The rites of Ohio Freemasonry are filled with imagery, characters, and symbols designed to translate the core teachings and values of our fraternity to brethren. While all harbor their unique significance, some enjoy a greater place of prominence in Masonic discussion, lecture, and philosophy. Take, for instance, the Beehive, a symbol that maintains a position in the Master Mason degree yet receives little attention in the whole of Masonic ritual. Despite its inconspicuous place in the craft, the Beehive is a rich, ancient symbol worthy of examination.
To appreciate its place within the third degree, let us examine this symbol’s historical and cultural significance so that we may better contextualize it within our ritual.
As with many of the symbols represented in Speculative Masonry, before it was incorporated into the rituals of our fraternity, bees and beehives meant different things to various cultures. One case can be found Hinduism, an ancient religion that remains greatly prominent in India. In Hinduism, gods were frequently associated with bees, including Vishnu, Krishna, and Indra. These three are referred to as Madhava, the nectar-born ones, and are represented by the bee.
Another instance can be found in Ancient Egyptian culture, where the bee represented both royalty and their obedient subject. One example shows that as early as 3500 BCE, the bee represented the King of Lower Egypt. In the words of Horapollo, “of all insects, the bee alone had a king.” While we now know the king is the queen bee, it is understandable how the hive structure contributed to the development of this ancient symbolism.
The Third Degree
It is unclear precisely when the Beehive was integrated into Masonic ritual, but as W.M. Sollie divulged in The Masonic Observer, it was mentioned as early as 1724 in Ireland. The Early Masonic Catechisms reads, “A Bee has in all Ages and Nations been the Grand Hieroglyphic of Masonry, because it excels all other living Creatures in the Contrivance and Commodiousness of its Habitation or Comb.”
In the lecture of The Master Mason degree, it is taught that the Beehive is emblematic of Industry:
The Bee Hive is an emblem of industry, and recommends the practice of that virtue to all created beings, from the highest seraph in the heavens, to the lowest reptile of the dust. It teaches us, that as we come into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, especially when it is in our power to relieve them, without inconvenience to ourselves.
As Albert Mackey wrote in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, following the regulated labor of bees in the hive naturally deems it an appropriate emblem of systematized industry. When reflecting on our ancestors in the operative lodges, the old meaning of Industry described how the guilds’ work was completed without modern heavy machinery. In this antiquated system of Industry, individual stonemasons were assigned specific tasks based on their skill level, whether it was carrying a stone or building tools or sculpting a proper piece for the structure. Every man from the apprentice to the master was essential for completing the job just as every bee contributes to the success of the hive.
While Masonic lodges may be different in practice, the parallels with the Beehive remain the same. Local Ohio lodges follow a structure that requires workers on all levels to make the lodge function and be successful. Ohio Master Masons and more seasoned brothers must impart their knowledge and experience with our Entered Apprentices. We all must do our part to make lodge endeavors successful and harmonious. Considering the Masons’ diligent and cooperative nature, stemming back to the Operative Masons of the middle ages, it is no wonder the Beehive came to be the powerful symbol in our work that it is today.