The Winter Cluster

Meditations on Bees

In winter, bees huddle together in the “winter cluster”, enabling the bee colony to survive the cold. From a supersensory perspective, this clustering is the moment of the colony’s farthest exhalation. The bee colony leaves the earthly bonds and unites with the spiritual world. It is a reminder that we also encounter our cosmic existence in winter.

This portrayal seeks to draw attention to the “other”, the invisible being of bees. By this, I mean the hidden being of bees that spiritually underlies the bee colony, which is accessible to our senses and familiar to us. Like all other earthly creatures, bees are located on a line that leads from the invisible to the visible. It is only by becoming aware of this line that we can fully understand the bees’ living conditions. My research represents my desire to approach this invisible, this other being of bees, but in such a way that I allow myself to be guided by it. This is most certainly an audacious endeavour. If I were to summarise my experiences, I would say that we are still apprentices when it comes to the invisible being of bees. We are only just beginning to befriend it.

Longing for the Human Being

Observing bees is fascinating. Be it the construction of the honeycomb, the wisdom of the colony throughout the year, or the interplay of the three beings of bees—the queen, the drones, and the workers—each of these aspects of bee life evokes our amazement. Bees are creatures that inscribe themselves deeply into the soul. Encounters with them can be thoroughly unsettling because their existence is characterised by overwhelming harmony and unfathomable beauty. The wisdom-filled order in which the individual bee and the bee colonies are embedded as a matter of course presents itself unveiled and powerfully to the soul. It feels like standing before a marvel that we cannot cope with. We have to concede that we are not sure whether we will ever understand the wisdom-filled existence that is revealed in every bee colony seemingly without effort or exertion. We can admit to ourselves that the astonishing and incomprehensible phenomena of the bees’ existence can be no more than pale traces compared to the high spiritual entity that reveals itself in and through the bees. The behaviour of a bee colony, the way it handles substances, its oneness with the cycle of the year, and much more are remarkable phenomena.

This does not, however, capture the divine nature of the bee colony: this is inaccessible to observation with the senses. The earthly existence of the bee colony is only a first indication of its divine nature. We fail to do justice to the bee colony if we only consider the sensory phenomena. It is necessary to absorb, empathise with, and think along with what is at work through each bee colony from the worlds of spiritual beings. Only then do the phenomena and signs of its sensory existence become transparent; we could also say that only then do they become light, tangible, and comprehensible.

Pursuing only the sensory phenomena of the life of bees means avoiding the cosmic being of the bee colony. We fail to see its being as a whole. However, the way in which the human being looks is crucial to the world of beings [Wesenswelt]: whether and how we incorporate it into our observations and actions. Only by paying attention to the world of beings and showing it respect can it begin to communicate itself to us. Otherwise, it remains silent. Only by meeting the spiritual world and its entities halfway can essential insights and knowledge come about. Imposing limits on ourselves in this respect leads us to constrain ourselves. This is because we do not allow for experiences that show how the entities of the spiritual worlds, including the bees, court our favour and attention.

Beehives at the Goetheanum; Photo: Sofia Lismont

The Bee Year

The yearly cycle of the bee colony is characterised by the fact that it continually passes through very specific, changing life phases. These phases are part of a higher order that every bee colony follows. One of these states is the swarming of a bee colony. Part of the bee colony breaks away from the hive and forms a living cloud that fills the air. Anyone who observes a swarming bee colony can hardly escape the magic of this event. We are undoubtedly witnessing something important. We wonder what keeps this swarm together, because the bees are obviously flying in all directions but still form a cohesive whole that prevents them from losing each other completely.

Supersensory observation shows that by ascending, the swarm reaches the threshold of the spiritual world. It touches the spiritual world. It reaches the threshold that we cross in sleep and in death. The swarm touches this threshold without going beyond it. The swarming bees are thus approaching the moment of our existence when the soul leaves the physical body. Furthermore, it can be observed that every swarming bee colony creates an effect in the world in which people who have died dwell. In fact, the swarming bees cause a golden glow to rise in their world. This light signifies an organ of perception for them, through which they can perceive the hidden light of the inner earth. Among the deceased, this ensures the certainty that they unconditionally belong to the earth and that they will not lose the earth, their earthly existence, far into the most distant future. In this respect, the swarming bee colony encounters the human being—not the earthly human being, but an aspect of the supersensory, the cosmic human being.

In addition to swarming, there are other phases in the life of a bee colony that lead it to the threshold of the spiritual world. This includes the queen’s nuptial flight, the drone congregation areas, certain places in the landscape where the drones and the unmated queens come together to mate, and the winter cluster in which the colony goes through the winter. In a certain sense, the bee colony is outside itself in such states. It transcends itself.

If we go one step further, we can see special organs of the bee colony in the swarm, the nuptial flight, the drone congregation areas and the winter cluster, which, however, only last for a certain time. They mark important moments in the life of a bee colony. For the swarm, the organ which is connected with the world of the deceased has already been outlined. Although these organs appear for a certain time in the sensory world, they only reveal their deeper meaning to empathetic perception. They represent the supersensory organs of the bee colony.

It is in this that the actual significance of these special moments and phases in the life of the bee colony shows itself, for it is through them that the supersensory being of the bee colony is revealed with an unmistakable presence. They are portals through which the bees’ higher tasks can be viewed. We can now see from supersensory perception that in these life phases of the bee colony, a longing of the bees for the human being is revealed. It is not, however, a longing for the individual human being, but rather a longing and a yearning for the cosmic human being, for the human archetype. The wisdom-filled animals seek the archetype of the human being because they can only fulfil their tasks together with the latter.

In autumn, beekeepers in our [central European] latitudes have a particular experience with their colonies. There is a noticeable change in the nature of the bee colonies. With the onset of autumn, the relationship that beekeepers have with their colonies during the warm season undergoes a clear caesura. They feel how the closeness and bond with their colonies, which was a matter of course during the warmer season, dwindles and finally almost breaks off. The bee colonies are taking their leave. The beekeepers know that this state will last throughout the winter. Only spring will bring the bees back to them. One day in the new year, they discover that they have completely returned again.

When it gets colder, the bee colony gradually withdraws into the hive. In late autumn, the bees hardly fly out at all; the number of bees is greatly reduced compared to summer, and they will now feed on the stored honey for months. The drones have largely disappeared, and the queen has long since stopped laying eggs. The bees move close together in the hive, forming the so-called winter cluster to protect themselves against the cold. In winter, the colony moves slowly across the combs as the bees feed on the honey. It becomes still around the bees, very still. The decline in life processes means that we have to put our ears close to the beehive in order to still hear their buzzing.

Overall, this is a remarkable event. If we begin to immerse ourselves with our souls in these events, we cannot help but see the most mysterious state of the bee colony in the winter cluster. What does the bee colony experience in this, where does its consciousness turn during this time, and what is the paramount task of the winter cluster? The winter cluster is the mystical state of the bee colony. This is supported by the fact that beekeepers easily lose contact with their colonies during this time. They have well and truly to keep track of the colonies inwardly and follow them; we might even say die in their wake if they want to feel them. I have heard of people who say that they dream together with their bees in winter. Even if the bee colony contracts in winter, it nevertheless gives up its cohesion at a higher level. It detaches itself from the earthly world. It is seized by a special life through which it withdraws from the terrestrial. But what takes its place? Where does the bee colony disappear to in autumn—where does it go, and whence does it reappear in spring?

Immersion in the Wisdom of the Earth

The winter cluster can give cause for meditation. This consists of placing ourselves in the winter cluster with heightened attentiveness. The experiences are quite surprising, because we will encounter a living organism, a being. This being of the winter cluster is strikingly related to the state of the bee colony in summer. The winter cluster reveals itself to be the seed of the life form that the colony adopts in the warm season. The winter cluster is the hidden spirit seed of the life and existence of the bee colony in summer. In winter, the bee colony enters into a deep connection with the forces from which its entire existence is drawn. In other words, the bee colony encounters the archetype of its being in winter. It finds itself on a higher level.

It is further possible to turn in meditative contemplation to the being of the queen bee resting in the winter cluster. The being of the queen bee enters into an intense connection with the earth. Figuratively, she disappears into the earth. It is possible to let the being of the queen bee take you along on her journey through the wintery earth. This leads to deeply moving experiences where we cannot know if we will ever be able to access them at their most profound depths. The being of the queen bee strives towards the light of the inner earth and is embraced by it.

Insights of this kind lead us to speak of a winter path taken by the queen bee through the spiritual layers of being of the earth. This annually recurring event proves to be the source from which the queen bee draws her strength, in essence her very existence. This is what makes it possible at all for her to serve the bee colony in the way she does. She receives her royal distinction, her crown, from the light and the sun realm of the inner earth. The bee colony owes its wisdom-filled order and healing powers to the experiences and encounters that the spiritual being of its queen has on her winter journey through the earth. The bee colony enters a special state because it withdraws from the earthly world in winter, and the queen unites with the world of beings of the inner earth. It has virtually lost its connection with the earthly lifeworlds and is instead at one with the cosmic worlds of beings of the inner earth. We may also say that at no other time is the bee colony so surrendered to the cosmos.

Instruction in Dream Shapes

We saw how the bee colony touches the world of the deceased as it swarms in summer. During the winter, the spiritual being of the bee colony rises far beyond this: it unites with the spiritual earth. Not only does it touch the spiritual world, it unites with it. This is why the state of the winter cluster extends beyond the state when swarming. It is primarily the holy nights that are of significance here. During this time, the opportunity presents itself to be particularly close to the secret of the bees, like someone listening in. The queen bee, representing the bee colony, unites with the high wisdom of the earth. She is received in the realm of earthly Sophia, the inner power of wisdom of the earth, where she is nourished and provided with the powers necessary for her earthly task.

Insights of this kind are proof that we still only approach the bees as apprentices. It is only possible to talk haltingly about the wintry seedbed of the being of bees. Words and concepts fail. But this should not prevent us from approaching the ground of existence of bees meditatively, even when faced with the grandeur of the bees’ being. We join the bee colonies in our winter dreams. On its wintry journeys, the soul encounters the bees and unites with the high wisdom of the earth. The soul experiences a state of existence in which it becomes one with the high beings of the inner earth. It is possible to perceive how the high being of the queen bee speaks to the dreaming soul. Her spiritual archetype and that of the human soul come together. The soul receives veritable instruction. These encounters are a profoundly healing and seminal trait of the bee colony. The human soul is received and instructed by the being of the bees.

Translation Christian von Arnim
Title image Untitled, Miriam Wahl, from: Studien über das Wachen im Träumen [Studies on Waking in Dreams], watercolour on paper, 32 × 24 cm, 2020

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