Meeting the Melissae
Greek mythology's nymphs that shape-shifted into plants and trees, and the women who funded the glorious temples of Ancient Greece.
Greek mythology's nymphs that shape-shifted into plants and trees, and the women who funded the glorious temples of Ancient Greece.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were the most prestigious initiation of the ancient world. The ritual’s secrets were protected by death vows and have been speculated about for more than 4,000 years. The nine-day festival was run by a group of women called Melissae, or “bees”: married women, second only in rank to the Priestess of Athena Polias, who presided over Athens. They amassed incredible wealth, fame, and political status.
Temple accounts from the period reveal that it was the priestesses’ money that paid for Greece's glorious architecture. Fees were earned for sacrifices and granting access to divinity. In return, the priestess made Greece a magnificent place to live.
Oracles, diviners, soul midwives and creatrixes of innumerable festivals, these women ensured that the city-state kept favour with the goddess. They achieved that by emulating the ways of the world’s most successful matriarchal community, a bee colony.
Herbal textbooks speak of a relationship between these women and the Lemon Balm herb (Melissa officinalis). Journey into the past and into the enchanting dreamscape of the hive with aromatherapist Elizabeth Ashley. A delightful odyssey for anyone interested in herbal wisdom, ancient Greek history, female empowerment, and humankind’s greatest allies, the bees.
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As the Foreword by Jan Kusmirek says, This book could be said to be about the bee, a people that have been with us since the dawn of time. It is about the hive, the social structure of the society of the bee people. It slips effortlessly from the bee to the relationship bees have with humankind and the awe and respect shown to this vital insect. So journey into the past and into the enchanting dreamscape of the hive with aromatherapist Elizabeth Ashley and you will soon discover you have deep-dived into a rather delightful odyssey; one built for anyone interested in herbal wisdom, ancient Greek history, female empowerment, and humankind’s greatest allies, the bees. ~ Exclusive Magazine, Review
Beautifully written and encaptivating. A must read for every woman, to get back to her roots and feel the strength from generation to generation. Deeply researched and full of information. An insight to the start of religions and influences which we see up to this very day. Who would have imagined that most rituals and way of life were inspired and learnt from Bees. What Bees did naturally, humans copied as a way of life! The mention of my homeland Malta, made it even more special. A book which needs to be read over and over again, one which will instigate the reader to live as close to nature as possible where everything makes so much sense! ~ Lorraine Spiteri - Aromatherapist
This fascinating insight into the world of bees and the melissae takes the reader on a journey exploring the role of the priestess in different cultures and times as well as talking about the unique and extraordinary operation and life cycle of the hive. My long-held interest into bee spirituality has been rekindled by reading this book and has inspired me to investigate further. ~ Jenny Mawsley, Teacher
Elizabeth Ashley weaves together incredibly readable Melittology (that’s ‘bee science’ for those not in the know) with inspiring anthropology of the priestesses, aromatherapy wisdom and fascinating renditions of mythology. Her writing is fun while at the same time studious and intelligent. Her book has deepened my knowledge immeasurably and brought forth many ‘ah-ha’ moments both intellectually and in my shamanic practise. Bee medicine has been very prominent this year and with society in such a precarious place it’s no wonder that a metaphor of community care that functions so flawlessly has so much to teach us. I highly recommend Elizabeth’s book, in fact I already have to a number of people. ~ Ruth Cato, Bee Shaman
Now more than ever, it is imperative that we protect bees and their relationship to the plants, and all biodiversity including human beings. MEETING THE MELISSAE, does more than highlight the deeply rooted ancient mythology and sacred relevance of Melissae - or bees. It carries a strong message for their preservation. This beekeeper’s holistic approach captures their biology, highly advanced caste and communication systems, pollination techniques, and the many challenges they are facing. Her profound love for, and deep connection to the bees and other pollinators transcend even the mortal. An offering as sweet as nectar that offers many rewards for bringing us closer to this invaluable fragile species. ~ Dr Kelly Ablard, CEO Airmid Institute
Elizabeth Ashley gathers her encyclopedic knowledge of Melissa Medicine to reveal the bee priestess as its energetic practitioner. Meeting the Melissae, through metaphor and myth, will introduce you to the ancient priestesses that served the Goddess Demeter as oracles and soul midwives. Ashley will then dance you into the fertile hive of history with her musings and correlations to unveil the Eleusinian Mysteries, where you will extract your own golden honey of wisdom and revelation. ~ Thea Summer Deer, D.S.P.S. Herbalist ~ Educator ~ Author
I feel like I've been waiting for this book. Ultimately, "Meeting the Melissae" brings the profound, but tauntingly incomplete knowledge of academic history into the re emerging presence of the Bee Priestess. As a devotee of spiritual practices tied to the honeybee, I have devoured academic sources on ancient beekeeping, and I have wrapped myself in the mythologies and modern devotionals of the complex dieties who claim the bee as symbol. "Meeting the Melissae" is a new, approachable, and profound source of academic and spiritual information, and it will will grace my nightstand for years to come. Journeying through Elizabeth Ashley's discoveries felt like a mutual remembering of a long forgotten sisterhood. So much felt so very familiar. The rites of Eleusis, as researched and dreamed by the author- felt familiar. Finding yourself inside of a story is why so many of us love to read about the ancients. We imagine what it might have been like. Finding yourself remembering into a story is something else entirely. There's more going on here than just well informed historical speculation. This is, let us call it, Kleiomancy at it's best. Speaking of the Melissae's Eleusis, I found dieties there that I've come to know quite well. My experiences with Dionysus and Persephone tell me that they have been represented faithfully here, and I find myself encouraged to perhaps meet some new archetypes. The relationships that exist between the dieties of Eleusis are complex and oftentimes disturbing. "Meeting the Melissae" handles these mythologies with fairness and respect, focusing primarily on the priestesses who served their imperfect Gods and Goddesses _through_ their spiritual community. I've never experienced a book which so respectfully avoids telling me what to DO or what to BELIEVE, but which so inspires me to follow my own intuitions and dreamings. Anyone with an interest in the role of the priestess- ancient or modern, in the bee- especially as a symbol of the Cthonic, or in the mysterious rites of Eleusis, will find something here. ~ Jen Marie, Devotional Beekeeper, Rahibe of The College of the Melissae, Drinker of Wine, Eater of Pomegranate
As a lover of bees, mythology and archetypes I thoroughly enjoyed Elizabeth's amazing "Meeting the Melissae." It is a deep dive into the sacred feminine archetypes--human and beyond human--, rites and lore related to bees and Melissae, their priestesses. To me this book provides long needed answers about the sacredness and symbolism of bees, as well as the Melissae, and many other mythologies that form the hidden underlying anatomy of our collective psyche. It is an urgent, much needed book to help us reconnect to Nature and to ourselves. ~ Florian Birkmayer MD, holistic psychiatrist, AromaGnosis.com
This book is a gem… a fascinating glimpse into the intriguing world of the MELISSAE an ancient and shamanic lineage of Bee priestesses linked to the god Demeter. Elizabeth Ashley leads us into a living world of ritual, sound and scent, which will delight anyone with an interest in plants and essential oils but also their links with mythology and history. Each chapter reveals secrets and mysteries, and the realisation that the wise Melissae along with the Bees still have much to teach and inspire us… I urge you to read this book, as I did, on a summer’s afternoon, amidst the dreamy sound of bees and the sweet smell of Lemon Balm, I can promise, you won't be disappointed ~ Felicity Warner, founder of Soul Midwives and author of Sacred Oils - 20 Precious Oils to heal Spirit and Soul
This book could be said to be about the bee, a people that have been with us since the dawn of time. It is about the hive, the social structure of the society of the bee people. It slips effortlessly from the bee to the relationship bees have with humankind and the awe and respect shown to this vital insect. This intriguing book could be said to be about the lost spiritual and cultural relationship we as humans have with the natural world, but it is more than this. Well researched and fully tempered with fact, it is far more than a didactic exercise into the world of bees their cultural and sociological influence. Evidence of what might be termed bee culture is explored in archaeology or indeed in ancient or present comparative religion, but it also a journey into the mystery of the divine feminine and her expression in womankind. It is about how the Queen Bee has shaped our thinking and actions and how she still has adherents, mediators manifesting in the sterile world of today. Elizabeth Ashley herself identifies with the Melissae the priestesses of the cult of the sacred bee, the Queen Bee. Effortlessly we are taken to all the cult sites of importance providing us with the accepted interpretations but laid alongside a more physical approach, one of experience rather than an intellectual exercise. If you want to know the legends of past civilisations or want to become more familiar with the pathways of ancient peoples, then this is certainly a book to enjoy. All the characterful goddesses are there from Inanna to Cybele, Ashtoreth to Aphrodite. Their mysteries explored not only as history but their relevance to today. The hive contains both male and female and the drone is not forgotten. In Egypt the bee becomes the tears of Ra unusually a move away from the feminine aspect. The unifying factor of contrast, or seeming contradiction, lies in the opposites of sun and moon. The Melissae become like the bee, sometimes even reflected in their dress often serving a variety of deities reflecting emotions needs and desires, but with the all-important underpinning necessity for fertility. The life of a bee and the varied work they undertake in the hive is related to the varied work of a priestess. The book carefully weaves such ideas as sacred drumming to induce trance, alongside that of the proverbial humming of bees. What is delightful too, is the sudden return from the esoteric and mythic, to the very different types of bees that exist and the relationship or attachment they may have to the pantheon of deities. This contrast of physical to spiritual is at the heart of the writing. It is unusual to read of the everyday existence and sometimes mundane life of a priestess in the modern world of Goddess spirituality which tends to centre upon personal self-development, more narcissism rather than change or service. True the book ventures into the spirit realm but equally comes that contrast to the physical realities. One thing that clearly emerges to the reader is the role of the Melissae as mediators between the physical world and the spirit world. Or as some would prefer between the material and spiritual world. Elizabeth Ashley leaves the reader to decide between Queen Bee and Queen of Heaven but she makes clear melissae are still needed today to act as mediatrices between goddess and man. ~ Jan Kusmirek, founder of Fragrant Earth, aromatherapist and Priest of Avalon
Meeting the Melissae not only appeals to the practically & historically curious, but also weaves leylines of routes thrumming & buzzing with destinations & goddesses/gods returning to waggledance the trajectory of the sun to where the sweetest, most potent information & stories & knowings lay. Meeting the Melissae is informative, stokes curiosity & makes the most of the hive’s propolis to ensure the anecdote of life with bee balm past & present is sealed. I wish you a book of a prolific Queen whose daughters & sons dance & sing in celebration & sharing of the nourishing pollen & nectar that exists within the pages. ~ Darci Faulkner: Owner of The Shamanic Bee Healing Centre, Devon
Meeting the Melissae- The Ancient Greek Bee Priestesses of Demeter is a gorgeous and enchanted offering. With historical references, beekeeping knowledge, plant wisdom and sacred inspiration Elizabeth sets the scene for what it means to be a powerful Bee Priestess. This book comes from a place of pure love. It’s deeply inspiring and I enjoyed every word! ~ Kimberly Vincent- Bee Priestess, Bee Keeper, and Humble Spiritual Seeker on the Path
Beautifully written and encaptivating. A must read for every woman, to get back to her roots and feel the strength from generation to generation. Deeply researched and full of information. An insight to the start of religions and influences which we see up to this very day. Who would have imagined that most rituals and way of life were inspired and learnt from Bees. What Bees did naturally, humans copied as a way of life! The mention of my homeland Malta, made it even more special. A book which needs to be read over and over again, one which will instigate the reader to live as close to nature as possible where everything makes so much sense! ~ Lorraine Spiteri AdipCT (VTCT-UK) Complementary Therapist, Reflexologist specialising in the treatment of pain
The Melissae have been a subject of enchantment and deep study for me for many years. Their stories are enchanting, and their archaeological evidence engaging. Elizabeth's interpretations will delight and engage any reader, and make them feel hopelessly in love with the bee. ~ Andrew Gough, Historian TV Presenter
“Meeting the Melissae" is a marvelous invitation that celebrates our sacred bee and human history together. Elizabeth is a fantastic writer. The stories are deeply personal, richly joyful and viscerally challenging. Those illustrious qualities also make them relatable and enfolding. My favorite parts are how vividly her words carried me into lush surroundings and floral scents my nose recognized, These are stories I want to hear! ~ Jacqueline Freeman, author of Songs of Increase
Elizabeth Ashley offers powerful insights into the extraordinary lineages of bee wisdom teachings and their unique emergence in ancient Greek civilizations. Ashley’s personal testimonies, combined with her soulful, and thought-provoking deep dive, into the origins, belief systems, ritual practices, and medicinal functions of the apis-mellifera, takes us into the complex psychic universe of the mighty bee, and Her connection to the archetypal feminine in the time of the Melissae. Elizabeth Ashley invites us all to sit deeply with the bee, as entry into the ancient language that links its evolution to our human identity. Her mosaic of research presents us with a poignant call to remember the Melissae as emissaries of our responsibility to consciously hold and nourish the sacred hoop of our artful design within the constellation of our world’s cosmic hive. ~ Desiree, Melissa Priestess
This book is a pot of honey, slowly dripped into my open mouth. It is nectar to my soul. This treasure trove weaves together the puzzle pieces of the Goddess Path across the Pantheons and timelines across Mother Earth. Deeply affirming and honouring. This book is well researched with documented facts together with personal gnosis that leads the reader through a rich honey pot of different textures, thickness and flavours. I am delighted to review this book by Liz, what has been lost is being reclaimed and re-membered, Thank you, thank you, thank you. ~ Angie Twydall, Sacred Bee Priestess, Creatrix of the Bee Oracle Deck, founder of Sanctuary of Sophia, Director Temple of Avalon, Ceremonial Priestess at Glastonbury Goddess Conference, Womb Trauma Therapist and teacher