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Beeswax and Ancient Humans
As beeswax and its amazing properties as emollient to the skin features in all our current products (though not all to come, stay tuned for innovations in propolis!), I want to begin by detailing the historical interaction between humans and this unique substance.
Understanding the relationship between Honeybees and early humans is more thought experiment than the archaeological record. The relationship certainly extends back to hunter-gatherers, who would disrupt hives then flee, returning when the buzz had subsided. At some point, humans discovered that smoke helped subdue the bees’ defensive response. The oldest archaeological evidence of human-bee interaction is cave paintings in Valencia, Spain dating back 8,000 years. They depict two people collecting honey and comb from a beehive using smoke.
We know much more about the Ancient Egyptians relationship with beeswax. Bees were considered a divine gift from Ra, the sun and creator god. Bees came from his tears, which turned to bee when they fell upon the earth. This made the outputs of the beehive, including beeswax, theologically significant. Beeswax was used in royal ritual- to seal the ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and embalming incisions, forming an air tight seal against moisture. The Egyptians used beeswax to preserve their writings on papyrus and stone, leaving the writings preserved for more than 4,500 years in some instances. They even used beeswax in health remedies, both topical and ingested. For topical remedies, Egyptians made perfumed unguents or salves. They used beeswax and oils mixed with aromatic substances such as frankincense, myrrh, rose, anise, cinnamon, vanilla, and thyme, like what we do today! Artisans sculpted beeswax and coated the object in clay, hardening it with heat. This melted the beeswax leaving a cast of the original beeswax object. Smiths could then pour molten metal into the clay.
The Ancient Chinese extolled the health benefits of Beeswax. One of their most revered books on medicine The Shennong, meaning “God peasant,” lauded beeswax and its regulation of circulatory and energy systems, or chi. The Shennong also claimed beeswax rejuvenated beauty and was imbued with anti-aging properties.
Beeswax candles burn brighter and cleaner than tallow, or animal fat candles (or petroleum for that matter!). They were used to light early Christian worship as, fearing persecution from Roman law, it took place in catacombs or caves. When Christianity moved above ground into churches, beeswax candles retained their sacred position. In the 1100’s the Roman Catholic Church decreed priests can only burn beeswax candles in the church. The law remains valid today, though church candles are more commonly 50% beeswax.