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The Role of Bees in Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, there existed a natural equilibrium between humans and animals. Captured within the walls of recorded history reflects a time when humans possessed the common sense to not see themselves as more powerful than the total sum of the Universe, rather as an intricate part of its enormous tapestry. In the storytelling of Ra, the keeper of the Universe, each passing generation learned that though Ra's first tears fell for the prosperity of humans, his second tears fell to create bees so that they could turn water into honey and wax. A continuous supply of Ra's water came to Earth at the end of each day, as Ra grew tired and perspired. In turn, this made more plants for the bees to work the next day.

Bees were an integral part of Egyptian living, dating back to the earliest known scripts collectively referred to as the "Egyptian Book of the Dead." Honey and beeswax were an important part of the mummification process. Beeswax provided a seal to all body openings from the physical world, i.e. the eyes, ears, mouth, and the like. Later in the 70-day mummification process, priests rubbed wax onto the body to help slightly soften the dehydrated flesh. The placement of honey had evolving purpose, but its end function was to provide food for the soul so it would not starve during its long journey back to rebirth. Alexander the Great was put to rest in this manner.

Spiritual sacrifices were an important part of the living culture. Honey was an important offering. Some made cakes, others offered honeycomb, but the most popular gift was simply jars of liquid honey. Rameses III (1198BCE 1166 BCE) scribed that the royal treasury purchased millions of jars of honey expressly for sacrificial offerings. Inscribed on a tomb in the Necropolis of Abidos reads, "The King appoints that a sum of three and a half pounds of silver from the Treasury of the Temple of Osiris be given in order to cover the daily demand for one measure of honey, to be used at the ceremony of the worship of the dead, for his beloved Naromantha."

The relinquishing of honey was no small matter. According to written records, it was considered one of the first forms of human medicine. The oldest medicine book in the recorded world is the Egyptian Papyrus Ebers. In it outlines 800 medical problems of the time, the diagnoses, and treatment recipes, of which more than half call for the use of honey. Honey is effective as an antibacterial, osmotic, and an anti-inflammatory. Kyphi was one of the first remedies for halitosis. It consisted of a mixture of herbs, incense, and honey. It was said to make the breath pleasant. While there are those who scoff at the 'concept' of "natural remedies," none of us would be here without them. Well under the radar of popular knowledge rests honey as a modern day solution to drug-resistant skin infections. Honey bandages are quietly becoming a mainstream commodity within the medical community.

The ancients had high regard for the nature of bees, as evidenced by their common presence throughout hieroglyphs. However, what is more fascinating is that there is no mention of needing protective garb to harvest honey from them. Instead of bee suits, beekeepers relied on smoke blown down into hives to calm the bees. It was common for ancient beekeepers to shave their heads, as it was discovered that certain strong perfume odors would incite violent reactions from their winged charges.

The ancients learned several applications for both the honey and the wax. It was used in cooking, wine making, cosmetics, body care, and as an adhesive. This culture embraced the concept that no greater gift could come from the heavens than bees, and in turn, no more meaningful a sacrifice could be bestowed than that of eternal life-giving honey.

For those interested, sign the Save the Bees from Harmful Pesticides petition.

This is Deb Duxbury, for Animal Life, reminding you to please spay or neuter your pet.

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