The Symbolism of Honey

“Your lips distill nectar, my bride;
Honey and milk are under your tongue”

~Song of Solomon

In the most ancient mythologies honey was considered a gift from the sky. Pline named it “saliva of the stars”, “sweat of the sky”. For the Greeks it falls from the clouds and it glides along the trees. Aristotle affirms that it is “born from the dew overlaid on the flowers.”

Honey was seen as a symbol of prosperity and goodness according to the old testament of the Bible, which mentions Israel as “the land of milk and honey”, a promised  “land of oil olive and of honey”. The Quran promises to believers “rivers of pure honey” in the paradise of Allah.

Honey seemed to have played an integral part in the Egyptian culture where the people used it for various purposes like “mummification” of the dead to making a holy offering in the temple of Min, the Egyptian god of fertility. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the bee was created out of the Tears of the sun god Ra. Due to their association with light and the golden colour of honey, they are referred to as a solar insect, and carry many properties as the Sun in Astrology.

Hindu poetry is overly drenched in sticky sweet honey. Madhukara (honeyborn) had three meanings: bee, lover and moon. There are many romantic Hindu tales associated with honey.

The Rig-Veda thus says:

“My tongue hath honey at the tip, and sweetest honey at the root.
Thou yieldest to my wish and will, and shalt be mine and only mine.
My coming in is honey sweet, and honey sweet my going forth;
My voice and words are sweet: I fain would be like honey in my look
Around thee have I girt a zone of sugar-cane to banish hate
That thou may’st be in love with me, my darling, never to depart.”

There are many legendary myths and fairy tales which glorify the bees, not only for industry, economy and the political perfection of their state but especially for supplying mankind with heaven-born honey. James Northcote’s fable, The Bee and the Ant, is a typical illustration. “Violent dispute once arose between the Bee and the Ant, each claiming superiority for prudence and industry; and, as neither of them would give up the point, they agreed to refer the decision of the great question to the decree of Apollo, who was fortunately at hand tending the cattle of Admetus. Accordingly, approaching the god, each made out his title to preference, with all the eloquence of which a Bee or an Ant had ever been master. Then Apollo gave judgment thus: `I consider you both as most excellent examples of industry and prudence.’ `You’, said he, addressing the Ant, `by your care, your foresight and your labor, make yourself ample provision in time of need; thus independent, you never intrude on or tax the labors of others for help; but recollect, at the same time, that it is yourself alone that you benefit; no other creature ever shares any part of your hoarded riches. Whereas the Bee practices, by his meritorious and ingenious exertions, that which becomes a blessing to the world. Therefore I must give judgment in favor of the Bee.”

The sweetness of honey has also symbolic value. And this symbolism has found it’s way into many different gifting traditions. It is customary on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, to dip apples into honey in order to welcome a sweet new year. And where is sweetness more cherished than in romantic relationships. We can find many instances of honey being used as gifts for our sweethearts. Eastern Europe in particular has a tradition of offering honey cakes to romantic interests. They also are given to teachers, grandparents, or others to express sweet affection. Honey and wine have been used in ancient Chinese wedding ceremonies. Small jars of honey are often given to wedding guests as favors.

One interesting gifting example can be found in the Buddhist festival of Madhu Purnima, celebrated in India and Bangladesh. The name in Bengali means ‘honey full moon’. Apparently, during one of Buddha’s retreats, he was sustained by a gift of honey from a monkey. This act is now remembered in the tradition of giving honey to Buddhist monks during this festival.

Honey, like the bees, is known to be a symbol of spirituality, and also of poetic inspiration. Honey was looked upon as a nourishment “a food of the saints and gods”. That was carried by the bees even to the thrones of the gods. Honey is the divine aliment that has to change humans in immortal gods.

2016 Excellence Reporter


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