Bee Symbolism: What Bees Have Symbolized Throughout History

bee symbolism
Bees have an enduring place in myth, folklore, and symbology; having been present everywhere except Antarctica. They have captured the attention and respect of humans, who associate them with qualities such as dedication, fertility and life, hard work, and prosperity.

What comes to your mind when you notice a bee?

You may see an enemy ready to sting, yet, there is much more to bees than any perceived danger. Bees play a vital role in preserving our ecosystem and figure in the folklore and mythology of most cultures.

And – bees aren’t harmful unless we provoke them.

Bees pollinate plants and crops and sustain the natural food chain on every continent except Antarctica.

Because of all their hard work, bees are often associated with industriousness and other qualities such as:

  • Dedication, as both the queen and the worker bees, are protective of the colony
  • Fertility and Life, as bees pollinate over 250,000 species of plants
  • Focus, as bees use electronic sensors to determine which flowers to pollinate
  • Generosity, as they allow humans to collect their honey
  • Hard Work, as their entire lives are devoted to the work of pollinating
  • Prosperity, as their hard work pays off in honey, a gold-colored species
  • Teamwork, as each type of bee (queen, worker, drone) has its job in the process of pollinating and honey making

In addition, many connect the appearance of bees to miracles and divinity. Bumblebees may signify good luck, while dreaming about bees or honeycombs is seen as a good omen. There’s no end to symbolism related to honey bees.

For these reasons, bees have become a symbol represented in many different cultures. And today, they are celebrated through bee totems, tattoo meanings, your spirit animal, and more.

Let’s dig a little deeper to learn more about this exciting symbolic aspect of bees. 

The Honey Bee’s Significance In Mythology?

Bees have served as a timeless bridge connecting the mystical world with that of humans. Numerous stories in mythology and folklore refer to bees and what they symbolize. 

For example, in ancient Egyptian philosophy, the symbol of the king of Lower Egypt was a bee.

In Celtic myth, bees were revered as a symbol of wisdom and a powerful animal that acted as a messenger between the two worlds.

Bees In Greek And Roman Mythology

Bees and honey have a special significance in ancient Roman and Greek traditions. Gods attained immortality by consuming nectar and ambrosia extracted from honey. In later ages, devotees offered honey to the gods and nymphs. 

According to Roman mythology, Dionysius grew up in a cave and fed on honey. Although known as the god of wine, Dionysius considered honey a sacred drink. His disciples carried ivy-wrapped wands from which honey poured out—many credit Dionysius for ushering in the practice of beekeeping. 

A Greek story associated with bees is the one about Zeus’s birth. His father, Kronos, wanted to end Zeus’s life. To protect her infant son, his mother smuggled him to a secret cave on Mt. Dicte. The cave was home to swarms of sacred bees. 

Like Dionysius, Zeus was raised in a cave and lived on the honey produced by the bees. After growing up as a young man, Zeus overthrew his father to become the new king of gods. His childhood experience with bees likely gave him the moniker “Melissaios” or “Bee Man.”

Legend has it that he rewarded the bees for their assistance by giving them their bright gold color and the capability to survive amidst cold and storm. 

Religious & Spiritual Meaning of Bees

There are many bee, bee swarm, hive, and honey references throughout the Christian & Jewish Bibles and texts.

In fact, we have an entire blog post dedicated to Bees in the Bible.

The meanings associated with bees and honey vary, but here are a few of note;

  • They symbolize hard work in service to their community (colony).
  • They respect the leadership of their queen and diligently take on their role within the hive.
  • They represent fierce love and support for their “family members.”
  • They are peace-loving and attack only when threatened.
  •  They produce honey, valued for its sweetness and regarded as a sign of wealth and plenty.

The most recognizable religious reference to bees is perhaps Exodus 3:17, a celebrated passage in both Judaism and Christianity that describes the land God promised the Israelites:

“And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Exodus 3:17

Other Ancient Legends of Bees

The Nine Muses in Greek mythology also connect with bees, which were referred to as “the birds of the Muses.” The Muses were goddesses of science, poetry, history, and art. 

As the legend goes, these goddesses blessed humans with eloquence. They sent bees to drop honey on the lips of humans to make their voices sweet-toned. 

Some cultures believe that nymphs are reincarnated souls and refer to them as bees. Bees also tend to have an association with the dead or the Underworld. Ancient Greeks thought that bees could be a reincarnation of humans. 

Archaeologists have discovered wild hives in the cracks of caves or ancient walls, supposedly gateways to the Underworld. Another name for Persephone, the queen of the Underworld, is Melitodes, or “honeyed one.” 

New World Legends of Bees

Native honey bees existed in North America 14 million years ago but went extinct. In the 1600s, the colonists introduced another honey bee which Native Americans called the “white man’s fly.” Bees were essential symbols in Native American mythology.

In Cherokee legends, the people asked the Creator for something sweet to eat, so He sent bees who made honey, which the bees shared with mankind. The bees had no stingers and were very generous in offering their delicious handiwork to people who demanded more and more honey.

When the bees, who also feed their young with pollen and honey, needed more time, the impatient humans returned to the Creator to complain. He responded by making more wildflowers for bees to pollinate, but the bees could not meet the insatiable demand even then. Human greed annoyed the Creator so much that He gave the bees stingers and directed them to sting the overbearing humans.

Ancient Mesoamericans believed that their gods kept bees to make honey, as they did. Honey was a sacred gift. The Mayans depicted their god Al Muzen Cab with a bee’s wings, while Colel Cab was their earth goddess, often pictured with bees. Both Mayan and Aztec cultures saw bees and honey as symbols of life.

Are Bees A Symbol Of Good Luck?

References to bee symbolism aren’t limited to mythological legends alone. Folklore worldwide is rich with allusions to bees and their fascinating nature. Various superstitions connote the virtues of these tiny creatures. 

In many cultures, bees have a symbolic meaning of wealth. Suppose a bee lands on your hand or flies into your home; money or good fortune is on its way. Keep a window open so it can fly out of its accord. If you force it out of your home, the luck might vanish. Similarly, you may expect great success if the busy bee lands on your head. 

In Cornwall, people believe one can only move a beehive on Good Friday. There’s folklore in Christianity that narrates how bees hummed on Christmas Eve, foretelling the birth of Jesus. Hence, the Cornish consider bees to be highly auspicious. 

Another saying follows that if you can throw a handkerchief over a swarm of bees, you can expect immense good luck. 

Many people also place feng shuis of bees in their homes as good luck charms. One such common symbol is coined with a honey bee symbol. If the coins are of gold, they hold greater power since the color of gold has always represented wealth. 

Having a bee spirit animal or animal totem is also a reminder of finding the right balance between work, enjoyment, and social service. It is auspicious to have a bee as your animal spirit guide. Moreover, having a bee as a spirit guide symbolizes hard work and resilience.

Many people today also get bee tattoos. A queen bee tattoo can symbolize feminine energy, growth, and motherhood, whereas one of a standard worker bee can depict loyalty to the bee’s power.

What Does A Bee Represent In A Dream?

As already mentioned, bees have a vibrant history in spiritualism and folklore. Many cultures believe that dreaming of bees could symbolize an impending danger. 

In many communities, bees and beehives signify fertility and creativity. So, if you dream of an empty beehive, it could mean that you are infertile. Another meaning could be that you’re worried about your kids leaving “the nest,” i.e., home. 

Then again, if you dream of getting stung by a bee, it could be a bad omen. But many also believe that a bee’s sting can bring good fortune if you recover quickly.

These interpretations tend to vary from place to place and across cultures. For instance, the Chinese consider bee dreams to signify prosperity and happiness. Whereas, in India, as per Hinduism, the same could represent misfortunes and ill luck. 

What Does A Swarm Of Bees Mean?

Bees often swarm as they search for a new home, but the site of a large, buzzing community of bees can inspire fear.

However, a swarm of bees usually represents teamwork, unity, work ethic, and cooperation. Bees work in groups, and they symbolize productivity and diligence. A beehive could be a symbol of rebirth too. 

If you dream of a swarm of bees, it could suggest that you value power over your relationships. Or perhaps, you’re trying to find a balance between your job and your life. 

A swarm of bees might also signify a “hive mentality.” It could be that you’re feeling tied down by your obligations towards a group. That could be your friends, family, school, or even company. 

According to other beliefs, a beehive with bees swarming around it suggests abundance. There could be a raise at work, or your business might flourish. Dreaming of a swarm of bees has various positive connotations. 

It suggests a family finally getting united or heralding a fruitful year. If bees fly around you, it signifies happiness, luck in love, and overcoming troubles.  


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Beekeeper Paul

Hello there! I'm the beekeeping hobbyist behind HoneybeeHobbyist.com. I'm fascinated by all things bees and I'm fueled by the honey I get to enjoy from my very own hives.

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