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.
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.
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.