. Bhramari is part of the classical teaching of music in India....
The article concludes with several passages on pranayama:
Yogic breathing exercises (pranayama) are often described as a key to concentration and creativity. There is nothing surprising in that. Hardly any other therapeutic system, if you can call pranayama that, has such an immediate influence on the nervous system and therefore also on the mind....
I've printed out the instructions and now look forward to exploring this on my own <smile>.

Coins of Ephesos often show the Bee and Stag, emblems
of Artemis Ephesia. These date to around 300 BCE.
Max Dashu:  see directly below.

[9/25/09]:  This is an illustrated page on the bee goddess from the ancient Mediterranean world, one of countless handsome, rich pages from well known goddess-scholar, Max Dashu. On this page, she has collected a number of beautiful color photos of coins and ornaments depicting the sacred bee alone as well as in association with the stag and lion.

Yax Balam (Xbalanqué) / Mok Chi' [Maya Beekeeper deity]
Mother-of-pearl pendant: K6169
Photograph © Justin Kerr: all rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without permission of the copyright owner.
See below for Kerr's comments on this figure.
[Myth*ing Links' use of this image abides by terms and conditions]
Moving to the New World, this is "The Transformation of Xbalanqué or The Many Faces of God Aprime" by Justin Kerr, whose MayaVase website, a vast archive of thousands of carefully catalogued and copyrighted photos of Maya art, is one of the wonders of cyberspace. In this richly illustrated paper, he explores the Hero Twins and their relationship to bees and beekeeping:
...Maya deities, as we have come to know them from the Post-Classic codices, are quite different from the earlier versions of the Early Classic and the Classic periods. Particularly, we will examine one such meld of characteristics, the metamorphosis of the Hero Twin Yax Balam (Xbalanqué) from his role of hunter, scribe, and magician, to also include the role of beekeeper or possibly as the patron of the beekeepers. Although Landa tells us that the Bacabs and especially Hobnil, were the patrons of the beekeepers, the Maya themselves may tell us otherwise. In this paper I will also suggest that there is more than one way to understand the scenes on Maya vessels. It has been assumed, when we see a series of individuals on a vase that they should generally be read sequentially as a group of related scenes. I would like to show that, in some cases the same individual can appear on a vessel in a number of transforming guises or activities....
A note of caution: Kerr is writing for specialists and does not define terms like olla, eye "cruller," "death's eye" collar, the ak'bal glyph or ak'bal pot, and so forth (Note from a few days later: I have since learned from another of Kerr's papers [see below] that the akbal glyph "... [refers] ... to 'night', and ... [implies] the 'night house of the underworld'").  Further, he assumes his readers are familiar with the art and and thus does not generally provide detailed closeups of such features. Don't be discouraged by this -- the central bee-focus is clear:
...Beekeeping has been a respected occupation from earliest times. In the ancient New World where sugar-bearing plants were a rarity, the raising of bees for honey became so significant that deities associated with bees and honey were necessary. Honey, aside from its function as a sweetener, provided a base for the production of alcoholic beverages by fermentation alone. (The art of distillation did not enter the New World until the arrival of the Europeans.) These fermented alcoholic beverages were ingested by imbibing (Figure 10) and also through the enema ritual (Figure 11). One reason for taking the liquid in enema form is that in this process, the alcoholic content does not have to pass through the stomach or the liver. Therefore, the entire volume of alcohol goes quickly and directly into the blood stream, providing a faster "high". There are depictions on Maya vases of both supernaturals and mortals ingesting alcohol by both methods....
Following this passage, you'll soon reach Figure 12:  look on the right and you'll be able to figure out what the olla is -- a weird, almost French horn-looking object:
...On vase no. K2284 (Figure 12) he is seated with his name glyphs above him and he holds a large narrow necked olla marked with the ak’bal glyph. Bees emerge from the mouth of the olla as though the vessel is the hive in which they lived. (Dorie Reents-Budet sent me a photograph of a contemporary Maya in the Campeche area who was raising bees in just such a vessel.) It is reported that in colonial Yucatán, bees were kept in hollow logs marked with the sign ak'bal....
The Figure 12 supernatural holding that olla will soon be identified as beekeeper-deity Mok Chi'  (another identifying mark of Mok Chi' are tendrils creeping out from under his headdress but I can't make these out from the photo). We see him again in Figure 15, the first supernatural on the right who, Kerr writes, is "the beekeeper aspect of Mok Chi', holding bees and displaying them on his cape." He and the supernatural next to him each carry a small olla. There are actually four similarly dressed supernaturals in Figure 15 -- the first too on the left are engaged in self-decapitation (the significance of self-decapitation is not explained here but see my comments below). About the four, Kerr writes:
...It is my contention that on this vase, we are not looking at four different beings, but four aspects of the same individual in various movements of his dance. There is precedence for this kind of depiction in Maya vase painting. The dancer on a vase from the Ik site K1452 (Figure 16), is shown in three separate aspects of his ceremonial bloodletting, twirling dance. These are not three separate individuals, but a sequential presentation of three actions of the ceremony performed by the same person....
About Figure 20 --although I cannot make out any bee-wings and am not sure if they're on the Mok Chi' to the left or the right (although the one on the left wears what looks more like a hat than the other one), Kerr writes:
...But most telling are the bee-wings that emerge from under his hat. These wings assign to him the beekeeper’s role and suggest that he is able to transform into the bee itself....
Near the end of this paper, Kerr will comment about Mok Chi' that:
...if the glyphs are read as separate components, we find that MOL (T581) can mean “to gather” and MANIK (T671) can mean “sweet.” The written name then means to “gather sweet” and that is exactly what Mok Chi’ does....
This paper is challenging to read -- I like to follow every detail and get frustrated when I can't match text to accompanying images, but I also found the process very worthwhile. At the end, I was especially struck by how Kerr describes the Hero Twin in the mother-of-pearl image (above):
...his body ... is that of a bee, combining wings and bulbous body with human legs, joining together those elements that describe the character Mok Chi'.
"Bulbous body"? -- but many of the human figures included in the paper also have "bulbous" bodies produced deliberately by the enema ritual: not wanting to jump to an uwarranted conclusion, I wrote Kerr to ask if he were implying a connection between the bee's bulbous shape and the "swollen man" abdominal images shown earlier in his paper (I haven't mentioned these but you'll see them on Kerr's page).  He very graciously responded within a matter of hours that, no, he was not making such a connection at all; he was simply being descriptive. Apparently then, no currently known texts imply such a comparison but I can't let go of the thought that, whether supernatural or mortal, the various swollen bodies in Kerr's paper, which are the result of abdomen-distending enema rituals, may indeed indicate an unusual method simply for getting "high" (which is how the early Spaniards viewed the practice), but that might have been a side-effect, at least originally. The primary purpose may have been to support a metamorphosis into the "gather-sweet" / bee-deity by swelling the human abdomen into an approximation of the bee's nectar-swollen abdomen.

I should mention here that I had never heard of enema rituals before and felt an initial squimishness (today's youth would call it the "yuck factor"), much as the Spaniards had felt when they first encountered the Maya. But that biased reaction made me uneasy because I knew that if an ancient culture used this practice in a ritual context, obviously there was a connection, shamanic or otherwise, with Otherworldly (or Underworldly) realms. After all, seeking pain, ecstasy, humiliation, and even extremes of self-mutilation are not uncommon in my field of History of Religions, where they are categorized among other aspects of religious phenomena. Thus, within the limited time available to me, I wanted to look into what I could learn about relevant psychological and cultural factors in an attempt to understand where this Maya "Other" was coming from.

I started with my few books on the Maya but found nothing useful. Then I began exploring online and was immediately attracted to a 2001 paper entitled, Teotihuacan Mural Art: Assessing the Accuracy of its Interpretation by James Q. Jacobs. How "accurate" could my interpretation ever be? What were the parameters of assessment? How were boundaries determined? I needed a "starting point." What I found was that Jacobs' paper explores five different orientations in a group of experts on Mesoamarican art, each of whom interpreted the same data in often widely differing ways. Following García Morelos' work, Jacobs lays out the orientations in the following passage:

...Morelos (1991:238) views five orientations in the investigation of prehispanic art: 1.) the romantic or idealistic view, which considers the content as elevated spiritual material of a religious, magical or mythical nature, 2.) studies that pretend that imaginative deductions and sterile theories are "absolute truths," 3.) historical studies that remove exceptional cultural success from its socioeconomic context, 4.) views that attempt to explain, rather than catalog, isolated aspects grouped by an iconographic criterion [this is what Kerr does so well], and 5.) studies that lack a fundamental methodology....
That passage crystalized my own orientation -- I fall into the first category, although instead of calling it "the romantic or idealistic view," terms too often viewed in a pejorative light by scholars, it should more properly be called "the religious studies view." (In fairness to Morelos, however, Religious Studies was a relatively new field when he was writing nearly two decades ago. All my professors, for example, were originally trained in other disciplines.)

Almost immediately after reading Jacobs' paper, I found a paper co-written by Justin Kerr and Brian Stross: Notes on the Maya Vision Quest through Enema [note: the link is to an html version of a pdf file -- illustrations are indicated but missing from both versions]..........

Detail of probable non-Maya woman from "Enema Ritual": K1550
Photograph © Justin Kerr: all rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without permission of the copyright owner.
[Myth*ing Links' use of this image abides by terms and conditions]
Authors' comments on art from "Notes on the Maya Vision Quest through Enema" (see below for link):
...Another person in the scene, the one on the right who is administering the enema, has a non-Mayan face and an unusual costume (Figure 2).  It is a rather substantial looking costume consisting of a fringed skirt with fringed front, a triple-belted fringed hip-cloth, and what might be a fringed rounded quechquemitl (cf. Anawalt 1981:13O-131).2  It appears to be a costume adapted to a cooler climate than that of the Maya lowlands.  It may be a non-Mayan costume, and its wearer is probably a woman.  The person's headdress closely resembles a female's headdress found on a Late Classic Maya pottery figurine from Jaina (Figure 3).  We may additionally point out that most of the helpers depicted on pottery with enema ritual scenes are women....

In this paper, Kerr and Stross make a solid case for the Vision Quest aspect, which confirmed for me that there was indeed a deeper dimension here. Maya art shows that ritual mead, probably enhanced with entheogens and imported from neighboring non-Maya peoples, was generally administered by women; the authors argue from their facial structure and fringed, heavier clothing that these women were probably from those same neighboring non-Maya peoples. They would therefore have experience in handling these potent drug mixtures, as most Maya would not. I expected that the K1550 woman referred to in the paper would be young until I tracked down K1550 and found that she was actually an imposing, no-nonsense, tough old bird (see detail above). In an emergency, she looks like a good person to have around.

About the ritual, the authors note in passing "that both Banisteriopsis and Datura can be administered in enema form, by which means the accompanying nausea can be substantially reduced...."  Well, that certainly makes good sense -- severe vomiting would make it very difficult to retain one's focus during a Vision Quest, thereby risking a serious distortion of its content. (Note: the authors also give examples of shamans in New World, non-Maya traditions who self-administer entheogens for the same reason -- to avoid incapacitating nausea). For the Maya ritual, women used "a [male] genital shaped clyster or enema bag for administering hallucinogens that evoke the vision serpent and give birth to the ancestors...." Give birth to the ancestors? That caught my attention. Womb-envy is a widely known religious phenomenon -- in some traditions (e.g., the followers of the Phrygian goddess, Kybele), devotees will go to extreme measures, including blood-letting and self-castration, to imitate a woman's natural functions. Was the woman adminstering to the Maya then viewed more as a midwife than a ritual helper? Regardless, her mixture of honey mead and entheogens became the means for those males to enter a visionary world in which the majority of them encountered serpents, some apparently quite horrific (see "howl" comments below), others ecstatic. A footnote explores the "serpent" and mouth/anus aspect more clearly:

4 One may recognize that an intestinal "serpent" separates mouth from anus in humans and animals, and it is through both these orifices that hallucinogenic substances were administered to humans.  One sees an analogue in the Maya vision serpent and in the serpent bar scepter of office which has a head (and a mouth) on both ends.  Maya recognition of this symbolic similarity between mouth and anus is also found in Chol stories of a dog whose head was torn off and put on the other end so that he became a snake (Whittaker and Warkentin 1965:51-54).  We find parallel symbolism in  the Tzeltal story of the dog whose mouth and anus were reversed when the dog talked and said more than it should have, and in Mixe tales of the monkey suffering the same fate for similar reasons (Stross 1982:86).
Self-decapitation (symbolic, it seems -- see below) would effectively displace one portal, or gateway, to another, perhaps facilitating a more profoundly focused encounter with the supernaturals. That the Maya supernaturals encountered through this ritual should generally be in serpent-form is mind-boggling. India's root-chakral Kundalini-serpent aside, Dr. Jeremy Narby's South American experiences with entheogens also add their own highly relevant dimension to this serpent-theme (see his The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, Tarcher/Putnam, 1998). I wish I were familiar with whatever literature is available on the topic of how some parts of the body in the West "became" unclean. It's not something I've given much thought to before (despite my awareness of how prudish the three monotheisms tend to be). But both portals are of equal importance to the health of the body. Odd that some should be denied in the name of religion(s).

Not surprisingly, as mentioned above, the intensity of this ritual experience could draw forth a "cosmic howl" of terror and/or ecstasy from participants:

...Clearly connected with the ritual use of hallucinogens in Mesoamerica is rhythmic chanting, singing, and even howling.  Justin Kerr recalls an experience with masks and Tarascan informants in Michoacan.  He observed that frequently the mask mouth was poked out in a pronounced donut shape (Figure 15).  Upon asking an informant about the meaning of this mask he was told that it portrays the gut-wrenching howl of one experiencing hallucinatory ecstasy; a harmonic ululation.  Not only is this vividly portrayed on the Tarascan masks; it is found as well on other masks, such as some from Guerrero (Figure 16).   Significantly, when we look more closely, we can find the howl in Mayan iconography as well....
This was definitely not just about "getting high." In this regard, the "akbal" glyph connected to other elements used in the ritual takes on a significant cluster of meanings, as the authors discuss in another footnote:
5 The "akbal" glyph element, referring by its name to 'night', and implying the "night house of the underworld", is a marking that might have been used in Maya iconography to reference the use of hallucinogens as well as bloodletting instruments.
About the bloodletting involved in the meaning-cluster:
...the inebriant is tied up in the bloodletting complex in such a way that it may have made much of the "bloodletting" purely symbolic rather than the means to achieve rapture in the vision quest, and/or it might have served an additional function of deadening senses to the pain of bloodletting by self mutilation....
As a sidebar, in a related paper catalyzed by Kerr's work, John B. Carlson writes concerning inebriants:
...I prefer Gordon Wasson's term "entheogen" -- creating god within -- over hallucinogen or psychedelic in certain cases. Tobacco and most of these substances were experienced as powerful personified supernaturals in Native American cultures. [Note from KJ: emphasis is mine.]
The constant presence of the akbal "night" glyph suggests that participants were knowingly and deliberately entering the "night house of the underworld." This was a serious venture. The honey mead mixture must then have been, in Carlson's words, "experienced as powerful personified supernaturals." Whether it was the bee or the bee's honey that was regarded as the shamanic ally does not seem to be relevant. Mok Chi', the Maya beekeeper deity, seems to have been able to transform himslf into a bee (honey-gathering worker bees are female but the Maya apparently did not understood that). His name implies his ability to "gather sweet" but the "gather sweet" was itself transformed into mead, so distinctions between bee and honey seem unnecessary in this shifting realm of transformations.

To use an analogy from Christianity, the consecrated bread and wine are believed in Catholicism to be the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church is very clear on this: the bread and wine are not symbols -- they are the Real Presence, transformed, or "transubstantiated," by the priest's words during Mass (which is considered an ongoing "Sacrifice"). Thus, along with what appear to be simple bread and wine comes an entire sacred narrative involving Last Supper, Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal, mock-trial, torture, nails, spear, gruesome death, resurrection, more bread and wine near Emmaus, and ascension to Otherworldly realms. On one level, the bread and wine in the Mass are an outward "sign," but on a deeper level they are simultaneously the Real Presence. Similarly, the mead of the Maya, like the wine of the Church, would seem to bespeak a whole cosmos of meaning and transformation, including bloodletting and death (Christianity shares with the Maya an obsession with violence, but missing in the Christian narrative is an entheogen -- Jesus refused the sponge dipped in vinegar and myrrh, yet his followers have long used entheogens along with severe penetential practices to open the doors to ecstasy). The meaning clusters, in other words, circling around wine for Christians and mead for Maya are surprisingly resonant.

This brings me to the theme of self-decapitation, which, like the blood-letting above, may have been rendered "purely symbolic" by the mead and other inebriants involved. Obviously, unless a guillotine-like device is used, self-decapitation is something only a supernatural could accomplish on a literal level. A mortal trying to cut off his head with a sharp instrument would encounter nerves en route which, when severed, would kill him long before the actual head could be sundered from its torso.  I do not know the Maya context for self-decapitation but in folklore and fairytales an "at risk" head tends to be equated with being held captive by a spell -- e.g., the helper-horse in various European tales begs his master to decapitate him; when the griefstricken master finally obeys, the horse vanishes, revealing a young prince who had been trapped by a wicked magician's spell. In these tales, once the head is chopped off, one is freed from an unwanted enchantment and allowed to regain one's own true form (see "Disenchantment by Decapitation" from the 1905 volume of the Journal of American Folklore). For the Maya, Kerr and Stross write:

...let us note that it is through the verbal metaphor of "blood line", made visible in depictions of the undulating (blood) serpent--sometimes cosmologically indistinguishable from the world tree... that we can most clearly see one of the most significant aspects of the "vision serpent".  This vision serpent represents the "blood line", the "blood of lineage".   The ancestors "scale" the serpent (to and from their abode in the sky afterworld/underworld), just as the Chol boy who became the sun "scaled" the multi-noded bamboo pole up into the sky (Whittaker and Warkentin 1965:43),4 and just as we imagine would a Maya lord scale the vision serpent / "world tree" to commune with--to figuratively become--the sun, evoking an image of himself as ancestor in the royal lineage, responsible for protecting and nourishing all mankind (cf. Schele and Miller 1986).
The implication here too is that "self-decapitation," symbolic or literal, frees one to discover one's "true self" as part of the Vision Serpent's bloodline, as ancestor in the royal lineage, responsible for protecting and nourishing all mankind. Well, forgive the pun but this would really be "heady stuff" for anyone to experience! Without a head, the way is free for vision serpent / "world tree" to merge with the body, and/or to be climbed by the body -- a clear indication that decapitation has opened up other realms of knowledge and/or power (the connection to the biblical Tree of Life is not alien to this concept).

There is much more in these papers but since my focus is on bees and their honey, I will leave it to those interested to explore further. A final word on mead, however: as we have seen, the work of Kerr and other Maya experts suggests that entheogens were added to the mead. The next two links argue that honey alone, as well as the mead made from it, will function as a powerful entheogen in its own right if its source is pollen gathered from "toxic" plants.

[Note: in the "Books on Bees"section near the bottom of my page I have links to two of many published books in which Justin Kerr's insights and photography play a crucial role.]

From: Tinker Nature Park
This is "Honey," a carefully researched and referenced 2005 paper by Christian Rätsch (originally published in The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants). It came as a surprise to me to learn that honey could be toxic (but generally non-lethal) as well as healing. The following excerpts look at both qualities:
...Honey has been used to make mead since the Stone Age. The fact that honey can be toxic and/or psychoactive - in other words, inebriating - has long been known and has been demonstrated throughout the world (Palmer-Jones 1965). Honey also has a long history of use as a healing remedy or a "heavenly medicine." In Hippocratic medicine, honey was used as "a kind of psychopharmacological agent to treat depression and melancholia, and as a geriatric medicine." It was also used as an antidote for opium overdoses (Uccusic 1987, 38 f.; see Papaver somniferum).

There are three categories of plants that are associated with toxic honey: 1) plants whose nectar or pollen kills bees before they can transform it into honey (e.g. locoweed [Astralagus lentiginosus], Veratrum californicum, Vernonia spp.); 2) plants whose nectar is harmless to bees but when turned into honey becomes toxic/inebriating to humans (e.g. oleander [Nerium oleander], thorn apple [Datura spp.]. angel's trumpet [Brugmansia spp.], mountain laurel [Kalmia spp.], false jasmine [Gelsemium sempervirens], Euphorbia marginata, Serjania lethalis); and 3) known poisonous plants that are harmless to bees and yield edible and often exquisite honey (e.g., Rhustoxicodendron, Metopium toxiferum, Jatropha curcas, Baccharis halimifolia, Ricinus communis) (Morton 1964, 415).

Xenophon (ca. 430-355 B.C.E.) reported in his Anabis that soldiers became inebriated and poisoned by the honey that had been produced from the Pontic rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum L.) and apparently from a red-flowering oleander (Nerium oleander L.: cf. Rätsch 1995, 267 f.) (Roth et al. 1994, 615). "In modern terms, they 'got high.' . . . This condition did not last long amongst the Greeks and quickly abated" (Rüdiger 1974, 93). The toxicological literature refers to this Pontic (Turkish) honey as "mad honey" or "toxic honey of Asia Minor" (Fühner 1943, 203). This inebriating honey was well known in ancient times (Krause 1926; Plugge 1891), and it may have been involved with the Dionysian frenzies....

...The Mayans regard honey (cab) as a gift of the bee gods (ah muzen cab), a food from the heavens (Tozzer and Allen 1910, 298 ff.). An indigenous form of apiculture was practiced in the Yucatan in pre-Columbian times (Brunius 1995). In the Yucatan and Selva Lacandona regions (Chiapas), several species of native stingless bees (Family Meliponidae) make their honey from the nectar of specific flowers. The Lacandon know that at certain times of the year (the flowering periods), bees produce types of honey that have psychoactive or inebriating effects, even when consumed in small amounts. As little as one tablespoon is sufficient to produce noticeable effects. I once tried two tablespoons of such honey dissolved in atole (a maize drink) and experienced rather strong feelings of inebriation and extreme good cheer....

The paper also includes a useful chart, "Some Plants Known to Produce Psychoactive/Toxic Honey," with 18 plant-entries.

The Priestess of Delphi
John Collier, 1891
[My thanks to Dr. M. Kelley Hunter for identifying the artist;
she writes that he also did a painting of Lilith,
the focus of Kelley's own brilliant astrological work]

Relating to the preceding paper, this is an even more detailed, comprehensive work from 1998, "The Delphic Bee: Bees and toxic honeys as pointers to psychoactive and other medicinal plants," by Jonathon Ott, originally published in Economic Botany 52(3):260-266,1998.
...Tradition holds the famous Delphic Oracle was revealed by a swarm of bees, and the Pythia or divinatory priestesses in Delphi's temple of Apollo were affectionately called 'Delphic Bees', while virgin priestesses of Greek Goddesses like Rhea and Demeter were called melissai, 'bees'; the hierophants essenes,'king bees'. Great musicians and poets like Pindar were inspired by the Muses, who bestowed the sacred enthusiasm of the logos, sending bees to anoint the poets' lips with honey (Ransome 1937). Some hold the vatic revelations of the Pythia were stimulated by inhaling visionary vapours of henbane, Hycscyamus niger L., issuing from a fumarole over which the Delphic Bees were suspended, and into which the plant had been cast (Ratsch 1987). The primordial Eurasian entheogenic plant soma/haoma, known in the Vedas as amrta, the potion of immortality, was called ambrosia by the Greeks, and with nektar, the other sustenance of the Immortals, was associated with bees and honey (Roscher 1883). This curious lore may represent a sort of mythological fossil, concealing a hitherto overlooked mechanism of drug discovery. I suggest that immemorial pursuit of wild honey, the only concentrated sweet which occurs naturally, could have led inexorably to the discovery of psychoactive and other toxic honeys, while subsequent observation of bees' foraging habits could easily have led preliterate shamans/pharmacognosists to single out toxic plant species, even against a background of extreme biodiversity, as in Amazonia....

...The 6th-8th century BC Homeric Hymn to Hermes referred to melissae or bee oracles from Delphi's Mount Parnassos, who could prophesy only after ingesting meli chloron or 'green honey', perhaps a reference to Pliny's 'mad honey'. It was conjectured that these bee-oracles were the Pythia, hence psychotropic honey could have been a catalyst for the mantic utterances of the Delphic Bees (Mayor 1995)....

If anything in the preceding paper by Christian Rätsch especially intrigued you, you'll find the data, whether historical or technical, considerably expanded in this one. In addition, there's much new material not found in the preceding. Because of this article's length, however, and because you already know from the preceding paper if you wish to delve more deeply, I'm not including further excerpts except for one near the very end, wherein the author convincingly advances his central argument that "Bees and toxic honeys [served] as pointers to psychoactive and other medicinal plants":
...Toxic honeys are not unusual (I have intentionally ignored the literature on non-psychoactive plant (and industrial) toxins sequestered in honeys), nor are accidental inebriations by psychoactive honeys exceptional. In satisfying the universal human "sweet tooth" during human explorations of any given ecosystems, foragers would encounter psychoactive and other toxic honeys. Having consumed such honeys and experienced psychoactive or other medicinal properties of their contained alkaloids and allied phytochemicals, it would require no special technology nor great imagination to follow the bees to the nectar source, thereby easily finding valuable plants. It has been suggested that ethnomedicinal and culinary plants were discovered by a systematic process of ingesting all species, in the eternal search for food. Some have questioned whether such an extensive bioassay program were feasible in areas of extraordinarily high biodiversity, such as Amazonia, thought to be home to at least 80 000 species of higher plants (Schultes 1988)! Apart from observation of the effects of bioactive plants on domestic wild animals, serendipitous encounters with phytotoxins in honeys could have served as highly specific and efficient pointers to medicinal, especially psychoactive, plants, which would thus stand out in deep relief, even against a backdrop of extreme biodiversity....
Since it never occurred to me that bees could -- or would -- be used in war, this well-researched paper from Conrad Bérubé (see elsewhere on my page for more of his work), came as a shock and really took me aback. The title is "WAR AND BEES-- military applications of apiculture." Here are a number of excerpts:
It would probably be easier to enumerate the cultures which do not chronicle some kind of use of bees as weapons since this motif is so pervasive. Most of these accounts are historical rather than mythical. One of the earliest of these, from the first century B.C., records the misfortunes of a Roman campaign, led by Pompeii the Great, against the Heptakometes in Asia Minor[1]. Interestingly, it is not the bees themselves that are employed in this instance but, rather, their honey. About one thousand of Pompeii's Roman troops were passing through a narrow mountain pass when they encountered a cache of honey. The soldiers, accustomed to raiding and looting to augment their provisions, halted their advance and eagerly devoured the honey-- and soon became afflicted with delirium and violent seizures of vomiting and purges! In such a condition they were easily defeated by the local Heptakomete defenders who took their cue to attack. It seems that the honey had been left in the soldiers' path not in an act of flight from the advancing forces but as a poisonous bait to stupefy them.

The locals would have been well aware that honey produced during certain times of the year was naturally poisonous. Honey yielded from the nectar of such plants as Rhododendron ponticum and Azalea pontica contain alkaloids that are toxic to humans but harmless to bees. After the offending blooms have stopped flowering, beekeepers in areas where these plants are common (such as the area of present-day Turkey where this incident occurred) routinely remove this toxic honey so it doesn't contaminate subsequently produced stores. The poisonous honey is then fed back to the bees during time of dearth-- if it hasn't been used first for national defense[2].

(South and Central American Indians used similar honey for ceremonial purges and perhaps for "vision questing" ...)

...Mead, an intoxicating drink made from a honey base has also been used to gain tactical military advantage. In 946, the Slavic St. Olga, on the occasion of her son's funeral, provided limitless quantities of mead. She invited her enemies only, who, presumably, had somehow been instrumental in the death of her child, and five thousand inebriated `mourners' were slain in their stupor by Olga's allies....

...Of course, there are plenty of instances when bees have been used in the more obvious way, as "meat-seeking missiles". The Romans [...] instead of employing the subterfuge of poisoned honey... simply sent beehives catapulting into the ranks or fortifications of their enemies. The unleashed fury of the bees, enraged when their hives were smashed, is credited with being the decisive stroke of more than one battle. Turn-about being fair play the Dacians, of what is today Romania, defeated the armored legions of Rome, at least temporarily, with their own salvo of skeps[7]....

...King Richard is recorded as having used hives of bees as catapult-launched bombs against the Saracens during the Third Crusade in the twelfth century[8]....Bees have even been used in naval battle: in the Mediterranean Sea the crew of a small corsair vessel, only about fifty men, boarded and captured a much larger galley manned by 500 soldiers-- after the pirates cast beehives from the masts of their ship down onto the crew of the galley, who had intended to apprehend them[11]....
...During the American Civil War, Union troops were almost routed when southern artillery shattered a row of hives in a yard through which they were passing. Bees pitched at the enemy or booby trapped to topple over with trip wires were used to the advantage of both sides during skirmishes in World War I[13]....

...Bees have been used for personal protection as well as national defense. The Classical Roman poet Vergil is said to have thwarted soldiers from looting his valuables by storing them in his beehives. The town of Beyenburg (which translates to "Beetown"), in northern Germany, is said to owe its name to an episode in which a marauding band was foiled in its plundering when they attempted to enter the local convent. The nuns turned loose their bees and sought shelter, leaving the bees to drive off the intruders....

There is much, much more -- I've just excerpted some of the highlights. I'm still stunned by the thought of using bees in this way but it does make for engrossing reading.

From a Malaysian fable:
a handmaiden, Hitam Manis, turning into a swarm of bees
Art © Paul Mirocha
The Smithsonian paper, "Saving Pollinators" by Alison Emblidge and Emily Schusteris (see above in an earlier section), began and ended with a bee-"myth," supposedly from the Rig Veda, although no source is given and the context has nothing to do with ancient India, which naturally made me suspicious (see my Insects page, which is where this Malaysian fable used to be until I moved it here). Here, the link is to a book, Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind by University of Arizona entomologist, Stephen Buchmann. In describing traditional Malaysian honey hunts among the tualang trees, he shares an account of the origins of that honey hunt taken directly from his colleague, Professor Makhdzir Bin Mardan, who makes no claim whatsoever that this comes from the Rig Veda --he classifies the tale as a Malaysian fable. Here is the full version:
Long ago a princess of the royal family had a Hindu handmaiden, a dusky beauty called Hitam Manis or “Sweet Dark One.” The handmaiden fell hopelessly in love with the sultan’s son, a handsome prince who requited her passion. But their love was doomed, for she was a commoner, and marriage of a commoner to a prince of the blood was strictly forbidden. When the sultan learned of the romance, he flew into a rage, and Hitam Manis, along with the other handmaidens, the Dayang, had to flee the palace for their very lives. As the terrifed young women escaped into the forest, they were pursued by the sultan’s guards, who hurled long metal spears at them. When one of the spears pierced the already broken heart of Hitam Manis, miraculously she did not die. Instead, she and the other handmaidens were transformed into a swarm of bees and disappeared into the night. Thus were born the giant honey bees of the Asian rainforests.

Years later, the still grieving prince — now engaged to a proper princess — noticed a large honeycomb high in the branches of a tualang tree in the forest. When he climbed the tree to investigate, he discovered a large carche of golden honey. He called down for his servants to send up a metal knife and bucket so he could harvest the treasure. The servants dutifully sent the knife and bucket up to the prince, but when they lowered the now heavy pail a few minutes later, to their shock and horror, they found the prince’s dismembered body inside.
From the treetops, a ghoulish voice cried out that he had committed a sacrilege by cutting the honeycomb with a sharp metal knife. Unwittingly, the prince had insulted poor Hitam Manis, reminding her of the cold metal spear that had pierced her heart and so changed her life.

But the Sweet Dark One took pity on the prince she had once loved, and released a golden shower that restored him to life and limb.

To this day, in deference to the dying anguish of the handmaiden known as Hitam Manis, honey hunters never use tools made of metal — only those of wood, cowhide, and bone.

Tale of Tsar Saltan:  Bumblebee/Prince Gvidon after stinging the meddling Barbarika on the nose
Russian lacquer art from Sunbirds
The "Tale of Tsar Saltan" by Russian poet Aleksander Pushkin involves a prince who is transformed by a magical white swan first into a gnat, then a fly, and finally a bumblebee so that he can secretly visit his father, Tsar Saltan, who is under the influence of three jealous, vengeful, deceitful women. This is how the fairytale opens in Andrew Stonebarger's wonderful translation and narrative for his Tradestone Gallery in Baltimore, MD:
Long ago in a faraway kingdom, three sisters were outside in the courtyard talking, imagining what they would do if they were married to Tsar Saltan. One said that she would prepare a great feast for the entire world. The next said that she would weave linen for the entire world. The third said that she would give the tsar "an heir, handsome and brave beyond compare."

It so happened that the tsar, who was just outside the fence, overheard the conversation. When he heard the words of the last maiden, he fell in love and asked her to be his wife. They were married that very same night and conceived a son soon after. The other sisters were given jobs as a cook and a weaver.

A few months later the tsar went to war and had to part with his beloved wife. While he was at war his wife, the queen, gave birth to his son. A rider was sent to the tsar to convey the good news. However, the two sisters and a friend named Barbarika were so jealous of their sister's luck that they kidnapped the rider and replaced him with their own messenger who carried a note to the tsar which read: "your wife, the queen, has borne neither a son nor daughter, neither a mouse nor a frog, but had given birth to an unknown little creature."

When he read this message, the tsar was mortified and sent a letter back telling his wife to wait for his return before taking any action. The scheming sisters met the rider on the way back, got him drunk, and replaced the tsar's actual letter with a fake one that ordered the queen and her baby to be put into a barrel and thrown into the sea....

This sets the scene for a classic fairytale adventure in which the son matures rapidly -- "not by the day, but by the minute." Mother and son safely reach a deserted island. Out hunting the next day, the now-grown son rescues a white swan who, in gratitude, promises to serve him forever. By the next morning, the swan has created a walled, magical city and its citizens crown him "Prince Gvidon." When a merchant ship arrives, the prince learns they are bound for the realm of Tsar Saltan. He knows this is the father who supposedly condemned him and his mother but he cannot believe his father really did this. The swan, understanding the boy's longing to glimpse his father, turns him into a gnat so he can hide aboard the merchant ship. When Tsar Saltan learns from the merchants about an amazing walled island-city, he wants to see it for himself but crafty Barbarika manages to talk him out of traveling. Prince Gvidon, still in gnat-form, gets angry and stings her right eye.

The prince returns to his island.  Soon a second ship arrives bound for Tsar Saltan's realm and again the prince hides aboard, this time as a fly. The sailors tell Tsar Saltan more tales of wonder about the island-city but again Barbarika and the two aunts intervene and talk him out of leaving his kingdom.  Enraged, the fly stings Barbarika's left eye. The sequence is repeated a third time and this time, as a bumblebee, Gvidon stings Barbarika's nose.

There is yet a fourth ship but this time Gvidon stays home, for he has meanwhile discovered the true identity of the white swan. All ends well, of course -- but do go to the website to read about all the wonders en route -- and the kindly way in which it ends <smile>. (Note: there's also art depicting more aspects of this fairytale.)

Angel and Monk Getting Honey from a Beehive
Russian lacquer art from Tradestone International

This is "Bees and Honey" from ChristStory Bestiary by Suzetta Tucker (a backup link is on It's a useful collection of scriptural quotes and Christian hagiography on a series of bee-topics. Here are a few excerpts (a few are definitely on the grim, totalitarian side):
...The honeybee, its honey, and its hive are emblems of sweetness, wealth, and eloquence. St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Bernard de Clairvaux have honey or beehives as their attributes because of their "honeyed tongues." According to the Golden Legend, St. Ambrose's father predicted his eventual eloquence when he discovered the sleeping infant's head covered with a swarm of bees. The Israelites, especially, connected bees with language since the insect's Hebrew name "dbure" is related to the root dbr meaning "speech." The true and righteous words and judgments of the Lord are said to be sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10; Ps 119:103; Ezek 3:1-3; Rev 10:9-11). The pleasant words of humans are also compared to the health-giving honeycomb (Prov 16:24)....

...John the Baptist came eating only "locusts and wild honey," showing his reliance upon God's providence in nature, rather than on man (Mt 3:4; Mk 1:6). The resurrected Christ proved to His disciples that he was not a ghost by eating a bit of honeycomb (Lk 24:42).

Because of the sweetness it produces, the bee is an emblem of Christ even though His words may sting the sinner. This stinging reinforces the image of the Christ bee who is the righteous judge. The bee's ceaseless activity surrounding the production of honey is comparable to the constant action of the spirit of Christ hovering about His Church.

Bees were once believed to be parthenogenetic or formed from unfertilized eggs, and so became symbols of chastity, moral purity and virginity. Since bees supposedly had thousands of "virgin births" and since honey is an emblem of Christ, bees became symbols of the Virgin Mary. The alleged sexual purity of bees made beeswax suitable for candles to burn before the Lord.

St. Ambrose taught that the Church is a beehive and the bees are the faithful, diligently storing up treasure or honey in heaven. The church teachings and the Bible are also considered honey. Beehives represent peaceful, wisely ruled communities, nations, and monasteries which are governed by a single head....

...Egyptians and others placed bees and honey in tombs and graves as offerings to spirits of the dead and symbols of personal resurrection. Christians also saw in the bee's springtime emergence from the hive a representation of Christ's emergence from the tomb....

Sacred Text Archive for "Bees"
Sacred Text uses google for their internal search engine, which means that endlessly long URLs (doubling the width of my page) are generated for any specific search -- that's why I gave the results a text link.  Today (21 June 2009) there were 828 entries. I don't dare get caught up in any of the 828 entries or my page will never be finished. Enjoy browsing there! <smile>

Russian lacquer art from Tradestone Gallery
This is the entry for "Bees" from a page on "Animal Superstitions":
...Bees have often been regarded as wise and even holy insects, having foreknowledge as well as knowledge of many secret matters. In antiquity they were sometimes divine messengers, and their constant humming was believed to be a hymn of praise. Because of their status it is still considered unlucky in some places to kill a bee. If a bee flies into the house it is a sign of great good luck, or of the arrival of a stranger; however, the luck will only hold if the bee is allowed to either stay or to fly out of the house of its own accord. A bee landing on someone's hand is believed to foretell money to come, while if the bee settles on someone's head it means that person will rise to greatness. They were once considered to deliberately sting those who swore in front of them, and also to attack an adulterer or unchaste person; it was once held to be a sure sign that a girl was a virgin if she could walk through a swarm of bees without being stung. Source: Vanessa's Pagan Place Folklore Page [Note from KJ: Vanessa's site is no longer online.]

There is believed to be a very strong link between bees and their keepers; bees cannot prosper in an atmosphere of anger or hatred, and will either pine away and die, or fly away. There is still a common belief that bees should be told about deaths that occur in the beekeeper's family; in past times this was extended to include every birth, marriage or other notable event in the life of the family. It was especially important to inform the bees of the death of their owner; traditionally this was done by the eldest son or widow of the owner, who would strike each hive three times with the door key and say 'The master is dead!'. If the procedure was not followed, the bees would die or fly away. In many districts the hives were put into mourning by having black crepe draped around them, and at the funeral feast sugar or small amounts of the food eaten by the mourners were brought out for the bees. Source: Vanessa's Pagan Place Folklore Page

An old country tradition states that bees should not be purchased for money, as bought bees will never prosper. It is acceptable to barter goods of the same value in exchange for bees, and in some districts gold was an acceptable form of payment. A borrowed swarm or one given freely is more likely to do well; a stock of bees was often started from a borrowed swarm on the understanding that it would be returned if the giver was ever in need of it. Source: Vanessa's Pagan Place Folklore Page

Bee-stings were once thought to prevent rheumatism, and in some places a bee-sting was also thought to cure it. Source: Vanessa's Pagan Place Folklore Page
This is "Bees in Antiquity and Medieval Thought" -- originally from a 1999 Geocities site but they're long gone so this is an "rescue." It's poorly written and often too brief to contribute much to the topic but I like these two passages, one about ancient Greece, the other adapted from Hungarian folklore:
*  Near delphi there is an "omphalos" center--a navel of the Earth. Where the priestesses used to be sought as oracle to tell of the future and past. They sat on tri-legged stools near a spot where supposedly vapours rose from the Earth's warm heart. The omphalos is marked by beautifully carved domed artifacts. These are dome-hive shaped and decorated with carvings of Bees.

*  The devil was spying on God when He was creating the birds and insects. God took a bit of mist from the air, spun it in His fingers and called out the name of the new creature, "Bee!" And so the first bee was brought to life. The devil was a bit confused by what he saw and thought that God had called the creature into existence by telling it to "Be!" So when he tried a similar trick, gathering up a bit of clay from the earth and mixing it with his own sweat he told it to "Fly!" Of course, in this way it was not another beautiful bee that was formed but the ugly and pesky fly that, ever since, has plagued humans as much as bees have benefitted them.,_Legends_and_Folklore_About_the_Bee.html
This is an entry-level collection of unreferenced snippets loosely focused on "Myths, Legends and Folklore About the Bee" -- here are a few:
In early traditions bees were believed to have originated in paradise and were known as "little servants of Gods". It was considered bad luck to kill one.

The Hindu gods Vishnu, Krishna and Indra were referred to as "nectar born ones" (Madhava) and were often represented as bees perched on a lotus flower.

A long believed myth about bees is that they do not sting at night, which in fact is incorrect, they will sting at anytime for protection.

Bees, supposedly being capable of "virgin births", became symbolic of the Virgin Mary.
This site, Fun Facts, offers various lists  -- e.g., a list of which U.S. states have the Honey bee as their official state insect; famous humans who used bees as their personal symbols; honey and bee venom in medicinal uses; unusual facts (e.g. the linden as the "bee tree"); regions in which honey was a common offering to the local gods; and what the bee symbolizes -- here's one from that symbolism list:
Purity: Bees were revered because of their ability to produce wax and therefore provide light, in many cases for religious practices. Imagine the huge importance of candles before the utilization of electricity! The Catholic Church believed beeswax to be pure because it was produced by virgins (worker bees do not mate)....
There's also a list of gods and goddesses who were represented by bees:
# Artemis, the Ephesian Mother goddess.
# Vishnu, the Indian god known as the preserver, is depicted as a blue bee resting on a lotus flower.
# Krishna, an Indian god is often depicted with a blue bee on his forehead.
# Kama, the Indian god of love has a bow string made of bees.
# Re, the Egyptian sun god created bees and humans from his tears.
# Pan, the Greek god of Nature was a beekeeper and protector of bees.
# Austeja, is a Lithuanian bee goddess.
# Bubilas, is a Lithuanian bee god representing the drones.
# Mellonia or Mellona was the Roman goddess of bees.
# In Russia, the bee god Zosim was the protector of beekeeping.
BEES IN the stars

Detail of "Cosmic Bees"
Copyright © Brooke Steytler
From Fahrusha.Wordpress

This is "Bees in Folklore and Legend," written May 27, 2001 by an unnamed freelancer for Suite 101. It looks at something mentioned often in bee folklore -- that bees emerge from the dead corpse of a sacred bull as the bull's spirit-form.  Usually connected to any mention of this belief is ancient Egypt's Apis bull, worshipped at Memphis and originally a symbol of powerful fertility. Over the centuries, he gradually became fused with Osiris, the funerary deity. Once the connection with Osiris was made, the bull's own death merged with that of Osiris and the bull was given an elaborate and costly state funeral. Since it was believed that at the bull's death, he was also reborn, priests then went forth to search the temple herds for a newborn calf with special markings. Once found, joy replaced grief, the calf was brought to Memphis where he was petted and pampered, his hooves allowed to curl upwards from lack of exercise, until he eventually died of natural causes (life expectancy ranged from about 18-28 years, according to J.H. Breasted's Serapeum Stelae translations). Then he was mummified, given a funeral, and again reborn (Breasted's evidence suggests that at least one Apis was consumed in a communion ritual instead of being mummified -- this was during the term of Khaemwaset, a priest-son of Rameses II, but unfortunately I cannot find the reference). Considering the constant attention given this sacred bull, his body could not possibly have been neglected long enough for any insects to breed within it and emerge as his supposed "spirit."

But now to the opening of the brief article:

The other day I was doing some research into the history of beekeeping and found something very interesting that I would like to share with you. Researchers have found that early civilizations, such as the Minoans, believed that bees were the spirits of dead sacred bulls. In fact, the Egyptian word Apis, the root word for apiary, means bull. With the spread of the Roman Empire to Egypt and other Mediterranean countries, this word became a part of the language of the Empire, Latin. In Latin, however, this word translates as "bee". This little known fact of language history reflects the ancient belief in bougonia or the conversion of the carcass of a sacred bull into its spirit, the bee.
In fact, there is no linguistic connection between Latin apis and Egyptian Apis (derived from Egyptian, hapi), which is the sacred bull's given name by the way and not the Egyptian word for "bull." Sir Alan Gardiner's huge Egyptian Grammar gives "k3" as the pronunciation of "bull" in Egyptian (pronounced "ka" but not spelled the same as the ka having to do with one's creative, "vital-force" energy, which survives one's death).  There were actually three sacred bulls worshipped in different parts of Egypt, each with its own name: Apis of Memphis, Mnevis of Heliopolis, and Buchis of Hermonthis.  It is just a coincidence that the Latin word for bee, apis, is the same as Egypt's Apis. It's like the English word "gift" -- a present or offering -- and the German word Gift -- poison. People can play around with the similarity and argue that sometimes a "gift" is indeed poisonous but there is no linguistic connection between the two words.

Of course, not all animal carcasses, sacred or otherwise, were treated with the respect given the Apis Bull. Some were left to rot and it's no surprise that insects would breed in the decaying flesh. This no doubt gave rise to folklore connecting cattle carcasses with "bees" -- actually flies or wasps, since bees breed differently (see Bérubé paper below). About the belief that bees come from a bull carcass, the author continues with this:

The poet Virgil wrote of this belief in Georgics book IV describing this belief....
Unfortunately, the long, gruesome passage from Virgil is awkwardly formatted and difficult to make sense of -- there's probably a more reliable version available at for those interested. After that passage, the author concludes:
...Until I read about this, I had no idea that those little bees in my few hives had such a long and storied history. I never imagined that they were the object of religious worship, classic literature, and folklore. I knew that I was fascinated by them, but I never realized that this fascination has been shared with philosophers since the beginnings of recorded history....
With this as an introduction to the earthly bee-name Apis, what it is and what it is not, now it's time to take a closer look at the celestial Bee/Apis and -- in the third link below -- how that Bee/Apis might indeed be connected to the Bull after all.........
First, this is Wikipedia's page on the southern bee-constellation Apis, now known as Musca, the Fly. There's a good modern map, technical data, an external link to a photo (very slow-loading so I haven't seen it yet), and here's a bit of history:
...Musca, under its original name Apis – the Bee, was introduced in the late 16th century by Petrus Plancius to fill the previously uncharted area around the southern pole and to provide nourishment for the nearby constellation Chamaeleon (17th-century celestial maps clearly show the chameleon's tongue trying to catch the insect). In 1752 Nicolas Louis de Lacaille renamed it to Musca Australis, the Southern Fly – Australis, since it counterparted the now discarded constellation of Musca Borealis [the Northern Fly] composed of a few stars in Aries, and to avoid confusion with Apus. Today the name is simply Musca. [1] ....

Southern Constellation Apis, the "Bee"
From the Uranographia of Johann Bode
(See directly below)

For more on bee-constellation versus fly-constellation, this is from Ian Ridpath's Star Tales:
A small constellation to the south of Crux, the Southern Cross. Musca was introduced at the end of the 16th century by Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman from the stars they observed during the first Dutch expeditions to the East Indies. It was first depicted by their fellow Dutchman Petrus Plancius on his globe of 1598, but for some reason he left it unnamed. In his catalogue of 1603 de Houtman called it De Vlieghe, meaning fly. Bayer, also in 1603, showed the insect on his plate of the 12 new southern constellations in Uranometria but called it Apis, the Bee, an alternative title that was widely used for two centuries.... The brightest star of Musca is of third magnitude. None of its stars are named, and there are no legends about the fly.
This is an illustrated paper, "The Bee-Riddled Carcass," a continuation and deepening of themes touched on above, this time by Canadian researcher, Conrad Bérubé, whose well researched and footnoted papers also appear elsewhere on my page. Normally, I love his rich details but here they encumber his central argument so, in providing excerpts, I am deleting a great deal of otherwise interesting data. Here is how he opens:
For many centuries scholars have puzzled over the riddle of Samson: "Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet" .(1) If you don't remember your Bible lore and can't figure out the riddle, don't be too frustrated, the Philistines couldn't figure it out either and had to resort to collusion with Samson's wife to discover the answer: that Samson had found and eaten honeycomb in the carcass of a lion,
"...he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees in the carcass of the lion and honey. He scraped it out into his hands, and went on eating as he went."(2)
This story bears a certain similarity to a Greek myth which has come down to us via the Latin poets Vergil and Ovid (the latter's version given here)....
Ovid's myth of Aristaeus involves the sacrifice of a heifer as a means of replacing dead bees with a new swarm from the "putrid beef" -- as Ovid concludes: "One life snuffed out brought birth to a thousand." The paper continues:
The earliest mention of bees from bulls comes from Antigonos of Karystos dated at around 250 B.C.(4) The ancient Hebrews could very well have originated the story of bees generated from a carcass centuries earlier with the Samson tale.

Both of these stories seem to carry, more or less the same inference, that bees were spontaneously generated from the carcasses of dead animals. This concept of spontaneous generation, that one type of creature might be spawned from the decaying flesh of another was very widespread from ancient times up until the last century....

...It has been theorized by others that stories of bees being generated from dead animals might be based on the observation of bees setting up shop in the sun-cured leather husks of large mammal carcasses.(5) In dry regions, lacking more appropriate nesting sites, perhaps this did happen on occasion. However, it seems unlikely that this would have been observed often enough to account for the near universality of this motif-- for the notion of obtaining bees from a bull (or ox) carcass is one that exists in the literature from ancient Egypt to Elizabethan England(6). Perhaps, then there was occurring a confusion of several different species.
The very concept of a species is a relatively modern one.... [I]t seems easy to imagine that those lacking the benefit of the work of Linnaeus and succeeding taxonomists might not distinguish between, say, honeybees and yellow jackets.

Honeybees and yellow jackets, though they share quite similar appearance have life-styles that are very distinct from one another. It is conceivable that confusion between bees, wasps and flies might account for these inferences of spontaneous generation.... Some carnivorous insects, such as Vespula vulgaris, the common yellow jacket wasp might quite logically be seen "swarming" over a carcass (actually they would be foraging) and be mistaken as bees.... If the stories of bees arising from the bodies of lion or bull are based on any actual biological associations then these result from misidentification of wasps and flies feeding on carrion.... Of course in this scenario we're left with the conundrum that honey would not have been produced in the carcass of the lion.

Having shown that a literal interpretation is impossible, Bérubé then turns to a discussion of symbols:
...It could well be that the association of bulls and lions with bees was of a symbological nature. Symbols are often used in myths to express abstract ideas. The lion and bull were both symbols of fertility and virility in the ancient world and generally associated with those characteristics deemed ideally male. But, as virility is meaningless without fecundity, these male symbols are linked with that of female prolificacy and industry-- the bee.... Thus, the dichotomy of the sexes, as typified in so many sexually segregated daily social functions of the ancient world, was synthesized on a spiritual plane by such myths as of the lion and bull spawned bees.
Finally, he reaches his central argument and I love the direction in which he takes it. However, although Bérubé's own research and deep knowledge of bees have brought him to this point, the argument is not, in fact, original with him. Others have also made the case for this (see, for example, the entry for "Bee" in Ad de Vries indispensable 1974 Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery, which clearly spells out the seasonal and astral connections involving bees, Taurus, and Leo). To continue...
My favorite interpretation (since it is my own, original theory) is that these stories reflect an association not between bees and bulls or bees and lions, but rather between bees and a particular Bull and a particular Lion.

The production of honey is a seasonal occurrence. And the seasons of the year were demarcated by the appearance of certain constellations which have come down to us as the signs of the zodiac. Virgil makes explicit mention of the fact that bees are most likely to prosper during the sign of Taurus, when winter had receded and spring renewed the land and nectar was plentiful.(9) Taurus is, of course, the sign of The Bull. I believe that the story of Aristaeus' bees was a mythic device to link the calendric relationship of the constellations with [the seasons]....

...This idea might be bolstered by the fact that very close to Taurus can be seen a group of stars once identified as Apis, the Bee. Later it was called Vespa, the Wasp, becoming finally Musca (Borealis), the (Northern) Fly-- again evincing that some folks don't differentiate between the different types of insects. This constellation is no longer officially recognized and the stars that comprised it have been incorporated into the constellation Aries, which adjoins Taurus.(10)) The oldest reference to this constellation that I was able to encounter is from a star map by Petrus Plancius dated 1613.... (The illustration below is from Christoph Cellarius' map of 1705 in which the figures are more simply drawn).(13)

Star map showing the constellation Apis to the right of Taurus (redrawn by Bérubé from Cellarius)

...As Taurus marked the beginning of the beekeepers' season so the appearance of Leo, the Lion (or an analog), heralds its culmination in the honey harvest at the end of summer. That the Samson story, at least, has some astronomical overtones is fairly certain since most scholars agree that the Samson cycle is a grouping of older myths connected with sun worship (compare "Samson" to the Babylonian sun-god "Shamash"(19)). It is also certain that the Semitic peoples of Old Testament times (the setting for the Samson story is the early half of the telfth century B.C.(20)) were profoundly influenced by their contemporaries of Babylonia and Egypt, as well as the earlier Sumerians, whose domains surrounded the traditional "land of milk and honey". All recognized the figure of a lion (as well as that of a bull) in the heavenly menagerie which eventually became the Classical zodiac.(21) The Semites would have had as much need as their neighbors for astronomical references (and their associated myths) to mark seasonal cycles. However, because of Yahweh's injunction against other gods, the Semites might have felt a need to disguise their explicitly astronomical lore so as not to offend canonical law.

Constellations were used throughout the world, including the Middle East and Greece, to regulate seasonal activities and ritual. The appearance of the Bull in the eastern sky might very well have been the signal to start preparing hives to catch the wild swarms that would soon appear `out of nowhere', being cast off by established colonies after the winter's inactivity.

Several months later, when the Lion had, in its turn, appeared on the horizon, hives would be ready to harvest. Myths were very often created to link the cyclic appearance of figures perceived in the heavens with their analogues on earth. The Samson and Aristaeus myths very likely were narratives derived from these celestial heralds....

...Of course, myths can work on many levels. The fact that a particular story may be neatly related to some occurence or incident does not exclude its significance in relation to an entirely different phenomenon as well-- more than likely all of the above "explanations" of Samson's honey and the ox-born bee have contributed to its mystique. If the puzzle of the bee-riddled carcass cannot be said to be solved, the dimensions of the conundrum have at least been expanded to encompass the stars.

I found this a wonderful paper, despite occasional fumbles, misdirections (and an obsession for detail in which many of us share). I also like the fact that he adds this concluding note explaining why Taurus the Bull marked the beginning of spring instead of Aries the Ram (who now marks the vernal equinox), and Leo at June's Midsummer instead of Cancer:
The sun was in Taurus at the vernal equinox, that is the point when spring `officially' starts, for about two thousand years starting around 4,000 B.C. Likewise, Leo marked the summer solstice for about the same period.(22) The original Samson and Aristaeus myths probably have their roots in this period. It was not until a few thousand years later that the months corresponding to signs of the zodiac were `standardized'. By this time, because of the slight wobbling of the earth's axis of rotation that drives what is called the "precession of the equinoxes", the equinox and solstice had precessed into Aries and Cancer respectively....

...Very close to the area of the sky where Apis was envisioned is where the Pleiades are found. They are a very distinct cluster of six stars located near the ecliptic, the sun's path through the sky. Because of this, the rising and setting of the Pleiades were used by many cultures around the world to mark the passage of the seasons.(25) The Pleiades, interestingly enough, were perceived by the Chiriguana indians of South America as a swarm of bees, and their appearance was an important calendar mark (which indicated among other things that honey harvesting time was at hand).(26)....

The paper is followed by an extensive list of terrific references, both well known and deliciously obscure.

"Gathering Nectar"

A selection of detailed, attractive black and white bee art from an old children's reader from 1887/1901 called Seaside and Wayside.
This is from Michael Quinion's always appreciated site on language, words, and expressions. Here, he looks briefly at the expression, "the bee's knees," after a reader sent this question:
[Q] From T Senthilnathan: The bee’s knees informally means the best, the most desirable. How did the saying originate?

[A] It’s one of a set of nonsense catchphrases that originated in North America in the 1920s, the period of the flappers....

You'll need to go to his page to find out the rest <smile>.
Again on the topic of bees, here is Quinion on the "spelling bee," a lengthy, very interesting reponse.
[Q] From Dan Flave-Novak: The American institution known as the spelling bee has been getting a lot of attention recently — why is this competition named after a stinging insect? Or is it?

[A] It used to be assumed that a bee in this sense was indeed named after the insect, an allusion to its social and industrious nature. But these days the experts prefer to point instead to the English dialect been or bean. These were variations on boon, once widely used in the sense of “voluntary help, given to a farmer by his neighbours, in time of harvest, haymaking, etc” (as the English Dialect Dictionary put it a century ago). It’s likely that the link was reinforced by the similarity in names and by the allusion; perhaps also because at one time been was the plural of bee in some dialects (a relic of the old English plural that survives in the standard language in a few words such as oxen)....

There is a great deal more on the role of non-bee "bees" (i.e., as in voluntary help or communal events in early American history) but since my focus is on the other kind of "bee," I'll leave it to you to explore further.
Finally, delightfully, Quinion takes on "Dumbledore." Here are some excerpts:
A type of bee.
Not the Headmaster of Hogwarts, though J K Rowling must surely have borrowed his name from the insect. And a nicely echoic word it is, which evokes the drowsy hum of bees on summer afternoons.
Its first part is one of a set of rhyming words from English of some centuries ago, the others being bumble (from a root meaning to drone or buzz) and humble (from an old Germanic word meaning to hum). All three have been used to form names for those furry, blundering, slow-moving bees that are so large you wonder how they get off the ground (bumblebee is now the usual term almost everywhere, humblebee was once common in Britain but is now much less so; dumbledore is the rarest). To some extent all imitate the insect’s buzz; the final dore of dumbledore is an Old English word for any insect that flies with a loud humming noise. Charlotte M Yonge used our word in The Daisy Chain, published in 1875:
“Those slopes of fresh turf, embroidered with every minute blossom of the moor — thyme, birdsfoot, eyebright, and dwarf purple thistle, buzzed and hummed over by busy, black-tailed, yellow-banded dumbledores”....
Science and Lore

Mead & Honey
7 June 2009, 2:20pm EDT: I spent the past few hours commenting on bee-totalitarianism (see "Open Door" site near the top of this page) and reading and pasting in excerpts from PBS's "Amber Time Machine" page. I set all that aside at 2pm. Eight minutes ago (2:12pm EDT), the moon went full in Sagittarius (my natal moon's location).  Additionally, Jupiter, Chiron and Neptune (all at 26º Aquarius), Algol (the Medusa/Lilith star), and other crucial astral bodies are all involved in some once-in-a-lifetime events now and over the next few weeks (the astrologer Wolfstar calls this an "exceptionally rare confluence of planets"). I don't understand the geometry or math, but apparently all this is a very, very "big deal."

So I went out into my backyard mandala-garden full of herbs and more, nearly everything in lush bloom -- the mauve of chive blossoms, the deep purples and lavenders of sage, the reds of poppies, and the pale gold irises beyond. I took off my glasses, which allowed the colors to explode all around me, as I asked for blessings upon planet-Earth and all her species. After sprinkling a few drops on the nearest plants, I then sipped mead from a one-ounce ceramic cup, handpainted with two goats (I am a Capricorn), which I purchased in Greece near the temple of Poseidon (Roman, Neptune) at Cape Sounion decades ago.

Mead: As a descendent of ancient Norwegians, Celts, and Germans, I've always loved the "idea" of mead. It's romantic and very magical. My father (the late Dr. Joseph B. Jenks, a medievalist who taught in upstate New York during the years I lived on NYC's Lower East Side) once made a few batches of mead from a medieval recipe and brought me some in a bottle that had once held his Gilbey's gin. I saved that bottle for many years, not wanting to drink the mead unless it was for something exceedingly special -- like my wedding, perhaps. But as I never married, one night I finally opened it. Unfortunately, the taste disappointed. I suppose that so many years in a gin bottle, sans cork, allowed it to go flat.

When I moved back to my homestate of Michigan, I began attenting the four-day International Congress on Medieval Studies held annually in early May at Western Michigan University in nearby Kalamazoo.  On Saturdays, there's always a Mead-Tasting, which tends to be everyone's favorite event of the entire congress. There are many flavors of mead and ale, differing each year. In the annual flyers, which I save from year to year, I scribble tiny reviews of each year's batch. The room is always packed with humans -- one can barely move -- yet everyone is laughing, making new friends, greeting old ones not seen in years, and it's truly a delightful experience, perhaps especially for a usually solitary person like me. This past May 2009 they ran out of two new flavors, peach melomel and ginger metheglin, before I got to the table where they were pouring samples (I'd gotten sidetracked sipping tupelo-honey mead in a small plastic cup while talking to a greying, wild-haired academic named Scott, I think, about Woodstock, hippies, beatniks, grass, Joan Baez, and Buffy Ste. Marie).

I'm always one of the last to leave Mead-Tasting because I get so caught up in conversations with total strangers and occasionally with people I've met over the preceding three days. This year, when the crowd had thinned out, I went to a table where Ken Schramm, a mead expert and one of the two organizers of this event (along with Dr. Stephen C. Law), was selling newly reprinted copies of his 2003 book, The Compleat Meadmaker. I bought a copy and told him how much I loved the annual mead-tastings and about the mini-reviews I wrote each year. He wanted to hear some of them so I shared a few from earlier years as well as the one-word Wow! review I had given this year's rosemary metheglin. I told him about the peach and ginger that had run out and expressed my hope that he'd make them again next year. Ken turned silently, reached into a briefcase, pulled out a tall, thin, elegant bottle of pale gold mead, and handed it to me. "It's the ginger metheglin," he said. I had sampled enough mead by then to have lost, at least partially, my usual sense of reality. At first I just stared in total disbelief. When one is used to little plastic cups holding an ounce or less at a time, just seeing that full bottle was like being shown the Grail. Then slowly, I regained my senses, accepted the bottle, thanked him quietly, and left in a daze.

I meant to open that bottle for this year's summer solstice in 2 weeks. But -- and no offense to the sun -- sun and earth do their "solstice thing" every year. The astral events taking place today are part of a much larger celestial drama. So to celebrate, while asking many blessings upon all of us during this crucial time-portal, I opened the ginger metheglin today and drank my first ounce. Wow!

Queen of the Beehive
Russian Lacquer Box from Tradestone Gallery

But now to the link above my mead comments: it's from BellaOnline: the Voice of Women. This article is "Happy Hour Bees, Mythology and Mead" by Carolyn Smagalski, BellaOnline's Beer and Brewing Editor. The opening part on "The Science of Happy Hour and Bees" looks at a peculiar experiment in which researchers get a bee "toasted" (resembling the "Queen of the Beehive" Russian art directly above):

...Twenty minutes pass. As the ethanol takes effect, she grooms less, forgets things, and loses postural control. She sticks out her tongue, becomes wobbly, flips onto her back and wiggles her tiny legs in the air, unable to flip back over. She’s feeling pretty lazy right now, a bit dopey as her senses become increasingly more impaired over time. This one didn’t get mean and aggressive, but some do – just like humans.

Honey bees, like humans, are normally calm and social. Their nervous system closely resembles that of human vertebrates, although their body systems differ a bit. They don’t have a “blood-alcohol level,” because they don’t have blood. Instead, they have hemolymph, which is the equivalent of human blood and can be measured for levels of ethanol over determined periods of time. Our little bee is pretty “toasted” and will suffer from her hangover for more than 48 hours. With too much alcohol, she could have died – just like a human....

Entomologists directing this research are trying to understand the human brain better:
...Probing the relationship between neural functions and alcohol, they hope to uncover the facilities that drive alcohol-related human behaviors such as addiction, aggression, tolerance and sobriety....
This first part of the article leaves me puzzled. The connection between a bee's reaction to ethanol, and a human's to alcohol, is unclear. Perhaps the author misunderstood the researchers. Or perhaps the research is still in its infancy and hasn't produced any relevant results yet. However, according to the article, "this ground-breaking study [was] presented at the Annual Society for Neuroscience Conference in San Diego during the Fall of 2004." To be "ground-breaking" would seem to require more than getting a poor bee "toasted." Something seems to be missing here.

Fortunately, the rest of the article focuses on mead, which is more familiar territory for a "Beer and Brewing editor." Here, I really enjoyed her data, despite the fact that few references are provided:

...You will find countless references to mead throughout world histories – references within the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Ethiopia, as well as in the English epic, Beowulf. The renowned Icelandic author Snorr Sturlson, in Prose Edda, weaves a fascinating tale about the creation of heavenly mead by dwarfs who gave it to the giants. The supreme god, Odin, however, stole the coveted mead for his own godly pleasure!

The Greeks, Assyrians, and Aztecs used mead in festivals and as a religious drink. Celtic history speaks of “mead halls” where the followers of a chieftain would gather after a hunt or battle to regale epic tales of bravery and feast on victuals of roasted boar and honey beer. European history recounts the story of Saint Brigid of Kildaire - how she turned water into mead in the royal court of the King of Leister - and Norse mythology that spoke of “Valhalla” where rivers flowed with sparkling mead, while heroic Vikings quaffed from burnished mead horns.

Honey beer has various names throughout the world – mjod (Russian mead), miòd (Polish mead), t’ej (Ethiopian mead), meodu (Mead in Olde English), hydromel (French mead), aguamiel (Spanish mead), idromele (Italian mead), met (German mead), mjød (Danish and Norwegian mead), and countless others....

...Mead, refined yet casual, fills the gap between beer and wine. It is produced by the fermentation of honey, water and yeast, with optional ingredients added such as herbs, extracts, spices, or fruit. Champagne, sherry, wine, ale, mead, or lager yeasts may be used. These may produce vastly different types of mead, some with characteristics of a fine beer, while others parallel the qualities of wine, from dry styles to those with fruity sweetness.

The author then provides definitions and wonderful descriptions of various meads and other brews, as well as brewing establishments that specialize in these. The list includes braggot, taj (from Ethiopia), traditional mead, judwiga (from Poland), melomel, and metheglin [about which she writes: "It is derived from the Welsh “myddyglyn,” where it was applauded for its powers of magic and healing. The English word “medicine” has its derivation here"]. About a Vermont brewery's braggot:
[This is]a hazy, illuminated honey-yellow brew, with a light and pillowy head that disperses quickly. The nose is delicately honeyed, with aromas of chamomile and herbal tea and spices. As it warms, honeysuckle and orange blossoms rise to the fore. Hops are floral in character, while the finish is clean and crisp.
Some of her descriptions are sheer poetry -- the article might be worth reading for them alone.

Making the Perfect Honey Mead
[FYI: I'm not reviewing it but the article at this link is excellent]
In looking for reliable, well-referenced websites on mead history, I have to say that the pickings are slim. This link, for example, goes to a site claiming that the first mead was fermented in Crete; others say Egypt or Sumer or India (since it's mentioned in the Rig Veda); several sites even claimed the honor for ancient Greece, which would be much too late. None cite any sources for their data. So be warned that some of these links, both above and below, may be engaging, but not very scholarly. Enjoy them but don't accept them uncritically.

This first one mentions an interesting tale about Polish mead -- whether it's true or not, I can't say although, not being a fan of the Crusades, I'd like to think it's true -- it conjures up such a great scene! (If true, however, they would probably all have been excommunicated until they knuckled under.  ::sigh::)

...Mead was a favored drink among the Polish-Lithuanian szlachta (nobility). During the Crusades, Polish Prince Leszek I the White explained to the Pope that Polish knights could not participate in the Crusades because there was no mead in Palestine....
The site also offers a longer list (25) of varieties of mead than the preceding website, but not nearly as much detail.
This is the "History of Mead" page from an elegant little site with a wonderful name, Sky River Mead, located in the state of Washington (in the far northwest of the USA). I found the Introduction page an eye-opening essay on problems involved with mead: contaminates, boiling, fermentation, why wine and beer are less risky, and how Sky River Mead has brought mead-making into the 21st century with the help of Cornell University in New York state. About wine and beer:
...These difficulties made the more sterile nature of the grapes natural package, and the heat tolerant nature of beer a far more consistently rewarding process....
Like the other sites above, their history page isn't referenced but I like it regardless -- it's graceful and well-crafted. Some excerpts:
The history of Mead is as long and rich and captivating as the beverage itself. Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverages know to man. It was most likely discovered quite by accident, when some thirsty hunter-gathers discovered an upturned beehive, filled up with rainwater. They drank the sweet water completely unaware of what fermentation and alcohol were and experienced the first intoxication. In a quest to replicate this experience the art of mead-making was begun. Unfortunately, fermentation was not understood until the mid 1800’s. Consequently, two things occurred: First, fermentation was very unpredictable. And second, fermentation took on mystical and religious qualities....

...Mead declined in production in the south of Europe, where grapes were discovered as a less expensive, more predictable source of wine production. But, in the north where vine fruits were less available the popularity of mead continued. In Norse/Aryan mythology a draught of mead, delivered by the beautiful divine maidens, was the reward for warriors that reached Valhalla. And, the Norse god of poetry, Brage, is said to have drunk mead from a Brage-beaker, later called the bragging cup, while the great Norse god, Odin, was said to have gained his strength by suckling Mead from a goats’ udder as an infant. Celtic mythology tells of a river of mead running through paradise, while the Anglo-Saxon culture held mead up as the bestower of immortality, poetry and knowledge....

...Bees were thought, by most European cultures, to be the messengers of the gods. Therefore, even as mead production declined it was still used for the temples rites, and the grand ceremonies, while ales were used for every day life. The same mystic properties that kept mead in the temples, made mead a natural adjunct to early ideas of western medicine. In England there were a number of meads, flavored with specific herbs that were used to cure any number of ailments. For example, mead made with balm was thought to aid digestion and expel melancholy, and mead made with borage was used to revive hypochondriacs and the chronically ill. The name for these spiced meads is Metheglin, and comes for the Welsh word “medcyglin”, meaning medicine....

The site also has a nicely laid-out page called Past & Present - The Many Faces of Mead. Here you'll find 23 briefly described mead varieties -- many are different from the preceeding links.
From a huge site, Got Mead?, comes "Myths and Legends." I like the sensible approach with which it begins:
They say that myths and legends have their basis in truth. Who knows for sure? But the tales of many cultures around the world are fascinating, and even if they are truly just stories (and lets face it, most stories have at least *some* grain of truth somewhere), they are illustrative to one level or another of the culture from which they arise. In any case, there many tales that contain references to mead. I collect these, and will post them here as I find them. If you have a legend or historical tale about mead to share, email it to me, and we'll post it.
This is followed by the category of "Popular Myths" with an honest disclaimer:
(no documentation is available to support these premises)
The next category, "Tales and Legends in Various Cultures," offers brief summaries and many have links to websites with further information. There's much to explore here.
Again from Got Mead? comes an exciting page on an archaeological discovery from Jiahu in China. Here are two brief excerpts from a much longer report (map and Jiahu pots are from a different site):

From: Facts & Details: Prehistoric Man in China
9,000-year History Of Chinese Fermented Beverages Confirmed

ScienceDaily (Dec. 7, 2004) — PHILADELPHIA, PA, December 2004 -- Chemical analyses of ancient organics absorbed, and preserved, in pottery jars from the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province, Northern China, have revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit was being produced as early as 9,000 years ago, approximately the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East....

Vessels with the Oldest Wine
From: Facts & Details: Prehistoric Man in China
   ...Chemical tests of the pottery from the Neolithic village of Jiahu was of special interest, because it is some of the earliest known pottery from China. This site was already famous for yielding some of the earliest musical instruments and domesticated rice, as well as possibly the earliest Chinese pictographic writing....

[For those curious about the earliest wine and beer dates, there is this information:]
[In 1990...[came]...the discovery of what was then the earliest known chemical evidence of wine, dating to ca. 3500-3100 B.C., from Godin Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran.... That finding was followed up by the earliest chemically confirmed barley beer in 1992, inside another vessel from the same room at Godin Tepe that housed the wine jars. In 1994, chemical testing confirmed resinated wine inside two jars excavated by a Penn archaeological team at the Neolithic site of Hajji Firuz Tepe, Iran, dating to ca. 5400 B.C. and some 2000 years earlier than the Godin Tepe jar.... ]
Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu
   As an addendum, on another Got Mead? page, we learn that in 2007, the c. 9000 year old alcoholic drink from China's village of Jiahu was recreated, more or less, and sampled by the staff at Archaeology Magazine:
Early Neolithic people in Jiahu, a village in China's Henan Province, invented the earliest known alcoholic beverage. As the staff of this magazine and your guides to the world of archaeology, we felt it was our place--nay, our duty--to tell you how the stuff tastes....
This is another archaeological page from Got Mead?, this time on drinking vessels (with some small but lovely photos), based on articles from British Archaeology and other solid sources. Here's a brief excerpt on ancient Sumer:
...We know that the Sumerians were making ale in the 3rd millennium BC and that the Egyptians were fermenting date wine and ale at a similar time. The Sumerians had a goddess of brewing, Ninkasi, and a tablet inscribed with a verse singing her praises has been found at Nippur, dated to c 1800BC. It seems to describe Sumerian brewing methods....
This is a page on "Mead in Literature" from Got Mead? -- there a listing of nearly three dozen sources, most of them from Sacred Texts' huge collection. Here is the brief introduction to the list:
Mention of mead comes from many sources, throughout mankinds' written history. Virgil and Plato mention it in their writings. It comes up in 'Beowulf' and the 'Rig-Veda'. The Norse sagas are littered with mead references, as are many of the old Celtic tales. Looks like mead is indeed the stuff of legend!
There's also a Reference page covering this impressive site's overall sources, some books, some websites.

Note: I have already mentioned a number of books in preceding sections,
including some of those below. Here are direct links to them:

The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World: This is by George Poinar, Jr. and his wife Roberta Poinar from Princeton University Press, 1999 -- see excerpt from this book on my PBS NOVA link above (you might wish to do a "search and find" on my page for "George Poinar" to find other mentions of his work). The page includes links to more of his books as well as to other authors.

Lebanese Amber: The Oldest Insect Ecosystem in Fossilized Resin: This is by George Poinar and Raif Milki from Oregon State University Press, 2001. It's 96 pages, including many color photos. From a reader's review:
...[The book gives] background information on geology and occurences of Lebanese amber and a comprehensive section on other types of resins and gums found in the Near East that might be confused with true amber. The book is a review of all the organisms thus far reported from Lebanese amber. I found this book to be very helpful in recognizing true Lebanese amber from Near Eastern resins, copals, and gums and is very helpful with the indentification of insect inclusions amber samples. I gave this book a solid 5 stars for it is a book you'll want as a reference.

Bee by Claire Preston:  this is a 2006 book from Reaktion's "Animal Series" from the UK. Preston's work runs 208 pages, has a really engaging text, and gorgeous art. I bought Bee a few years ago to get a sense of Reaktion's style because I was working on a proposal to do a book on Deer for them -- they liked my proposal and immediately sent me a contract; unfortunately, that's when I discovered that the pay was so minimal that I couldn't afford to sign the contract (their authors usually have fulltime academic teaching positions; I'm semi-retired and spend a great deal of time and energy  just making ends meet).  I always meant to read Bee from cover to cover but I've only managed to dip into a few sections. Regardless, it's impressive -- really beautifully done, as are all Reaktion's books. Here's a comment from theTimes Literary Supplement:
It is an outstanding book: marvellously researched and annotated, superbly illustrated and exceptionally well written. . . . Preston must have played the bee herself in her meticulous preparation for this book, and she has done this esteemed creature the great service it merits. (Times Literary Supplement 20060415)

The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore, Hilda M. Ransome's classic 1937 work, was re-issued in 2004 by Dover Books. If you're interested in bees and/or mythology and don't already have this in your library, I highly recommend it.  When I was in grad school and couldn't afford books (other than required textbooks), I used to wait for May's annual sale of 2.5 cents/page at Kinkos in Santa Barbara and, along with other coveted books, one year I xeroxed Ransome's entire volume (320 pages). So I know firsthand what a treasure trove it is.

This is When the Drummers were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm by Layne Redmond, well known frame-drummer and historian. It's a "must" for musicians as well as those interested in Women's Studies, goddesses, feminism, and ancient healing/trance techniques, including a "bee-buzzing" practice called Bhramari, a pranayama practice -- see above at the beginning of my mythology section for excerpts on this practice.

I discuss Justin Kerr's work on Maya themes at some length on this BEES page as well as on my FIREFLIES page. As far as I know, his work on insects is not published in book form. When I "amazon-ed" Kerr's name, 60 entries came up (co-written with other Maya experts), but some of the books are for multi-volume and/or very rare (and expensive) and/or out-of-print works,  Since this one is more accessible, affordable, and the most likely to include data relevant to insects, I am including it here (others are linked to the above amazon page). The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art (Paperback)  is a 335 page work by Linda Schele, Mary Ellen Miller, and Justin Kerr (author and photographer) written for the 1986 Maya art exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The book comes with Justin Kerr's 122 color plates, 300 drawings and 50 black-and-white illustrations.  From one reader's review:

...The field of Mayan studies is a fast-moving arena, and Mayanists already know a lot more now than they did when this book came out, but in my opinion this book is still the place to start if you want to begin learning about the Maya.

For one thing, the photography of the artwork is fantastic - the book is worth acquiring for that alone. Secondly, the commentary is by the greatest names in the field, including an introduction by Michael Coe. Thirdly, the book never strays from academic discipline, unlike a great deal of New Agey-type material written about the Maya. In fact, the book studiously avoids making any observations that cannot be substantiated....

And from another reader:
...Much has been written since 1986 and new discoveries and new examinations of existing discoveries deepen our understanding of the Maya. But this book still stands strong and valuable. It is not too technical for the general reader and still has value for the student. I am glad to have my copy on a shelf of favorite books.

This is a more recent book (October 2008) that includes Justin Kerr's work: At the Heart of Precolumbian America. From the product description:
This volume of photographs and commentary brings together one of the most outstanding groups of treasures of Pre-Columbian art assembled by a private collector. With comments from notable specialists on these civilizations, it offers access to the material in collector Gérard Geiger's private collection, for the first time, to the public at large. Contributors include such distinguished specialists as Peter David Joralemon, Justin Kerr, Ted J. J. Leyenaar, Frances Pratt, Henri Stierlin, and Margaret Young-Sanchez. Highlights of the collection featured in the book include ceremonial tools of Totonac rituals and games; the enthralling Olmec, Teotihuacan, and Monte Alban terracotta and sculptures; high-quality sculpted Maya-jade and Costa Rican engravings; equatorial Valdivian masterpieces; and magnificent Peruvian relics....

At the begining of the above "Bees and Mead: Scince and Lore" section, I discuss at some length my wonderful experience this past May (2009) with Ken Schramm, author of The Compleat Meadmaker. I will only add this quote from Vickie Rowe, webmistress/scholar of "Got Mead?" (who was very helpful to me in finding other links for that mead section):
...hands down the best mead how-to book... If you make mead... you *need* this book... " [Vicki Rowe, webmistress and meadmaker, July 15, 2003]
I own this book, highly recommend it (and will one day try to make my own rosemary mead, perhaps to celebrate my 80th birthday in a decade or so).


To: General Insects Page

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please see my HOME Page for updates]

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This page created with Netscape 4.7. Colors may appear distorted on Macs.
Text and Design: © 2009 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved
Page begun 4 June 2009.
8 June 2009: updated INSECTS page to bring it into sync with this one because I've transferred some of its contents to this one.
22 June 2009, c. 6pm EDT -- finally finished all the links! -- I still have to proofread it all, so will probably wait until tomorrow to launch it "officially."
23 June 2009, 7pm EDT: I've spent 7 hours proofing this and got as far as "Bees in the Stars." I'll have to finish tomorrow.
24 June 2009, 3:15pm EDT: done! Launching it on my home page in a few minutes; 7:30pm: tied up a few loose ends in the Maya section and added Kelley's identification of the "Priestess of Delphi" painting.
July 4th 2009: corrected North Carolina "blue honey" link, thanks to Drucie; also added mention of Sagmun and my blessing of nectar-gathering bees.
July 12th 2009: updated and added more book links as well as notes to let readers know about this.
25 September 2009: I added 4 additional, significant links, using  and today's date to identify them.