A recipe for life

“Hence without parents by spontaneous birth
Rise the first specks of animated earth”
– E. Darwin, 1803

Spontaneous generation is the idea that life can arise from non living material at any given moment and one of the earliest references I found to the concept was from Anaximander in the 3rd century BC.  Not long after, Aristotle was writing in the 4th century about eels.  They troubled him as he could find no trace of their sex.  He concluded that eels “proceeds neither from pair, nor from an egg” but that instead they were born of the “earth’s guts”, that is spontaneously emerging from mud.  Aristotle believed that worm casts were actually embryonic eels boiling out of the ground.  Pliny the Elder had another idea, that eels would rub themselves against rocks and the scrapings would come to life.  Other eel theories included young emerging from the gills of fish, from dew or being created by electrical disturbances.  The reason that eels caused natural history such issues is because of their lifecycle which starts out at sea, away from the eyes of man.

Aristotle also thought that spontaneous generation applied to a few other creatures, often small, including flies and frogs, which were considered to be lower life forms.  Some were thought to be produced in putrefying mud and dung, in wood, in excrement, and dew.  Later, naturalists would claim that insects spontaneously generated out of old wax, vinegar, damp dust and books.  Even decaying larger animals were thought to generate these smaller lifeforms.  Horses were thought to be transmogrified into hornets, crocodiles into scorpions, mules into locusts and bulls into bees.  Rats were said to come from garbage, aphids from bamboo, flies from sweat and ants from sour wine.

Athanasius Kircher included ‘recipes’ for life in his 1665 book, for example, to create frogs, you needed to collect clay from a ditch where frogs have lived, incubate it in a large vessel, add rainwater and voila!

Jan Baptist van Helmont in the 17th century tells us how to make poisonous, predatory arachnids; fill a hole in a brick with basil, cover with a second brick and leave in the sun.  To make mice, he instructs us to place wheat and water in a flask, cover with the skirt of an unclean woman, leave for 21 days and there you’ll have baby mice.  Another mouse suggestion was that they emerged from the earth and in some places you could see them fully formed as far as the breast and front feet, the rest still just mud.

To make flies, you collect fly cadaver’s, crush them slightly, put them on a brass plate and sprinkle with honey water.  You can make bees by killing a bull, putting the corpse on branches and herbs during spring and by summer you’d have your bees.  Oysters would grow from slime, cockles from sand and salamanders from fire.

Whilst all of this sounds absurd to us today, if you put yourself in their shoes, I think you’d struggle to find a better theory.  After all, caterpillars don’t have parents that resemble them, and when they die (turn into a chrysalis), they create a butterfly.  Mushrooms grow from dead logs, mould appears out of nowhere and then there are the ‘annual’ fishes of Africa and South America:

“Their lifestyle is almost magical.  They live in puddles, ponds and ditches that dry up for part of the year.  When the puddles dry up, they die.  Only their eggs survive, buried under the dried mud, waiting for the next rains.  Collect mud, add water – and presto, you get fish.  You can see why people believed in spontaneous generation.”
– Olivia Judson

Over time, the idea of spontaneous generation began to be questioned.  In 1646 a sceptic was ridiculed for questioning the idea but Francesco Redi would seek to disprove the idea that maggots grew out of raw meat with experiments in the 17th century (he still believed that living matter could create other living matter eg trees creating wasps and gallflies).  Unfortunately, his results were questioned, holes were poking in the methods and John Needham would go onto ‘prove’ via another experiment that spontaneous generation was of course real.  Needham’s experiment took gravy and heated it, then sealed the end of the flask and the idea was that nothing could survive the heat or get it as it was sealed.  When life started to form, Needham was validated in his belief.  However, he hadn’t heated the flask high enough to kill the bacteria enclosed in it so they survived the process.

Other people would work at disproving spontaneous generation including Lazzaro Spallanzani who built on the work of Redi, but it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur came onto the scene in the 19th century that the theory was conclusively disproved.

Ultimately, by investigating the theory of spontaneous generation, we would come across pasteurisation and the field of microbiology would be born.

Suggested Reading:

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Ten of pentacles

Having had so much fun investigating the ten of swords, I decided I would start investigating the wheel of fortune, what with it being a ten card. I approached Oephebia about it and she said it had already been taken for this year but that the ten of pentacles and ten of wands were both available if I wanted to take on a second card.  I most definitely did and I picked up a deck and flicked through until I found the ten of wands or pentacles, whichever came first was going to steer my choice.  Ten of pentacles it is!

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Left to right: Wild Unknown, Pagan Cats, Lumina 

Pentacles/ Earth

The pentacles and the element earth with which they are associated are about worldly things, things you can own or touch.  This extends to your body and your health but also includes home, money, career, resources and a practical, pragmatic approach to life.  It is a grounded energy that tends to the aspects of daily life such as health maintenance and food.  This suit embodies the idea that a flourishing outer world extends from a flourishing inner world.  Putting on your own oxygen mask in on a plane before helping others is a high expression of pentacle energy. This is helping and being generous with yourself but tending to self first in order to do this.  However, greed and possessiveness are a lower expression.

With the pentacles there is also the practical realisation of dreams, the work that you put in to get what you want. It is about manifestation and productivity.

Tens

As we saw with the ten of swords, the tens are about endings and beginnings, the natural conclusion of the suit.

I find it interesting to look to the five of a suit, a half way point on the longer journey.  With pentacles, the five is about struggle, scarcity and not seeing what you have.  We work through this, we open our eyes to our abundance and we put in the work we need to build a solid foundation, to build the life we want.  There is a weariness to the five of pentacles and we might want to give up and give in but the light in the darkness is the wealth that comes with the ten.  Keep going even if you feel like you can’t.  There are times to quit and times to power through, this could well be the latter.

Another ten to consider is the ten from the Major Arcana, that is the Wheel of Fortune, another card about starting again, about turning the wheel, about moving forward.  As I’ve said already, I’ll probably be doing a post about the Wheel of Fortune at some point so we might find a bit more light shed on the ten cards then.

Different decks

Rider Waite Smith

In the RWS ten of pentacles, the foreground pictures and older man feeding or playing with two dogs, two adults in conversation with a small child pulling at the robe of one of the adults.  We seem to be in a market place or a town.  The scene is taking place in front of an arch, behind which are a range of buildings.  Ten pentacles are superimposed over the top in a symmetrical pattern.

Key words include affluence, permanence and convention and a traditional interpretation tends to view it as physical wealth, business success and maintaining this status quo. The Thoth tarot calls this the wealth card.

There is an air of prosperity in the village or town, not just in the people featured, which suggests a generosity, a sharing of wealth.  This is echoed somewhat in the old man who seems to be well off and I feel has been drawn with respect, this suggests a valuing of knowledge and experience, not just money.

I like Carrie Mallon’s observation that the card illustrates a passing down of security from generation to generation.  This could be in the form of physical or financial inheritance but it might also be in terms of wisdom.  Or perhaps the card could be asking us to turn to our elders in our quest to build stability and create abundance in our lives.

Tarot of Pagan Cats

The tarot of the pagan cats echoes this with a large cat – a fat cat if you will – laying in an opulent courtyard, a smaller cat at its feel and a couple of cats – one black, one white – interacting in the background.  The pentacles in this case are ten different symbols over the archway.

The LWB tells us this card means a stable and abundant life.  The description suggests less of the financial wealth of the RWS card and a more holistic idea of wealth.  Does anyone know what the symbols over the archway mean?  I know that left to right, the first four are earth, air, fire and water, possibly the fifth is the sun and the next three could be moon cycles but I’m really not sure…  If this is the case, it feels like we are being given all the aspects of life that we need – the magic of the different moon phases, all the elements and the power of the sun.  There is nothing more we need, we have security and the knowledge that we are safe and secure in what we have.

The Wild Unknown

The Wild Unknown has a circular rainbow with 9 large pentacles and one small pentacle right inside the central pentacle.  I like this, I like that you have to work a little bit to see all that you have.  This for me feels like a better angle for reading the card, one more fitting for this deck.  Pay attention to the details around you, don’t take things for granted.

As with most of the cards, I find the wild unknown take much more inspiring.  We are surrounded by abundance – the colours of the rainbow could perhaps be the equivalent of the symbols on the pagan cats – but no one is dictating what the aspects of abundance are.  For some people, to be surrounded by family might feel like contentment, for others it might be having the luxury of time alone.  And the need to look closer to see all you have really speaks to me.

I enjoy Carrie Mallon’s interpretations of the wild unknown cards and the words she has chosen for the ten of pentacles are stability and establishment.  Having spent the previous nine cards of the suit creating and achieving what you need, you can now pause.  You have established the life you want to live and have the things which make you content, you have created a solid foundation.  Note, this doesn’t mean you see them or feel them, you may need to stop and look instead of always future gazing.

Unlike in the ten of swords, this is a time to embrace the status quo, this is not a time for rushing forward and moving on.  Pause.  Enjoy.

Lumina Tarot

I love the image on this card!  It has a bear’s head with a bee resting on it’s forehead or third eye.  It is greyscale except for the ten golden pentacles surrounding the bear.  As with the ten of swords, I will explore the symbolism of this more later.

This time the keywords are joyful abundance and connection.  It is about satisfaction, appreciation for our life’s journey and gratitude for what we have.  The deck suggests that we create rituals to celebrate completion of particular journeys and phases as well as acknowledging that challenges and setbacks build us and help us to grow.  It also notes that what we have achieved may look very different to what we set out to achieve and that is ok.  Like all cards this could be read conversely as suggesting that you are not being grateful or not acknowledging how far you have come. We can get stuck in what we want to do and forget to look at what we have done.

General thoughts

Having looked at the decks, there are inevitably some common threads and I find pulling out questions can be a helpful way to help others read for themselves.  With this card some of these could include:

How can you use your success to help others? What can’t you live without?  What does success look like to you?  How are you tending to the details of your health and life?  What part of your life makes you feel richest?  What does security look like to you?  What have you inherited from previous generations?  How are you practising gratitude for what you have?  How are you working towards what you don’t have?  What are your values in life?

The card is speaking to the blessings in your life, to your relationship with abundance, to how you work towards or have worked towards fulfilment, whatever that looks like to you.  And that last bit is important here.  To find the richness of the ten of pentacles, you must be travelling along and honouring your true soul path instead of doing what you think you should be doing or what other people are telling you you should be doing.  If you follow other people’s paths, you might well find you harvest a bumper crop financially and physically but what of your emotional and spiritual wellbeing?  This can mean that the ten of pentacles is speaking to you more of how you heal yourself, how you align your inner world with your outer world.  As we’ll see, the associated mercury in virgo has aspects of this tending to your health and body, your emotions and your spirit.

Things you might want to reflect on are your confidence regarding your place in the world, your need for security vs your need for risk and adventure.  Also think about how you can further about yourself to experience the hidden ordinary magic.

Unlike the ten of swords, the ten of pentacles is the accumulation of the suit ending on a high note.  Michelle Tea says of it that “it is affirming that you’ve done the right thing, taken the correct actions, and made the best decisions, and the proof is in the very life you’re living… you’ve integrated your past achievements and their material payoffs into your life.  You’ve accumulated enough emotional and material security to trust that it’s not going anywhere.”

The ten of pentacles associations

Mercury in Virgo

Mercury is the messenger of the gods, it is a communicator, an archetype of perceiving and transmitting, taking in and putting out.  There can be an eloquence with this sign.

Then we have virgo, a sign which is detail orientated and also known for being of service.  Whilst these characteristics tend to be interpreted as perfectionist and helper in pop astrology, we can also see this as being meticulous and good at tending to the day to day.  There is an often overlooked aspect of tending to oneself, the day to day aspects of looking after yourself and others.  The detail part of this sign can be seen in the daily brushing of teeth and fuelling your body through carefully chosen nutrients.  Doing the little acts of self care even when you can’t see an immediate change.  These acts accumulate and this is how virgo’s attention to detail shines.  As an earth sign, virgo can be cautious, moving on a slower time scale than other signs.  Here I feel like we have an association that perceives, that observes, the details of life – the little things which some people overlook – the smaller bricks that make a life.  Ten of pentacles asks us to engage in small acts of attention and small acts of doing, both of which will build over time to create a gratitude and a security respectively.

Other associations

I didn’t have any plants noted specifically in my little white book (where I collect all my thoughts and notes about tarot) so I did a bit of googling and found that this card is linked with:

Black tourmaline, copper, emerald, fossils, geodes, granite, jade, iron, jet, haematite, lodestone, roots and wild yam

I don’t know a lot about the properties of different crystals but these are feel strong and tough, hard to break, excellent qualities for the foundation we build through the suit of pentacles.  Roots and the root vegetable yam are another kind of foundation.  Not an architectural one but a more natural one.  The roots of trees are what stop it from falling over in a storm.  The roots of the yam seek out the daily water and nutrients which let it life and grow.  We have the physical foundation or secure base of our home, the security of regular food and water, our health which may or may not feel secure.  We are looking here at our needs and how safe and stable we feel with these and how we could work to strengthen the foundations of the needs.

The bears and the bees

Sorry, couldn’t resist…

Bear

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Left to right: Animal Allies, Wild Unknown, Medicine Cards

For the lumina tarot, the symbolic animal for pentacles is bear and I love the bear, and the bee actually, so this has been a really fun post for me.  One of the things I really like about the bear is the paradox or duality inherent here.  We have the mama bear who loves her cubs gently and wholeheartedly.  But we also have the fierce, protective mother who would kill to protect those she loves.  Learning how to hold contradictions and dualities is an important part of life and for me has been helpful for firming up my mental health.  Knowing I can be happy and sad and that one does not invalidate the other has been an important lesson for me.

But what does this have to do with the ten of pentacles you ask?  Well, holding those paradoxes with peace is one way of creating a foundation for your inner world.  Knowing that life is filled with happy and sad moments and that these do not contradict or invalidate each other even when they are concurrent is a way that we can hold onto something stable even in the most unstable situation.

There is also a strong grounding aspect to the bear, they are very in tune with the cycles of nature – life the cycles of the wheel of fortune – and can teach us the benefit of going with the flow, embracing changes instead of fighting against them.  For a card that has inherent contradictions, it is probably no surprise that alongside going with the flow and the cycles of change, we are also invited to pause – to hibernate – and rest and just be, something that the ten of pentacles encourages as well.

Bee

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Left to right: Wild Unknown, Animal Allies

If you know nothing about the symbolic meaning of bees, you probably still know they are hard workers.  Busy as a bee.  They are the embodiment of the work ethic that builds the foundation we see in the ten of pentacles.  They, like the ten of pentacles, are manifesting abundance.

In my post about the wild unknown bee card I wrote that bees have sensory hairs which can determine wind speed and direction and they can see UV light which means they see the world differently to us.  Flowers appear even more beautiful for the bee, pause and appreciate their magnificence, such a ten of pentacles message.

Where the bear is both loving and aggressive, the bee is both honey and the sting.  This feels like a prompt to consider perspective within the context of the ten of pentacles, a reminder that what we have depends on what we see and don’t see.

I hope this, along with the ten of swords, has given you some flavour of the ten cards in tarot and how some are the manifestation of positivity and others the accumulation of the negative.  Both have valuable lessons for us and both can help us grow, develop and enhance our lives.

Insects in the bible

When we think of insects in the bible, we tend to think of plagues of locusts and destruction, devastation and punishment.  Alternatively you might think of examples where they are held up as pests.  But they are also used as metaphors and occasionally they are just there as observations of actual insects.

The translation of the bible will affect your reading of insects.  The King James version has 120 references to insects but more recent translations have put the number at 98 as a result of differing interpretations, changes include:

  • The word translated as hornet in the king james version is now considered to be more likely the word panic.
  • “Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness” – “as a moth” has been changed to “as a festering sore”.
  • Lice, in the context of the plagues, is now considered to be maggots; an animal which makes more sense in the context.

Translation difficulties can arise because words used include that for generic flying creature which could mean bird or it could be a flying insect.  But where particular insect species are referred to there is less ambiguity.

Ants are mentioned as examples of industriousness, gathering food in preparation for winter in the book of proverbs.  They are also held up as a creature which is small but wise along with other animals such as the locust.

Go to the ant, you sluggard, watch her ways and get wisdom, Proverbs 6.6

Bees are another specific inclusion with numerous references to honey eg land “flowing with milk and honey”.  It was thought that bees were collectors of honey and that it was originally from the stars where it was a food of the gods.  The bees collected it from dew on leaves and branches and were thought to store it in their hives.  As with the ant, this industriousness became synonymous with the bee.

Flies on the other hand fare less well, something which is also the case in mythology.

Dead flies make the perfumer’s sweet ointment turn rancid and ferment; so can a little folly make wisdom lose its worth. Ecclesiastes 0:1

If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies upon you, your courtiers, your people; and your houses. The houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with the swarms and so shall all the land they live in. Exodus 8.21

Of course the plagues of locusts are possibly the most dramatic inclusion of insects.  Today plagues of locusts are destructive and can cause devastation but when the bible was written, the impact would have been far greater, the dark cloud being an omen of death through starvation.  Of course, huge groups of locusts occur naturally and whilst it was seen at that time through a biblical eye, later in Europe at least, it would be seen through a legal eye.

If this is something you find interesting, Insect Mythology has a several page table looking at insects in the bible and Simon Roberts has looked at all the animal references in the bible.

Q&A with Beatrice the Bee

What is your full name? Beatrice, of The Twisted Oak Meadow Hive, Worker Party E

Your current relationship status? We’re encouraged to be self sufficient, powerful women as the men are just there to pleasure the queen. That said, there’s always a bit of fun to be had when you’re off out on a work day, what happens in the rose bush, stays in the rose bush!

What is your current mood? A bit exhausted to be honest, it’s all work, work, work round here so when you do get off shift you find you really need to give your wings a rest.

What’s your dad’s name? Tough question. Men are not important in my world, it’s their sperm that matters and he could have been any one of the drones and he died straight after fertilising the queen anyway.

If you could go back in time and change something, would you? I worry sometimes that I don’t work hard enough. I don’t want to be one of those bees who gets to the end of her life and feels like she’s not given her all to the hive.

Do you have a crazy side? Get me on the nectar and wooah I can party!

Ever had a near death experience? Every day, it’s just part and parcel of a worker bee’s life. There was this one time though… I was sipping away at a rotting apple, minding my own business then suddenly this huge, panting monster came up behind me, breathing really heavy. I was terrified. I slowly inched my way round to face my killer and there was a huge, black, wet nostril puffing warm, wet air at me. I thought I was a gonna. But then a whistle blew and the giant bounded away. Took me a while to recover after that one…

Angry at anyone? There’s always someone buzzing around in The Hive, getting too close, not respecting boundaries… There’s so many of us that I guess it’s unavoidable…

Do you want to see somebody right now? I love being around my sisters but it can get exhausting and pretty noisy so right now I’m happy just having a moment to myself between shifts.

What’s your mother’s name? We all call her Queen, I don’t know if she has another name but if she does, she’s probably forgotten it as no one ever uses it…

Who would you do anything for? The Hive.

Who is your hero? The Queen

What is the first thing you notice about the opposite sex? Their uselessness… Or I would if I ever got to see them. Us worker bees keep away from the drones, they are so boring… I mean most of them never leave The Hive so what’ve they got to talk about?!

What are you eating or drinking at the moment? A cup of mead and a round of honey

Have you ever lost a friend? This is the hardest bit about hive life, fellow bees are always dying… I don’t mind when it’s the drones, they die happy but my fellow worker bees mostly die in fear…

Describe your life in one word. Busy

Do you like the rain? Not at all. I hate having to go out in the rain, it makes flying so much harder and I tend to stay home if I can. If I’m out and it starts to rain, I hide in a flower and enjoy the nectar.

What are you thinking about right now? My mind keeps drifting to this lush patch of heather in the orchard the field over, I hope there’s some left for me when I get back out there…

When was the last time you cried? What does a worker bee have to cry about? On the whole life is pretty good. Sure the odd death in the family and the odd close call get to me but that’s just part and parcel of life here.

What should you be doing right now? Working, always working.

What are you listening to? The hum of the hive is pretty loud, I tried listening to music once but it was drowned out so I don’t bother. I like to listen to the birds singing as I go about my work, especially the song thrush over by that hedge.

Who was the last person you told “I love you” to? Every time I do the handover dance we tell our sisters to fly safe and that they are loved by the hive for their contributions.

Who was the last person you yelled at? Probably Blossom… she’s always getting lost when she goes out. It’s like she doesn’t pay attention when we do the directions dance… And you know I’ll get blamed for not wiggling right…

Who was the last person to make you smile? Haha, that was Belle at the handover. She has such an awesomely strange waggle. Gets the job done but my… She totally has her own style does that one…

Is there one person you can tell anything to? There are no secrets in The Hive. It’s one of the Golden Rules as the community doesn’t function if one bee is keeping anything hidden.

Where do you want to live? I love my hive and I’ve never thought about leaving… I guess if the Queen abandoned us I’d have to think about it but this is my home and it always has been. I don’t know where I’d start if I had to move…

What are you watching? The girls chewing the nectar, have you ever seen it? It’s such a magical process. We chew on it for about half an hour then pass it from sister to sister and it starts to turn into honey. Then we pop it into the little wax cells and seal it. If it’s raining then you definitely want to be on the production team, not the collectors.

What will win your heart over? A good tip off, for me lime trees are my weakness but you have to be careful – get it right and you have yourself a nice high but too much of that sweet syrup and you’re vulnerable to predators cos you’re off your head, too tripped out to fly straight…

Bee: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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Wow, so much to say about the bee!

The bee

Scientists believed that the bee shouldn’t be able to fly based on it’s body size and wing size and weight and such things, and yet they can.  No one told the bee they couldn’t fly and so they did.  If you’ve pulled this card, perhaps now is the time for some seriously strong self belief.

Bees are productive workers and as such are associated with manifesting abundance.  They are another keystone species and as such their role as pollinators are vital to our existence.  Without them, we would not have most of the plants that feed us and house us and fuel our lives.  This role in the web of life links them with fertility and sexuality.

They have sensory hairs which can determine wind speed and direction and they can see UV light which means they see the world differently to us.  Flowers appear even more beautiful for the bee, pause and appreciate their magnificence.

Bees dance to communicate to other bees where food is, sharing both the direction and distance which seems like an awesome way to communicate!

They only live around 30 days and remind us that life is short and we should make the most of it.  Stop and smell the roses, literally if you’re a bee!

The sting

When provoked or threatened, angry bees will sting and (depending on the species) die.  They sacrifice themselves for the hive.  Be careful of the consequences of your temper.  If you lash out, you may pay the price.

It is the bee sting which causes people to be fearful of them.  Admittedly if you’re allergic to them you have a very big reason to be afraid but if you aren’t then your fear may be an overreaction.  They are unlikely to sting you and on the whole, whilst painful, it’s not harmful.  Unpick your fears, where have they come from, what’s at the heart of them.

The hive

The hive is such an important part of the bee’s life and thus this card.  They function as one organism with the queen as an egg laying machine and the female worker bees having designated roles.  The bee population is heavily female and the few male bees, drones, are there mostly for mating.  Have a look at your own role(s).

The hive works together with the good of the hive as the focus.  Every small job matters and makes a contribution.  What do you need to do for your community?

And yet, busy as a bee can be a bad thing…Are you overworked?  Bees don’t get time off from their job.  Is your job your life?  Your identity?

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Honey

And obviously, bees make honey!

Ancient Egyptians believed that honey was the tears of the sun god and honey was left as an offering to the gods.  Pliny is said to have wondered if honey was the saliva of the stars and Aristotle thought honey was the precipitation of rainbows which bees collected from flowers.

In the past, mead made from honey was used to evoke visions and has long been used medicinally.  We’re all familiar with the idea of honey and lemon for a sore throat, but have you ever asked why?  Well, it has antibiotic properties which help with sore throats and when applied to wounds, it helps with healing, provides moisture which aids the process and the honey acts as a barrier to prevent anything getting into it.

In addition to honey, bees make beeswax which has had an important role in the candles used in churches and in ceremonies amongst many other things.

The bee in the card is shown in a bubble of light, shine yourself brightly, share your gifts with the world.

But it’s not all sweetness and light…

Bees are associated with funerals.  It is said that if you don’t tell the bees when a family member dies, they will abandon the hive and never return.  There are different rituals depending where in the world you are and these include sharing funeral foods with the hive as well as inviting the bees to the funeral.  This may be linked with the idea that bees are quick to take offence if they aren’t treated with respect.

Still on respect, in the past bees were not bought and sold as this was supposed to bring bad luck.

Like the butterfly, they are associated with death and carrying the souls of the dead to the afterlife.


Note, do not watch the bee movie.  It is male-centric and gets even basic bee facts wrong…