Posts Tagged ‘archaeology’
Mankind has always had a special relationship with the stars. In the modern world we explore them scientifically: searching for the answers to the Big Questions regarding the origins of life and the extent of the wider universe around us. We look up at the stars through veils of ambient electric lights and smog, wishing upon them still. We escape to the countryside to truly see the stars as best we may, watching them in place of the television sets which usually fill our nightly vision.
And in so doing we are continuing a bond man and womankind has had with the stars from the very beginning. For much of the time mankind has walked the earth, we did not know the stars as we know them to be today: huge balls of plasma energy strung out in space billions of light years away. Instead, we held them on high as something else, something magickal. In ancient societies, when the sun went down, there was the vast illuminated landscape of a starry sky lurking above them: mysterious and constant. It was a distinct part of their cultural worldview; its placement in the heavens and its occasional idiosyncrasies explained as part of ancient mythologies and religions. Imagine their wonder looking up at the night sky and imagining it looking right back at them.
And bear in mind, that without electric lights to dim the view, the night sky would have been distinctly brighter and filled with finer textures and gradients of colors and lights. The Milky Way not a slightly filmier band across the sky but a broad avenue of swirling colors stretching across an upside down starscape: a fitting pathway for the gods or divine river among the cosmos.
Shooting stars in particular hold a special place with the cosmic mythologies of most ancient civilizations. For the falling star represents an interaction between man and the divine. It represents something moving from a heavenly cosmic plain to the mortal, earthly world. It was probably with some surprise that upon tracking the falling place of a “star” to earth, they would discover a small crater filled with a glassy rock, which, today of course, we call a meteorite. Many cultures venerated meteor rocks as powerful magickal talisman, sent from the sky gods to the denizens of earth. The ancient Greeks believed that finding one would bring you a year’s worth of good luck and a wish; and it is from them that we have ultimately inherited the idea of wishing upon a star. Native American medicine men have been known to wear them as protective amulets, passing them down through generation after generation of shaman as symbols of their power. And temples throughout the ancient Mediterranean were in possession of meteorites, likewise holding them as sacred objects. Even in the modern world, a meteorite is one of the most venerated objects in contemporary monotheistic religious practices: the Black Stone of the Ka’baa. Believed to have been sent from God to Abraham and then passed down to Mohammad, the Ka’baa stone is technically a relic of all three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and is the centerpiece of the holiest of holy Mosques in Mecca in modern Saudi Arabia, a former temple to the local Moon/Water God.
Falling stars have traditionally had a myriad of metaphysical and spiritual meanings behind them as well.
Stars are, in particular, frequently associated with the idea of the human soul. In the Teutonic mythology of central Europe, it was believed that every person was represented by a star which was attached to the ceiling of the sky by the threads of fate. And when Fate ended your story on earth, she would snip the thread attaching your star and it would fall, presaging your death. In Romania, there is a belief that the stars are candles lit by the gods (and later the saints) in honor of each person’s birth and that the brighter the star the greater the person. The falling star represents the soul’s final journey to the afterlife as it is being blown out and across the sky by the divine candle keepers. In these and other cultures, falling stars and meteor showers were celebrated ~ they honored the ancestors who had come before them, and in particular the newly deceased who were joining the ranks of the highly venerated generations who had come before.
Even in the Middle Ages after the triumph of Christianity, the pagan equation between shooting stars and the movement of souls could not be snuffed out entirely. And so it was vilified; the shooting stars were cast as the souls of evil and impious men being cast out of heaven and down into the bowels of the earth.
Shooting stars have and always will hold a special amazement to those viewing them. For their beauty alone they are worth staying up for. And if you’re ready for the long haul tonight or tomorrow night (August 12th and 13th respectively) and you live in the Northern Hemisphere~ you’re in luck! It’s the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower. Every year between August 9th and 14th, the Earth bumbles through the trail of rocky and icy debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle: creating one of the most dependable and spectacular arrays of shooting stars on earth. It has, undoubtedly, been witnessed by man for millennia; though the first recorded instance of it did not occur until 36 AD in China; with the first official scientific description of the shower occurring almost 2000 years later in Belgium in 1835.
The Perseid meteor shower is named after its seeming origination in the nightsky from the constellation Perseus, itself named after the Greek hero of the same name. The stars which make up the constellation of Perseus have their own elaborate mythologies. In particular the star Algol; which, due to its variable eclipsing nature and unpredictable level of brightness was known first as the Gorgon’s Head after Perseus’ arch-nemesis the Gorgon Medusa, and then the Demon’s Head until it was simply just the Demon Star or the Ghoul Star (algol= al-ghoul). The shower was also later referred to in a more saintly manner. In medieval times they were called the Tears of St.
Lawrence in consideration of the fact that they would fall around his feast day on August 10th.
So if you can ~ go out late tonight or tomorrow night and watch the Perseids. Watch them and remember all those who have come before you to watch them down through the millennia. Watch them in honor of the souls they were said to represent. Watch them simply for the thrill of watching something so beautiful and cosmic and so beyond the human ken. Make some wishes. Catch one in your mind’s eye and never let it go.
Burke, J.G. 1986. Cosmic Debris: Meteorites in History. University of California Press.
Fairy Tales should not be swiftly discounted for their seemingly fictional and innocent purposes as children’s stories. The tales thus preserved are, in fact, windows into other times, ancient peoples’ thoughts, and older magicks. They are just as valuable a tool in anthropological study as traditional religious mythology, and to a certain extent, observational science and archaeology. They provide insight into the psychology and perception of their contemporary societies by both the people living in those societies and those transmitting the stories since. Furthermore, their archetypal nature speaks to something deeper in all man and womankind; regardless of the story’s origins or original temporal setting. This archetypal voice is why these stories still resonate with audiences today. And it is research into understanding this archetypal psychology which has dominated the anthropology of the fairy tale and been the focus of work for famous names such as J.R.R. Tolkein, Joseph Campbell, Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Frazer, and Carl Jung, etc.
The witches of the traditional canon of fairy tales, i.e. of Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and the rest of their late 17th through to early 19th century peers provide particularly remarkable insight into two periods of time: the time of the authors themselves; as well as the earlier pre-Industrial Revolution era their stories are typically set in.
Growing discontent with the pervading religious system and local government, coupled with rampant diseases (like the Black Plague), led to a rise in fear on the European continent. With the advent of writing and a stronger infrastructure of roads and trade, this fear was not an isolated incident, but was communicated between groups of people: between villages on a smaller level and between countries -for indeed, now we have come to the period where countries are starting to define themselves as separate states with distinct borders rather than cultural alliances and princely empires as before. Though this new, unprecedented opportunity would later prove to be the cure for the darkness of the period, it was at first but a promoter of the miasma of fear which hung over the late medieval world. In need of a scapegoat, the western world, and in particular the Catholic Church, looked around for something ‘other’ to blame all of their fears and woes upon. And they found what they sought in the form of the witch. A female with power, an outsider to the community, a link to the devil or the pagan communities that had ruled Europe prior to Christian domination ~ the figure of the witch was a multi-purpose target. An easy mark, the witch was vilified, both in person and in the resultant stories of her.
If you want to learn more about the witches of fairy tale and take a deeper look at the residual layers of fairy tale and symbolism of the new characters and archetypes attached to the myth of the witch, then join the Sacred Mists’ newest class: The History of Witches in the Western World ~ taught by yours truly. Using an anthropological perspective, this class explores the changing forms of magick and the evolution of the ‘Witch’ through the biographies of mythological witches of the antiquity through to the historical magickal figures.
Above image courtesy of fanpop
Have you ever walked into the other room and forgotten why you went in? Or been in the middle of a presentation for work or school and forgotten your next line? Though modern science has investigated and standardized the human information processing system that encompasses remembrance and recall, the concept of Memory and its importance was recognized very early on in human culture.
Without memory, much of everyday human interaction is meaningless. We operate within a system of recognized social queues and norms, and we cooperate best with those people and sub-systems which are most familiar to us. We all recognize that green means go and red means stop. And we know to trust our family and friends rather than the random stranger lurking on the street. We know these things, because they are embedded as part of our memories. We build up our knowledge base cumulatively utilizing memory. And thus, any new creations and inspirations can be tied into our ability to do this. The anthropologists of the past several decades have worked to formalize our understanding of this concept (Tomasello, etc). But it was recognized long ago, most famously by the ancient Greeks who cast memory into the personified form of the goddess Mnemosyne, and the bright ideas built off of memory became her inspirational daughters, the Muses.
Mnemosyne was a Titaness, one of the many deities representative of the earlier pantheon of the Indo-European Greek mainland which was supplanted by the more famous Olympians. Legend has it that for nine passionate nights, Zeus was allowed to forget about his troubles and stress as new divine ruler of the world by remaining in the arms of Mnemosyne. And from their union, nine months later, the nine Muses were born at the oracular springs of Pieria. These sacred waters were probably a prophetic pilgrimage site for those seeking to gain the favor of Mnemosyne and the ability to either remember or to forget. Mnemosyne holds sway over both of these qualities. She is said to control the River Lethe and subsidiary waters in the Underworld which grant forgetfulness of one’s previous life or continued remembrance of it into the next.
But she was not just honored for otherworldly role, but for the power she could imbue in her adherents in the mainstream world. Kings and politicians particularly sought her favor. And as the mother of the nine Muses, she was constantly evoked alongside her daughters. Indeed, it is likely that the Muses themselves were all initially aspects of Mnemosyne herself, which over time, became divisible and separated out as distinct deities of their own. When Homer so evocatively calls upon The Muse at the start of his Odyssey (“Sing to me of the man, Muse, that man of twists and turns drive time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy…Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus, start from where you will –sing for our time too”) it is likely early versions referenced Mnemosyne as a conglomeration of all the innnovative aspects which later became attributed out to her children. The oral nature of Homer’s work entails additions and alterations along the way. The singular general term ‘Muse’ as opposed to naming one of the specific deities, most likely Clio, Muse of History, implies higher levels of generalization or else a different entity than that which classical audiences would have assumed. The phrase ‘daughter of Zeus,’ though included in modern translations, is representative of a later alteration or addition to the text from periods whereby the relationship between Zeus and the Muses is more formalized. It may initially have said nothing of Zeus whatsoever, or else specified a different relationship to him.
The cosmology of Mnemosyne and her creative kiddies is most explicitly outlined in Hesoid’s Theogony or ‘Birth of the Gods:’
“(ll. 36-52) Come thou, let us begin with the Muses who gladden
the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their
songs, telling of things that are and that shall be and that were
aforetime with consenting voice. Unwearying flows the sweet
sound from their lips, and the house of their father Zeus the
loud-thunderer is glad at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as
it spread abroad, and the peaks of snowy Olympus resound, and the
homes of the immortals. And they uttering their immortal voice,
celebrate in song first of all the reverend race of the gods from
the beginning, those whom Earth and wide Heaven begot, and the
gods sprung of these, givers of good things. Then, next, the
goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, as they begin
and end their strain, how much he is the most excellent among the
gods and supreme in power. And again, they chant the race of men
and strong giants, and gladden the heart of Zeus within Olympus,
– the Olympian Muses, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder.
(ll. 53-74) Them in Pieria did Mnemosyne (Memory), who reigns
over the hills of Eleuther, bear of union with the father, the
son of Cronos, a forgetting of ills and a rest from sorrow. For
nine nights did wise Zeus lie with her, entering her holy bed
remote from the immortals. And when a year was passed and the
seasons came round as the months waned, and many days were
accomplished, she bare nine daughters, all of one mind, whose
hearts are set upon song and their spirit free from care, a
little way from the topmost peak of snowy Olympus. There are
their bright dancing-places and beautiful homes, and beside them
the Graces and Himerus (Desire) live in delight. And they,
uttering through their lips a lovely voice, sing the laws of all
and the goodly ways of the immortals, uttering their lovely
voice. Then went they to Olympus, delighting in their sweet
voice, with heavenly song, and the dark earth resounded about
them as they chanted, and a lovely sound rose up beneath their
feet as they went to their father. And he was reigning in
heaven, himself holding the lightning and glowing thunderbolt,
when he had overcome by might his father Cronos; and he
distributed fairly to the immortals their portions and declared
(ll. 75-103) These things, then, the Muses sang who dwell on
Olympus, nine daughters begotten by great Zeus, Cleio and
Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene and Terpsichore, and Erato and
Polyhymnia and Urania and Calliope (3), who is the chiefest of
them all, for she attends on worshipful princes: whomsoever of
heaven-nourished princes the daughters of great Zeus honour, and
behold him at his birth, they pour sweet dew upon his tongue, and
from his lips flow gracious words. All the people look towards
him while he settles causes with true judgements: and he,
speaking surely, would soon make wise end even of a great
quarrel; for therefore are there princes wise in heart, because
when the people are being misguided in their assembly, they set
right the matter again with ease, persuading them with gentle
words. And when he passes through a gathering, they greet him as
a god with gentle reverence, and he is conspicuous amongst the
assembled: such is the holy gift of the Muses to men. For it is
through the Muses and far-shooting Apollo that there are singers
and harpers upon the earth; but princes are of Zeus, and happy is
he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his mouth. For
though a man have sorrow and grief in his newly-troubled soul and
live in dread because his heart is distressed, yet, when a
singer, the servant of the Muses, chants the glorious deeds of
men of old and the blessed gods who inhabit Olympus, at once he
forgets his heaviness and remembers not his sorrows at all; but
the gifts of the goddesses soon turn him away from these.
(ll. 104-115) Hail, children of Zeus! Grant lovely song and
celebrate the holy race of the deathless gods who are for ever,
those that were born of Earth and starry Heaven and gloomy Night
and them that briny Sea did rear. Tell how at the first gods and
earth came to be, and rivers, and the boundless sea with its
raging swell, and the gleaming stars, and the wide heaven above,
and the gods who were born of them, givers of good things, and
how they divided their wealth, and how they shared their honours
amongst them, and also how at the first they took many-folded
Olympus. These things declare to me from the beginning, ye Muses
who dwell in the house of Olympus, and tell me which of them
first came to be.”
Though Mnemosyne’s magickal powers were not preserved, her divinatory nature and her control over knowledge, remembrance, and the transitioning soul entitle her a role as a goddess for witches. Knowledge is power. And knowledge is created by Memory, which is ruled over by Mnemosyne.
As the United States collectively pauses to celebrate the memory of those we have lost in times of battle, it is fitting that we also celebrate our own ability to remember them. And perhaps wonder what lives they have moved on to now, and what memories they will retain of their former glory.
If you want to learn more about mythical and historical figures like Mnemosyne and delve into the deeper more fabulously magickal realms of the Witches of Antiquity, now is your chance! The Sacred Mists newest class, History of Witches in the Western World , is now open for enrollment. Created and taught by yours truly, the class utilizes the mythical, literary, and historical biographies of witch-figures to explore the history and anthropology of magick from prehistory through to the last century. I hope to see you around its digital hallowed halls!
Initial Image is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Lamp of Memory or Mnemosyne. Completed in 1877, the canvas’ frame is inscribed with the phrase “Thou fill’st from the winged chalice of the soul/ Thy lamp, O Memory, fire-winged to its goal.”
Garlic and superstition have gone hand in hand for millennia. A tasty, natural curative –garlic’s power as a magickal protective charm and as a potent remedy has remained strong from ancient times through to the present day.
Worried about vampires? No problem. Carry some garlic and decorate your doors and windows with it. The use of garlic to protect against these pop culture prevalent denizens of the night is perhaps the most ubiquitous use of the aromatic bulb known today.
But its usage as a form of apotropaic or warding magick is far more ancient. The ancient Egyptians would utilize it to protect the sanctity of contracts and oaths. Medieval miners would carry it down to the mines with them to ward against evil spirits like the invisible and mischevious German kobolds. The pungent odor and easily portable bulb and cloves of the garlic plant ( allium sativum) made and, indeed, still make it, an ideal charm against evil in all of its multiple forms. Its Sanskrit name Rasona or Lasuona actually means ‘Slayer of Monsters.’ But not all of the monsters it protected against were of the fiendish variety. More often then not, it was the monstrous interior medical ills that garlic was utilized to protect against.
The second century AD Roman physician Galen of Pergamon labeled garlic as a ‘theriac’ or antidote which eventually translated into its widespread usage in imperial Roman medicine as a universal panacea or curative. In Ayurvedic medicine, one of the earliest ongoing systems of homeopathic curatives, garlic was utilized as an aphrodisiac, stimulant, and charm against virulent diseases like smallpox. Indeed, the sulfur and selenium components within the garlic bulb which presumably originated as a defense mechanism against hungry predatory animals result in garlic’s scientifically recognized properties as a valuable antiseptic, which does indeed aid in protecting against bacteria, inflammation, and viruses. Recent studies indicate that the consumption of garlic may help prevent against certain types of cancer. Garlic was recognized early on for its curative powers, but we are only just exploring the tip of the iceberg of what its wonderful biological magick can do for our own biological systems.
Biomagick aside, my particular favorite fact in the litany of garlic’s history (some of which is included above and others of which you will encounter in Sacred Mists fabulous Herbalist Course ) relates to its ritual usage. Garlic was once the primary offering to the great Greek goddess of magick herself: the mighty Hekate. The third century BCE philosopher Theophrastus recorded in his botanical texts Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants how garlic would be offered at crossroads and in front of the three-faced statues dedicated to Hekate found at such places.
SO the next time you throw a bit of delicious garlic into your cooking, take a second to speculate about the long legacy of interaction between garlic and humankind. For at least five thousand years men and women have consumed this tasty plant and utilized it in their magico-medicine practices. It is a tradition of tastiness and superstition predating biological scientific fact, one which you are continuing by adding it into your daily diet.
Is your city a god or goddess?
One of my favorite things about the socio-political phrase ‘the separation of church and state’ is that it does not include pagan concepts when it separates out ‘church.’ Organized monotheistic religion is automatically cast as a bias for political motivations, while the more spiritual ethos like those practiced here are allowed a place at the table. Political iconography is full of pagan and esoteric occult elements which subtly play on the psyche of the masses to promote ideas of community and nationalism.
Just take a look at the statue of Liberty. She’s not just a pretty lady wearing a tiara and holding up a torch. She is a sculpture of the Roman goddess of Liberty. And yet she is not a museum statue, or a remnant of a bygone age. She is actively worshipped as a symbol of welcome for the huddled masses searching for the promised land of the American Dream. And for those already in the United States she is a perpetual guarding symbol of the democratic spirit she so poignantly embodies. Overall, she was an entirely apropos gift from the republic of France to the United States: the first government of the modern era to successfully practice democracy (the only previous working variant having been in 5th century BCE Athens).
The Statue of Liberty wears a stylized toga comparable to those of Republican Rome (an antique civilization the France of the past three centuries has actively idealized). She carries a tablet of laws (the political variant of the moral Ten Commandmants) and a torch of enlightenment. But most intriguing of all ~ is her crown. Her crown hearkens back to ancient traditions of city-goddesses, where the deity most associated with the city (or the personification of the city itself) would wear a divine mural crown symbolic of the city’s walls or battlements. From the creation of the first cities there has been an implicit identification of the city as an anthropomorphic divine figure ~ a protector of man analogous to the city battlements she wears on her crown. The most prominent iconographic depiction of this centers on the ancient Near East, where the Tyche city- of the Phoenician coast reigned supreme. She was a symbol of the town’s prosperity and linked to the well-being of their inhabitants, the various Tyches could be counted on to guard the fortune of her denizens.
Anthropomorphization, or the transformation of a concept or inanimate object into something human, is something man and womankind intrinsically does to make these concepts or objects relatable. We do it in a myriad of different ways, both in ancient times and modern, often without even thinking anything of it. We name our cars. We treat our domesticated pets as human children. We even cast the gods in our own image, and then justify this by saying that we were cast in his or her image and that thus it is an infinite playback loop. By granting the space we live in, i.e. the nation, the city, the street, the house, etc a personhood, we make it easier for us to relate and understand the understandable.
Why does it rain? Because the weather god is sad. Humanity, even perceived humanity, implies an understanding of culture and emotion. In casting human forms on the divine, we cast them into a society which parallels and interacts with our own and therefore can be understood as a grand godly soap opera. It makes the big scary unknowable things about the universe fathomable while still retaining some elements of their mystical mysteries.
Creating these humanistic symbols also builds a community, who, if they have nothing else in common, at the very least possess this shared iconography. Just as sports teams has associated colors, team jerseys, and a mascot ~ so too can this team building psychology be applied at wider levels of society. The personified nation, be it in the form of the statue of Liberty or the likes of the Roman Empire’s Roma, acts as a visible totem for people to follow and share.
Gradients of civic divinity can be seen throughout modern society. From the goddesses on state seals to the magickal spells implicit in state, government, and even school models. The deification of space and of concepts is happening all around you.
And so, this week I ask you to look around your world and inquire into how many wonderful gods and goddesses may be going overlooked and in need of a bit of your attention. Is your city a god? Does your school have a patron goddess? What do you anthropomorphize and why? Why is it so important that humankind does this?
I recently underwent the mild trauma of my first bee sting. According to medieval French superstition, this means a stranger or a guest is en route. According to various ancient Mediterranean and Eastern European rituals, I ought to keep the poor little bumblebee. As the first bee I’ve personally encountered this year, he will bring me prosperity for the coming spring.
Bees, and the honey they so cleverly create, are sublimely steeped in magick and sacred ritual. From the dawn of time to the present, throughout religious turmoil, changing geopolitical borders, steps forward and steps back in morality and human behavior, bees and honey have been a mainstay of human society. Perhaps even more so than our canine companions, bees are man’s best friend (despite the occasional sting).
Though the relationship between man and bees is suspected to have begun earlier, the first appearance of bees in the archaeological record is in an Epipaleotlithic rock art depiction of a figure climbing a ladder to collect honey from a cluster of encircling bees in the Spider caves or Cuevas de la Araῆa, which date to approximately 8,000 years ago. So ancient is human involvement with bees, that the word for mead a( drink made from their honey), is so old that its base roots in proto-Indo European dialects affected its usage in a myriad of later tongues: from ancient Greek, to Sanskrit (where it is still used as madhu), to Chinese dialects and Old English, etc…The latter of which is where we get the current term of ‘mead.’
As the only natural sweetener humans of the Old World encountered until the Age of Exploration (circa 14th century AD, less than 700 years ago), when they discovered the wonders of sugar cane; honey had an early significance among the foods of the forest and later, the town. Typically, that significance falls into the sacred category. Honey appears prominently in early mythology, both as a physical offering of the gods and as something consumed by them. In ancient Babylonia, vows were sworn to the god of honey. Protection spells against evil magick made to the sorcerer-gods Ishtar and Marduk were sealed with gifts of honey. The Greek god Zeus, patriarch of his pantheon, was raised on the honey of sacred bees kept in the Cypriot cave he was raised in. The later Norse gods drank only magickal mead in their mythical Halls, as did the glorious dead they invited to join them there. In the ancient RigVeda, honey and soma are said to drip from the sacred fig tree which stands at the center of the universe. In other words, honey permeates world mythology, coating it in delicious sticky sweetness.
Human use of honey for ritual purposes is also significantly prevalent: from ancient times up until the modern day. Ancient texts and epigraphic evidence describe honey as a frequent offering to a variety of deities and spirits. It was either left out in a cup before an altar, poured on the ground as a libation, or burned. The Iliad describes its use as a funerary gift for the fallen warrior Patroclus. The Odyssey features it in Circe and Odysseyus’ necromantic ritual to ask advice of the spirit-seer Teiresias. The ancient Phoenicians would smear honey onto standing stones and burn it at their altars. The latter of which was later forboden by the Old Testament (Leviticus 2:11), indicating its former widespread use among the ancient Israelites and their attempt to cease such pagan rituals within their new, more monotheistic religion. The controversial use of honey within monotheistic rituals continued (almost begging the question ~ what is it about honey and bees that is so delightfully pagan the Church would consider it dangerous?), despite the initial covenant between God and Abraham featuring the promise of a land filled with milk and honey (Exodus 33:3). The Christian Synod of Auxere in 585 AD forbade the mixing of wine and honey (wine only!) for consecrated beverages. The Synod of 692 forbade the offering of milk and honey at saintly altars. The witch trials of the Burning Times occasionally centered around the magickal theft of honey by presumed witches who were charged both with the theft by demonic means and the use of the stolen honey for nefarious Sabbaths. Ironically, however, the art of beekeeping was most well developed in the Catholic monasteries of the early Medieval period.
Honey (and therefore bees) are particularly associated with happiness and sensuality of love and life. Honey was wildly popular in the ancient world as an aphrodisiac. The famous first doctor Hippocrates advocated the taking of milk and honey to induce love and ecstasy. The making and gifting of honeycakes, particularly in Eastern European traditions, was associated with rituals of courtship and romance. Conveniently, the use of honey, as advocated by the Kama Sutra, has resurfaced in the modern world; returning to its rightful place in erotic magicks. The prevalence of the term ‘honeymoon’ is a further continuing reflection of the associations between honey and the sacred act of sex and bond of marriage. With the exception of certain sub-Saharan tribes, honey has prevalently been considered a particularly suitable wedding gift and a particularly beneficial substance to be consumed at weddings, particularly by the bride and groom. The threshold of the honeymoon suite or first home of a couple is likewise best smeared with an offering of honey to encourage prosperity. Certain areas of Germany still perpetuate the ancient practice of decorating local beehives in honor of a wedding, so that the bees which created the honey for the wedding feast might also partake in the festivities.
On the flip side, honey has often been associated with death. The earlier discussed passages of the Iliad and Odyssey aptly reflect ancient usages of honey in death rituals: namely as offerings to the deceased and in death-involved magick. Funerary and spirit gifts were made of honey, logically, to literally sweeten the deal and the afterlife beyond. Honey was often used to bathe the dead prior to burning or burial. This is especially evident in ancient Egypt, where a ritual honey bath was a part of the expensive mummification process. The deceased are still offered a teaspoon of honey in some modern Hindu funerary rituals, often so that their language might be sweet and powerful in the next stage of existence.
The medicinal uses of honey, as a curative (i.e. to prevent death and discomfort, thereby increasing the likelihood of love and life ~ all of which it is associated with), are also noted in both ancient and modern sources. Its properties as an antiseptic for wounds made it a particularly powerful magickal curative in ancient poultices and medications, evidence for which is outlined from Egyptian magickal-medico texts onwards. The soothing nature of its consumption eases sore throats. Its quick metabolic dispersal rate makes it easy to digest and transfers a considerable amount of comparative energy to the consumer. Recent studies also indicate that consumption of local honey may ease certain allergies via an increased familiarity with the pollens used to create the honey.
Be it for medicinal or magickal purposes, honey is a potent ingredient. As one of the most natural and sacred of binding agents, it can be employed to increase the strength of any concoction. Its utility as a biological offering increases its power as an offering to the gods, and especially to localized house spirits. Spring offerings of honey are particularly effective, especially with regards to the latter creatures.
Bees, as the architects of honey and as creative industrial creatures in their own right, are also due considerable respect. Indeed, the bee, perhaps alone among insects, has been offered its own respected role within mankind’s understanding of ecology. The bee’s complex social formations and patterns of organization have long been lauded: from New Testament references to the honeycomb up through the social theorists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Though rarely revered as deities in their own right, the bee as a provider of sweet goods to humans has been recognized from the designation of the Lower Kingdom of Egypt as the Land of the Bees, to modern usage of the bees image on consumer goods (like the Honey Nut Cheerios Bumble Bee). Though typically adverse to insects, the bumble is one of the odd exemptions: perhaps simply because there is something innately magickal to them which resonates with the magickal within all of us.