Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ve tasked myself with throwing open the cabinet of curiosities and wondrous things I call my brain and leading you on a tour of what actually resides in there – all through the lens of unusual, obscure, or simply charming-to-me words.
M is for…
melittology – study of bees
While technically melittology is a branch of entomology, the scientific study of insects, I’m loosening the strict definition here as I ponder my own study.
My love of bees has led me over the years to intriguing obscure facts, symbolic meanings, and folklore.
In Greek mythology Melissa was the nymph who discovered and taught the use of honey, and honeybees were named after her. Minoan-Mycenaean priestesses were called Melissa. According to Homer, Apollo’s gift of prophecy first came to him from three bee maidens, and of course the Delphic priestess, the Oracle was often referred to as Bee.
The ancient Egyptian book of Am-Tuat compares the voices of souls to the hum of bees. And Pythagoreans revered bees as sacred creatures of Aphrodite who knew how to create perfect hexagons in their honeycombs. Incidentally these very units of the honeycomb, the hexagonal cells, have walls that are only 2/1000 of an inch thick, and yet are able to support 25 times their own weight.
According to both ancient Veda texts and the Greeks, lips anointed with honey brought the gift of eloquence.
Bees are critical to ensuring global safety of the food supply chain. Bees pollinate 71 of the 100 crops that make up 90% of the world’s food supply. That is nothing less than astonishing. It’s no secret that bee populations are in danger and have significantly decreased. The use of harmful chemicals, particularly the neonicotinoid pesticides, along with loss of habitat, and climate change are challenging bee survival.
Undoubtedly I’ve mentioned it a million times because it delights me so much – my name, Deborah, means bee.
Jewish historians suggest that the root syllable dbr, from which Deborah (bee) derives, is also what “word” is derived from, indicating “the bee’s mission is to give divine word, Truth.”
It also delights me that my first and last name anagrams into things I love. I am “Wore Herb Bead” – and I can attest to that fact. I love making herbal beads and wearing them. I am also “Adore Herb Web.” Yes I do. I think of the botanical world as a beautiful web of flowers and herbs and trees and all manner of magic, and I love it all. And finally I am “Hoard Bee Brew.” It’s true I love honey – I only hoard it in the sense I love having it around. I’m happy to share. But I also like thinking of this moniker as an admonition to be mellifluous, which has as one of its original definitions “filled with something that sweetens.” I’d like my life’s contribution to be that.
Of course, in celebrating bees, I can’t help but imagine them in their glory in a garden of blooms. Mary Oliver’s poem Hum is one of my favorites, and I especially love these lines:
“The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that's all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They're small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness?"
Many cultures across the world bees are regarded as sacred beings, and frankly I think, melittology aside, it only takes a few moments of genuine observation of amazing creatures to understand this whole-heartedly.
Are you fascinated by bees? Love honey? Ever anagram your name? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.