I recall as a child discovering with excitement the furry exterior of bubble-bees, the kind you don't see any more, the desire to fondle only being overcome by my learned fear of its sting, which would result to a self-sacrificing end for the little critter. No matter that my first sting was only in adult life, when an errant bee was lured by my Fleurs d'Oranger (Serge Lutens), one sunny spring morning. I also recall superstitions upon which bees had to be given the news of a death in the family, and even fed a piece of the sweets and wine of the funeral meal, or they would perish as well. In my apis-loving culture the use of honey, royal jelly, bee pollen and beeswax (cystomarily used in orthodox candles for mass) has always been seen as a survival of a sacred, almost magical act which connects man and woman to the pagan nurturance and divine blessings of mother Nature. It is no coincidence that Greek cuisine makes ample and delicious use of some of the finest varieties of honey for many of its aromatic dishes. Or that babies and small children are still nursed on milk and honey in this country, recalling the nursing of baby Zeus by Melisseus ("bee-man"), father of the nymphs Adrasteia and Ide and the leader of the nine Kuretes of Crete, chthonic daimones of Mount Ida, who clashed their spears and shields to drown out the wails of infant Zeus, hidden from his cannibal father Cronus.
The lore of bees and honey harkens back to ancient civilisations who cultivated the arid, unforgiving soils of the Mediterranean and prized the industrious insects for their rich products and their amazing navigation skills (allegedly via tiny crystals naturally embedded in their brain) which made them easily domesticized. From freemason to wiccan, bees and honey appear frequently ever since antiquity as references to a society that is more tightly ordained than ours and an example of how nature and the eternal female finds a way for everything: even the promiscuity of the Queen Bee is a guarantee of safety and health of the entire hive, according to biologists! The survival of the bee is impressive, much like they themselves are considered a link between this world and the underworld. Mycenean "tholos"-style tombs are shaped to look like a beehive, while Melissa is nothing more than the Greek name for...bee (Μέλισσα), while Deborah is also linked to ancient bee priestesses.
My reprisal of these themes was ingeniously suggested by Roxana of Illuminated Perfume and evolved into this article, as well as a series of other posts in participating blogs (linked at the bottom, don't forget to visit!)
- Mythological Origins of the Bee Symbolism:
The famous golden Minoan "Bee Pendant" depicted on the left is technically immaculate and presents great merit from a conceptual viewpoint. Discovered at Chrisolakos, the burial ground outside the palace of Malia in Crete, it is now surrounded by other sacred objects such as ceremonial Labyrns (giant double axes) and beautiful gold rings and "double axe" and bee jewellery at the Heraklion museum in Crete, Greece. More powerfully, the bee stood as the symbol of Πότνια, "Mistress" or "Pure Mother Bee" according to Minoans and Myceneans. Her priestesses were called "Melissa", same as with worshippers of rural goddesses Artemis and Demeter.
The Delphic oracle was also referred to "the Delphic bee" (Μέλισσα), long after Apollo had usurped the ancient oracle and shrine, in the hymns by Pindar. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo mentions that Apollo's own gift of prophecy first came to him from three bee maidens, usually identified with the Thriae, pre-Hellenic Minoan bee goddesses!
Other peoples also proliferated bee motifs and lore: The Mayans had the Ah-Muzen-Cab (the Bee God), designating honey-producing cities (who prized honey as food of the gods). The Kalahari Desert's San people ascribe the Creation of man to bees: A bee carried a mantis across a river, but when exhausted it left the mantis on a floating flower, simultaneously planting a seed in the mantis's body before it died. From that seed grew the first man. The Egyptians believed bees to grow from the tears of the sun god Ra when they fell on the desert sand (much like the foam of the sea was considered by the Greeks to be the sperm of the cut genitalia of Cronus from which Aphrodite emerged). The bowstring of the Hindu love god Kamadeva is made of honeybees and Vishnu is often depicted as a blue bee.
- Honey varieties: a world of textured scents
Apart from the amazing flavour, all honeys contain phenolic acids and hydroxymethylfurfural, the levels being highest in thyme honey, which are purported to influence estrogenic activity and cell viability of breast, endometrial and prostate cancer cells. And of course the hydrocaptive and antimicrobal properties of honey make it a supreme addition in skincare and cosmetics, promoting hydration and health of the skin.
- The Bee as an Emblem
Napoléon I had a veritable mania for the industrious insect, which he had made into a symbol of his own reign; even made it into a flag and a cloak, wearing which he was painted by David. Bees long standing symbols for immortality and resurrection, they linked the new dynasty to the very origins of France, more Merovingian than Napoleonic: Golden bees (cicadas, to be exact) were discovered in 1653 in Tournai in the tomb of Childeric I, founder of the Merovingian dynasty (457AD) and father of Clovis. Therefore they are considered the oldest emblem of the sovereigns of France to whom the ambitious leader wanted to be tied to. The bee also presented the advantages of not being symbolically tied to the despised Bourbons nor Christianity.
Another version wants Napoleon moving into the Royal Palace at Tuileries and not wanting to keep the existing drapery with its embroidered fleur-de-lys (the previous French Royal emblem and one which also alludes to Mary, mother of Jesus). Being frugal on spending on new ones, he ordered them instead to be turned upside down, thus offering the world a new symbol: the bee. Lastly, conspiracy theorists might attribute his choice to freemasonry, where the bee stands as a hieroglyphic of the highest order.
Popular references to bees however are much simpler: From the dramatic cone-shaped hairdo of the 1960s known as the "beehive" to the Beehive Bundt cake which would make Martha Stewart proud!
- Honey Notes in Perfumery
Phenylacetic acid (otherwise known as α-toluic acid, benzeneacetic acid, alpha tolylic acid, or 2-phenylacetic acid) is perceived as golden and honeyed in minute amounts, urinous in higher concentrations (Kouros, Miel de Bois). Honeysuckle, a flower with natural honeyed nuances traditionally grazed upon by animals (earning it the tag of "goat's vine" in Greek) and sucked clean by small children sometimes, is also imparting sweet, nectarous notes in fragrance similar to the ones that evoke honey. Acacia/Mimosa and aubépine/hawthorn (recreated through the use of p-methoxy benzaldehyde as in Chanel Beige), or some white flowers (orange blossom, jasmine) have a honeyed nuance to their bouquet as well. On the other hand the smooth, decadent scent of honey is especially simpatico in a piquant contrast to the austere formula of a chypre, where it reinforces the other floral notes and mingles with the animal-reminiscent ingredients to give the veil of a hinted sensuality, comparable to a silk bra under a starched shirt.
- Fragrances with Honey Notes (click links for reviews):
Armani Armani Code
Ava Luxe Honey
Ava Luxe Madeline
Avon Mark Instant Vacation Greek Isles
Azarro Orange Tonic
Bill Blass Basic Black
Bijan by Bijan
Burberry Weekend for men
Carla Fracci Gisele
Chanel Les Exclusifs Beige (hawthorn/aubepine honey)
Christian Dior Poison
Christian Dior Tendre Poison
Christian Dior Bois d'Argent
Coach by Coach
Comme des Garcons Comme des Garcons
Elizabeth Arden Red Door
Estee Lauder Estee super cologne concentree
Estee Lauder Sensuous
Estee Lauder White Linen
Estee Lauder Pure White Linen Light Breeze (hesperidic and light)
Etienne Aigner Private Number
Gucci by Gucci (the horsebit bottle)
Guerlain L'instant de Guerlain (especially in Eau de Parfum concentration)
Guerlain Rose Barbare
Guy Laroche Clandestine
Isabella Rossellini Daring
Jean Charles Brosseau Ombre Rose L'Original
Jean Louis Scherrer Scherrer 2
John Varvatos John Varvatos for women
Lancome Magie Noire (the most symbolic use of honey notes)
Lancome Tresor Elixir
La Perla La Perla
L'Occitane Eau de Miel/Honey Water (the closest to pure honey)
MAC Naked Honey (reminiscent of linden blossom honey)
MAC Africanimal (peppery, woody honey)
Orlane Fleurs d'Orlane
Paco Rabanne Paco Rabanne pour Homme (sweet fougere)
Prada by Prada
Serge Lutens A la Nuit
Serge Lutens Chergui
Serge Lutens Chypre Rouge
Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque (milk and honey in pipe tobacco)
Serge Lutens Miel de Bois
Sisley Soir de Lune
Shiseido Feminite du Bois
Stella Cadente Miss Me
Thierry Mugler Angel
Thierry Mugler A*men
Tommy Hilfiger True Star Gold
Trussardi Trussardi Uomo
Tom Ford Private Blend Velvet Gardenia
Urban Decay Honey Dust (shimmery body powder that can be licked off)
Van Cleef & Arpels First
Victoria's Secret So In Love
Yves Saint Laurent Kouros
Several solid fragrances, such as the ones by Roxana Villa, are based on natural beeswax.
Feel free to add more fragrances with honey notes in the comments section!
Please read the following blogs for more on bees and honey:
Roxana Villa atIlluminated Perfume Journal
Trish at Scenthive
Gaia Fishler at The Non Blonde
Beth Schreibman Gehring at www.examiner.com/x-5804-
Donna Hathaway at www.examiner.com/x-4780-
Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks (1951)
Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, (1955)
Carl A.P. Ruck & Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth
Bee illustration ©Roxana Villa. Other pics via Basenotes, Wikimedia commons, castlehounddesigns.com