The busy little bee is one of nature’s most important pollinators. Bees and humans have had a fascinating relationship since well before the beginning of recorded history. From the earliest humans who learned to follow the honeyguide to raid bee hives, to the Greek traditions which treat honey as the food of the gods, the humble but mighty bee has made its presence known throughout human civilizations. (1)
Table of contents
- Bee Symbolism and Meaning
- Bee Native American Symbolism
- Bee Christianity Symbolism
- Bee Celtic Symbolism
- Bees in Dreams
- Bee Encounters and Omens
- Bee Mythology and Folklore
- Bee Spirit Animal
- Bee Totem Animal
- Bee Power Animal
- Bee Tattoo Meaning
Bee Symbolism and Meaning
Of course, when one first thinks of the bee, the images that come to mind are vibrantly colored flowers, the taste of sweet honey, and the gentle buzz which forms the ambient music of springtime. These images are all powerful associations which are rightly connected with bees, however there is far more to these insects than just honey and flowers.
For the ancient druids, the bee represented hidden knowledge. Some Celtic traditions thought of bees as messengers between our world and the otherworld. It was subsequently thought that if one’s soul were to leave their body it could do so in the shape of a bee. (2) The Greeks, too, believed that bees might be the human souls awaiting reincarnation or birth. (3)
Because of their role in the reproductive process of flowers, bees are often associated with fertility, sexuality, and prosperity. (4)
The complex and organized social hierarchy of the bee, and the efficiency with which bees and hives operate, also connects these insects with virtues such as industriousness, community, modesty, humility, and a strong work ethic. (5)
Bee Native American symbolism
Native American traditions often look to the natural world for wisdom and spiritual guidance. In this respect, the bee is an excellent teacher and appears as such in many Native traditions.
While generally bees represent community service and prosperity, in many stories the bee appears as a mighty warrior or a reminder not to take nature’s smaller creatures lightly.
Amongst some Pacific Northwestern traditions, the likeness of the bee is involved in a dancing tradition. The bee’s likeness is reproduced as a mask worn by a performer. During the dances, this performer would go around and “sting” onlookers by poking them. The onlookers would then receive small gifts as consolation prizes. this traditional bee mask is called the “scratcher” mask. (6)
Because the tiny bee has such a painful sting, may South American tribes particularly connect bees with the virtues of a warrior. Bees are tenacious, sharp, fearless, and willing to sacrifice their individual lives for the success of the hive. For these reasons, bees would sometimes serve as clan animals representing the might and power of the clan’s warriors. (7)
Bee Christianity Symbolism
Because of their dedication to community and their close relationship with human cultures, it is no surprise that many religions reference and celebrate the bee. Bees make several appearance in the Bible in both positive and negative ways. Honey and its sweetness is frequently associated with the promised land and the love and forgiveness of Christ. Bees, however, are occasionally connected with swarming and stinging, and therefore with violence and mob behavior. (8)
In Psalm 118:12, bees are associated with enemies:
“They compassed me about like bees: they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” (9)
However, in Leviticus 20:24, one of many connections between honey and God’s promise to the Israelites is made. This is just one instance of a reference that appears throughout the Bible.
“But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people.” (10)
Love and devotion, too, are connected with honey throughout the Bible, as in Song of Solomon 4:11:
“Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. “(11)
St. Ambrose, the ancient Bishop of Milan, compared the church to a beehive. According to him, beehive symbolizes a pious and unified community. This theory identifies an individual as a bee who has to work and dedicate their lives to the betterment of the hive. Thus, the entire religion of Christianity has, at times, been thought of as one big beehive! According to legend, when St. Ambrose was a small child, his father found him with his face covered in bees, predicting his ability as a “honey-tongued” preacher. (12)
Bee Celtic Symbolism
Some historians say that the Celts came to Britain, especially for the black bee and its honey. Britain was so rich with honeybees that Welsh bards even called it the “Land of Honey.” (13)
As we discussed before, Celtic traditions associate the bee with hidden knowledge, sacred, wisdom, and the human soul. In many cases, Celtic traditions have held that bees can travel between our world and the otherworld wherein supernatural creatures dwell.
In the western isles of Scotland, people though that bees carried ancient knowledge from the legends and philosophers. This led to the famous Scottish saying: ‘Ask the wise bee for what the druid knew.’ Some highlanders believed that while sleeping or in a state of unconsciousness, a person’s soul may leave the body in the form of bees. (14)
This wisdom mad its way into Scottish Christianity through the folk belief that bees would hum loudly at midnight of Christmas for Christ’s birth.
Bees in Dreams
Dreaming of bees can have very different connotations depending upon the individual dreamer and the context. While a swarm of bees may feel distressing, a dream involving the sweet taste of honey is obviously pleasant. Fortunately, all in all, bee dreams are usually associated with positive meanings. Because the humble and hard working bee accomplishes so many good things on this earth, dreaming of one of these insects often represents good news on the horizon.
It is a well-known fact that bees form highly organized societal structures within their hives. In facts, the beehive is a bit like a small kingdom, with the queen bee as the ruler. All the other bees stick to their particular roles; this indicates how organized and disciplined bees are. So, if you dream of a bee hive or a swarm of bees, the dream could mean that you need to work on organizing your life. Efficiency is one of the bee’s many virtues. A beehive dream may also indicate a desire for community or purpose.
A dream about bees could be a sign of a prosperous future filled with abundant blessings. If you see honey inside of a beehive, your dream could symbolize wealth. If there is a beehive full of bees, it might depict happiness and joy regarding your family life.
Dreaming of buzzing bees, or a swarm chasing you may be a sign that you have nagging doubts or anxieties from which you are unable to escape.
If you dream that a bee has attacked or stung you, the dream may indicate your suspicion about something or someone in your life. Try not to rush to judgment. Listen closely and the truth will come out.
Bee Encounters and Omens
While taking a stroll in a beautiful park or garden, you may encounter bees. You may see a bee buzzing around you, or you may even end up with a bee sting. Bees only sting as a last resort, so a sting can feel like a really unlucky thing. Fortunately, most bee encounters are pleasant and uneventful.
Bee encounters often happen in gardens and can be a sign of the prosperity and growth of the garden. These encounters may also reflect one’s own personal growth. Like a garden, humans must be lovingly tended and watched over. Bees remind us to focus on tending to ourselves and nurturing the growth that we want to see in ourselves.
A bee encounter can also be a reminder of the virtue of hard work. Bee encounters may occur during periods when your productivity or motivation need a little boost. The bee reminds you that in order to achieve your goals, diligence is key.
Bee Mythology and Folklore
Across many different global traditions, the bee appears as a central figure in mythology, folk tales, and legends.
As we already discussed, according to Celtic mythology, bees are messengers that travel to the otherworld and bring messages from the gods. Many ancient traditions and mythologies share this belief with some variations. (15)
Many many figures from Greek and Roman mythology were said to have been fed and raised up on honey. Sometimes, bees would even be thought of as dead or reincarnated human souls, or as envoys form the underworld. (16)
The ancient Egyptians believed that the sun god Ra created the bee to carry his message and obey him. According to this legend, he created the honeybees out of his own tears. (17)
Bees have stingers to protect them and the honey they produce. Roman mythology has its own folklore for the origin of the bee’s stinger. They believe the king of Roman gods, Jupiter, gave the bee its stinger in order to protect its hive and its precious honey.
Some Celtic folklores, including the folklore of Cornwall, state that the beekeepers must talk to their bees and keep them informed of current events. This responsibility can be taken quite seriously. If a beekeeper dies, their spouse or eldest son must perform the duties of the beekeeper. (18)
Bee Spirit Animal
The bee spirit animal has a strong work ethic and symbolizes hard work and dedication. It also signifies the importance of stopping and smelling the flowers once in a while. While bees, and people with the bee spirit animal, are busy busy busy, it is important not to let life’s little pleasures pass you by.
Thus, the bee spirit animal relates to the importance of a proper work-life balance. The bee spirit animal is ambitious and diligent, but must learn to appreciate the scenery of the place its in rather than racing through to the next milestone. Life is a journey busy bee!
People with the bee spirit animal are often drawn to the outdoors and enjoy breathing in the beauty of nature when charging up their batteries.
Bee Totem Animal
People with bee totem are stubbornly determined and can accomplish almost anything that they set out to do. Not only are they hardworking and devoted to their tasks, but they tackle problems with precision and efficiency. No single bee can sustain a hive on its own, though, so its important that people with this totem animal get used to relying on others and interacting with their community.
People with bee totem have a clear path and goal in life. Not only are they focused but also self-sufficient. Despite this, they often find the most fulfillment when serving the needs of others. Finding a community which they can devote their talents to is often one of the bee totem’s greatest goals.
Bee Power Animal
Regardless of the tiny size of the bee, it is very powerful. If bees were to stop pollinating, then millions of plants species could die out. This includes many of the vital crops which humans rely on for food. (19)
Honey is not just a natural sweetener but also natural medicine; bee medicine. This sweet gift from the bee has healing properties and offers many health benefits, such as antioxidants and immune system boosts. (20)
With all the attributes and roles of bee, it is much responsible and powerful than us humans. This is why bee is one of the animals that can make a perfect totem or a spirit animal.
Bee Tattoo Meaning
Bee tattoos are becoming quite popular as people increasingly sympathize with the plight of the bee and recognize its importance within earth’s ecosystems.
A bee tattoo may represent the beauty of nature, the importance of conservation, as well as the value of hard work. Further virtues represented by a bee tattoo include dedication, community, efficiency, creativity, sweetness, and hidden strengths.
It’s quite easy to overlook the humble bee as it buzzes its way from flower to flower. Increasingly, though, humans have begun to recognize that not only would our gardens no longer be the same without these insects, but our entire planet could be in jeopardy if they are allowed to decline. In order to preserve the rich bounty of our earth, we must ensure that the soundtrack of springtime never loses its ever-present buzz.