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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Nine Lectures on Bees
GA 348

Lecture I

3 February 1923, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen! Since our last meeting have you thought of any question you would like to ask me?

(A question was asked as to the effects of absinthe, also a question as to the difference between bees and wasps.)

Dr. Steiner:

In asking his question the gentleman in the audience, as an expert bee-master, draws attention to the differences between the life of the bees and that of the wasps. There is much that is similar here, and I have recently described the life of the wasps to you. The life of the bees much resembles it, but, on the other hand, in the bee-hive there is a very special and remarkable life. How can we account for this?

You see, this cannot be fully explained without the faculty of spiritual perception. That the life of the hive is extraordinarily wisely organised no one who has ever observed it can deny. Naturally, no one can say that the bees have the same kind of intelligence that men have, for we certainly have the instrument of the brain, whereas the bees have nothing of the kind; thus the universal world wisdom cannot be drawn into their bodies in the same way. But influences coming from the whole surrounding universe do, none the less, work with immense power in the bee-hive. Indeed, one can only arrive at a right understanding of what the life of the bees truly is, when one takes into account that the whole environment of the earth has a very great influence upon the life of the colony. This life within the hive rests upon the fact that the bees, to a much greater extent than the ants and wasps, work so completely together, so arranging their whole activity that everything is in harmony.

If one would understand how this comes about, one must say: In the life of the bee everything that in other creatures expresses itself as sexual life is, in the case of the bees, suppressed, very remarkably suppressed; it is very much driven into the background. For you see, in the case of the bees, reproduction is limited to quite a few exceptional female individuals—the Queen bees—to a very few chosen individuals, for in the others the sexual life is more or less suppressed.

But it is love that is present in the life of sex, and love belongs to the realm of the soul; and further, through the fact that certain organs of the body are worked upon by forces of the soul, these organs become able to reveal, to express love. Thus, because all this is driven into the background in the nature of the bees, and reserved for the Queen bee alone, the whole otherwise sexual life of the colony is transformed into those activities which the bees develop among themselves.

It was for this reason that in olden times, wise men who had a knowledge of all this quite different from the knowledge of men today, that these wise men related the whole wonderful activity within the hive to the life of love, to that part of life which they connected with the planet Venus.

If we describe the wasps and ants we can say they are creatures which, in a certain sense, withdraw from the influence of Venus, whereas the bees surrender themselves entirely to Venus, unfolding a life of love throughout the whole hive. This life will be filled with wisdom; you can well imagine how wise it must be!

I have already told you various things about the reproductive process and the unconscious wisdom contained in it. This unconscious wisdom is unfolded by the bees in their external activity. What we only experience when love arises in our hearts is to be found, as it were, in the whole bee-hive as substance. The whole hive is in reality permeated with love. The individual bees renounce love in manifold ways, and thus develop love throughout the whole hive. One only begins to understand the life of the bees when one knows that the bee lives in an atmosphere completely pervaded by love.

On the other hand the bee is quite especially favoured by the fact that, in its turn, it feeds upon just those parts of the plants which are also wholly pervaded by love. The bees suck out their food—which they then turn into honey—exclusively from those parts of the plants that are centred in love; they bring, so to speak, the love-life of the flowers into the hive.

Hence one must say that the life of the bees must be studied by making use of the soul.

This is much less necessary when we study the ants and the wasps for we shall see that here, though they withdraw themselves to some extent, still they do surrender themselves more to sexual life. With the exception of the Queen, the bees are actually beings which, as I would like to put it, say to themselves “We will renounce the individual sexual life that we make ourselves ‘bearers of love.’” Thus they have been able to bring what lives in the flowers into the hive; and when you begin really to think this out rightly, you will reach the whole mystery of the bee-hive.

The life of this sprouting, budding love which is in the flowers is there too, within the honey. You can also study what honey does, when you eat it yourself. What does the honey do? When honey is eaten it furthers the right connection in man between the airy and the watery elements. Nothing is better for man than to add the right proportion of honey to his food. For in a wonderful way the bees see to it that man learns to work with his soul upon the organs of his body. In the honey the bee gives back again to man what he needs to further the activity of his soul-forces within his body. Thus when man adds some honey to his food, he wishes so to prepare his soul that it may work rightly within his body—breathe rightly.

Bee-keeping is therefore something that greatly helps to advance our civilisation, for it makes men strong.

You see, when one realises that the bees receive very many influences from the starry worlds, one sees also how they can pass on to man what is fitted for him. All that is living, when it is rightly combined, works rightly together. When one stands before a hive of bees one should say quite solemnly to oneself: “By way of the bee-hive the whole Cosmos enters man and makes him strong and able.”