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The Beehive. Both the Bee and the Beehive have been used symbolically from a very old time. In some cases, for what reason it is now hard to guess, the Bee was made the emblem of heaven, as may be seen in certain old Hindoo pictures of the god Krishna wherein Bees hover over the deity's head, and also in similar early pictures of Jesus. Both the Persians and the Egyptians sometimes embalmed their dead in honey because they believed it to possess antiseptic properties; out of this custom, we may believe, arose the latter habit of using the Bee as a symbol of immortality. Alexander the Great, so it is said, was embalmed in this manner; and so, also, were certain of the Merovingian kings. The last fact may explain why the Bee has so often been used symbolically by the French, and why Napoleon, to lend the lustre of age to his upstart dynasty, adopted the insect as his royal emblem. The Bee was used as a symbol of immortality by the Mithraic cult, so popular in the time of the Cæsars, and also by the early Christians, as the catacomb pictures still witness.
The Bee was also used in another order of symbolism. Theocritus tells a charming tale in his Idylls of how Cupid complained to Venus of bee stings and how the goddess archly replied: "Thou too art like a bee, for although a tiny child, yet how terrible are the wounds thou dost inflict!" Anacreon includes the same conceit in his Odes as do other Greek poets, as well as a few of their more modern imitators, such as Manuel de Villegas, the Castilian; Felice Zappi, and even the German, Lessing. Sometimes one will see bees flying about the head of Cupid on old Greek pottery; this is to suggest that as bees steal honey from the rose so does love steal honey from the lips of maidens; and as the stings of the bee are very painful so are the sharp darts of love.
Bees were not domesticated in Europe until the age of the monasteries, when the monks considered a hive an essential part of the equipment, owing to which custom the Beehive came to be used frequently in Christian symbolism. In their exhortations to the monks the church fathers would point to the hive as an example of industry. In the old Ely cathedral of England a woman weeping over a broken beehive evidently represents a home when ravaged by indolence or drunkenness.
The Egyptians called the bees "an obedient people" because of their faithfulness to the rules of the hive and to order. They are a far-sighted people, always preparing for the future, and their industriousness has become proverbial. Alas! as many Masters have learned, in the lodge as in the hive, there are often many drones! The brother who could discover a remedy for the drone evil would lay the whole Fraternity under everlasting indebtedness to his genius. The bees, as we know, kill their drones with scant ceremony; that would be a swift, but unhappy manner of disposing of ours! How to destroy the dronishness without killing the drone, that, as Hamlet would say, is the problem!*