Today I was reading about how honey has been used as preservative for embalming, and this clicked something in my mind. I have often tossed around the connections that may exist between gods who are associated with bees (and honey) but there never seemed to be a really strong definitive relationship regarding the symbol of the honeybee that was a unifying feature. Yet this feature made perfect sense when I put together the historic practice of using honey for embalming in association with gods who have a strong connection to the dying process and apotheosis, a process in which the soul of a mortal is deified that it may join the gods.
The association with honey and the dead can be found mythically in the tale of Glakos, son of Minos who fell into a jar of honey and there died. The honey within embalmed and preserved him, rendering a kind of immortality as the flesh did not dissolve and the soul depart upon release from the flesh (as I have noted is the chief connection with Apollon and the remains of the dead, the process of destroying the physical form in order to release the soul to the service of Hermes). A seer, whose service belongs to Apollon, restored the child to life. Apollon’s domain seems to be the boundary, the gate the determines the destination of the soul after death. Will the soul retain form and be able to be liberated from the flesh to join the gods, or will the soul be stripped bare and sent to the court of Haides to drink of Lethe. Apollon features in several apotheosis myths which clarifies this role and strengthens this importance of his domain. Not only for the apotheosis of Hyakinthos, but also for Marsyas who was transformed into a river god, and even Sarpedon whose body he was appointed to anoint. Nevermind the corpse of Dionysos whose charge he was given over which he tended to and buried on Parnassos, the same mountain where Apollon was nursed by the bee-nymphs, the Thryae to whom he sent Hermes to learn basic divination. The connection here of the bee to divine mind, to foreknowledge is perhaps hand in hand with the association fo honey with immortality, and why Apollon himself, given his associations was also significantly pared with prophecy serving a connection of mortals to the gods. And tge Pythias have been called Melissae (honeybees) as well, not to mention that Glakos’ own daughter served as sybill at Cumae . Divination inspiration was construed as a kindof honey when given whether that be prophecy, or its close kin, poetry. Pindar was said to have had drops of honey dropped on his lips by the Muses in order to gift him with such great poetic vision. This is not to forget that the quality of raw honey was used as an antiseptic for the purpose of healing. It is pure, gold, and divine.
The honeybee is, for me, one of the strongest links between Dionysos, Apollon and Hermes. Dionysos, the liberator of the soul, Apollon as god of the cemetery/destroying/freeing god, and Hermes as escort of the soul who either draws up the deified soul as he lifts the newborn Dionysos or escorts them to the halls of the dead. And then there is Zeus, the first mystic god, and father of all three brothers.
This given, Zeus is perhaps the best place to start, and his sister Demeter. Zeus is foremost connected intimately with the earth and her mysteries, this is part of his mystic character. Gaia raising Zeus, nursing him and caring for him (and teaching him) is quite involved, probably starting from his very birth in the cavern in Crete where the Kouretes, the escort of Rhea, are likened to angry wasps clamoring about in the cave where they dwelt with Zeus (and the Cretans believing that wasps continued to reside within and protect that sanctuary). That Zeus has also a Chthonic form and has been likened to Haides, there is probably something to be said regarding the connection between the living, the divine and the dead that is very much ingrained in the honey/bee symbolism. Demeter too, often serves as a kind of mother of the dead and goddess of the saving initiation, by whose mysteries the mortal soul is released, nourished , perserved and given over to the blessed state. It is of no wonder that hers were also called, like the Pythias, bees of the goddess. The same can be said of Rhea and Cybele who are the most clear predecessors to the domain of Demeter, earthly mystic mothers, mother of Zeus and all the gods on one hand, and initiator of Dionysos on the other hand. Artemis’ powerful association with these goddess, and as a favored daughter of Zeus, and her prominent role as Kourotroph, a great nurse goddess, likely has much to do with her own strong associations with honeybees. Of course her other ole as a huntress which drives forth life to its end is perhaps also very much connected here, she, in many ways provides the means for which new life may mature. Like the honey that is created by bees for their own larvae to feed upon. This may be an important point of her relationship with Demeter as her mystic daughter. Although bees are not hunting creatures as one would imagine being associated with Artemis, they are nurturers and protectors which are just as siginificant to her cult as that of the huntress.
The sacred mystic nature of honey, however, is most clear in the myths surrounding Dionysos. Milk and honey, offerings to nymphs and to the dead, spurt from the thyrsus of the god and his maenads, and comes from the ground wheresoever they strike. If honey is that substance which is a gift from other gods, Dionysos, as a kind of younger Zeus, is the bestower of honey, he is honey-sweet. He is the essence of the realized divine state. And Hermes is the god who receives it , who delivers it forth. He is one who has received the divine gift and knows how to utilize it. If other gods oppoitimize raw honey and mead, Hermes I would call the candyman….the refined product of a most sacred substance of divinity
In any case , regardless of which of these above gods you are devoted to, the honeybee is an important and significant symbol that is appropriate to honor them with. I, myself, have a honeybee pendant that is gold, citrine and diamond that I wear chiefly for Apollon but also for these other gods as well who share this close relationship with my lord.