(Art: Bee Goddess by Q. Cassetti)
The Feast of Midsummer invariably brings to mind the mysterious and enthralling cult of the Bee Goddess, the Great Queen Bee. So far as I am aware, the phrase “Midsummer Bee-Goddess” first came to prominence in modern times through Robert Graves’ mystically meditative work Greek Myths. This inspired writing which should not be mistaken for a work of history or anthropology. Graves was fascinated by the ecstatic but deadly hieros gamos (sacred marriage) enacted between the Queen and Her myriad consorts, the drone bees; the mating rite ended in the Queen consuming the drone’s genitals, the wreckage of the drone’s body tumbling back to earth and the quietus of the compost-heap from the heights of the Queen’s exalted bridal flight. One had the sense that Graves fervently believed that the drone died with a smile on his face. In this age of technological miracles, the bridal flight of the Queen and her mating with her drones has been filmed in intricate detail; you can watch it on Youtube. Forget about your parents having sex; to me, this is undoubtedly a primal image.
With the dreadful spectre of colony collapse syndrome looming before us, and the very real threat of bee extinction, in this time thoughtful people have become more aware than ever before of the foundational role bees play. Without bees, it’s questionable whether production of the world food supply would be remotely sustainable. Paying some loving respect and care to the bees through the imagery of the ancient Bee Goddess seems even more significant today–even crucial. Through myths, human awareness is sharpened and emotional energy is brought to the fore.
In meditating upon this theme, I wish to share some excerpts from an insight-laden essay composed by Linda Iles, a teacher and Priestess of the Fellowship of Isis, founded in the 1970s by the late Lady Olivia Forbes-Robertson. (A truly dedicated Priestess I once had the pleasure of meeting briefly, at her home in Ireland.) “Priestesses of the Bee: the Melissae,” is an essay Linda published on the Mirror of Isis website. Linda’s brilliantly thoughtful essay includes these very suggestive passages:
Porphyry (AD 233 to c.304) writes: “The ancients gave the name of Melissae (bees) to the priestesses of Demeter who were initiates of the chthonian goddess; the name Melitodes to Kore herself: the moon (Artemis) too, whose province it was to bring to the birth, they called Melissa…
Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921 – 1994) writes of this passage by Porphyry: “…we learn that Artemis is a bee, Melissa, and that both she and the bull belong to the moon. Hence both are connected with the idea of a periodic regeneration. We also learn that souls are bees and that Melissa draws souls down to be born. The idea of a ‘life in death’ in this singularly interesting concept is expressed by the belief that the life of the bull passed into that of the bees.”… So the epithet of Bee in ancient Greece, applied not only to priestesses, prophetesses, or Goddesses like Demeter and Artemis – it was also bestowed upon poets, musicians, artists and philosophers – anyone touched in some way by divine inspiration. …
There is a group of stars, visible at this time of year (July – August) called the Beehive Cluster, whose Latin name is Praesepe, meaning “manger.” Praesepe is an ‘open cluster’ which spreads out, similar to a swarm of bees over a large area of the sky, with more than forty stars visible to the eye as a cloudy patch at night. It is located in the seasonal sign of Leo and in the constellation of the Crab (Cancer). The best way to find Praesepe – first locate the twin stars Pollux and Castor, then look left (or east) to locate Regulus. It lies between Pollux and Castor and Regulus. According to Pliny, when the stars of the manger were visible at night, it was a prediction of good weather and ease of passage. … Recognized by the Platonists of ancient Greece as the highest point of heaven, this was the “Gate of Men” though which souls descended to earth from heaven. It is the opposite of the “Gate of the Gods” found in Capricorn, where souls of the departed ascended back to heaven.
This final paragraph is particularly interesting when we consider the relationship presented in some of the ancient lore between the Divine Twins, Castor and Polydeukes (Pollux), and the Great Mother. It is also fascinating to consider the role of Artemis as the Great Bee, Melissa, in fostering the rebirth of souls. The God Hermes, the Guide of Souls and Father of Wisdom, Magic and Trickery, is mentioned as well in lore given in the Homeric Hymns. It all twines together in an intricate pattern of sacred gnosis.
On the Eve of Midsummer this year, my friends and I libated mead, a drink made from fermented honey, to Artemis and to Her Brother, Apollo. Like the Dioskouroi, the Divine Twins, both Artemis and Apollo are Gods of Healing. They are siblings and yet another exemplar of the Divine Twins. Artemis manifests purity and honor and opens the gate into Mystery; Apollo as the Sun God is the Sovereign of Inspiration and Prophecy. The energies of Moon and Sun thus join together in this holy Tide of Midsummer. I became quite tipsy through drinking the mead, perhaps like the Delphic Priestesses of yore, and my friends and I enacted an ecstatic bee dance. The sound of drunken buzzing and the heat of a Summer afternoon gave more than just a touch of surreal intoxication to the rite. At this Midsummer tide, may the holy energies of Moon and Sun and the triumphant sway of Summer at its height bring blessings to all who read my words. And may the Great Bee Goddess bring healing and solace to our beleaguered, beloved Gaia. So Mote it Bee!
(The “Epiphany scene” from a ring found at Isopata, showing a Minoan Priestess embodying a Goddess, surrounding by dancing, chanting Priestesses. Note the “Bee Priestess” motif of their clothing.)