Freemasonry is

The beehive is another masonic symbol common in United States Freemasonry, but almost unheard of
in emulation style working. Although extant in older rituals and charges, in England and Wales it was dropped after the Union of 1813.

BeehiveThe beehive occurs in the Third Degree emblems on the Tracing Board of Royal Cumberland No 41, Bath.

An early 18th century ritual says of the symbol: ‘The beehive teaches us that as we are born into the world rational and intelligent beings, so ought we also to be industrious ones, and not stand idly by or gaze with listless indifference on even the meanest of our fellow creatures in a state of distress if it is in our power to help them without detriment to ourselves or our connections; the constant practice of this virtue is enjoined on all created beings, from the highest seraph in heaven to the meanest reptile that crawls in the dust.’

The honey bee has been used in art and culture as a symbol of industry and a well-built community for thousands of years. Honey bees have also been used as symbols of love, sensuality, immortality, death, and resurrection. Emperors, pharaohs, popes and conquerors have all used the honey bee as their personal symbol, and it has been a revered creature for countless centuries. The honey bee has been treated as a gift from the gods in nearly all cultures and has appeared in important roles in mythology.

While the honey bee is a small creature, people have always respected the bee as a force to be reckoned with, because of their stingers and the ultimate teamwork of the swarm. Bees have provided honey for humanity for thousands of years, and honey itself was regarded as a nearly holy substance by many cultures and was a common offering to their gods.

Freemasons have always used the beehive as a symbol; and the industrious bees extracting sweetness from every flower in the field and storing it up in their ‘properly tiled ‘ and darkened dwelling , present an excellent illustration of masonic life. Masonically, the beehive is a symbol of industry and cooperation and also by implication, a symbol of social obligation; reciprocal love and friendship.

Social obligation as a part of the symbol is seen in the harmonious working together of many units to a single end and reciprocal love and friendship in the fact that in the most crowded hive, bees live in peace and harmony with their fellows. The beehive, being an emblem of industry, emphasises the desirability of that virtue.

Street says: ‘To the operative mason could anything be more important than industry? By it he lives, and by it were reared those dreams of architectural beauty which excite our wonder and please our fancy. In all nature nothing is more constantly busy than the bee, and from ancient times it has been an emblem of industry. “Busy as a bee” has become an aphorism. A place of great industry we call a hive, and while I do not find it to have been employed in ancient symbolism, no symbol of labour could be more appropriate than a beehive. Strange to say, this symbol is now obsolete in England.’

Street, O. D. (1922). Symbolism of The Three Degrees. Washington: The American Masonic Press, Inc.

Macoy notes: ‘The beehive is an emblem of industry and recommends the practice of that virtue to all created beings, from the highest seraph in heaven to the lowest reptile in the dust. It teaches us that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.’

Macoy,R.(1870). GeneralHistory, Cyclopaedia and Dictionary of Freemasonry. New York: Masonic Publishing Co.

To Muslims, the honey bee is one of god’s creatures that not only provides sustenance (honey) but also symbolises the power of collective action. The hive mentioned in the Qur’an symbolises the omnipresence of the bee’s industriousness and, perhaps by coincidence, the beehive also became an important symbol to western culture at the dawn of the industrial revolution in northern Europe. As a 1724 masonic catechism put it, the beehive was a ‘grand hieroglyphic’ because the industrious honey bee ‘excels all living creatures in the contrivance and commodiousness of its habitation or combe.’

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, June 2019, pages 24 and 25.

Harvey suggests the beehive is an emblem of industry, and, as such, severely reproves idleness, which is the parent of immorality and ruin. Because of industry, the Freemason enjoys the necessities and even the luxuries of life, and by diligence in labour of whatever honest kind merits the respect and esteem of men and proves to all the world that he is not a useless drone in the busy hive of nature, but rather is constant in his high endeavours to live up to the purpose for which he was created by an all-wise and all-powerful god.

Harvey, W. (1919). The Emblems of Freemasonry Described and Explained. Dundee: T. M. Sparks, Crosswell Works.

The Odd Fellows regard the beehive as a symbol that represents associated industry, system, and unity in working for a common purpose; of busy forethought in making ample preparation for the future; of obedience, because of all the lower forms of life, the bee alone, after the ant, has a supreme ruler.

In the Christian tradition Saint Ambrose is sometimes represented as a mitred bishop with the crosier with a beehive at his feet; for his words were ‘sweeter than honey.’ Bernard of Clairvaux is often similarly depicted, the beehive being a symbol of eloquence or rhetoric.

The beehive can be seen as a model of the masonic fraternity. The individual bee has a synergetic relation with the others. They support each other and, thereby, the hive.

Bibliography:

de Paula Castells, F. (1943). The Apocalypse of Freemasonry: A Constructive Scheme of Interpretation of the Symbolism of the Masonic Lodge. Kessinger Publishing.

Decker, J. Komando V.(n.d.). Animal symbolism.

Ford, W. H. (1904) Symbolism of Oddfellowship. Providence, R.I., The author.

Francaviglia, R. V. (2011). Like the Hajis of Meccah and Jerusalem: Orientalism and the Mormon Experience.

Grand Lodge F. & A. M. of California. (1962). Handbook for Candidates Coaches. San Francisco.

Grand Lodge, A. F. & A. M., of Canada in the Province of Ontario (1989). The Newsletter of The Committee on Masonic Education, Vol. 8(3).

Harrison, D. (2015). The Lost Symbols of Freemasonry: The Beehive. dr-david-harrison.com

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