Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Nine Lectures on Bees
GA 351

Lecture VII

12 December 1923, Dornach

(Questions were asked as to the affinity between bees and flowers which unites them so closely; also, what honey should be, and is, in relation to mail.

The question of the laying of eggs when the Queen is not fecundated was again raised, as in a normal hive there are three kinds of eggs: queen-eggs, worker-eggs and drone-eggs).


Very well, we will discuss these things once more in today's lecture. It is like this: we have first the fertilisation of the Queen during the nuptial flight. The Queen is then fecundated. Then we have to consider the time which elapses between the laying of the eggs until the insect is completely matured, till the bee is there. With the Queen this period is sixteen days, with the worker-bee twenty-one—twenty-two days, and in the case of the drone twenty-two—twenty-four days. We have then to begin with these three types; they differ from one another in so far as they mature during differing periods of time. What lies at the root of this? When a bee develops as a Queen it is due to the special feeding it has been given; the Queen larva are differently fed so that growth is accelerated. Now the bees are creatures of the Sun, and the Sun needs approximately the same time to revolve once upon its own axis as the worker-bee needs to come to maturity. The Queen does not wait in her development till the Sun has quite completed this revolution, and for this reason her whole development remains entirely within the influence of the Sun. Thereby she becomes a creature capable of laying eggs; all that is connected with a capacity to lay eggs is under the influence of the Sun, and indeed, of the whole cosmos also. The moment the feeding is such that development proceeds at the rate of the worker-bee, which is that of almost a complete revolution of the Sun, the nearer the bee approaches the influence of the earth-evolution. The farther the Sun moves, the more the bee comes under the influences of the earth. The worker-bee is indeed largely a creature of the Sun, but already somewhat of an earthly creature. But the drone which develops during a longer period than is necessary for a complete revolution of the Sun, becomes a creature wholly of the earth. It withdraws itself from the influence of the Sun.

We have then this trinity; we have the Queen, the worker-bees, in which there are still super-earthly forces, and we have the drones which have no longer anything to do with the Sun, but are fully creatures of the earth. All else that happens occurs no longer under the influence of the earth, with the one exception of the actual fecundation of the Queen.

Now this is the remarkable point. Just consider this nuptial flight of the Queen. The lower animals dislike fecundation, they seek to avoid it. This is everywhere in evidence. Thus the flight of the Queen is an escape towards the Sun, and no fecundation can take place when the day is dull. The drones who try to bring an earthly element into the Sun element must even wrestle in the air, and the weaker ones are left behind. Only the very strongest can fly as high as the Queen, and fertilise her. But even after this has taken place it is not all the eggs that are fertilised, but only a portion of them, and these can become Queens or worker-bees; the remaining portion that are unfertilised within the body of the Queen become drones. When the Queen is not fecundated then only drones can emerge, when she is fecundated, Queens, worker-bees and drones can emerge, because the seed is fertilised and the heavenly has made contact with the earthly. Thus even when there are worker-bees and drones, the latter still owe their origin to a longer exposure to earthly influences, because no fertilisation has in their case taken place, and they must therefore be all the more exposed to earthly influences if they are to become fitted for life; they must be fed for a longer period of time.


Some years ago, I was told that if anyone has rheumatism and gets stung by a bee or a wasp, the rheumatism will get better.


This touches upon a question which was perhaps not fully considered last Monday. Herr Müller then told us of a man who evidently had some slight affection of the heart, and who collapsed on being stung by a bee.


The doctor advised him to give up bee-keeping, as otherwise it might be the death of him.


Disease of the heart is a sign that the ego-organisation is not functioning rightly. You have already heard something of these things in former lectures. You will remember that we distinguished four different parts of a man; first of all, the ordinary physical body, which we can touch, secondly the etheric body, thirdly the astral body, and fourthly the ego-organisation.

This ego-organisation is active in the blood; actually, it brings the blood into movement, and in accordance with the movement of the blood, the heart beats. In text books you will always find the facts quite falsely stated, for it is represented as though the heart were a kind of pump, and that this pumping of the heart sends the blood all over the body. This is nonsense, because it is in reality the blood which is brought into motion by the ego-organisation, and moves throughout the body. If anyone asserts that it is the heart that drives the blood, then he must equally assert that if he has a turbine, it is the turbine that sets the water in motion, though everyone knows that it is the water that drives the turbine. Man has the same kind of points of resistance in his heart; the blood comes up against them and sets the heart in motion; thus it is that the ego-organisation works directly in the circulation of the blood.

Now it is actually the case that this ego-organisation is in a mysterious way present in the poison of the bee; it is a similar force to the force that circulates in your blood that is present in the bee-poison. It is of great interest that the bee should have need of this poison within her. The bee does not merely need it in order to be able to sting; that is merely incidental. The bee needs the poison throughout its whole organism, for it must have the same force of circulation that man has in his blood.

The colony of bees, as I told you, is like an entire man. Now consider, you get some of this bee-poison into your body, that is, into your blood, for any poison entering the body goes immediately into the blood. You are, let us say, a normal man, your blood will come more into motion, and inflammation may follow, but your heart can bear it. If however, a man has some disease of the heart, and his ego-organisation is made stronger by the poison, then this affects the weak heart, and the result may be that the man faints, or may even die. This explains the case mentioned by Herr Müller.

The remarkable thing is this; that substances that can make a man ill or even kill him, can also cure him. This is one of the great responsibilities one has in the preparation of medicines, for there are no real remedies which, if wrongly applied, cannot cause the same illnesses which they can also cure.

What then actually happens when a fainting fit or even death results from the sting of a bee?

You see, when a man faints, then his astral body, and more especially his ego-organisation, has withdrawn from the body as happens in sleep, only in sleep this happens in a normal way, and in a swoon in abnormal way. In a swoon, or fainting fit, the astral body does not withdraw completely as in sleep, it gets stuck fast, and when a man has a weak ego-organisation, he cannot bring it back again. One has to shake him, wake him up, rouse him out of his faintness by making him breathe more strongly by certain movements. You know how in these cases, one has to take the man's arms, cross them over on his breast, put them back, then again bring them forward and so on, and this artificial breathing really always means that one is trying to bring the ego-organisation back into the body in the right way.

And now let us suppose someone is suffering from rheumatism, or perhaps gout, or other deposits in the body; then one must try to strengthen the ego-organisation. Why do people have gout or rheumatism? Because the ego-organisation is too weak and cannot bring the blood into the right movement. The blood must be made to move more quickly. When the blood is not in the right state, when for instance, it flows too slowly, minute crystals are precipitated everywhere, and pass into the neighbourhood of the blood-vessels. These minute crystals consist of uric acid, and they go all over the body, and cause gout or rheumatism—the ego-organisation is too weak.

If I now give this man the right dose of bee or wasp poison, his ego-organisation is strengthened; only one must not give too much, or the ego-organisation might not be able to hold its own. But if one gives just enough to strengthen the ego one can then find a very good remedy prepared from the bee or wasp poison; only one must combine it with some other substance. These things are done. For instance, the old Tartarus remedy is manufactured in a similar way, though from different substances.

Remedies can always be prepared from poisonous substances, as in this case for the strengthening of the ego-organisation, but in applying them it is necessary to know all about the particular patient. For example, someone has gout or rheumatism; the first question must be—is his heart sound? that is, does it function well under the influence of the blood-circulation? If this is the case, he can be cured with bee or wasp poison. If the heart is not sound (but here one must distinguish between a nervous heart trouble, where it is less harmful) but if you have a patient with a serious heart disease, when the trouble is due to a valvular disease, then one must be very careful in the use of this remedy. Bee or wasp poison acts very powerfully on the cardiac valve, and when this is diseased these remedies cannot sometimes be made use of at all. This is why it is so dangerous to speak in a general way of some medicine or another as a cure for this or that illness. But one is entitled to say—I make a certain preparation, a remedy; I put wasp or bee poison into it (we actually have such a remedy) combining it with some binding substance, some gelatinous or other vegetable binding substance, which is then put into an ampoule and injected, just as the sting of the bee is injected, only the re-action from the bee sting is much stronger. One can prepare this remedy, and can call it a cure for rheumatism.

But even so, this is not the only anxiety one has, for one has first of all to discover whether the patient's general state of health can well bear the remedy; medicaments which enter deeply into the body must only be given when one has most thoroughly examined the patient's whole state of health. For this reason such remedies as enter deeply into the body must only he administered when one has thoroughly examined the patient's state of health.

When one hears of all manner of remedies such as are commonly advertised as cures for one thing or another, they are usually more or less harmless, and may be of use. There are many of these remedies to be bought, and one may agree that this is so, even when they have unpleasant results. Cures very frequently have unpleasant consequences, and the patient usually has to recover from the remedy which has cured him!

If we have some fine strong fellow who has rheumatism, it is as a rule, not true rheumatism, but a gouty condition, and then, as Mr. Burle said, “a few bee-stings can affect him very favourably.” He can be cured because he is able to stand the reaction. It is usually so, that a normal man who suffers from rheumatism, and is given the correct dose of bee-poison, can take this remedy well and be cured by it. On the other hand, a bee-sting may cause such severe inflammation that this must first be reduced and the poison, as far as possible, removed, in which case not very much will remain for curing the rheumatism. In the case of a normal man, it will very probably happen that not sufficient will remain over to cure the rheumatism.

But now let us consider the following case. Rheumatism can also come about in this way. A man is perhaps not a very hard worker, and has a very good appetite. Well, generally speaking, a man will have quite a good sound heart if he does not work too much and eats heartily, until the whole situation begins to be rather doubtful.

The heart is an organ with extraordinary powers of resistance, it can hardly be seriously damaged unless there is some hereditary tendency, or if it has been injured in youth; the heart can only be injured after many years. But a man who is a heavy eater often takes a good deal of alcohol with his meals, then the ego-organisation is over-stimulated, and the circulation of the blood becomes too violent; the heart can no longer keep pace with its beats. Poison, uric acid, is deposited all over him; the heart may still be strong for quite a long time, but already gout and rheumatism are lurking everywhere. Under these conditions, a bee-sting may render him extraordinarily good service.


I do not know whether there was a trace of alcoholism about this man I mentioned.


You mean you made no inquiries? You see, gentlemen, when one has such remedies as bee-poison, which is a very powerful one, then one must be quite sure that most careful attention is given to the patient's whole state of health.

HERR MÜLLER stated that he got an attack of rheumatism by catching cold; he treated it with exposure to the Sun, after which it disappeared. This summer he had it again slightly. He also believed that one could be cured by bee-stings, but one unlucky day he was badly stung on both legs, and had about thirty-two stings. The only ill effect was that for a week he was all colours of the rainbow. Swelling did not always follow; human bodies are very differently constituted. As already stated, one man may die of a bee-sting, while another may get as many as sixty without his heart beating any faster for it. One man has more resistance than another.


When you got so many stings, was it after you had been working many years with bees?


Many years.


Probably you no longer remember the first time you were stung. After the first time one gets to feel it either more, or less. The man of whom you told us, was no doubt, stung for the first time. When one has once had a poison in one's body, that is, in the blood, one gets more and more able to cope with it, one gets increasingly immune, as it is called. When someone is stung a hit at the beginning of his bee-keeping, and is otherwise a man with a healthy heart, then the poison so works on him that he becomes less and less sensitive to it. If one knows one is strong and healthy, one can even let oneself be stung once or twice in order that one can be stung afterwards. Rainbow colours show that the poison only affects the skin; the blood has become immune. This does not depend only on the organisation, but on what has been previously introduced into the blood. I am surprised that the doctor who saw this man of whom you told us, did not tell him that the second time it would not be so bad, and the third time he would be immune. But perhaps his heart was so bad he could not safely have taken this risk. That also has to be considered.

And indeed today it is a dangerous affair, because the doctors having once got hold of such things, now think that every bee-master should be inoculated before he starts bee-keeping.

When men go to war they are inoculated with all sorts of poisons, a thing not at all to be recommended, for the blood is then very greatly injured. The blood always deteriorates somewhat when such things are put into it. After a time it recovers its balance, the blood becomes healthy again, but is protected against any fresh poison of the same nature.


About the drones and the different kinds of eggs, Dr. Steiner has said so much, but one point is perhaps not familiar to him. When one has reason to believe the colony to be healthy, there may be times when the Queen is inferior, or is too old, and all the eggs she lays turn out drones. After many years of experience he is convinced that the Queen, when not a good one or too old, is still capable of laying eggs, some of which are good, but the majority will produce only drones.

Then about honey; how the bee actually makes the honey, and whether the bee-keeper should not help by sugar-feeding. From what had been said here, it would seem that the bee-keeper is on no account to use sugar; it seems that anyone who feeds his bees with sugar will get his name on the black list. It is true that one can have bad experiences with feeding foreign honey.


Naturally, it is quite right to say that one does not get the same product if sugar is fed artificially. If anyone likes taking sugar with honey he can add some for himself. Just as one does not water the wine you offer people on the ground that people should not drink it so strong, one offers what is printed on the label. The best thing in regard to honey is reciprocal control by the bee-keepers, because they best understand the whole question.

With regard to the drones, I should like to say this. One may certainly suspect that the Queen is not properly fertilised; too many drones come out. If one does not wish to leave the matter to the bees to settle, something can be done by means of special feeding, (these experiments have been made) the brood then emerges earlier, i.e., after twenty—twenty-two days, instead of twenty-three—twenty-four days, The drones then appear as somewhat drowsy, but still approximately similar to worker bees. One cannot certainly continue this for long; it is merely an example of the effects of the time-periods.

Such things are however, not done in practical bee-keeping theoretically, it can certainly be stated that a very great deal depends on the feeding, and it is undeniable that an irregularly egg-laying bee can be developed from a worker-bee, though it will certainly not be a real Queen. These things all go to show how readily transformable these creatures are, but such matters have no great value in practical bee-keeping.


One calls these “laying workers;” it is an illness in the colony.


In practical bee-keeping it is of no great importance, but by special feeding, the colony is able to make an egg-laying bee out of an ordinary worker-bee. It is a kind of illness. The colony is a unity in itself, and the colony is then ill. If you take a goose and overfeed it till the liver is over-developed, then the whole organism is ill. If a worker-bee becomes a layer of eggs, it is an over-developed worker-bee, but the whole colony must then be regarded as ill.

Perhaps some other questions may occur to you later, we can then return to them. Meanwhile I will add a few words in reply to the question asked by Herr Dollinger.

One can clearly distinguish those insects that in the wider sense are bee-like, the bees, wasps, and ants. These small creatures are related to one another, and I have already told you the interesting story of the gall-wasps which deposit their eggs in trees and similar places. I explained further how a kind of inner preparation of honey takes place through these wasps. There are also other kinds of wasps beside these gall-wasps, which more closely resemble the bees as they make a kind of honey-comb. There is, for example, an interesting wasp which builds in the following way: when it finds a rather stiff leaf on some branch, it fetches small particles which it bites off from the bark of neighbouring trees, or some similar substance; these it permeates with its saliva, and then proceeds to build a number of small stalks which it attaches to the leaf. When it has completed these attachments the wasp goes on working, mixing these substances with saliva and building on to these stalks something very similar to the single cell of the honey-comb. On a closer inspection of this substance it is, however, seen to be different. Honey-comb, as you know, is made of wax, but when you take a piece of this wasp-comb it has a greyish colour, it is very much like what we manufacture as paper. It is actually a kind of paper-pulp. Then second, third, fourth pieces are added and hung up there.

Diagram 15

When eggs have been deposited in these cells, they are covered over, but during the time of laying, the wasp in a most curious way, makes a kind of loop out of its paper, (Diagram 15) and then again a kind of covering with an opening at one side for a flight hole, so that the wasps can go in and out and attend to these little cells, Then more rows of cells are added, covered in, again a loop, a cover and a flight hole, and so on, till there may be quite a long cone, like a fir-cone. The wasps build themselves this cone-like structure out of paper, and in its separate parts it is similar to the brood nest of the bees. Other wasp nests are, as you know, covered in with a kind of skin, and have many and varied forms.

Just think what is happening here. If you ask me what the bee does in order to build its waxen cells, then I must say that the bee gathers what is needed from the flowers, from flowering plants, and what is of a similar nature from trees, but not concerning itself at all with the bark, or woody substances. The bee gathers only what is of the nature of the blossom, or more rarely what is leaf-like in its nature. The only time when such higher insects as the bees go to what is not of the nature of the blossom (to woody parts and such-like they do not go) is when they go after a substance that at certain times seems to be extremely tasty to them. The bees certainly do this much less than the wasps, and most especially the ants. Though the ants and wasps make use of what is lignified for their nests, they greatly relish the juices that are exuded primarily by the aphids:. This is really most interesting. The harder the substances used by these creatures for their structures, the more do they relish not only the nectar that is within the blossom, but something that is upon the blossom or leaf, namely, the aphis. These are really noble creatures, (forgive me if I now use the language of the ants, in human speech I could not say the same), the aphis is for the ant a noble animal. It is absolutely all blossom; it is really the finest honey in the world. The wasps also have a discriminating taste for the aphis. But when we come to the ants, which are not able to build the same kind of nest as the wasps, they must set to work quite differently. The ant makes heaps of earth, and these heaps have many passages within them, a whole labyrinth of passages along which the ants then carry all they need in the way of harder substances from the bark or rind of trees. Above all, the ants like the dead parts of wood, and these materials they use to continue their building, piling it up with particles of soil. They chiefly visit the stumps of trees that have been cut down, selecting what they need from the hardened core and carrying it away for their nests.

Thus the ants use the very hardest substances, and cannot elaborate their building as far as a cellular structure. You see, the bees make use of the substances that are within the plants; with these they build their waxen cells, and are thus still dependent on the juices of the blossom for their food, on pollen for instance, and the juice-like substances in the blossom. In the case of the wasps, it is already a harder material that they need for building their cells, but it is at the same time, thinner and more brittle than honey-comb, though as a substance it is harder.

A wasp may have a fine taste for aphis, but it nevertheless feeds also, in bee-fashion, on what is contained in the plants. The ants mostly make use of such hard material that they can only make tunnels into the earth, constructing little caves without any combs or cells. They are most especially fond of the aphis; they even capture them and carry them away to their dwellings; one can find them there in the ant heaps. It is really most interesting. When you go into a village you see a row of houses, and behind them the cow-sheds where the milking cows are; the ants have just the same plan. Throughout the ant heap you will find little dwellings where the aphis are placed, for they are the milch-cows of the ants. It is only all on a minute scale, for there you will find little stalls, and the aphis are the cows. The ants go to them and stroke them with their antennæ; this is extremely pleasant to the aphis, and they exude their juice which the ants now absorb. In this juice of the aphis the ant receives the most vital element of its food, for the aphis gives up this juice when it is milked by the ant. It is really just like a cow, only the cow must be stroked much harder. The aphis are picked off the plants by the ants, and are well cared for, so that we really must say it is quite splendid for these little creatures that there should be an ant hill in the neighbourhood, and that they should be carried off by the ants and made use of in their little cow-stalls. In the wise arrangements of Nature quite a little cow market in aphis is carried on by the ants.

Thus you see, gentlemen, that the ants which make use of hard substances only for their dwellings, are no longer able to be satisfied with the pure saps of the plants for their food; they must take as food what the sap of the plant has already given to the animal. So one must say: with the bees the pure juices of the flowers suffice for food; the wasps need both the flower saps and the animal saps, hence their harder shell structure. In the case of the ants their actual food is animal sap only; hence there is no construction of cells at all. The ant has no longer the power to build cells. Even when it takes something from the flowers it still needs this substance from the little cow-stalls, otherwise it cannot live.

You see how interesting are the relationships that exist between the flowers and these creatures. The bees must use the pure saps of the flowers; the wasps, and more especially the ants, must first allow these flower juices to pass through the animal before it can serve them as nourishment. As a result of this, they are able in the building of their house, to use what is no longer the sap of the plant. There is really a very great difference between the waxen honey-comb of the bee, the paper nest of the wasp, and the structure made by the ants which can only be made from outside material, and cannot be carried to the stage of the cell. For this reason their food must be so entirely different.

On Saturday I must go to Schaffhausen, and there will be no lecture; I will let you know when the next one will take place.