In this episode of Symbols and Symbols we examine the Masonic symbol of the beehive, a symbol that Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, calls a symbol of an obedient people. In masonic parlance, the symbol is more recognizable as an emblem industry. The Master Mason degree says of the beehive that it 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 of the dust.” Yet, as Mackey explains, the emblem is much, much, more.
A symbol that Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says “was among the Egyptians the symbol of an obedient people”, because, as he quotes Horapollo, “…of all insects, the bee alone had a king,” what we know now to be a queen. Mackey continues “Hence looking at the regulated labor of these insects when congregated in their hive, it is not surprising that a beehive should have been deemed an appropriate emblem of systematized industry. Freemasonry has therefore adopted the beehive as a symbol of industry, a virtue taught in the instructions, which says that a Master Mason” works that he may receive wages, the better to support himself and family, and contribute to the relief of a worthy, distressed brother, his widows and orphans. In the Old Charges, which tell us that “…all Masons shall work honestly on working days, that they may live creditably on holidays.”
There seems, however, to be a more recondite meaning connected with this symbol. The ark has already been shown to have been an emblem common to Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries, as a symbol of regeneration—of the second birth from death to life. Now, in the Mysteries, a hive was a type of ark. “Hence,” says Faber (Origin of Pagan Idolatry, volume ii, page 133), “both the diluvian priestesses and the regenerated souls were called bees; hence, bees were feigned to be produced from the carcass of a cow, which also symbolized the ark; and hence, as the great father was esteemed an infernal god, honey was much used both in funeral rites and in the Mysteries.”