THE BEEHIVE AND FREEMASONRY. - 1871-2012 Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon
By Br. Geo. W. Bullamore.
Freemasonry & bees
ARS QUATUOR CORONATORUM
THE BEEHIVE AND FREEMASONRY.
By Br. Geo. W. Bullamore.
IN any collection of Masonic glass, pottery or other curios, a number are usually to be found on which the straw beehive, or skep, as it is
technically termed, occurs as a decoration. If the young Mason enquires of his brethren what the beehive has to do with Masonry he is usually informed
that the bee, or beehive, represents Industry and was used with that significance by our Masonic forerunners.
As a beekeeper, this explanation made no great appeal to me. The industry of the bee suggests itself on a fine day to the casual observer with no
knowledge of bees. More remarkable characteristics pass unnoticed, and the lesson is also unsatisfactory.
The system of beekeeping that formerly prevailed in this country when the production of honey was a necessity depended on an increase in the number of
colonies. The surplus colonies were killed off in the autumn for their stores of honey. Those with the most honey, as well as those with the least,
were sacrificed, so that Industry carried with it certain disadvantages. This aspect of affairs was noticed by Shakespeare, who wrote:—
“ Our thighs packed with wax, our mouths with honey,
We bring it to the hive, and, like the bees
Are murdered for our pains.”
2 Henry IV., iv. 4.
A writer in the Universal Magazine for May, 1800, thus moralises:
“ Thou art a fool, thou busy, busy bee
Thus for another to toil;
Thy master waits till thy work is done,
Till the latest flowers of the ivy are gone,
And then he will seize the spoil.
He, will murder thee, thou poor little bee.”
The earliest mention of the Beehive as a Masonic symbol that I have been able to trace, occurs in Jonathan Swift’s Letter from the Grand Mistress
printed in Bro. Henry Sadler’s Reprints and Revelations:
“ A Bee hath in all Ages and Nations, been the Grand Hieroglyphick of Masonry, because it excels all other living Creatures in the Contrivance and
Commodiousness of its Habitation or Combe; as among miany other authors Doctor MacGregor now Professor of ’Mathematicks in Cambridge (as our
Guardian informeth us) hath learnedly demonstrated; nay Masonry or Building, seemeth to, be of the very Essence or Nature of the Bee, for her building
not the ordinary way of all living Creatures is the generative Cause which produceth the young, ones (you know, I suppose that Bees are of neither
“ For this Reason the Kings of France, both Pagans and Christians, always eminent Freemasons, carried three Bees for their Arms, but to avoid the
Imputation of the Egyptian Idolatory of worshipping a Bee, Clodovaeus, their first Christian King, called them Lilies, or Flower-de-Luces, in which,
notwithstanding the smail Change made for Disguise Sake there is still the exact Figure of a Bee. You have perhaps read of a great Number of Golden
Bees found in the Coffin of a Pagan King of France, near Brussels, many ages after CHRIST, which he had ordered should be buryed with him, in Token of
his having been a Mason.
“ The Egyptians always excellent and Antient Free-Masons paid Divine Worship to a Bee under the outward Shape of a Bull, the better to conceal the
mystery; which Bull by them called Apis, is the Latin word for a Bee; the Ænigma of representing the Bee by a Bull consisteth, in this, that
according to, the doctrine of the Pythagorean Lodge of Freemasons, the souls of all the Cow-Kind transmigrate into Bees, as one Virgil, a Poet, much
in favour with the Emperor Augustus, because of his profound Skill in Masonry, hath described; and Mr. Dryden has thus show’d
“ Four Altars raises, from his Herd he culls
For Slaughter, Four the fairest of his Bulls,
Four Heifers from his Female Store, he took,
All fair, and all unknowing of the Yoke;
Nine Mornings thence with Sacrifice and Prayers,
The Gods invok’d, he to the Groves repairs.
Behold a Prodigy! for from within
The Broken Bowels and the bloated Skin,
A buzzing Noise, of Bees his Ears alarms,
Straight issue thro’ the Sides assembling Swarms, &c.
What Modern Masons call a Lodge was for the above Reason by Antiquity called a HIVE of Free-Masons. And for the same Reasons, when a Dissention
happens in a Lodge, the going off and forming another Lodge, is to this day called SWARMING.”
Sadler gives the opinion of Chetwode Crawley that A Letter from the Grand Mistress was published before 1730 but not before 1727.
The Beehive is the emblem of the Lodge of Emulation No. 21, and concerning this the late W.Bro. Henry Sadler, in his History of the Lodge, says:
“ I regret to find that the existing records throw no light on the subject of the distinctive emblem adopted by the Lodge—the Bee-Hive. It is a
very Old Masonic symbol and has doubtless been used by the Lodge for a long period; signifying Industry, Perseverance and Diligence, it seems to be
quite in harmony with the name of the Lodge; it may also, have a wider application—that of an orderly and well disciplined community of builders,
all working together to the same end.”
But as the Lodge of Emulation absorbed an older Lodge, the beehive may have represented the name of that Lodge, viz., ’Constitution.’ There is a
well-known passage of Shakespeare which attributes ordered government to the bees:—
“So work the honey-bees,
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
The art of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king, and officers of sorts,
Where some, like magistrates, correct at home.
Others, like, merchants, venture trade abroad.
Others, like soldiers, armèd in their stings,
Make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds;
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent royal of the emperor:
Who busied in his majesties, surveys.
The singing masons building roofs of gold;
The civil citizen kneading up the honey;
The poor mechanic porters crowding in
Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate;
The sad-eyed justice with his surly hum
Delivering o’er to executors’ pale
The lazy, yawning drone.”
Henry V., 1, 2.
The beehive and three bees are carved with other emblems on a chair used as a warden’s chair by Scientific Lodge No. 88 at Cambridge. Crossed keys
below the hive suggest that it was a treasurer’s chair. The beehive also appears on an old carved chair of lodge Perfect Friendship No. 376,
Ipswich, and on an old chair at Barnstaple.
It occurs with other masonic emblems on the binding of an old Bible formerly the property of the pre-Union Lodge Attention No. 572. This Bible is now
used by Philanthropic Lodge No. 107, King’s Lynn.
An interesting jewel was exhibited at the Quatuor Coronati Lodge on 7th January, 1921. This jewel, which is of silver, has engraved upon it I. Euclid
47, and “ is supported by a silver bee from what is probably the original hanger formed of silver lace.” A.Q.C. xxiv., 4.
Another design in which the bee is placed on the hanger is the Calcutta medal of Lodge Industry and Perseverance No. 109.
On a silver medal struck to commemorate the Jonathan of the Pillar at Brunswick in 1744 the reverse with bees.
On a chart in the possession of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge five beehives are shown arranged symmetrically on a triangular stand. A similar arrangement
is to be found on a Masonic chart at Ipswich. Both charts were issued A.L. 5755.
The Illustrations to Masonic Clothing and Regalia, by W. Bro. F.J. Crowe, show that the M.M. Apron of the Grand Orient of France and also that of the
Grand Orient of Hungary have the beehive very prominently portrayed in the centre of the apron. In another example of the Grand Orient of Hungary the
beehive is shown on the flap surrounded by a motto in cypher. The translation of the cypher reads “ Labor omnia vincit.”
In Masonic Emblems and Jewels, by W. Bro. W. Hammond, Plate XIV. is an illustration of an apron in the posession of Grand Lodge. This is described as
an ’Antient’ apron on whch, are “ the emblems of the seven degrees.” Among these emblems is the beehive.
An ’Antient’ apron formerly used in Royal Clarence Lodge No. 68, Bristol, has come down to us. On this the symbol is prominently displayed.
An interesting apron on which the beehive is depicted is in the possession of W. Bro. John Barker. This apron is said to have belonged to Captain
Curry, initiated into Masonry at Sydney, N.S.W., between 1824 and 1828. Bro. Barker also possesses a photograph of another apron on which is the
beehive. This apron is said to have belonged to Richard Burnes, initiated August 29th, 1822 in Lodge of Unity No. 71, Lowestoft. Lodge of Unity worked
under a “ Modern’ Warrant date 1747.
In the illustrations to the article on Tracing Boards by W. Bro. E. H. Dring, in A.Q.C. xxix., 275, the beehive is shown as occurring on both 1st and
3rd Degree boards:—
Fig 20 7th Light Dragoons (1810) 1st Deg.
“24 Faithful No. 85, Harleston 1st “.
“27 Friendship, Gt. Yarmouth 1st “.
“62 All Souls, Weymouth 1st “.
“35 Newcastle-on-Tyne (said to have belonged to Industry Swalwell No. 48) 3rd “.
A.Q.C. xxxiv., 4 Kendal Tracing Board 3rd “.
It also occurs in the 3rd Degree emblems on the Tracing Board of Royal Cumberland No. 41, Bath. W. Bro. Curd has supplied me with the following
explanation from the lecture of their eighteenth century ritual:
“ The Beehive teaches us that as we are born into the world rational and intelligent beings, so ought we also to be industrious ones, and not stand
idly by or gaze with listless indifference on even the meanest of our fellow creatures in a state of distress if it is in our power to help them
without detriment to ourselves or our connections; the constant practice, -of this virtue is enjoined o,n all created beings, from the highest seraph
in heaven to the meanest reptile that crawls in the dust.”
On the Old Dundee No. 18, Wapping, Tracing Boards the beehive occurs on the board of the lst and 2nd Degrees combined.
It occurs on the Kirkwall Kilwinning Cloth.
An Irish K.T. Certificate dated 1801 with beehive in right hand margin is illustrated on page 184, A.Q.C. xxvii.
Another illustration (A.Q.C. xxv., 138) shows a design probably intended for a K.T. Certificate. In this the beehive is prominently figured on a
The petition of De Vignoles and others presented to Grand Lodge in 1771 concerning Lodge L’Immortalitè de l’Ordre has the beehive twice
represented in the design on the cover. This is given as an illustration to W. Bro. Wonnacott’s article on this Lodge in A.Q.C. xxxiv., 137.
The beehive is sometimes used on Lodge Summonses. That of the Lodge of Probity No. 61, Halifax, is printed from a pre-Union plate.
Lodge of Fidelity No. 289, Leeds, has a design showing a beehive and fifteen bees.
Lodge of Industry No. 48, Gateshead, uses the beehive on the Summons. The block is similar to the vignettes sometimes seen on title-pages of small
The Doric Lodge No. 81, Woodbridge, and the Felix Lodge No. 2371 have a beehive among the Masonic emblems which ornament their respective Summonses.
The block from which these are printed, however, was acquired by the printer from a typefounder and has no special significance to these lodges.
On two Lodge Banners belonging to True Blue No. 253, Carrickfergus, the beehive is shown. W. Bro. Lepper informs me that the older of the two banners
cannot be earlier than 1785.
The seal of the Lodge Plato, at Wiesbaden, shows a beehive and bees.
As the name of a Lodge, it has been used on the Continent, for I find it stated in Freemasonry in Russia and Poland, by Dr. E. Friedrichs, that a
Lodge “ To the Hive" was founded at Thorn in 1793.
Bee Hive Lodge, No. 2809 (E.C.) takes its name from the Beehive sign of Lloyds Bank which is again derived from the sign of the house where the bank
was first started.
In a Dictionary of Freemasonry, by Robert Morris, Chicago. 1867 (second edition 1876) the beehive is given as an emblem in the 3rd Degree.
Dr. Oliver, in his Dictionary of Symbolical Masonry, explains the beehive in terms somewhat similar to those used in the Royal Cumberland lecture.
According to this author’s Signs and Symbols the beehive belongs to the mysterious darkness of the third degree," and the definition is followed by
an extract from G. S. Faber’s Mysteries of the Cabiri.
Mackey in the article ’Beehive,’ Encyclopdaedia of Freemasonry, says Freemasons have therefore adopted the beehive as a symbol of industry, a
virtue taught in the ritual . . . There seems, however, to be a more recondite, meaning connected with this symbol . . . Hence says Faber (Origin of
Pagan, Idolatory ii., 133) ’Both the diluvian priestesses and the regenerated souls were called bees; hence, bees were figured to, be produced from
the carcass of a cow which also symbolised the ark; and “ hence, as the great father was esteemed an infernal god, honey was much used both in
funeral rites and in the mysteries. The Bee was among the Egyptians the symbol of an obedient people, hecause says Horopollo, of all animals, the bee
alone has a King.’"
With regard to this latter statement, a hieroglyphic sometimes described as a bee, and said to represent sovereignty occurs on the cartouche of
Egyptian monarchs. A few hours spent at the British Museum, however, convinced me that the figure is that of a hunting wasp carrying a caterpillar.
The probable meaning, therefore, is “ the one that swoops upon and carries off.”
The preceding examples of the Beehive in Masonry show that the symbol was kept from the Entered Apprentice in many Lodges. To accept it, therefore, as
representing Industry presents a difficulty. If, however, we look upon it as formerly possessing a meaning that fitted it for the 3rd Degree, the loss
of such a meaning and the substitution of Industry would cause its transference to the 1st Degree, in some Lodges “ by a process of intellectual
As an aid to the discovery of an older meaning an enquiry into the symbolism of the Bee, apart from Masonry may be of interest.
In the V.S.L. on the few occasions, other than the incident of the bees in the carcass of the lion slain by Samson, when bees are mentioned, it is to
their unwelcome attributes that attention is drawn:—
Deut. i., 44. And the Amorites which dwelt in that mountain came out against you and chased you as bees do and destroyed you.
Psalm cxviii., 12. They compassed me about like bees.
Isa. vii., 18., The Lord shall hiss... for the bee that, is in the land of Assyria.
In the Septuagint version of the Bible, Proverbs vi., 6., “ Go to the ant” continues at verse 8 “ Or go to the bee and learn how diligent she is
and how seriously she does her work—her products kings and private persons use for health—she is desired and respected by all—though feeble in
body by honouring wisdom, she obtains distinction.” The, sentence is thought to have been added as a gloss by a Greek scribe, and afterwards became
incorporated in the text. (Commentary on the Book of Proverbs, C.H. Toy, Edinboro’, 1899).
There are some interesting reference’s in old literature in which the bee is recognised as a builder.
Pausanias, who wrote circa A.D. 174, makes the following statement:—
“ The Delphians say that the second temple was made by bees out of wax and feathers, and that it was sent to the Hyperboreans by Apollo.” (Book
X., chap v., par 9, J.G. Frazer’s translation).
One of the chapters in the Koran is called “ The Bee," and Sale’s translation contains the following passage: Thy Lord spake by inspiration unto
the, bee, saying ’Provide thee houses in the mountains and in the trees.’"
In a note to the word ’houses’ translated from an Arab commentator it is stated “ So the apartments which the bee builds are here called,
because of their beautiful workmanship, and admirable contrivance, which no geometrician can excel.”
Mahomet also, stated that all flies, except the bee go to hell-fire.
The Book of the Bee was written in Syriac in the early half of the thirteenth. century. It has been translated by Wallis Budge, and we find the
following explanation of the title of the book:—
“ As the common bee having first collected the materials from the flowers carries them upon her thighs, and bringing them to her dwelling, lays a
foundation for her building with a base of wax ; then gathering in her mouth some of the heavenly dew which is upon the blossoms of spring, brings it
and blows it into these cells ; and waves the comb and honey for the use of man and her own nourishment, in like manner have we the infirm, hewn the
stones of corporeal words, from the rocks of the scriptures which are in the Old Testament, and have laid them down as a foundation for the edifice of
the spiritual law.”
In Demaids Joyous, printed in 1511 by Wynkyn de Worde, the following question and answer is given:—
Dem.: What is it that is a builder, and yet not a man, doeth what no man can do and yet serveth both God and man?
Res. A bee.
I have, already quoted Shakespeare’s reference to “ the singing masons building roofs of gold.”
An appendix to A Theatre of Politicall Flying Insects, written by Samuel Purchas and printed in 1657, consists of three hundred “ Meditations and
Observations, Theologicall and Morall upon the Nature af Bees.” Some of these extracts refer to the bee as a builder:—
“ The bees’ work is admirable, orderly and geometrcally proportionable, all full of wonder, whereas the Waspes and Hornets combles for substances
are unprofitable drosse, although they be hexangle cels
... yet upwards have no beauty ... The Humble Bees combes are but rude lumps, a little hollowed for their owne end and use. To these three sorts may
we compare the obedience of most men professing Religion there, is the obedience of the common Protestant, perhaps somewhat more than a pagane
performes, yet a rude and undigested devotion ... Then there is the obedience of the hypocrite, in many things resembling true devotion ... Lastly
there is the obedience of the true believer exactly modelized and squared according to the rule of Gods Word.”
If a man would build a temple or stately Pallace, he must doe it perpendicular, it must be evenly and orderly built according to an exact line, both
within and without also (and thus geometrically and regularly build the Bees as it were by square and plummet).”
They will eat and pare off the rotten waxe as masons in building pare off the crumbling outside of the weather-beaten stones (and thus make a new
front) that they may not after build upon a rotten, noughty or weake foundation.”
I am exhibiting some naturally built honeycomb and some models whch will show that the esteem in which the bee was held as a builder and geometrician
was not without reason. Each comb consists of two layers of hexagonal cells arranged back to back. The partition is not a plane but a collection of
rhombs so arranged that three rhombs form the base of each cell. If a pin is stuck through each of the rhombs at the base of a cell, the points will
be found to have penetrated into, three different cells on the opposite side of the comb. Thus each cell base is supported by three of the walls of
the opposite cells.
Old encyclopaedias such as Rees’ and the Britannica deal fully with the geometry of the honeycomb:—
“ The geometric form of each individual cell is therefore an hexagonal prism terminated by a trihedral pyramid the three sides of which rhombs, whch
meet at their apex by their obtuse angles, and forming oblique angles with the sides of the prism, truncate a portion of these and convert, them fram
rectangles which they would be in a regular prism, into trapeziums.”
The work of the bee is usually so uniform and regular that the diameter of the cell was suggested in the eighteenth century as an universal unit of
length on the suppositiion that bees everywhere invariably build cells of the same dimensions. In The Natural History of Bees, translated from the
French in 1744, the suggestion is ascribed to “ M. Thevenot, his Majesty’s librarian"
In addition to its excellency as a builder, the, bee was associated with divinity and the soul. A reference in Pausanias connects them with the Greek
“ Oracle of Trophonius
“ his oracle was formerly unknown to the Boetians, they discovered it on the following occasion. No rain had fallen for more than a year, so they
despatched envoys to Delphi from every city. When they asked a remedy for the drought, the Pythian priestess bade them go to Trophonius at Lebaden and
get the cure from him. But when they were come to Lebaden, and could not find the oracle, Saon of Acraephnium, the oldest of the envoys saw a swarm of
bees (and he advised) that they should follow the bees wherever they went. Straightway he observed the bees flying into the earth here, and (followed)
them to the oracle. They say that this Saon learnt from Trophonius the ritual and observances as they are now practised.”
IX., 40, 2.
A sacred cave associated with nymphs and bees is described by Homer. The following translation is from Pope’s Odyssey, Book XIII., line, 126:
Where bowls, and urns were formed of living stone,
And massy beams in native marble shone;
On which the labours of the nymphs were rolled,
Their webs divine of purple mixed with gold.
Within the cave, the clustering bees attend
Their waxen works, or from the roof depend,
Perpetual waters, o’er the pavement glide;
Two marble doors unfold on either side;
Sacred the south by which the gods descend;
But mortals enter at the northern end.”
This passage is discussed by Porphyry. I quote from Taylor’s translation:—
Fountains and streams are adapted to aquatic nymphs, and still more so to the nymphs, that are souls which the ancients peculiarly call Bees, as the
efficient cause of sweetness. Hence Sophocles does not speak unappropriately when he says of souls:
In swarms while wandering from the dead, A humming sound is heard.
The priestesses of Ceres also on being initiated into the mysteries of the terrene goddess, were called by the ancients, Bees . . . The moon likewise,
who presides over generation, was called by them a Bee, and also a Bull . . . To, which may be added that honey is considered a symbol of Death and on
this account it is usual to offer libations of honey to the terrestrial gods, but gall is considered as a symbol of Life; whether it is obscurely
signified by this, that the life of the Soul dies through pleasure, but through bitterness the Soul resumes its life; whence also bile is sacrificed
to the gods; or whether it is because death liberates from molestation, but the present life is laborious and bitter. All souls however proceeding
into generation, are not simply called Bees, but those who will live in it justly, and who, after having performed such things as are acceptable to
the gods, will again return to their kindred stars. For this insect loves to return to, the place from whence it first came and is eminently just and
sober. Whence also, the libations which are made with honey are called sober.”
In vol. 48 of Archaeologia the following notes by Arthur J. Evans, F.S.A., accompany an illustration of a carved gem: —
“ A red cornelian, acquired at Scardona, presenting a figure intended, for a bee from whose mouth in place of a proboscis, proceeds the twisted end
of a cadduceus. Now from two passages of Porphyry, it appears that the bee, amongst the worshippers, of Mithra, was the special emblem of the soul. As
bees, according to the ancient idea were generated by bulls’ carcases, so bees, representing the vital principle, sprang from the co:smic bull of
Persian mythology. So, too, no, fitter emblem could be found for the spirits of men that, swarmed forth from the horned luminary of the heavens, the
moon, their primal dwelling place, to, migrate awhile for their earthly pilgrimage below. In this way, the moon itself was sometimes known in the
language of the mysts as the bee.”
A note to, the above says: —
An allusion to the same idea will be found on a very interesting engraving on a gold ring from Kertch (in the Siemens collection) representing a bee
above a full faced bust of Deus Lunus, and it is noteworthy that the bee appears on the coinage of Ephesus the special city of the Asiatic Moon
“ On the Roman monuments of the sect a bee is sometimes seen in the mouth of the mithraic lion and the emblem of the soul and connected with this
symbolism was the practice of mixing honey in the Eucharistic chalice, and the singular rite performed by the Leontes or lion priests of Mithra of
purifying their hands with honey in place of lustral water. From all this it will be seen that the present symbolism of the bee, with the well-known
symbol of Mercury, the shepherd of departed souls, has a deep mystic significance.”
In the middle of the last century, an interesting find was made in a Sardinian grave: —
A bronze statue of a young man with braided hair and diadem came to light; on his breast were five bronze bees symmetirically arranged.”
A.B. Cook, in the Journal of Hellenie Studies, vol. xv., states that: —
“ It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we have here the bee as a symbol of immortality, if not of reincarnation.”
As an emblem of the soul and immortality the bee appears to, have survived into Christian times. In Animal Symbolism, in Ecclesiastical Architecture,
by E. P. Evans it is stated that:—
“ There was hardly a cloister without its hive, which not only supplied honey and wax for culinary and cultic purposes, but also served as an
example to the friars of an ideal life of communistic industry and cenobitic chastity. The superiors of the convents were fond of emphasizing this
analogy in their exhortations to the recluses under their charge and of enforcing it in their religious poetry. Peter of Capua calls the risen and
ascended Saviour ’apis aetherea,’ the saints famous for good works are compared to bees; eloquent Fathers of the Church and expounders of the
faith—Chrysostom, Ambrose, Isidore of Spain, and Bernard of Clairvaux—are said to have lips flowing with honey (mellifluus); and the virgin queen
of the hive is in the hymns of mediaeval mariolaters, a favourite type of the Virgin Queen of Heaven. But notwithstanding the frequency of these
allusions in Christian literature and the consecration of the honey and wax to ritual purposes, the bee figures rarely in Christian art. It is to be
found occasionally carved on tombs in the catacombs, as a symbol of immortality; in this case, however, it does not express a specifically Christian
conception but is a survival of paganism. In ancient times honey was supposed to be an effective antiseptic and it was customary to smear with it the
bodies of the dead in order to preserve them from putrefaction. Alexander the Great is said to have been thus embalmed and the same usage formed an
integral part of the Mithras-cult, and can be traced still further back to the solar worship of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Under the Roman Empire
the mysteries of the Mithra-cult became widely diffused throughout western Europe; Christian churches were erected over altars dedicated to the old
Persian sungod as in S. Clemente at Rome, and the gilded bulls’ head and three hundred golden bees, discovered at Tournay in 1653, in the tomb of
the Merovignian King Childeric III. had their origin in the same system of worship. These bees which decorated the royal mantle of the living monarch
and embellished his shroud after death, were invested with a traditional sacredness in France as emblems of Sobriety and therefore adopted by the
first Napoleon in order to give a seeming shimmer of ancient lustre to an upstart dynasty.”
The only beehive in ecelesiastical architecture that I have been able to hear of in this country a carving on a misericord in Ely Cathedral. In the
centre is a woman kneeling and holding upturned an empty beehive. Another woman grasps a human-headed snake by the hair. On the right are two men
seated, drinking and dicing. Beneath is a recumbent figure, perhaps representing intoxication, and a harper. Oh the left a man and woman are seated in
a room with a human-headed: snake between them. Taking the bee as an emblem of the soul, I interpret the carving to signify that worldly pleasures
destroy the soul.
In Ruskin’s, Seven Lamps of Architecture (Plate II Everyman, page 171) is figured a beehive carved over a window at St. Lo, France. The subject of
the window is the Annunciation. At Toledo Cathedral there is said to be a carving of a bear and a beehive. There may have been some superstition
connected with the carving of the symbol, just as it was considered inadvisable to mention the bees by name among cottage beekeepers of the old
school. Within recent years I have heard the difficult’y overcome by referring to them as the little brown people.”
A collection of Hymns consisting chiefly of Translations from the German, Part, III., Second Edition, was published in 1749. It contains the following
“ Chicken blessed and carressed,
Little Bee on Jesus Breast;
From the Hurry and the Flurry
Of this Earth tho’rt now at rest:
From our Care in lower Regions,
Thou art taken to the Legions,
Who ’bove, human Griefs are rais’d;
There thou’rt kept, the Lamb be prais’d!
Chicken blessed and carressed,
Thou that sleep’st on Jesu’s Breast.”
In 1767 the first four lines were reprinted in the Bath Guide as an Ode.
A similar idea occurs in the folk tale related by F.S. in Notes and Queries, March 15th, 1851, page 206:—
“ I remember, some forty years ago, hearing a servant from Lincolnshire relate a story of two travellers who laid down by the roadside to rest, and
one fell asleep. The other, seeing a bee settle on a neighbouring wall and go into a little hole, put the end of his staff into the hole, and so
imprisoned the bee. Wishing to pursue his journey he endeavoured to awaken his companion, but was unable to do so, till, resuming his stick, the bee
flew to the sleeping man and went into, his ear. His companion then awoke him, remarking how soundly he had been sleeping, and asked what he had been
dreaming of? ’Oh!’ said he, ’ I dreamt, that you shut me up in a dark cave, and I could not awake till you let me out. The person who told me
the story firmly believed that the man’s soul was in the bee.”
Seligmann, in The Veddas, gives an invocation to the souls of the dead used by the Veddas of Ceylon when taking honey from wild bees.
Gubernatis, in Zoological Mythology, in a note on page 218, says :—
“ In the Engadine in Switzerland, too, it is believed that the souls of men emigrate from the world and return into it in the forms of bees.”
According to Plato:
“ The souls of sober quiet people untinctured by philosophy come to life as bees and ants. “ Frazer, Golden Bough viii, 308.
“ Vishnus (as Haris, the sun and moon) is sometimes represented as a bee upon a lotus-leaf, and Krishnas with an azure bee on his forehead. When the
Hindoo take honey out of a hive with a rod, they always hold in one hand the plant toolsy (ocymum nigrum) sacred to Krishnas (properly the black
one).” Gubernatis, p. 217.
“ The wax of bees, because it produces light and is moreover usedin churches, must also have had its part in increasing the divine prestige of bees
and the belief in their immortality as being those that feed the fire.” Gubernatis, p. 219.
The bee is hatched from the egg and after five or six days as a white maggot is sealad up in the cell to emerge later as a perfect insect. These facts
are utilised by several of the writers quoted by Purchas as being emblematic of the resurrection: —
“ The first life of a bee is scarcely worthy to be called a life but after it is transmuted by death it appears in a more excellent and glorious
“ The little worm . . . lies dead and entombed in the cell wherein it was bred; but wait with patience a score of days, and you shall see it revive,
and appeares a farre more noble creature then it was before. What is this, but an embleme of the resurrection?"
“ They (the bees) dye but yet to live mare nobly. And death to the godly is not the death of the man, but the death of sinne in the man.”
In these extracts by Purchas, honey is sometimes spoken of as emblematic of divinity: —
“ I cannot therefore better compare the grave then to the honeycombe where is both honey and waxe. The honey of the soule is taken out the waxe of
the flesh remaining behind till the resurrection of just men.”
Isaiah saith of Christ Butter and Honey shall he eate. By honey some say was designed the Divinitie of his birth and by butter his humanity, but
foolishly and besides the mind of the Prophet whose words are cleare and the sense open. As if he had said Immanuel shall not only be a true God, but
also a true man, that is, he shall feed of such meates, as your children use to eat of.”
The foolish individuals admonished by this writer possibly had in mind that the bees represented the soul or life principle of an ox. Honey
represented bees and butter the ox. To the ancients, however, there, were some accult advantages associated with the use of honey as a food, for it is
related by Pausanias (ix., 23, 2) that:—
“ The youthful Pindar was once journeying to Thespiae in the, hot season at the hour af noon. Weariness and drowsiness overtook him, and he laid
down without more ado a little way above the road. And while he slept bees flew to him and plastered honey on his lips. Such was the beginning of his
career of song.”
St. Ambrose and other eloquent fathers of the Church, as well as Plato and other pagans, are reputed tc have received their eloquence from a somewhat
similar experience. Huxley, in his autobiography, humorously describes how he just missed it:—
“ A neighbouring beehive had swarmed, and the new colony, pitching on the windowsill, was making its way into the room when the horrified nurse shut
down the sash. If that wellmeaning woman had only abstained from her ill-timed interference, the swarm might have settled on my lips, and I should
have been endowed with that mellifluous eloquence which in this country, leads far more surely than worth, capacity, or honest, work, to the highest
places in Church and State.”
Rennell Rodd, in Customs and Lore of Modern Greece, states that an old custom still survives in the island of Rhodes where “ the child at the age of
eight days has its lips touched with honey by another child who says ’Be thou sweet as this honey.’" According to the same author, honey and water
is given to the bride when she first arrives at her husband’s door, the door lintel is marked with a cross by the husband, who dips his finger in a
cup of honey, bread and honey are eaten by the bride and bridegroom in the presence of witnesses, cakes made with honey are sent to the wedding
guests, and unmarried girls offer cakes of honey in caves to the Fates with a view to hastening marriage.
Honey appears to have been a special food of gods and supernatural beings generally. It was an offering to the shades of the dead. Before Ulysses
descended into the nether world he poured out an offering of wine, milk and honey (Odyssey xi.). When Iphigenia performed the funeral rites of her
brother a similar offering was made:—
“ Milk of the mountain Kine,
The hallowed gleam of wine,
The toil of murmuring bees;
By these shall the dead have rest"
(Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris, trans. by Gilbert Murray.)
A.B. Cook mentions three sister Fates described in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes: “ When they dart along full-fed with yellow honey, they declare the
truth with a willing heart; but, if they be robbed of the gods’ sweet sustenance, then they lie as they hurry to and fro.”
In Rees,’ Cycloplaedia Bee is said to be “ used figuratively to denote sweetness, industry, &c.” Thus Xenophon is called the Attic bee, on
account of the great sweetness of his style. Antonius got the denomination of melissa, or bee, on account of his collection of common places.
Leo Allatius gave the appellation of apes urbanae to the illustrious men at Rome, from the year 1630 to the year 1632.”
Frazer, in the Golden Bough ii., 135, mentions, that “at Ephesus there was a college of sacred men called Essenes or King Bees, who held office for
a year. Possibly they were deemed the annual husbands of Artemis whose association with the bee is vouched for by the figures of bees which appear
cmmonly both on her statues and on the coins of Ephesus.”
The beehive is the emblem of St. Ambrose and of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, probably in allusion to their eloquence.
Cing Livres des Hieroglyphiques, by Pierre Dinet, 1614, gives several interpretations of the symbolism of bees:— They are symbolic of people
obedient to their King.
They indicate Kings, also eloquence.
They are emblematic of chastity and virginity which is why the church uses their wax, the result of their purity of work.
According to the same writer the beehive represents sweetness, overcoming rage, with the addition of the words Hinc dolor, hinc dulcedo it signifies
pleasure accompanied by vexation.
The same idea occurs in Quarles’ Emblems:— “ The World’s a Hive
From whence thou canst derive
No good, but what thy Soul’s vexation brings:
But case thou meet Some petty-petty-sweet,
Each drop is guarded with a thousand stings.”
Charles Butler, in The Feminine Monarchy, 1634, says:—
“ Bees are said to excel in many qualities so that it is said in the Proverb:
Quick of Sense
Chilly as a Bee.”
F. E. Hulme, in Symbolism in Christian Art, 1892, gives the ant as the emblem of Industry and the bee as the symbol of busy forethought.
The identity of the Fleur de Lys with the bee adopted by Napoleon Bonaparte is a matter difficult to determine. The idea that the fleur de lys was a
conventionalised bee seems to have started when the so-called bees were found in the tomb of Childeric in 1653. But it has been contended that these
bees were fleurons attached to the harness of his war horse. The fleur de lys is a1so said to have originated in the ornamental end of the angon or
hatchet placed as a symbol of power in the hand of the heir to the throne of the early French Kings on the occasion of his inauguration. A course of
hera1dic reading conveyed the idea to me that the bee was really a modern innovation brought about by the first Napoleon and had not preceded the
fleur de lys.
In Purchas (1657), however, I find the following:—
“ Memorable to this purpose was the practice of a certain King of France, who, having conquered the Insubrians and entered their city by a symbol or
type thus exprest his clemency, wearing a coat full of Images, or pictures of Bees and this motto written upon it, Rex muerone caret, the King wants
or useth not his sting.”
Purchas wrote after the opening of the tomb of Childeric, but Fabyan’s Chronicle of the previous century states that the three fleur de lys were
preceded in the arms of France by three “ todys," the change being made when Clodovaeus was converted to Christianity. This may not be true, but it
seems advisable to leave the identity of the bee with the fleur de lys an open question.
Why has Industry swamped a1l the other attributes of the bee in modern days? I think it probable that the modern knowledge of bees is derived chiefly
from Dr. Watts. Dr. Isaac Watts was invited. by Sir Thomas Abney, Lord Mayor of London, to visit him, which he did, his visit to Abney Park and Old
Palace House, Cheshunt, lasting for thirty-six years. At Cheshunt Dr. Watts wrote several of his moral songs, and in the garden of Old Palace House is
a summer-house in which he is reported by tradition to have written :—
“ How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower.”
The walls of the garden contain niches probably intended for bee-hives, and it is not unlikely that on a fine summer’s day the activity of the bees
would be very noticeable to the contemplative divine resting in the summer-house. Dr. Watts’ MoraI Songs were published in 1720 and had reached
their twenty-first edition in 1752, so, that knowledge of them would be well diffused when Freemasons were wanting a meaning for the beehive. The
emblem appears to have become popular in the outside world in the latter half of the eighteenth century and is figured on a number of copper tokens
about that time. One of these, dated 1793, in my possession has the motto “Industry has its sure reward.” I suggest that this influenoe caused its
transference from the third degree to the first.
The meaning having been lost we can never be certain that we have recovered it. But there may be a connection between the five bees symme,rically
arranged in the Sardinian grave and the five beahives on the charts of A. L. 5755. But if we limit the meaning of the latter to the points of
fellowship we still get the association with the third degree.
O’On the de Vignoles petition of 1771 the beehive occurs twice. It is given in the main design on the cover and is repeated on one side of this
design being balanoed by a bust, square, Compasses and 24in. gauge, on ’ the other side. This may have been intended to suggest the name of the
Lodge, viz., the Immortality of the Order.
On the design for a K.T. Certificate the beehive (immortality?) is on the right hand of the Calvary and is balanced by the scythe and hourglaass
emblems of mortality on the left of the figure.
The triangular stand on which the beehives are grouped in the early Charts and a1so the circular pedestal on which the beehives placed in the design
for a K.T. Certificate may also be intended to suggest the semi-divine, or immortal nature of the bee.
On the Summons of Lodge of Fidelity No. 289 the beehive and bees, form a circle which encompasses the sun and other emblems.
Such details may be accidental, but a sufficiency of them in early designs would render it highly probable that the meaning associated with the symbol
in folklore, religion and the classics was not then entirely ignored by Freemasons.
To account for the bee-hive, in Masonry I make the following suggestions:—
From early times, the bee and its architecture was held in very high repute by Masons. The legend that the second temple of Apollo, was built by bees
suggests that they were held in veneration by the bui1ders of the Greek temples.
Notwithstanding changes of religion and dynasty the early Christian builders derived their knowledge by direct tradition from the builders of the
Pagan temples, and with this knowledge came the symbolism of the bee. According to: C. W. King, in The Gnostics and their Remains, page 192, “ the
golden Pentagon of Apollo ... of yore blazed high above the Delphic shrine.” This pentagon of Apollo, may have come, to us, with the bees—the
builders of Apollo,’s temple—and thus account for the arrangement, of the five hives in the early Charts. With the formation of Guilds the
traditional symbols of Masonry became incorporated in the cremonies.
Masonic symbols may be divided into two groups, one of which consists of the tools of the Craft, and the other of such objects as are not necessarily
associated. with building, such as the ark, the beehive, the pentagon, acacia,, etc. The latter group may have been derived from the Guild. Assuming
that there was symbalic teaching in the Guild then the. coffer, or chest could be made to symbolise the ark, the pentagon the points of fellowship or
the wounds of Christ, while the beehive, which was a practical representation Of the highest geometry direct from the Grand Geometrician, may have
carried an inner meaning rendering it emblematic of the resurrection. Such a meaning harmonises with the Hiramic legend under Christian teaching, and
the preceding extracts show that the idea certainly existed in religion and folklore.
As shown by the examples quoted the beehive, symbol had a wide range in Masonry, but it is scarcely necessary to prove that it was at one time
universal in order to demonstrate its antiquity.
. The Guilds from early times must have accepted non-operatives, interested in building, and with the decay fram the operative standpoint of the
Provincial Guilds, the widening of the circle from which members were drawn would lead to the Guilds developing on social lines. If the ceremony of
admission was a rehearsaI of workshop practices it would be necessary to form a mimic Lodge or workshop (probably devoid of Guild symbols) and the
meeting would become a Lodge of Freemasons in the first degree. While the ceremony took place in a Guild Hall actual symbols could be used and the
Guild symbols could be restored to the Lodge for the second part of the ceremony. With the transference of the meeting to a tavern or other emergency
premises, the drawing of the symbolic objects on the floor would lead eventually to the tracing board. In a few instances the beehive has survived on
Our late W. Brother C. H. Nicholl informed me that older Masons had told him of Lodges where the beehive was placed with other emblems on the floor of
the Lodge. At the Waveney Lodge No. 929 a model of a beehive is still preserved, but I understand that its present situation is the Master's pedestal.
Up to the present I have been unable to asclertain the history of the model. The Lodge was not founded until 1862.
A beehive is mentioned in an early inventory of a Lancashire Lodge (Fortitude No. 21).
In London the Guild survived, and we do not know to what extent this affected the Freemasonry which, according to Conder in the HoIe Craft and
Fellowship of Masonry, separated from the Guild about the year 1700. The Provincial Non-Operative Lodges would keep alive much of the Guild ceremony
from which our third degree may have developed, while the London body, recruited chiefly from Operative Masons, would tend to preserve more fully the
workshop practices while possibly discarding much of the latter part of the rite.
At the time of the formation of Grand Lodge there were a number of independent transmissions of Masonry in the provinces, and notwithstanding the
trouble caused by the alterations that were made in the signs and passwords, it is possible that some of the difficulties between the Antients and
Moderns arose as the result of these fuller traditions being brought to London. To the London Mason anything that had not survived in his own
tradition would be an innovation. From this standpoint the Royal Arch would be a part of the transmitted Masonry of the provinces, while in London we
may suppose that it had been lost before the severance from the Guild had taken place. There is no reason to suppose that the Warrants of the Antients
and Moderns had much effect on the werking in the provinces.
The survival of the beehive may have been but partial, having come down with some traditions and not with others. With the steady advance of London
working into the provinces all traditions are being gradually replaced by some variant of the working that arose about a century ago and in this, the
beehive is not recognised.
In a lecture delivered before the British Numismatic Society by the President, Grant R. Francis, Esq., it was stated that the bee sometimes replacd
the butterfly on certain glasses, where it appears in conjunction with the rose of York or other Jacobite emblems. The meaning was given as “The
Return of the Soul,” equivalent to the ‘REVIRESCIT’ on certain Jacobite medals.
Mr. Francis has very kindly furnished me with the text of the part of the lecture referring to the bee. From this I quote the following:
“ What more beautiful and typical emblem could be used after his defeat at Culloden and his escape in 1746, than to add the butterfly or the lee to
the emblems of the cause for use when toasting The Return of the Soul ’ of the movement? . . .
“ Finally, no less than three families of the Stuart clan in Scotland (Stuart of Gairntully, Stuart of Balicaskie, and Stuart of Tongorth) use one
or two, bees as their crest to this day.”
Now if the recognised meaning of the bee or beehive among well-informed Freemasons was immortality or the return of the soul, and the emblem was
adopted after Culloden by the Jacobites to signify the return of the Pretender, the soul of the Jacobite cause, it is. easy to understand that the
symbol would tend to disappear owing to its political significance. Where,it was too firmly established, the popularity of Dr. Watt’s lines would
sugggest an alternative meaning and with a desire for consistency some Lodges would associate Industry with the Entered Apprentice degree.
At the Union its symbolism and correct place in the working may well have been a bone of contention. It failed to gain recognition at this time and
with the standardisation of the tracing board it disappeared from the Lodge,.
The Beehive in Masonry does not appear to have attracted much attention among early Masonic writers and much valuable material has doubtlessly been
lost already. I have brought the subject forward now in the hope, that although this paper may fail to establish much of definite value concerning
this symbol, the attention drawn to it may stimulate interest and lead to the bringing to light of hitherto unrecorded facts before it is too late.
My thanks are due to the Secretary and other brethren of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge for the help that they have so freely given and also to the Lodge
Secretaries and other brethren who have supplied me with information.
A hearty vote of thanks was passed to Bro. Bullamore, and comments were offered by or on behalf of Bros. Rodk. H. Baxter, Sir Alfred Robbins, Gordon
Hills, Dr. John Stokes, Philip Crosslé, W. J. Williams, G. W. Daynes, B. H. Springett, A. Heiron, E. H. Dring, J. E. S.. Tuckett, C. W. Rippon, and
J. G. Finlayson.
Bro. RODK. H. BAXTER Said:
The paper with which Bro. Geo. W. Bullamore has just favoured us can, I think, be fair1y described as suggestive. It is not at all exhaustive in the
examples quoted of the use of the beehive as an emblem on Masonic prints, allthough enough has perhaps, been included to show the prominence of this
feture. I might just mention as an instance of one omission the, well-known chart which hangs in so many Lodge rooms, published by John Harris, Broa,d
Street, Bristol, 1839, and inscribed: “To the, Most Ancient and Honourable Fruternity of Free and Accepted Masons this plate is humbly dedicated by
your obed’. Servt. & Br. Wm. Brodrick, 5839,” on which is depicted a beehive with seven bees. "
All I can say is fine, have your 'group-think' all you want, a 'brotherhood'. But this very group seems to be intent on destroying the persons that
may or may not attempt to be groups amoung a (supposed) FREE country (tea party, occupy movement, free speech, 2nd Amend, etc) of groups.
Why should one 'group' be immune from public or government outcry or spying (ie: facebook, twitter or other accounts during protest movements) and not
Oh, because we are the ones being used to gather and feed you the honey, gotcha.
edit on 22-2-2013 by dianashay because: (no reason given)