|Workers using smoke to remove honeycombs.|
King Menes, founder Egypt’s First Dynasty, called himself “The Bee Keeper.” All pharaohs after him used that phrase to describe their role as leaders of the people of Egypt.
Bees were often portrayed on tomb walls (below) and there are even tomb paintings of bee keepers using smoke to take honey from the hive (above).
Because of its antiseptic properties, honey was widely used in medicine, particularly as ointments on open wounds or cuts, and as a syrup for sore throats. So precious was it, typically only the pharaohs could afford to have jars of honey included in their tombs as burial offerings.
Beeswax was also a big deal, but the Egyptians didn’t necessarily use it for candle making. Egyptian priests used the wax to make models of their enemies which they would then ritually destroy (the original voodoo doll!). Rick Riordan does a great job of capturing the importance of magicians using wax models of servants and monsters to do their bidding in his wonderful Egyptian myth based action series, The Kane Chronicles.
The Salt Magical Papyrus claims bees were created when the golden tears of Ra, the sun god, fell to the earth. These magical god-tear-bugs then “work in flowers and trees of every kind and wax and honey came into being.”
The next time I make my kid a peanut butter and honey sandwich, I’m gonna tell her to mind her manners–Ra cried a lot of tears for that “sammich!”