Bee Lore and Symbol
When I decided to put three beekeeping sisters into the novel, it was not because I knew anything about bees, beekeeping or honey making. I had to read lots of books. Theres a mystique about bees, a kind of spell they weave, and as I read, I fell completely under it.
Bee lore goes back to ancient times, when bees were considered a symbol of the soul, of death and rebirth. I also discovered medieval hymns that referred to the Virgin Mary as the bee hive, and Christ as the honey that flowed from her. In some stories, the Virgin Mary was associated with the queen bee, and in ancient Greece the goddess Demeter was referred to as the queen bee, and her priestesses were the worker bees, who served her.
As the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter in the novel suggest, I thought of the pink house in the novel as a kind of hive community. As for who the queen bee in the novel might be, Ill let you come to your own conclusions. You might be as interested as I was, though, to learn that for a very long time, beekeepers assumed that the queen was a king. It wasnt until 1609 that people began to seriously question the existence of king bees, thanks to Charles Butler who wrote a book called The Feminine Monarchie.
Long ago, honey was regarded as a magical, sacred substance. People were buried in it, not only because it was a preservative, but because bee-balm as it was called, was thought to contain a resurrection potency. It was one of the libations offered to the gods of Greece, and believed to be the food of poets and muses. Ill tell you this much, I ate honey religiously while writing The Secret Life of Bees. For some reason writing about honey made me hungry for it. I kept a jar of it sitting right on my desk. One day when I completely ran out of it, I was overcome with the desire for biscuits and honey, and abruptly stopped writing, drove to the store and bought some. Actually, I do think the writing went better after that.