Ceres, Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

December 2014

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The Secret Mythopoetic Life of Bees

According to Jungian scholar Erich Neumann, agriculture (Ceres’ domain) was originally the natural outgrowth of a deep psychic identification of humans with all of Life (1):

"Because originally human life was so strongly affected by its participation mystique with the outside world that stone, plant and man, animal and star, were bound together in a single stream, one could always transform itself into another. Men and gods are born of trees and buried in trees; men can turn into plants; the two realms are so close together that one can merge with the other at any time. Man has achieved little independence and is still close to the maternal womb. This proximity to the womb is not only the cause of frequent mythical transformations of men into plants but also of the magic by which human beings – and at first precisely women – attempted to influence the growth of plants."

At the center of this magical practice of agriculture – first conducted from within a state of participation mystique – was the bee, according to Neumann, associated with the Great Goddess in general, but above all with Demeter, Artemis and Persephone. The bee was considered an embodiment of the Feminine potency of nature, and the beehive, the perfect prototype of human society, modeling the laws of nature in action. In addition, the virginal priestesses of Demeter were called “bees.” It was believed that honey came from the Moon – itself a beehive, whose bees were the stars. Bees were the link, not just between the plant and animal kingdoms, nor between humans and the rest of creation, but also between the Earth and the cosmos.

Today we no longer live in a world governed by participation mystique. This mystique – and the mythological imagination that turns ordinary everyday life into sacred magic – has been supplanted by science, a rational measurement of objective facts. Science, however, is no less in awe of the bee (2):

"Bees and most flowering plants have developed a complex interdependence during millions of years . . . Without bees there would be no flowering plants, and without flowering plants there would be no bees . . . The only way to constantly mix the genes for the plants is by cross-pollination, where pollen from one plant is transported by bees to another so that the offspring become genetically different. In that way, there is a greater chance for at least some of the offspring to survive in the competition of life. In this we find the bees as one of the most important factors."

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization notes that 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90% of human food are pollinated by bees (3). Clearly, whether considered mythopoetically or scientifically, bees are fairly essential to the vitality and continuity of plant and human life on Earth.

So essential are bees, in fact, that it is easy to imagine that one way the goddess Ceres could show her displeasure at the rape and abduction of her daughter Persephone by humans run amok would be to remove her bees from the natural order. Doing so would severely diminish the fertility of the Earth, put the human food supply in jeopardy, and easily cause widespread famine in a world of increasing population.

As the Age of Ceres dawns, this in fact, is beginning to happen. In 2006 – the same year that Ceres was promoted to the status of dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union – beekeepers began reporting losses of 30-90% of their hives. USDA notes that this is not the first time that beekeepers have faced such losses, but acknowledges that overall the total number of managed hives has decreased by 50% in the last 70 years (4). While the USDA does not associate this loss with a rise in the use of synthetic pesticides, the time frame is identical – beginning with the widespread use of DDT immediately following World War II. The USDA does cautiously advise, “The best action the public can take to improve honey bee survival is not to use pesticides indiscriminately”.

The use of DDT was discontinued in the US in 1972, after the outcry raised by Rachel Carson ten years earlier in Silent Spring. Manufacture of DDT continued in the US until the late 1970s. When the last manufacturing plant was dismantled in 1983, it was sold to a company in Indonesia, which continued to manufacture DDT and sell it around the world until 2009, when Indonesia ratified the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The Convention – which aims at phasing out a wide range of pesticides (including DDT), as well as PCBs, furans and dioxins – has been signed by over 176 nations as of 2011. The United States is not one of them (5).

Meanwhile, since DDT was banned in the US, the pesticide industry responded with the development of new pesticides – other organochlorines, organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroids – which were less persistent, more water soluble, and up to 40 times more acutely toxic than DDT (6). The amount of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides applied annually has more than doubled in the last 50 years (7).

In addition, one of the concerns related to the increasing prevalence of GMO foods is the increased application of increasingly potent pesticides and herbicides to combat superweeds and insects immune to less toxic alternatives (8). Corn and soybeans – two crops rapidly becoming dominated by GMO agriculture – are together responsible for over 60% of all pesticide and herbicide use in this country – with the amount of use increasing about 7-fold for corn and over 40-fold for soybeans in the last 50 years (9). In 2012, 40% of the sweet corn appearing on grocery shelves in the US – all without labeling of any kind – was designed by Monsanto not just to be ready to survive increased external application of toxic chemicals, but to internally produce its own pesticides (10).

While many of these pesticides are harmful to bees and other pollinators, of particular current concern is a class of pesticide known as neonicotinoids (11). Developed in the 1980s by Shell Oil, and sold today mostly by Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, these chemicals are in widespread use around the world on a wide range of crops – including corn and soybeans, as well as rapeseed (used to make canola oil), cotton, sorghum, sugar beets, apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, cereal grains, nuts and wine grapes. Because of concerns about the affect of these pesticides on bees, the EPA has begun a review, which it expects to complete in 2018. Following a similar study already published by the European Food Safety Authority in early 2013, in which a “A high risk was indicated or could not be excluded in relation to certain aspects of the risk assessment for honey bees for some of the authorized uses" (12), a 2-year moratorium was declared in the use of neocinotinoids in 15 countries.

Other factors besides excessive pesticide use may be involved in Colony Collapse Disorder, and some fear that an outright ban on neonicotinoids would only result in the development of even more toxic alternatives – a scenario that would continue the history of synthetic agriculture that got us to this point. Clearly with Colony Collapse Disorder, however, Ceres is challenging us to come up with a better idea. Past the current buzz about neonicotinoids, it is time in the Age of Ceres for us to return to a symbiotic form of agriculture that recognizes and holds sacred the interconnectedness of all of Life.

In the end, the future of our food supply and indeed the human species may ultimately depend on how well we can honor the bee, and the goddess she serves.

References

(1) Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, Tr. Ralph Manheim, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963, p. 262.

(2) “The Importance of Bees in Nature,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization FAQ, ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/i0842e/i0842e04.pdf.

(3) David Jolly, “Europe Bans Pesticides Thought Harmful to Bees,” The New York Times, April 29, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/business/global/30iht-eubees30.html.

(4) “Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder,” USDA, http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572.

(5) Patricia Muir, “A History of Pesticide Use,” Oregon State University, October 12, 2012, http://people.oregonstate.edu/~muirp/pesthist.htm.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo, et. al., “Pesticide Use in US Agriculture: 21 Selected Crops, 1960-2008,” USDA Economic Information Bulletin Number 124, May 2014, http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1424185/eib124.pdf.

(8) “Pesticide use ramping up as GMO crop technology backfires: study,” Reuters: October 1, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/02/us-usa-study-pesticides-idUSBRE89100X20121002.

(9) Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo, et. al., “Pesticide Use in US Agriculture: 21 Selected Crops, 1960-2008,” USDA Economic Information Bulletin Number 124, May 2014, http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1424185/eib124.pdf.

(10) “Information on GMO Sweet Corn,” The Non-GMO Project, http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/sweetcorn/.

(11) “Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies,” Harvard School of Public Health Press Release, May 9, 2014, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/study-strengthens-link-between-neonicotinoids-and-collapse-of-honey-bee-colonies/.

(12) European Food Safety Authority, “Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for bees for the active substance clothianidin,” EFSA Journal 2013; 11(1): 3066, http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/3066.pdf.

The next post in this series is Agriculture, Climate Change, and World Hunger.

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