Bees have been found in ancient drawings, scripture, folktales, and mythology. With so many stories about bees, what do they truly symbolize?
Some of the most common things that bees symbolize include a dedication to work, elaborate collectivism, and sacred movement between the physical work and spiritual world, among others.
Our guide will break down the symbolism of bees by culture, religion, spirituality, and general concepts.
Table of Contents
1. The General Symbolism of Bees
There are certain things bees symbolize no matter which culture, country, or background you come from. Their focus, work ethic, and importance for the environment are just a few we will discuss today.
1. Bees Symbolize Focus
Whenever you’ve seen a bee, it’s likely been buzzing by to land on a flower or food source. You won’t find them lounging in the sun or resting like most other animals because bees are a living representation of intense focus.
Each bee in the hive has an assignment and attends to that job and that job only. Some take care of the larvae, others clean, and many gather nectar to produce honey.
For those bees outside among flowers, finding the right nectar takes effort. While colors, patterns, and scents play a part, bees also sense electrical fields around flowers, allowing them to find the best flowers for the picking – or should we say, for the nectar collecting. This is yet another example of how focused and precise bees are when it comes to achieving the task at hand.
2. Bees Symbolize a Strong Work Ethic
Most of us are familiar with and understand the term “busy bee.” This buzzing insect is known for its dedication as a powerful animal, working for and within the hive. Close to 90% of every hive is made up of worker bees alone, and this group is vital to upkeep the hive and the queen bee herself.
Each bee will commit to one task, whether that be building the best, foraging for food, or taking care of grubs and larvae. Even in a hive that can contain tens of thousands of bees, the only time you’ll see a bee not working is when it’s sleeping.
Not only do they commit to their tasks, but bees work together as a prime example of teamwork and unity. As each completes its assigned duties, it ensures not only its own survival but that of its hive.
3. Bees Symbolize Balance in Nature
Most of us know that bees are an important part of our environment, but not many of us realize why. Bees are known as excellent pollinators, a necessary process for the reproduction of many plants we use every day. Over 80% of our plant-based foods require pollination by animals.
If bees were to disappear, humans everywhere would suffer a loss of fresh produce and food products. These small creatures are vital to keeping our environment moving forward in harmony, representing a peaceful balance in nature.
2. The Symbolism of Bees in Culture
Bees can represent different things in different cultures, which is why we will discuss what they symbolize for the Native Americans, Mayans, Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Romans, Greeks, and Celts.
1. What do Bees Symbolize for Native Americans?
While they may not appear much as a bee totem animal for Native Americans, they can be found in some old legends preserved by this group.
One Cherokee legend talks about how bees were initially created without a bee sting, supplying honey sweetness to all the land and people. Soon the people became greedy, asking for more and more honey until the Creator had to give the bees stingers to defend themselves against this greed. In this story, the bees represent the harm that greed can bring.
2. What do Bees Symbolize for Mayans?
Bees and honey in Mayan culture symbolized life. There was even a Mayan god, Ah Muzen Cab, who oversaw all of the bees and honey on earth.
3. What Bees Symbolize for Ancient Egyptians?
The Ancient Egyptians saw bees as a representation of the tears of the sun god, Ra. Whenever Ra cried, his tears would touch the ancient Egypt desert and form bees.
These bees also helped guide souls into the afterlife. Egyptians viewed them as symbols of the cycle of life, from birth to death and into the afterlife.
4. What do Bees Symbolize for the Chinese?
In China, early mentions of bees in literature and stories were usually meant to represent danger or potential harm. Bees were also grouped with wasps.
Sayings and characters soon developed to include the honey bee, changing the bee’s symbolism to also see them as messengers of the gods.
Nowadays, bees in China are also seen as symbolizing industry and a strong work ethic.
5. What do Bees Symbolize for Romans?
The ancient Romans used bees in their account of the god Jupiter, in Roman mythology. Jupiter was similar to Zeus from Greek mythology, and he was also nourished by bees as a child.
6. What Bees Symbolize for Greeks?
The ancient Greeks revered bees as divine creatures, moving between our everyday world and a supernatural one, like heaven.
Bees are shown as symbols throughout famous Greek mythology. The god Zeus fed on honey as a child, as it was called the nectar of the gods. Zeus later saved a nymph by turning her into one of his beloved bees. There was even a Greek god of beekeeping called Aristaeus.
Greek goddesses of arts and science – called muses – were also associated with these insects.
7. What Bees Symbolize for the Celts?
The Celts were known as barbaric warriors, but their beliefs were closely tied to nature and the world around them. They considered bees to be spiritual beings, sharing this view with the Greeks.
Since bees could be messengers from the spirit world, the Celts respected honey as a sacred substance. Bees had to be treated respectfully, and if you saw one in your home it was a symbol of good luck.
3. The Symbolism of Bees in Religion
Bees are mentioned or referred to in many of the world’s major religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
1. Bee Symbolism in Christianity
Bees are found in the symbology of certain Catholic saints, as well as in the Bible. Saint Ambrose, for example, was said to have had a swarm of bees land on him as an infant. The swam left behind a drop of honey which symbolized his honeyed tongue.
In the Bible, honey is usually referred to as a blessing or a representation of abundance, good, or prosperity. It is also used as a gift. You can find references to bees in Deuteronomy 1:44, Judges 14:7-9 and 14:8, Psalm 118:12, and Isaiah 7:18, among others.
2. Bee Symbolism in Judaism
Judaism is centered around the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament of the Bible, which also references bees and honey. Honey is also used during important Jewish events and celebrations such as Rosh Hashanah.
3. Bee Symbolism in Islam
Islam revolves around the Quran, which mentions bees as receiving direct instruction from God. This occurs in chapter 16, verses 68 and 69. The bee is referred to as being dutiful and useful.
4. The Symbolism of Bees in Folklore
Folklore is a collection of fictional stories that can include legends, proverbs, customs, words of wisdom, sayings, etc. In folklore, we can see bees take on many different representations.
1. Telling the Bees in England
We aren’t sure when or where telling the bees originated, but it’s a tradition that was found across Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. The saying goes that beekeepers and their families need to show respect toward bees or risk-averse consequences. This means telling the bees about any major changes in the family.
For example, if the beekeeper passed away, his family would have to notify the hive that this happened and even cover the hive with a black veil during mourning. The legend goes that the bees would otherwise die of sadness or run away.
Cornish traditions from Cornwall believed that the bees could sting the beekeeper to death if they weren’t notified of a future move. The family also sang to the bees if the beekeeper died to convince them to stay in the hive.
2. Central Europe Traditions Around Bees
Thousands of years ago, a tradition in Central Europe said that brides-to-be should walk past a beehive with their partner. If he was stung by a bee, it meant that he would cheat on her and that the marriage was doomed.
3. Bees in Witchcraft
Some stories of witchcraft, such as those in Scotland and Nova Scotia, use bees in tales as assassins or to poison people.
4. Bees as Symbols of Luck
Bees have often been seen as symbols of both good and bad luck across cultures. If one lands in your hand, money may be in your midst.
Bee in your home means good news is coming – unless you kill it, in which case the opposite may be true.
5. Bees to Symbolize the Weather
One famous idea is that bees stay closer to their hive when a storm is closing in. Bees farther away symbolize sunny, good weather.
5. Famous Sayings with Bees
You might have heard some of these famous sayings about bees. Plus, check out what they really mean.
- “Busy as a bee” refers to someone who is very busy and active, focused on one or more tasks at a time.
- “The bee’s knees” refers to something that is great, awesome, or coveted.
- “A bee in your bonnet” refers to having a topic stuck in your mind, such as when you have a perseverated worry.
- “None of your beeswax” is a replacement for saying “none of your business” when someone is asking about a topic that doesn’t pertain to them.
- “Spelling bees” are competitions where groups of children gather to compete in spelling competitions. This comes from the word “bee,” which means a meeting of people who work together to benefit the group.
- The saying “the birds and the bees” represents sex education since the 1800s.
- To “make a beeline” for something means to head from point A to point B in one straight line, often zooming towards the second point. This comes from the idea that bees head straight back to their hives after their work is done.
- Calling someone a “queen bee” means that they are a dominant or powerful woman within their sphere of influence.
6. The Spiritual Symbolism of Bees
Spiritual significance refers to people’s thoughts and beliefs as opposed to physical surroundings. Religion holds an aspect of spirituality but they can also be viewed as separate ideas and philosophies.
Since spirituality is subjective to each individual, bees can symbolize many different spiritual aspects.
- Creativity: Bees work together to solve complex problems, such as how to reach a sugar source that has been blocked off.
- Collective consciousness: Especially for those from Western cultures, it’s easy to lose sight of collective consciousness and remember that citizens of the same society share more beliefs and sentiments than most realize. Bees allow us to remember that we all work together and in cohesion to accomplish many and most things.
- Manifestation: Manifestations are when an image or action represents something greater. Bees sense energy fields around flowers and use this to reach the nectar, later transforming it into honey. If you find a bee buzzing around you it may be a sign that it’s your turn to manifest something big in your own life!
- Female strength and fertility: It’s no surprise that “queen bee” is a compliment – the queen bee herself is the center and sole power of any beehive. This is a great representation of the power of femininity and women as a whole.
- Creation: One queen will create a colony of tens of thousands of bees. These bees then build hives out of honeycomb and propolis – two more substances that bees create with great effort out of other materials.
- Purpose: Alluding to each member of the colony, all bees have a purpose. They are driven, aim for their goals no matter the circumstance, and rarely go off course.
Whether you’re interested in the art or nature of the bee, there is plenty to learn about it. These fascinating creatures are fundamental in keeping our world healthy and functioning, and even ancient civilizations realized this.
No matter what bees may have symbolized in the past, they can take on new meanings depending on your experience. I leave you with the question, what do bees symbolize to you?