On the Symbolism of the Bee in the Occult Tradition
To those unfamiliar with our work, it may seem curious that an occult aspirant should choose the seemingly lowly and unaspiring bee as a symbol of his chosen study. To those who have examined the aims and precepts of occultism more closely, the obvious connection is summarized well by a statement of St. John Chrysostom in his twelfth homily: "The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others." Indeed, the bee works unceasingly for the common good of the hive, and obeys without question what sometimes appears to be an inequitable hierarchy.
So, too, does the occultist aim to serve the common good of humanity. He does so in two ways -- by first developing himself to be a fit vessel for the spiritual forces that he makes use of in his work, and secondly, by directing those spiritual forces to aid in correcting the imbalances in the knowledge or circumstances of those that come to him for assistance. The trained occultist knows that he is not separate from others, but shares with them a community of consciousness by virtue of their shared humanity. In helping others along the path, he also advances himself. As he advances himself, so does he lift up all others that will tread the path after him. Additionally, the occult aspirant obeys a heriarchy as immutable as that of the hive. The difference with the occultist, however, is that the hierarchy he obeys are the precepts that the Higher Self has set down for him, and the laws of his own mind and of the mind side of Nature. These precepts and laws, though fixed and rigid on their own planes, appear inequitable only to those that do not know how to make use of them. The bee does not complain of the hierarchy, but sets himself to do his best within it; so, too, does the occultist.
There are additional meanings of the bee that the Mystery traditions have left us. We cannot hope to exhaust the meanings of this symbol, but we may at least make a start. Bees are often considered a symbol of the Goddess or Divine Feminine because they are ruled by queens. In particular, they are associated with the goddess Venus because part of their labor is the indirect fertilization of flowers, all of which come under the dominion of Venus. Without bees, many species of flowers would die out, and so the bee may justly be considered a handmaiden of that goddess. There is a Greek tradition, too, of the Nine Muses, the divine patronesses or music and poetry, taking on the form of bees. This comports well with the rulership of Venus over the arts.
Another occult tradition states that the mysterious figure Melchizedek, who is mentioned in the Bible in connection with giving communion to the patriarch Abraham, is an entity that brought three gifts to earth from the planet Venus: the bee, wheat, and the mineral asbestos. The tradition is an allegorical one. The meaning of the three gifts may be partially understood as symbolizing three grades of initiation. In the first grade, one serves (bee). In the second grade, the initiate focuses on understanding and practicing the development of the many out of the one (wheat). In the third grade, the initiate becomes a channel of the Divine Fire; he burns, but is not consumed (asbestos).
In the sacred tradition known as the Qabalah, the planet and goddess Venus are associated with the Sephirah Netzach. This Sephirah is also called "Saykel Nesether", or the "Occult Intelligence." Two of the potencies of human consciousness that have their root in Venus or Netzach are creative imagination and desire. These are two sine qua non of occult development. Without knowledge of the right use of creative imagination and desire, the aspirant makes little progress.
The bee is also a symbol for wisdom, for it collects pollen from many flowers and turns it into the nourishing honey, which is the gold of bees. Just so, the occult aspirant collects experience from the varying circumstances of his life and from it extracts spiritual gold. As the spiritual alchemists imply, the life of the occult aspirant is his laboratory, and his consciousness and his body the subjects of his spiritual experiments.
Yet there is even more meaning for those occultists who study the Egyptian tradition -- a tradition from which we, ourselves, draw inspiration. A well known cosmological myth from the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis -- Greek for City of the Sun, but known as Annu or Iunu in Egyptian, and which is now located in a suburb of modern Cairo -- is that the sun-god Re was self-generated, having spontaneously arisen from the primordial Waters of the Nun (Footnote 1). After his self-generation, Re began to generate other gods. Another story provides additional dimension to our subject. A lesser known tradition, and one that the priests of Heliopolis themselves are said to have taught as part of their allegorical mysteries, states that the goddess Neith was the first deity that emerged from the Waters of the Nun, making her the foremost of the Egyptian Gods. Having arisen from the Nun, she rested upon a primeval mound that had formed in the midst of the Waters. Raising her voice, she uttered the first sounds or words of power -- "hekau" in Egyptian -- and then created Light (Footnote 2). Next, she became Virgin Mother of the Sun by giving birth to Re, who appeared as a child on the horizon (Footnote 3). She granted the power of disseminating Light to Re through the vehicle of the Sun, then in the form of a bee flew off to the place where the city Sais -- called "Sau" in Egyptian, and which was situated in the middle of the Nile delta -- was to be in order to establish her cult and temple there. The Temple of Neith in Sau is traditionally known as the House of the Bee -- or "Hoot-Bit" in Egyptian.
There are a couple of other myths that support this version of the Heliopolitan cosmology. First, there is a story from the corpus of myths surrounding the battles of Horus and Set. The Council of Gods convened to decide who should rule Egypt after the death of the god Osiris. Set had murdered Osiris and usurped the throne, but Horus was the rightful heir, though his youth and inexperience were considered unfavorable factors in the minds of some gods. After much discussion, the gods could come to no resolution, so they suggested that Thoth, the scribe of the Gods, write a letter to Neith, whom they considered the wisest of the Gods. Thoth willingly agreed, and began his letter: "To Neith, the Eldest One, the Mother of the Gods, who shone in the primeval time." Another myth that may indicate Re's birth from Neith is the story of Isis and Re. Isis, desiring to become as powerful as Re, decided to trick him into revealing his magic name to her. Knowledge of that name would give Isis great power. She fashioned a serpent out of the spittle of Re that she had found amongst some cedars. She set the serpent along the path where she knew Re was accustomed to walk. Re was bitten, and the poison coursed through his body, causing agonizing pain. Re screamed and cried in rage, and the tears that flowed from his eyes turned into bees. Perhaps a cry for help to his mother? The text does not say. However, since Re has been effectually immobilized, is in pain greater than he can bear, and does not know how to make it cease, it is not unreasonable to assume that he might be calling on the Eldest, the Mother of the Gods, to come to his aid. Thirdly, the Egyptians sometimes gave Neith the title "Opener of the Ways" because it was she that was the first conscious entity to begin the process of manifestation (Footnote 4).
It is said that the statue of Neith in the House of the Bee was veiled, and that inscribed at its base were the words, "I am all that has been, that is, or shall ever be; no mortal man hath ever me unveiled." Another phrase associated with Neith is "The fruit which I have brought forth is the Sun." Now these phrases are interesting because the first implies a temporal and substantive omnipresence of Neith, which comports well with an entity that was the first to emerge from the Nun. Moreover, the first phrase is almost exactly the esoteric meaning of the Qabalistic God-Name YHVH, or Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh. This Qabalistic name is derived from the Hebrew verb "to be." Just so, the name Neith is derived from a similarly extended Egyptian verb "to be" (Footnote 5). The second phrase implies that she is the mother of the Sun. We may reasonably take this as further confirmation that Neith is, at least by some accounts, the mother of the sun-god Re (Footnote 6).
The symbol of the Veil is an important one throughout the Mysteries, whether they be Christian, Greek, Egyptian, Qabalistic, Rosicrucian, etc. and meditation on the Veil will fruitfully repay the occult student. In one sense, the veil of Neith shrouds what occultists term the "mind side of Nature." The initiate in the House of the Bee was told by the goddess, "Come look beneath my veil." It is both an invitation, and a dare. When the veil is lifted to one by the grace of the goddess, the initiate perceives the inner workings and patterns of Nature, and so perceiving, thereafter learns to consciously participate in them, such that he becomes a human administrator of the will of the Gods (Footnote 7). In fact, the initiate at this point fully recognizes his own inner divinity and the responsibilities that such recognition brings. He has become something more than human. And though he still be man, he has not violated Neith's statement "no mortal man hath ever me unveiled." One must take Nature as his Master before one can take Her as his Mistress. This every ancient Egyptian initiate knew. We modern occultists also pay great heed to this principle.
Neith was primarily a goddess of wisdom, but also of weaving; it is said that her gift to the newly-deceased were the cloth wrappings in which they were buried (Footnote 8). Some of her oldest and most primitive symbols were hunting equipment -- crossed arrows or spears and two bows. Because of these associations, and her associations with childbirth, the Greeks identified Neith with both Athena (the goddess of wisdom, weaving, and skill in battle), and Artemis (goddess of the hunt, the moon, and childbirth). In particular, she was associated with Artemis Dictynna, an aspect of Artemis as patroness of fisherman, particularly in Crete. Additionally, the symbolism of the net is not too dissimilar from that of the veil (Footnote 9).
In time, though still in the predynastic period in Egyptian history, the figure of the bee became a symbol of royalty in Egypt (Footnote 10). One of the titles of Pharoah in his office as King of Lower Egypt and wearer of the Red Crown was "Ny-Bit" -- "he who belongs to the Bee" (Footnotes 12 and 13). It is very likely that this title was derived from the association of the Bee with the Mother of the Gods, Neith. After all, Pharoah was seen as a descendant of the Gods, if not a god incarnate himself. But this is not all. The Red Crown of Egypt is called "deshret", but in some Pyramid texts, it is termed "net" -- a word etymologically very similar to the Egyptian word for Neith. Indeed, Neith is often depicted in temple drawings wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.
It is also of interest that the root word for bee in Egyptian was also used to describe persons of fine character or good quality. Those that are familiar with the curricula of the modern schools of initiation will know that the development of fine character and good qualities is one of the primary aims of the beginning student's work in the Lesser Mysteries.
To summarize, we have associated the bee with service, diligence, the right use of creative imagination and desire, and the collection of wisdom from the experiences of life. From the association with the Egyptian goddess Neith, we have linked the bee to the discernment, and consequent use and administration, of the veiled laws and patterns of Nature, as well as the process of coming to know our own inner divinity as a spiritual fact. Finally, we have seen the bee as a symbol of spiritual royalty and the development of fine character.
Do not these things, my friends, describe what you aspire to in your work? What is in your heart?
Footnote 1: The Egyptian Nun (pron. "noon") is a concept not unlike the Greek Chaos.
Footnote 2: Sound preceding the creation of Light is found in several cosmologies, including those of Qabalah and Hinduism.
Footnote 3: Being the first goddess to give birth -- indeed, credited with inventing birth -- Neith became a patroness of women in childbirth.
Footnote 4: The term "Upuat" meaning "Opener of the Ways" is also used as an appellation for the god Anubis, though there is also a separate god named Upuat who was the helmsman in Re's Boat of Millions of Years, in which he daily traversed the skies as the Sun. See the additional article on the Opener of the Ways on this web site.
Footnote 5: The skeleton of the verb, which was not commonly used, is "nt" or "ntt". In rare forms, it is drawn with the hieroglyph of a four-petalled flower, which we have commented would symbolically come under the dominion of Venus. Interestingly, Neith is sometimes given the title "God one," just as the Jews proclaimed Yahweh (YHVH) to be One (see, Deut. 6:4). The first phrase that we have mentioned was preserved by Plutarch in his essay on Isis and Osiris. The second phrase is recorded by Proclus.
Footnote 6: Some have termed Neith of Sau the "Saitic Isis", and consider that the Sun referred to is Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, who also has solar connotations. However, it is beyond cavil in the mythology of Heliopolis that Isis and Neith are separate figures for the purposes of the myths. For instance, when the Council of Gods write to Neith for advice in the drama of Set and Horus, they are doing so primarily at the suit of Isis, who is pressing for her son Horus to be named the ruler of Egypt. Matters are confounded by the fact that Sau was also called "Aset-Net" -- the "seat of Neith" or the "throne of Neith." The confusion stems from the fact that the word "Aset" means both "Isis" and "throne". In any event, there was undoubtedly some fusion of the two goddesses over the course of Egyptian history.
Footnote 7: In Tarot symbology, Neith may be considered the World Dancer in Trump XXI. The figure in that card bears a veil. The card is also attributed to the letter Tau, with which Qabalistic texts associate the central point of creation.
Footnote 8: "Netet" is a related verb, meaning "to knit, to weave."
Footnote 9: Another common spelling of Neith is "Net." And though the word net as a tool for fishing is spelled the same way, there is no connection in Egyptian between the words net ("abtit") and "Net" as referring to Neith. This has caused some confusion amongst occultists studying the Egyptian tradition, particularly because another name for the House of the Bee -- "Hoot-Bit" -- was "Hoot-Net" -- the "House of Net" or "House of Neith." Egyptian temples were called Houses because they operated something like divine residences; the spiritual essence of the god or goddess of a temple was believed to be in the deity's statue, which was housed in the Temple and which was washed in the morning, presented with breakfast in the form of offerings, etc., etc. Unfortunately, "House of Net" is easily confused with the "House of THE Net", which was another Egyptian temple, but in the city of Hermopolis -- Khemenu or "Eight-Towns" -- further down the Nile. The House of the Net -- "Hoot-Abtit" -- was essentially a college of priest-magicians appended to the Temple of Thoth ("Per Djhuti"; the Egyptian Hermes, hence the Greek name of the city).
This Hoot-Abtit in Khemenu is also important to our tradition, is subtly connected with the goddess Neith and the House of the Bee, and is worthy of treatment in a separate account, but it is highlighted here only so that there will be no confusion between the House of the Bee and the House of the Net via the alternate spelling and symbolism of Neith.
Footnote 10: As it did, too, in France at the time of Charlemagne. The fleur-de-lis of France is supposed by some to be not a flower, but a stylized bee developed from earlier times.
Footnote 11: Lower Egypt is actually northern Egypt, and Upper Egypt is southern Egypt. The perspective of the Egyptians was the flowing of the Nile, the source and upper parts of which are more southerly in Africa, and the delta and lower parts of which are in northern Egypt, along the Mediterranean Sea. Pharoah's title as ruler of Upper Egypt was "ny-soot" -- "he of the reed"; that designation also has special significance.
Footnote 12: The same word for bee -- "bit" -- was also used as the Egyptian word for honey, although the latter word was pronounced slightly differently in Egyptian. Honey was something of a rarity to the common folk of Egypt (fruit juices, like date, were more common sweeteners), but was used in many medicinal preparations. Thus, Pharoah, as he of the bee, was considered the "healer of his people."
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