It is very important to study a beehive. The single bee is stupid; it has instincts, but it is stupid by itself. The beehive as a whole, however, is exceedingly wise. Quite recently a very interesting discussion took place with workmen at the Goetheanum to whom, in normal times, I give two lectures a week. We had been speaking of bees and a very interesting question was put. People who keep bees know quite well that when a beekeeper who is loved by the inhabitants of the hive falls ill, or dies, the whole bee population falls into disorder. This actually happens.
One of the workmen who has the typically modern way of thinking said that surely a bee cannot see such a thing, it cannot possibly have any picture of the beekeeper. How, then, can such a feeling of interconnection arise? He also brought forward the point that a beekeeper looks after the hive one year but the next year there is quite a different population in the hive; even the queen bee is another insect and all the bees in the hive are young bees. How, therefore, can there be this feeling of interconnection?
I answered in the following way: It is well-known that in certain periods all the substances in the human organism are changed. Suppose we make the acquaintance of someone who goes to America and comes back after ten years. The person who comes back is really quite different from the one who went away ten years ago. All the substances in his organism have been exchanged for others. Things are exactly the same as in the beehive, where the bees have changed but the feeling of the interconnection between the hive and the beekeeper remains. This feeling of interconnection is due to the fact that there is tremendous wisdom in the beehive. The hive is not merely a cluster of single bees; the hive has an individual soul, a real soul.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 316 – Course for Young Doctors: Lecture I – Dornach, January 2, 1924
Translated by Gerald Karnow