Sunday, December 7, 2014

Week 49: The Book of Bees

   Many times, when moving through life.. or a gate... it's impossible to see what will happen along the way- and the outcome is totally unexpected. All we can really be sure of is the present and what is solid in front of our eyes. To make that point, this week's book began with an object. A fist-sized yellow jacket's nest was the prompt for this week's book. It began as the first placement into another three-chamber opposing hinge magic box. The box and it's contents make up Week 49's book-of-the-week, The Book of Bees.
lid of the 3-chamber magic box
opened to the right, hive chamber revealed.
   The box is covered in pastepapers and handmade Japanese printed paper. The hinge straps are double sided: brown cotton bookcloth and woven silk sari fabric from India. Satin ribbons are the lid pulls, and unpainted wooden plywood blocks are the feet. 

opened, two chambers revealed...
   Inside the box are two additional books, which are revealed when the lid is opened to the left. The top chamber houses a small 3 x 2-inch cord-bound book with pastepaper cover and leather spine. Its text pages are handmade Hahnemuhle paper from Germany and the endpapers are floral print paper from Italy. The little book has its own title, Telling the Bees and Other Bee Lore. This book is a handwritten collection of myths, poems, and facts about bees throughout history. 
   The book begins with the poem Telling the Bees by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) . Though a love poem, the flowery 18th century verse also expresses the colonial folklore concerning bees... the early Americans' belief that a death in the home caused the bees (a great commodity of the time) to leave their hives and fly away. To offset this occurrence, Colonial Americans covered their bee hives with cloths to hide the death from the bees. In addition, the beekeeper would whisper to the bees telling them not to leave... telling the bees. Additional facts within the little book are that honey bees were nonexistent in North America until they were brought to Jamestown, Virginia from England in 1622. And, it took another 231 years for honey bees to reach the west coast! The first honey bees to reach Oregon were recorded in 1853! Meanwhile, on the east coast, honey and beeswax were a big commodity. Records show that in 1730 over 350,000 pounds of beeswax were exported from Virginia throughout the world. 
box opened to the left... a little book and a tunnel book inside
floral endpapers on the Telling the Bees and Other Bee Lore
text from The Descent of the Goddess Ishtar
  One of the few Native American tales involving bees, The Bee King and the Snake's Daughters, from the Ioway tribe is also written down in the little book. A copy of this tale can be found on the site:
   These are fairly recent bee facts and lore... Actually, bees have been worshipped for thousands of years. The Egyptians reverence for bees is seen in religion as well as commerce. Beekeeping has been part of Egyptian culture since 3000BC. All Pharaohs... dating back to King Menes, founder of the First Egyptian Dynasty, were called “the Beekeeper”. An image of the bee can be seen next to the Pharaoh's cartouche. Throughout the Egyptian mythology and many others, the bee is identified with transformation of the soul... a sort of gate.

signature of Hatshepsut,  5th Pharaoh of the 18th  Dynasty
   Bees were significant in the old religions of Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Old Europe. Bees and hives are seen in the cave drawings of Catal Huyuk, Spain and Lascaux, France.. and bee references are seen in neolithic clay relics related to the mother goddess with a beehive on her head, standing on a beehive, or holding one as if a womb.  A good reference is the book, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, 6500-3500 B.C.: Myths and Cult Images by Marija Gimbutas.
bee hive temple wall painting at Catal Huyuk, Spain, 6600BC
A photographic tunnel book of a honey-filled hive is the third chamber of The Book of Bees.  Its complex latticework of chambers resembles a gate and alludes to the complexity of bees' place in mythology, folkore, and ancient religions. Such a beneficial and communal being... with honey and beeswax as products and dance as a means of communication... is certainly an alluring diety.
tunnel book of a hive...
hive and the little book
bee fossil from 100 million years ago, South East Asia

"Everywhere transience is plunging into the depths of Being… It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, “invisibly,” inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible."

—Rainer Maria Rilke
Thursday was the birthdate of poet Rainer Maria Rilke (Dec. 4, 1875 - Dec. 29, 1926).

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