Bees have long been synonymous with concepts of industry, focus, work ethic, dedication, and fertility. Worker bees are dedicated and focused, collecting nectar and serving a queen, the alpha female and mother to all bees in her colony. They exist in various forms on every continent except Antarctica and, as such, have been the focus of mythology, folklore, and spiritual speculation throughout cultures and religions since the beginning of humanity’s journey on the planet.

Bees were an important recurring presence in both Greek and Roman mythology. The Ephesian Artemis, a multi-breasted “great mother goddess,” was deeply connected with bees — they served as her personal emblem, their honey was considered divine food, and their image graced the earliest coins in her city. Jupiter, the ancient Roman equivalent to Zeus, was believed to have been fed by bees in infancy. Historically, the Greek philosopher Plato was purportedly visited by a swarm of bees in his cradle, the poet Pindar was supposedly nourished by honey rather than milk, and Pythagoras was said to believe that the souls of the wise were transformed into bees.

In fact, bees have been consistently connected with divinity and the soul throughout history, often described as emissaries from other realms. The Celts and Saxons believed they were messengers between worlds, while the Egyptians saw the bee as a physical representation of ka, or the soul. When the Egyptian god Re cried, his tears were said to transform into bees when they hit the ground, delivering messages to his people. European lore describes bees as travelers between worlds, the only animals (besides eagles) allowed access to heaven.

Even organized religions recognize bees as special creatures. Bees and honey appear significantly throughout the stories and symbology of the Bible, they receive direct instruction from God in the Quran, and the Torah mentions bees and honey in several Jewish customs, including Rosh Hashanah.

Today, many work to protect and cultivate bee populations in efforts toward supporting their critical work as a keystone species in saving both humanity and the planet. What was once a symbol is now a reality: bees’ fertile work pollinates a whopping three-quarters of the plants that comprise 90 percent of the world’s food. They are critical for biodiversity and ecological balance. Quite simply, without their tiny little buzzing bodies of industry, life as we know it ceases to exist.