The Plight of the Honey Bee

Almost everyone is aware by now that honey bees are having a very, very difficult year. Bee colonies are dying all over the United States, imperiling not only the supply of honey, but also crops that depend on the bee for pollination, such as almonds, strawberries, blueberries, apples, watermelons, cranberries, and soybeans. While there are other pollinators out there, the honey bee is the only domesticated pollinator — it is the only pollinator that can be moved from crop to crop as necessary, and the only pollinator that can be depended on to serve crops that are not native to North America. As such it is essential to the large-scale agribusiness of the United States.

The death of a colony is frightful. First, the older adult worker bees begin to disappear, until only the younger ones are left. The workforce grows smaller gradually, becoming too small to care for the bees’ young. The Queen begins appearing outside the hive more frequently than normal. The bees seem reluctant to eat the food provided by the beekeeper.

Within a week or two, all the workers have disappeared entirely. They have gone away, and do not return. There are very few dead bees found near the hive. Food stores are abandoned uneaten. The babies are left growing in their hexagonal chambers, and they quickly die with no adults to feed them.

BUT WHY?

No one knows. There are terrible rumors flying around about cell phone radiation, pesticides and insecticides, parasites, feed from genetically modified crops… Each of these ideas has evidence for and against it.

The Meditation

Back in April, I did a meditation in which an animated crystalline honey bee made a prominent appearance. When I learned more about the troubles they were undergoing, I decided to try and do a meditation on them, to see if I could establish some connection and find out what was going on. This turned out not to be easy. Perhaps because of my worry, I had trouble focusing my mind and settling into the meditative state. At last, however, I managed to get a good connection with my anima, and I asked her to do a reading for me. She is a much better medium than I am.

We went to her room and settled down on the carpet with her Tarot deck. She did a four-card reading, with the first card representing the past or lead-up, the second representing the present situation, the third representing the outcome, and the fourth representing our next action. But for whatever reason, most of the cards she drew were not standard Tarot cards.

The first card was a distressing picture of a bee looking tired and sick, with a grayish pallor, covered with dark smudges; its wings were tattered and its head was bowed. From each and every leg it bore an overflowing bucket of honey. Behind it in the distance I got the impression of a castle surrounded by toiling workers.

The second picture was of a bee hovering over the Ace of Cups from the Rider-Waite deck, a golden goblet held by a hand emerging from a cloud.

The third picture was very simple: the Sword in the Stone.

The fourth card was the only standard Tarot card: the Tower.

I asked her to help explain the reading.

“I can do it partly,” she said. “The first card indicates that the bee is under too much stress. It is sickly because it has been overworked and is suffering from the poisons in the air and on the earth. Because it is stressed, it can’t defend itself or take care of itself as well as it has in the past. This is why the colony collapses seem to have so many causes — the deeper cause is that the bee can’t defend itself from everything anymore.

“The bee hovering over the cup: this recalls the world of Water, in druidism symbolizing the Otherworld — the Dead, the spirits, the Source. The bee is returning to the Source to renew itself. For many of the hives, this means physical death.

“For the future — the Sword in the Stone — I can’t say much, except that the monarchy is indicated in some way. This is appropriate for bees, given their social structure, but beyond that I don’t know.

“The fourth card, the Tower, shows the end of the agribusiness built on the backs of the honey bees — the monocultures, the overworked domestication. I don’t know what will replace it, but the current order is ending.”

Since I did this reading a couple of months ago, more has been learned about the bee’s plight. You can read an extensive discussion on Wikipedia. While no cause has yet been identified, it has been determined that the problem is much less in evidence among small-scale beekeepers, who often care for their bees with organic supplements, do not move their hives around the country as pollinators-for-hire, and in general place fewer demands on them. For me, this is validation of my anima’s reading, although I still wonder what the Sword in the Stone indicates for the future.

The Deeper Meaning

For many, the plight of the honey bee is symbolic of our rapacious relationship with the Earth; and that is certainly a large part of what is going on. But that can’t be all. The extinction of any of the Earth’s species is symbolic, reflective of that poisonous relationship. Why the bee?

The word bee has a confused and uncertain etymology, but one possible source for it is the ancient Proto Indo European root bha, “to speak”. Bees can be considered speakers for a number of reasons: their rapport with humanity; their dance, which communicates the direction and distance and richness of potential sources of pollen; and their intricate social structure, the creation of a greater whole out of many simple parts, which recalls the combinatorial, recursive nature of human language and thought.

Whenever I think of this relationship between bees and language, I always remember a puzzle found in the back of the Steve Jackson version of Principia Discordia. “Can you rearrange the following letters to spell out the long-lost Third Testament of the Bible, which explains all the mysteries of the first two?” The letters provided, of course, are ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. The puzzle does give a helpful hint: “You may have to use some letters more than once!”

In Slade’s recent guest article, he said something that struck me powerfully:

See, the Tower of Babel myth was not a story of punishment – man in his godlike wisdom gets too big for his britches and gets knocked down to the size where he belongs. No, no, no – God graduated man to the next level of challenge – diversity is the cornerstone of innovation and evolution. Diversity and the infinite potential of creative change within the Bigger Picture is the strength of any system.

Without that infinite potential of creative expression, God would not need so many of us. The Universe in all its infinite abundance would not have been set in motion.

And in this way, bees represent not just communication, language, and thought, but the potential of creation. But not just any creation — ORGANIC creation, creation as it is usually found in Nature — not by fiat, but by simple things interacting in simple ways that somehow, evolutionarily, emergently, create something entirely new.

This is the Honey of the Bee: a continually renewed Creation. May they flower again — this time not as cogs in the human machine, but in the image of their higher selves, our full partners in the renewing of the world.

plightofbee.jpg

Comments

  1. I like the cellphone theory: the bees are getting lost because of the phone waves in the air. Course, I’m a cellphone loather so I’m a little biased.

    Very interesting reading.

    And if you decide to make your own tarot, totally let me know. I would be very interested in seeing your work.

  2. The Tower… I’ve been struggling with its deeper meaning for a while now.

    Here’s a quick preview of my blog post that I probably won’t get around to for a few more months:

    The first time around, the Tower represents physical destruction. Second time, it represents psychological or emotional loss, usually far more severe than the physical destruction.

    The third time around, though, it represents hope. The Tower is like wildfires: destructive, frightening, and essential for the health of the forest. Without The Tower, we become stagnant and die slowly from the inside. With The Tower, we are moved to action, and only while active can we truly live. It is the most bitter-sweet card I know of.

    I’m at a loss about the sword in the stone, though.

  3. the sword in the stone could be interpreted as ‘the potential of creation’. I see it as symbolizing an otherworld state between death and recreation.

    Regarding the Tower of Babel Myth, they way I understand it is that the Tower is an imperfect attempt to join ‘heaven and earth.’ There is an interesting African myth that parallels the Biblical myth, of a community who attempt to fix the broken link between heaven and earth, by stacking pestles, until there are none left. All they need is one more pestle to reach heaven, and so they remove the pestle from the bottom of the tower to bridge the gap, and the tower collapses.

    This mythological problem of destruction is solved through the symbol of the circle, or the Labyrinth (which, in Cretan Culture was most likely associated with the beehive), because, they ‘join the end to the beginning.’ In fact, the beginning (death) and end (life) are one, bound together by a concealed link, the divine-creative power that sustains all things.

    Nothing truly dies. The hidden sword remains sharp within the stone and awaits its moment to be unsheathed.

    Sorry for rambling on, I find this stuff interesting 🙂

  4. Excellent mytho-analysis. The bee is truly a sacred animal in so many contexts, and there is a wealth of meaning behind their disappearing.

  5. Jeff, as always, I admire your ability to draw together such a diverse tangent and make iot applicable to your blog.

    No where else am I finding this kind of intuitive, intellectual musings about the goings on of the world.

    I love it!

  6. Jeff, I agree with K-L. You way with words is an incredible weaving of poetry and pictures that flow through my mind and leave me in awe. Maybe when we do the Fire The Grid on July 17, we can send some healing energy to the bees too.

  7. Here’s my take on The Tower.

    In the deck of cards I use (Osho), The Tower is represented as Thunderbolt. It is the destruction of that which no longer serves us, and clears the way for the new to arise.

    How we experience Thunderbolt depends on whether we try to cling to the old beliefs and ways of being, or whether we let go and watch the destruction with detachment.

    It is a necessary process that allows one to emerge from the rubble much stronger, and more available for new experiences.

    I love this card.

  8. The first time I read the article I missed the connection between the destruction of the tower and the creation of new languages.

    I like the Principia Discordia’s idea of a hidden Third Testament unlocking the mysteries of the Old and the New using the alphabet as the key, containing all the potential of limitless ways of creative expression,like the Mind-Word (logos), that is also understood as a creative-destructive source of power.

    Looking a the tower-thunderbolt card, I agree with K-L ( if I understand correctly) that the thunderbolt represents both destructive power of the thunderbolt (symbolized as a solar eye on one card I saw), it functions as a symbol of destructible power that removes internal dross, until eventually all remains within is the power of the thunderbolt itself, which is also a key that can unlock the door of transcendence.

    weapons such as the sword on the stone, and the thunderbolt contain within themselves the power to destroy and recreate, much like the weapons of many gods, including, the Dagda, Odin, Thor (even Eros in is own way). This Idea is bound up in so many mythic ideas, such as only the cure can only be remedied by the cause. I’ve recently come across the same idea in Tantrism:

    One must rise by that by which one falls
    the very poison that kills becomes the elixir of life when used by the wise.” Wiki:Tantrism

    We relinquish our self-centered desires when we internalize the indestructible thunderbolt within, all that is not of the thunderbolt (that which is not of our true selves), is dissolved, transforming us into who we truly are.

  9. Jeff Lilly says:

    Nio, I like the cell phone theory too, precisely because I despise the things. (Although I am ashamed to admit that the iPhone enthralls me. Such are the paradoxes of the human mind…) But according to what I can find out online, the cell phone theory is actually one of the less likely possibilities.

    The Tarot deck is on hold for now, along with many other projects that I’d dearly like to pursue. One day, though, for sure!

  10. Jeff Lilly says:

    Nice analysis, Adam. I really like your ideas about the Tarot cards each having three meanings. It reminds me of planetary transits — the really big important ones tend to strike you three times in rapid succession, as the planet crosses once, goes back over it retrograde, and then goes forward over it again. I wonder if that’s related?

  11. Jeff Lilly says:

    Mahud, that’s awesome stuff. The poison-as-elixir pattern is the whole basis of homeopathy, as I understand it.

    You know what? I missed the connection between the Tower card and the Tower of Babel as well! At least, I missed it consciously. Isn’t that something? I honestly only brought of Babel because of the linguistic connection; I didn’t see that it was also the tower that was being broken.

    I had no idea there was a connection between the Labyrinth and the honeycomb! That is really cool.

    It sounds like the Sword in the Stone represents the return of the bees, once the time is right.

  12. Jeff Lilly says:

    Kara-Leah and Patricia, thanks so much for your kind words. Druidism is as big as the whole sky and earth, so it’s easy to draw diverse elements into my writing. 🙂 Patricia, that’s a good idea about including the bees in the 17th.

  13. The one thing I most want to emphasize, which I don’t think a lot of people are GETTING about the Bee — it’s not just the collapse of bees, we’re talking about here — it’s not just “Oh, well, no more honey…”

    The ENTIRE food chain depends on bee pollination.

    The ENTIRE Garden of the Earth is sustained by bees.

    We’re looking at a collapse of the ecosystem, from the ground up.

    The Sword in the Stone, the Tower — as with the Death card, these are of course metaphorical transformations more than literal. The very tools that destroy also hold the keys to saving us. Our technology has the power to save us, wielded with a new consciousness.

  14. Jeff Lilly says:

    Slade,

    According to what I’ve read, the honey bee is certainly not the only pollinator out there, though it certainly is essential to most of the large-scale crops grown in the United States. It’s true that the honey bee, encouraged by humanity, has pushed many other pollinators aside, but they do exist. After all, the honey bee was only introduced to North America with the settlers from Europe (the Native Americans called it “the White Man’s Fly”). The flowering plants of North America do not now, and never have, depended on the honey bee alone. But here in the US, most of what we eat is not native to this continent, and the native pollinators ignore these transplanted crops. So it’s certainly true to say that for US large-scale agriculture, which feeds 90% of our population and keeps food prices relatively low, the end of the honey bee would be a disaster.

    The end of the honey bee would force us all to be localvores. But it would not be the end of the Garden of Earth.

  15. I heard an interesting discussion about the energy resources involved in transporting foods, not to mention Chinese food factories either intentionally or accidentally poisoning their products… The study actually found that it’s more economically and energy efficient to buy mass transport produce.

    Maybe there is a balance to be found in macrobiotics? Is it macrobiotics that encourages eating only foods that are native to where you live? And where did I read that you should go even one step further and eat foods that are indigenous to the country (countries) of your ethnic biological origins?

    Whatever the case, Gaia may seek to restore balance to the ecosystem, but then there is a Big Big system out there beyond our little sphere. There have been times when this world was seeded with life, and there have obviously been times where greater mass scale extinctions have occurred — not all of them dictated by the earth or anyone on it…

    Figuring out which it is, how it’s occurring and why is a useful role of science, but I wonder if we’re “supposed” to keep everything the same as it is now. That’s such a human mindset. Environmental conservation is all good and wonderful, but preserving the earth as it is or was at a particular time is unrealistic and perhaps… unnatural?

  16. Nature does have its own ebb and flow. It is only the arrogance of mankind that thinks we can control nature.

  17. Jeff Lilly says:

    It is certainly true that the large-scale agriculture we have here is cheaper and more energy efficient than having everything grown on smaller, local farms. It’s a matter of the economies of scale. The problem is that growing food in this way treats the food as if it’s nothing but a cog in a great machine. The food is grown by huge machines, it’s sprayed by huge machines (vast fields with one crop are much more susceptible to parasites and bugs than true ecosystems or small farms are), it’s harvested by huge machines (usually well before it’s ready, so that it will ripen en route), and frozen and coated with petrochemicals by machines so that it can be transported vast distances by machines. And don’t let’s even talk about the meat products. It’s a soulless operation, treating the food as if it’s fuel rather than something sacred.

    Food SHOULD cost more, both in energy and effort. It’s worth our attention and our resources. Mechanizing food production is disconnection and arrogance.

    That said, I absolutely agree that we can’t and shouldn’t try to keep everything the way it was. We can and should try to get out of the way, to allow it to be whatever it will be; and we should try to understand it — using both science and Spirit — so that we can harmonize with it. We have to remain connected to it, so that we can sense its ebb and flow, as Patricia says. The arrogance and the disconnection go hand in hand.

  18. We, as a race — the whole human race — have expanded to the point, and intruded into nature to the point, that we can no longer just get out of the way and let Nature continue as if we don’t have our hands in it.

    Food should NOT cost more — but what it should do is support everyone on the globe, regardless of what nation they live in or how much money they have.

    The problem is not Man versus Nature so much as it’s This Group of Men versus That Group of Men. The growing pains all revolve around our inability to act collectively. There is absolutely no reason why we can’t feed everyone on this planet, and do so with a sense of connection… But of course this is where we are, separate, obsessed with fear and scarcity… We’re growing toward that reality, and all human disciplines — religion, science, agriculture — must be collectively held for the benefit of all and operated within a deep understanding of Nature.

    We’ve domesticated our environment only part of the way — it’s an unfinished job, the children are making a big mess learning to use their tools… NOT using our tools in not the answer, going back to a reality that predates technology is not the answer either…

    The way out is to go further in, deeper, to complete what we started. You could theorize that the Fall of Man is a Pandora’s box… We can’t put everything back in that box and we shouldn’t — we should continue pushing toward the cooperation that will harness and wield the tools and toys to everyone’s benefit… Nature, included.

    We must ascend, mature, in our power, and wield it with understanding. Collectively, we’re kids playing with guns, right now. But children learn and grow up.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is that we can’t get out of the way — we have to engineer the way, with a graduated level of understanding we have yet to attempt.

  19. Jeff Lilly says:

    I think that we’re in about 90% complete agreement here, maybe more — which means I haven’t been making myself clear. I suppose I’ve been sounding like someone who thinks we should return to the Bronze Age.

    Absolutely not.

    When I said we should “get out of the way”, I meant that humanity should have a much smaller footprint than it does. Not no footprint — that would deny our proper place in the ecosystem — but a reasonable footprint. And that means allowing the air to become clean, allowing the seas to repopulate with fish, allowing the vast fields of corn in the midwest to revert to forest and prairie.

    And to do this, while keeping our standards of living, and maintaining and feeding our population — because I DO think we should maintain and feed our population! — means more science and technology. It means using our toys wisely and well to maintain and grow our numbers while reducing our footprint so that the Earth can heal. Many people think you can’t have BOTH lots of people with a high standard of living AND a pristine Earth, but I honestly think it can be done. I admit it may be an irrational opinion on my part, but I hold it.

    And when I said “food should cost more” — an unfortunate phrasing — I meant that it should cost more of our attention and time (which does translate into money, really). And I was directing that towards those of us — and I have been guilty of it — who drop by the store and grab something and eat it without thinking about it. We — all of us — should be deeply connected to the food we eat. Ideally, we should all grow our own food. But I don’t think that ideal can be reached without some major technological advances.

    I would be beyond delighted to live in the Star Trek universe. Did you see the episode where Picard returns to see his family in France, and visits his brother’s vinyard? It’s run completely traditionally. In Star Trek’s future, they don’t grow their food in vats — they grow it in the Earth, with respect and love. (Unless they’re on a starship, where agriculture would be impractical, and they have to make their food out of thin air. 🙂 ) The air and seas of the Earth are clean, they’ve got biodiversity out the wazoo, and a ridiculous standard of living and a huge population both on- and off-planet. That’s our target.

    Is my position a little clearer now? 🙂

  20. Dude,

    I’m pretty convinced at this point that you and I would end up on the same page even if I went West and you went East. Our paths always reveal themselves as circles…

    Forgive me for dragging the Honey Bee train off the tracks and changing the conversation a bit more than I intended…

    As for Star Trek — man, it’s a known fact that the Web — the greatest social experiment and successful democratic system We’ve put together so far — has its roots firmly planted in Open Source. And the open source movement was inspired in a very literal way by the Utopia Star Trek presents.

    Science Fiction is the realm of the story of Man on a global scale and beyond.

    I’m proud to be a Hot Nerd — Make it so!

    🙂

  21. I love this dialogue… the way it circles and loops and reveals more and more.

    My take is this…

    1. We accept response-ability for where we ARE

    2. We consciously use everything at our disposal to create an existence that values all of life as much as we’ve historically valued human life (recognising that we’ve only JUST begun to contemplate valuing ALL humans equally…)

    3. Within this process, we recognise Change as the Nature of Life.

    be Conscious now…

  22. I agree with K-L. We have to take responsibility for the part that we play in all of this and so much more. I ,for one, am going to talk to my brother-in-law who used to have a bee house eons ago and see what I can do in my own yard to attract and feed bees. Every Spring there are a few flying around my back porch. I have been planting trees and bushes in my yard for the past few years. I have been wanting to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Well, bees just got added to that list. We can all do small things in the environment of our own yards to help nature and Mother Earth to flurish.

  23. I’m so glad to read of someone else noticing this decline, I thought it was just my imagination but seeing bees, hornets and wasps used to be part of summer. This year I have only seen one, and oddly managed to get stung by it, and the wild clematis near our house is overly sweet and dripping nectar. No bees to consume it, I guess.

    Someone suggested that I leave out rotting fruit to attract bees that would in turn pollinate the heavy flowers in my garden. Sad to report it was to no avail.

  24. That is so terribly sad, Aeris! You are in Ohio, is that right? We are seeing more than that here in western Massachusetts — plenty of wasps, hornets, yellowjackets — but not many honey bees.

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