Several brothers have asked about the honeybee symbol on the 2016 Master Medal, and with the next presentation also revolving around bees, now seems like a good a time to delve into the topic. The beehive is a commonly used symbol dating at least to Roman times. In medieval heraldry it was considered a symbol of industry.
In modern times, it has been used in Freemasonry lectures as “an emblem of industry, which recommends the practice of that virtue to all created beings – from the highest seraph in heaven to the lowest reptile in the dust.”
It teaches us that “we come into the world as rational and intelligent beings, so we should always be industrious ones; never sitting down content while our fellow creatures around us are in want, especially when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.”
That verbiage was originally contained in the old English 3rd Degree lecture, but similar wording still exists in today’s Charge at Initiation.
The original lecture also cautions us against intellectual laziness, warning that, “he that will so demean himself as not to be endeavoring to add to the common stock of knowledge and understanding, may be deemed a drone in the hive of nature, a useless member of society, and unworthy of our protection as Masons.”
The prominence of this symbol has waned; it is no longer featured in our Degrees. However, I am a big proponent of promoting personal industriousness – and that is why the symbol is being featured prominently in the medal and program.