Our relationship with bees goes back a long way. Even before we were homo sapiens we lived together. And as we learned to exert more and more control over our environment we maintained a companionship with bees which has been marked by respect, love and even reverence. The marriage between humans and bees is perhaps closer than that between humans and any other creature on the planet.
But that relationship has become one we have gradually taken for granted. In the past hundred years or so, it has become actively abusive. Now they are just walking out on us.
A lot has been written, now that business is suffering, about the plight of the poor honey bee. Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD, is one of those important sounding, pseudo-scientific terms that doesn’t actually mean very much. We might just as well use the term heartbreak.
Why are bees mysteriously abandoning their hives? Why are they just giving up? Scientists and agriculturalists are scratching their heads and wondering about mite epidemics, chemical pollution, artificial feed, urbanization, mobile phone interference, and anything else, but there seems to be no common cause. In the last three years up to 50% of honey bees in the US and huge numbers in Europe have basically just lost the will to live. They’ve gone out and never come home. Their hives stand empty, like the Mary Celeste. Bees are a highly developed civilization, sensitive to the multiple stresses placed upon them. Perhaps this self-sacrificing of individual bees by flying away to die, is meant to protect the hive from the impact of their own sorrow.
Rudolf Steiner predicted in 1923 that the newly introduced technique of breeding Queen Bees using the larvae of Worker Bees would mean that ‘a century later all breeding of Bees would cease.’ Others have predicted that once bees go, human will follow soon after.
The artificial breeding of Queen Bees is only one of the many ways in which we have interfered with the complex social life of honey bees. In our industrialization of agriculture we have inflicted a long list of indignities upon them. We have been able to do this because we do not see them as partners to be honoured and cared for, but as commodities to service our desires.
Steiner makes the connection very clearly, ‘That which we experience within ourselves only at a time when our hearts develop love is actually the very same thing that is present as a substance in the entire beehive. The whole beehive is permeated with life based on love. In many ways the bees renounce love, and thereby this love develops within the entire beehive.’
‘The bee is more honored than other animals’, he said, ‘not because she labors, but because she labors for others. Indeed, the bee works unceasingly for the common good of the hive, and obeys without question what sometimes appears to be an inequitable hierarchy.’
Our abuse consists of the exploitation of this loving gift for purely selfish pleasure. But no abuse can last forever without ultimately damaging the abuser. Unlike other parts of the ecosystem, the bees do not, lash, sting or burn us. They simply withdraw.
The bee is at the heart of the reproductive cycle, distilling and transmuting the sexual energy of plants. Without bees there would be no garden of paradise. Before pollinators there were no flowers on earth and no fruit or nuts or vegetables.
From small time pimps, hustling our way into the long-term relationship between flowers and their pollinators, we have turned into an organized racket, breeding honey bees as sex workers, transporting them thousands of miles across country in trucks, and renting them out to farmers to pollinate their factories.
Have we industrialized and mechanized and commoditized the soul out of love? What was once about, beauty, sweetness, sensuality is now about the bottom line. In looking for the answer to the problem of CCD perhaps we should be looking not to scientists and businessmen, but to lovers.