is a series of our Big Buzz Diaries where we explore in short the history of honey and bees throughout different cultures. The reason behind such an endeavor is our wish to see and understand the different paths bees and their sweet produce have taken so that we can still enjoy honey in all its forms after millennia of devoted labor and care for our humming friends.
The Egyptians were one of the first cultures to domesticate bees with a great reverence for the little insects.
Beekeeping was practiced for thousands of years in Egypt and the Egyptians always built their precious hives in the same way - out of pipes of clay or mud taken from the Nile, often stacked one on top of another. That allowed beekeepers to move the hives up and down the Nile depending on the time of year, allowing the bees to pollinate with diverse flowers during the different seasonal cycles. Looking like small clay pyramids filled with the buzzing music of the bees, the hives crossed Nile’s waters on special rafts. At each new location, one could see how the bees were carefully released in search of the essence of various. And when the weather changed and the plants surrounding the location wore off, the bees were taken a few miles further down the Nile and released again. This way the bees traveled the whole length of Ancient Egypt and helped in sustaining the fragile natural equilibrium that engenders and preserve human culture. Thus, it is no wonder that the gift of honey was a central substance used in religious ceremonies and offerings. The sweet nectar was regarded as highly sacred, and pharaohs believed that honeybees were one of the symbols of the Sun God Ra and the goddess Hathor. And just like Ra who travelled the sky with his solar braque, giving light to the world, bees travelled the known and unknown to preserve the delicate atmosphere, the worlds breath, which plants literally sustain. That is why they were so highly revered and why the royals requested that they would be buried in their tombs with clay jars filled with honey. For example, the honeycomb was found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun.
Finally, the Egyptians were one of the first to recognize the medicinal properties of honey. They used it to treat a wide range of ailments - as an antiseptic, as bandage material, in treating wounds and burns and even in the process of mummification, for it was thought that the sweet smell of the nectar would mask the odor of death, thus preserving the body both physically and spiritually.
All in all, it must be said that bees and their sacred sweet produce gave this ancient culture a symbolic depth. It permeated the whole of Egyptian society and mapped honey’s journey to the present as one of those natural substance that imbue our senses and consciousness with feelings of sharedness, lightness and gentle hum.
Or as it was written in the “Salt Magical Papyrus”:When Ra weeps again the water which flows from his eyes upon the ground turns into working bees. They work in flowers and trees of every kind and wax and honey come into being.