Possibly the world's most popular inclination, the impulse to export your suffering to another seems to be near-universal. Not confined to any race, sex, or age category, the impulse to cause pain appears to well up from deep inside human beings. This is mysterious, because no one seems to enjoy pain when it is inflicted on them. Go figure.


Postby admin » Sat Oct 03, 2015 6:00 am

The Pictorial Language of Hieronymus Bosch
by Clement A. Wertheim Aymes
© New Knowledge Books 1975




Table of Contents:

• Errata Slips
• Translator's Preface
• Introduction
• The Spiritual Teacher of Hieronymus Bosch
o 1a. The picture of the Prodigal Son
o 1b. The parable of the Prodigal Son
o 2. Man on the threshold between life and death, between here and hereafter
o 3. True self-knowledge
o 4. Man on earth is the Prodigal Son
o 5. The name of the picture
o 6. Twilight or dawn
o 7. Owl and coaltit as soul-birds
o 8. The magpie as a soul-bird
o 9. The gate
o 10. The cow
o 11. The hostelry
o 12. Is the Prodigal Son a fool?
o 13. The true fool's staff
o 14. Is the Prodigal Son a beggar or vagrant?
o 15. Is the Prodigal Son a matchmaker?
o 16. The bandage at the knee - the ribbon of consecration
o 17. The bare knee
o 18. The load in the basket
o 19. The tree
o 20. Two hats
o 21. The hart's foot
o 22. The open shirt
o 23. The Prodigal Son on the outer wings of the Triptych of the Haywain
o 24. "The hounds of the Inquisition" in the purgatorium on the right wing of The Garden of Delights
o 25. The hounds of persecution in the central picture of The Temptations of St. Anthony
o 26. The hound with the studded collar in the Prodigal Son
o 27. Conclusion
o 1. Introduction
o 2. The left outer wing
o 3. The right outer wing
o 4. The inner panel pictures and the Golden Legend
o The Lift Inner Wing
o 5. Upon and beneath the bridge
o 6. Anthony looks back into his youth
o 7. Anthony begins to take up the battle against the demons
o 8. The landscape in the background The Right Inner Wing
o The Right Inner Wing
o 9. Anthony surrounded by soul-pictures
o 10. The first soul-picture of Anthony on the right inner wing, the Faust-motif
o 11. The motif of self-mockery
o 12. The fish hit by the arrow of Satan
o 13. The murdered pot-belly and the hood
o 14. The second image mocking Anthony: the fish in the air
o 15. The baby-walker
o 16. The symbol of the hedgehog or the porcupine, the animal skeleton and bones
o 17. The ceremonial table
o 18. The battle with the dragon
o 19. Limekilns and beacons
o 20. The hare
o 21. The city in the background
o The Central Panel
o 22. Preliminary observations on the central panel
o 23. The Diospyros group
An imagination of the withered soul-spiritual and physical organs of man since the Fall
The donkey (physical body) and heron (death)
The old woman in the basket
Goldfinch and two harts
The badger and the goat in a duck skin (the two opposing powers in the soul)
o 24. The beached fish
o 25. The duck-ship: the education of mankind
o 26. Materialism and the impulse of Christ
Mother and child
The figure of Joseph
The Three Kings
The child in the water
o 27. The false interpretation of the Bible
o 28. False prophecies
o 29. The picture of the Inquisition
o 30. Fire and destruction
o 31. Altar and cult-table; the different aspects of man's being
o 32. The group of the forces of reason and feeling
o 33. The pillar of the old covenant
o 34. The bridge from here to the other side
o 35. Death as a lighthouse, lime-kiln and pumpkin combined
o 36. The cosmic constellation in the heavens
o 37. The symbols on the cupola
• PART 3
o Notes to the study of The Prodigal Son
o Notes to the study of The Temptations of St. Anthony
o Part 1
o Part 2
o Acknowledgements
o Bibliography
o Index
• List of Illustrations
o 1. QUENTIN METSYS (MASSYS), 1465/6-1530: Portrait of a Notary
o Plate A. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Prodigal Son
o 2. Christ at the centre of the four elements
o 3. The ground plan of Baptisteries
o 5. HUGO VAN DER GOES, 1440-1482: Detail, Adoration of the Shepherds
o 6. Nativity, from the small Book of Beels
o 7. JOACHIM PATINIR: Christophorus
o 8. Bulls' heads with the signs of the life-force
o 9. ROEMER VISSCHER: The feast is over
o 10. Two old pictures on which the
o 11. Signs of the Zodiac appear
o HIERONYMUS BOSCH; The Prodigal Son
o 12. F. CREUZER: Theseus and the Minotaur 25
o 13. Cult figure, India, probably 11th century A.D.
o 14. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from The Ship of Fools
o 15. QUENTIN METSYS (MASSYS), 1465/6-1530: Allegory of Folly
o 16. ALBRECHT DURER, 1471-1528: Woodcut, The Holiday Fool
o 17. F. CREUZER: Old Greek bandage of dedication
o 18. F. CREUZER: Symbols of the Mystic, including bandages
o 19. A man girded with the bandage of dedication
o 20. F. CREUZER: The Greek bandage of dedication
o 21. Mars wearing two bandages of dedication over his armour
o 22. ANDREA PISANO: The Hornblower (La musica)
o 23. URS GRAF, 1485-1527/8: The devil prevents the flight of a bound slave
o 24. URS GRAF, 1485-l527/8: Dancing Bacchante
o 25. URS GRAF, 1485-l527/8: The Wild Army
o 26. After NIKLAUS MANUEL: Death and a young warrior
o 27. HANS LEU: the Younger: 1490-1531: Detail St. Peter before the Risen Christ
o 28. JACOB VAN MAERLANT: St. Christopher wearing the bandage of dedication
o 29. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from The Garden of Heavenly Delights. The treeman in the purgatorium
o 30. Velislaw Bible: The Prodigal Son is given the finest garment
o 31. Velislaw Bible: The Prodigal Son at home
o 32. ROGIER VAN DER WEYDEN, 1400-1464: Crucifixion
o 33. A crucifixion (33)
o 34. The Cross and bandage of dedication in lace made in the 19th century
o 35. Man and the Signs of the Zodiac
o 36. The horn-signal of spirituality
o 37. Title page, The Rites of Freemasons
o 38. Scottish Rite, a stage of initiation in Freemasonry
o 39. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Last Judgement
o 40. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from the central panel, The Garden of Heavenly Delights
o 41. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Prodigal Son, the knot in the tree of life
o 42. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Sketch, showing a spindle
o 44. ALBRECHT DURER, 1471-1528: Lot and his Daughters
o 45. IACOPO DELLA QUERCIA, 1374-1438: Adam and Eve
o 46. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Prodigal Son, the thread of life has been used up
o 47. GIOTTO, 1266?-1337: Detail, St. Anne with a spindle
o 48. HIERONYMUS BOSCH; Detail, The Ascent of Calvary
o 49. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Hay Wain, The Prodigal Son on the outer panels of the Triptych
o 50. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Juvenile work
o 51. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Garden of Heavenly Delights, hounds in the purgatorium
o 52. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, hounds
o 53. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Christ Crowned with the Crown of Thorns
o 54. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Marriage at Canaa
o 55. Reeds as a symbol
o Plates
B. The three inner panels, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o C. Detail from the left inner wing, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o D. Detail from the left inner wing, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o E. Detail from the right inner wing, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o F. Detail from the right inner wing, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o G. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o H. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o I. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o J. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o K. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o L. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony
o 56. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Temptations of St. Anthony, the left outer wing, The capture of Christ
o 57. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Temptations of St. Anthony, the right outer wing, Christ bearing the Cross
o 58. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Temptations of St. Anthony, a general view of the three inner panels
o 59. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Temptations of St. Anthony, the left inner wing
o 60. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the crossbill on skates
o 61. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Garden of Heavenly Delights, purgatorium
o 62. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of S1. Anthony, the young Anthony bowed down under the weight of his lands
o 63. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the soul of Anthony becoming loosened from its physical bonds
o 64. From the studio of JAN BORMAN: The figure of a knight with a fish-tail
o 65. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Temptations of St. Anthony, the right inner wing
o 66. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Garden of Heavenly Delights, the treeman and the thought-grinding mill in the purgatorium
o 67. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the Faust-motif
o 68. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the fish in mid-air
o 69. From a Cebes-table, a babywalker to teach infants to walk
o 70. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Altar of the Hermits, the right inner wing
o 71. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Garden of Heavenly Delights
o 72. Relief of a hedgehog, from Amiens Cathedral
o 73. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptation of St. Anthony, the Cult table, right inner wing (see Plate F)
o 74. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the battle with the dragon, right inner wing
o 75. From the Hours of Catherine of
o 76. Cleeves
o 77. Old beacon tower
o 78. Transition from old to new beacon tower
o 79. New beacon tower
o 80. Cebes Table, ± 1550
o 81. Diospyros Kaki
o 82. FIORENTINO: Virgin and Child
o 83. Detail of Figure 82
o 84. RAFFAELLO SANZIO: Madonna del Cardellino
o 85. RAFFAELLO SANZIO: Virgin and Child with a Goldfinch
o 86. TIEPOLO: Madonna of the Goldfinch
o 87. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the fish and the duck-ship of education
o 88. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, materialism and the Christ Impulse
o 89. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Playing Jesus Child
o 90. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the three fellows in the waste water
o 91. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Round Picture, the three opposing forces attacking man
o 92. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail of Figure 143, the magician and astrologer, surrounded by the Signs of the Zodiac
o 93. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the Inquisition
o 94. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, fire and destruction
o 95. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the Cult table pillar and bridge in the central panel
o 96. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the different aspects of man
o 97. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Garden of Heavenly Delights, the purgatorium
o 98. The emblem of the bookprinter Christoph Froshower
o 99. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from a picture known as A Fragment of a Last Judgement
o 100. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Temptations of St. Anthony, the central panel
o 101. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, scholasticism and mysticism
o 102. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the bridge from here to the beyond
o 103. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Hay Wain, right inner wing
o 104. THE MASTER OF THE HOLY CROSS, ± 1400: The Annunciation
o 105. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, cosmic constellation
o 106. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Garden of Heavenly Delights, soul birds
o 107. Cartoon of the group around Roemer Visscher, etched by PIETER NOLPE after PIETER QUAST
o 108. ROEMER VISSCHER: The gate, from Sinnepoppen
o 109. GASPARD ISENMAN, 1435-1492: Christ in the Garden of Olives, The Kiss of Judas
o 110. After HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Adoration of the Shepherds
o 111. DIVI LADNER: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
o 112. MATTHAUS MERIAN: Symbolic representation with the text of the Tabula Smaragdina
o 113. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Hay Wain, the hart on the right inner wing
o 114. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, hart on the left inner wing
o 115. MATHIS NEITHAT, (also called GRUNEWALD), 1455-1528: Les amants Trespasses
o 116. MASTER I. VAN ZWOLLE: "Memento mori"
o 117. Porcupines carved in stone
o 118. Hedgehog and dogs carved in stone
o 119. ROEMER VISSCHER: Hedgehog and dogs, from Sinnepoppen
o 120. JOB. SADELER: Etching after MARTEN (MAARTEN) DE VOS
o 121. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony, x-ray picture of the signature on the right inner wing
o 122. Hare, Peru
o 123. Hare on Sicilian coin
o 124. Hare on a 10 drachma coin
o 125. Hare, Asia
o 126. Hare (the ego) hidden in a treetrunk, A Chinese Netsuke
o 127. Chinese Netsuke, hare attacked by an eagle
o 128. Horn blower who is standing upon a hare
o 129. Mountain of the Adepts
o 130. Mons Philosophorum
o 131. Tragedia with a white hare and the thyrsus rod, from F. CREUZER
o 132. Liber and Libera, from F. CREUZER
o 133. Probably the seal of a Hittite priest-king
o 134. The sea-hare
o 135. Hares
o 136. Madonna with the hare, Tungental
o 137. Hares, Paderborn
o 138. Mary and Jesus Child with a rabbit
o 139. TITIAN: Mary with the Jesus Child with a rabbit
o 140. The Initiation (Two Conjurers) from Moralia in Job (12th century)
o 141. MONTE DI GIOVANNI AND HIS STUDIO: Christ calling upon Simon Peter and Andrew to follow Him
o 142. JAN STEEN: "In Welde Ziet Toe" (in the midst of plenty beware)
o 143. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Temptations of St. Anthony, in private ownership
o 144. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: x-ray of the signature in Fig. 143
o 145. Detail of the signature area of Figure 143
o 146. ERASMUS GRASSER: "Statuette"
o 147. Morija dancer
• Extra Illustrations (Not included in the book)
o The Garden of Heavenly/Earthly Delights
 Left Panel
 Central Panel
 The Geography of Doom -- Bosch's Pictorial Essay on the Dangers of Mundane Belief
 Right Panel
 Heretical Tormenters and Victimized Flesh
o The Last Judgment
o Fragment of a Last Judgment
o St. Christopher
o St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness
o St. John the Evangelist on Patmos
o The Temptation of St. Anthony
o St. Jerome in Prayer
o Death and the Miser
o The Hay Wain Triptych
o The Ship of Fools
o Christ Crowned with Thorns
o Christ Carrying the Cross
o Christ Carrying the Cross (2)
o Adoration of the Child
o Allegory of Gluttony and Lust
o Christ Mocked (Crowning with Thorns)
o The Marriage of Canaa
• The Brothers Grimm (Not included in the book)

It is more likely that Jeroen Bosch made an allusion here in the form of a mock penitence which must have raised a smile among his circle of friends who understood him.


There can be little doubt that Bosch identified with St. Anthony. This is very plainly shown by the fact that the figures, events and buildings shown on the central panel of the altarpiece, all belong to Bosch's own time. He painted several temptations of the saint. The most beautiful, complete and mature version is to be found in the so-called Lisbon altarpiece. The inner panels of the triptych are filled to overflowing with demons.


On the left a bowed figure is creeping away, hands folded in prayer, and carrying a money bag over its back: it is Judas. This small detail points to a specific conception of the painter, deviating from the idea, which is commonly held, that in Judas we see only an ordinary betrayer. Judas expected that Jesus would prove Himself to be the Messiah who had been announced to the Jewish People, and who should re-establish its dominance and found a new terrestrial kingdom. He felt that he must accelerate events, and betrayed the Saviour in order that he might the sooner become a witness to His triumph. He was unable to imagine a suffering God, only a triumphant one. Now he prays that the heavenly hosts should come to the rescue.


One notices throughout how he uses the figure of the Saint as a pretext, to show his own convictions and the situation in his own time. He kept to the Golden Legend however, which was well known to everyone, and used this as a disguise for his own world philosophy.

-- The Pictorial Language of Hieronymus Bosch, by Clement A. Wertheim Aymes
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Postby admin » Sat Oct 03, 2015 6:02 am

Errata Slips for The Pictorial Language of Hieronymus Bosch (C.1460-1516)

Page 11, col. 1, line 2, after Hieronymus Bosch, add c. 1460-1516

Page 35, fig. 39, delete Kunsthishistorische Museum, insert Gemaldegalerie der Akademie der Bildemijen Kunste.

Page 38, col. 2, line 19. The Tree title should come after the top two lines.

Page 48, col. 2, line 21, for Mundus, read Mundi.

Plate H. End of caption line add, also section 27.

Page 74, fig. 89, caption for (reverse side of Fig. 41) read (reverse side of Fig. 48).

Page 76, fig. 92, caption, line 4, delete 'any longer'.

Page 93, col. 2, Platyrhyndos should read Platyrhynchos.

Page 101, fig. 115, for Neithatt, read Neithat.

Page 103, col. 1, line 11, from bottom, for Vespa, read

Page 103, col. 2, line 4, from bottom, for knowedge, read knowledge.

Page 107, col. 2, line 2, from bottom, for Note 11, read Note 10.

Page 112, Fig. 140, line 2, for Jonson, read Janson. Col. 2, line 2, for Janson45, read Janson [33].

Plate M, line 2, for Note 16, read Note 14.

Page 113, col. I, line 3, for Mecury read Mercury.

Page 119, col. 2, line 5 from top, for Ceistesleben, read Geistesleben.

Page 119, col. 2, line 7 from bottom, for Lurcher, read Lurker.


Page 121, col. 1, line 6, for Geistesleen, read Geistesleben.

Page 121, col. 3, line 25, for Heita, read Valentin Koerner.

Page 122, col. 1, line 5, for Theosophy, read Theosophie.

Page 122 -- continued

Line 7, add 1973.

Line 17, for 1926, read 1962.

Page 122, col. 3, line 14, for Smybolik, read Symbolik.

Line 20, for (1973) read (1972).
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Postby admin » Sat Oct 03, 2015 6:04 am

Translator's Preface

There are several reasons why publication of this book in English would seem to be timely. There has been increasing interest in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch over recent years, and a new willingness to recognise in them a spiritual content and message [19] rather than a mere phantasmagoria of sexual and satanic ideas. Perhaps this study can serve as an example of the way in which the inner meaning can be more exactly understood of artefacts that have arisen as the true spiritual fruit of undercurrents of knowledge and ideas in past cultures. In earlier ages there was probably less need to speculate on the "true meaning" of works of art, because people had direct access to their imaginative impact, undisturbed by the doubts and intellectualizations that have perturbed and distorted artistic perception in more recent times. Today the study of works of art from a viewpoint such as is shown here may even help the student to regain for himself other ways of thinking and imagination disciplined but creative, which can then lead him to take further steps into the realms of spiritual knowledge.

We also hoped that this study would, if made available in English, make a contribution to the understanding of the European cultural heritage, and thought that this would be especially appropriate at this time.

The author's discovery of themes of Rosicrucian philosophic spiritual teachings in the works of Bosch, and the exploration of their methods of teaching of the common folk in games, pictures and fairy tales seem to be of prime importance.

It is slowly being discovered by historians [67] that the movement of Rosicrucianism made a major contribution to the preparation of European thinking for the modern age. The movement was centred mainly in the Lowlands and Germany [67], and the aims of its adherents were related to the preparation of the folk [volk] in general -- for whom of course at that time there were no schools or other systematic education -- for the Age of Reason with its need for new forms of individual expression and responsibility. The then awakening sciences carried with them great social and spiritual dangers. The Rosicrucians were aware of this, and sought to permeate new scientific thought with spiritual awareness. This aim alone was bound to make the Rosicrucians suspect in their time. In addition however they were the guardians and transmitters of spiritual knowledge and insight for their time in Northern Europe. This made their teachings a target for the persecution of the Church through the Inquisition. The contents of this book concern themselves with aspects of this insight and knowledge. To make them more intelligible some of the concepts will be briefly discussed here.

A statement taken from the author's notes to his first book, a study of The Garden of Heavenly Delight [65] may best explain the approach.

"Nothing can be found in the literature about the Rosicrucians that could be compared in depth of insight or scope with the material that Rudolf Steiner has produced on this subject. The fragmented tale of outer facts that has been handed down does not touch upon the essence of the spiritual forces that were streaming within the Rosicrucian movement. Only a conception of the world that is again able to grasp the spiritual aspect of mankind as a concrete reality is able to give the student an approach to the true world of Rosicrucianism. Psychological speculation and theories do not even begin to approach the heart of the matter. On the other hand it is obvious that any sort of modern mystical speculation is entirely out of place. The historical age of the consciousness soul demands exact methods of research also in the spiritual field. In this process observation and judgment must encounter the phenomena of processes within the elements of the soul and spirit in such a way that the necessary living concepts for their understanding can be formulated. The present work makes use of the results of anthroposophical spiritual science because, at the present time, the concepts developed by Rudolf Steiner offer the only possible ideas for an appropriate modern interpretation of the subject-matter -- the wisdom of the Rosicrucians, as presented by Hieronymus Bosch".

Much new thinking about life and its values and meaning can be based on the concepts presented here, even though the main themes of the pictures belong to the age of their creator. We felt that the content of the pictures as interpreted by the author might well prove stimulating to the new generations who question so much of the old traditional teachings, and who are searching for fresh paths to the experience of reality.

Some of the concepts related to occult spiritual teachings and used by the author to explain themes in the pictures will now be briefly discussed:

Steiner frequently referred to the evolution of humanity through the various historical/cultural epochs, in each of which new skills, new wisdom and new attributes have been won for all mankind, but new problems and challenges have also arisen. To face these adequately man has needed to unfold abilities of intellect, of feeling and of resolution and will. Spiritual guidance has come less and less from outer transmitted authority, and the need for inner certainty of direction and purpose in a spiritual sense has become overwhelming in this century [66]. The author refers to Steiner's views in his earlier book, as follows:

"The great cultural epochs of human history as seen from the spiritual scientific point of view stand in the sign of the evolution and dominance of definite psychological characteristics. While Egypt was dominated by the "feeling-soul", and the Graeco-Roman epoch, which lasted until the Middle-Ages, by the "reasoning soul," the development of the "consciousness soul" began with the 15th century, and gives our time its characteristic features. The striving of the coloured races for freedom and independence, which was once held to be an impossibility, is an outward sign that an entirely new form of human consciousness is beginning to develop".

In the following text there are references to "the Fall of Man". This is an important concept in Christian teaching. It is often used in church tradition as the basis for a punitive religious attitude. In occult teaching man's act by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, while it cuts him off from the direct perception and experience of the spiritual realities (to fall into sin is to fall into separation), is also seen to give him the possibility of developing the qualities of love, trust and self-sacrifice. The achievement of spiritual love in freedom by humanity as a whole will become its great contribution to the whole cosmos [54]. Man ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but the tree of life also stood in Paradise. It is usually ignored in religious discussions, yet it forms an important symbol in occult teaching -- man strives towards the privilege of one day tasting of its fruit. In this connection it must also be pointed out that the fact that there are two stories of creation in Genesis, one before the Fall, one an account of it, is also usually ignored. It is however relevant to the understanding of pictures such as those studied here. It would be interesting to see how far older theories of religion would be modified once this duality was taken seriously and generally incorporated in all discussions on this chapter of the Bible.

The concepts of good and evil as seen from the point of view of occult teaching need to be discussed here, as these also are material to the present study [49]. The author, in a note in his first book [65] says the following: --

"Evil appears to man in two different aspects, which in some respects also oppose each other [?] [i]: On the one hand there is the characteristic of Lucifer -- a leaping flight from the earth which would lure man away from his (Christian) task upon the earth, and on the other hand the characteristic of Ahriman, attachment to the material physical earth, which would attach sole importance to what is physically of this earth as the essence of existence [ii]. Rudolf Steiner designated the character of Mephistopheles, in Goethe's Faust, as a mixture of the elements of both these opposing forces".

A spiritual picture of man underlies occult teachings and to the spiritual eye man is a complex organism both from the physical and non-physical aspects of his being.

All occult training has been concerned with the increasing self-knowledge of the neophyte or candidate who wishes to undertake it, and with his development through stages of changed consciousness into an initiate. Steiner has described two aspects of man on earth which form an essential foundation of this self-knowledge. As a living entity he appears in an inherited mineral body (physical), which is formed and maintained by living (etheric) forces -- whose physical effect is seen in the physiological rhythms and biochemical life-processes, -- it is imbued with sentience, and consciousness (ego, spirit) to varying degrees, and manifests feeling (soul, astral forces) [51].

These feelings form part of man's soul-function of thinking, feeling and will, in which he expresses his personality on earth [51].

The path of initiation [52] takes the candidate from a knowledge of himself and his strengths and weaknesses, through the stage of imaginative experience, where spiritual realities throw pictorial shadows of their presence, through the stage of inspiration, in which these realities and forces begin to be heard, to that of intuition in which he stands in their presence. For this development he must be able to recognise who these spiritual realities truly are, otherwise there is an ever greater danger that he will become lost and confused once he finds himself in their presence. This can lead to great personal disaster.

For this reason alone occult teachings remained hidden from general publicity until recently, as there is a correspondingly enormous danger to men in their abuse. Today however there is a general search and striving especially among the members of the young generations for this knowledge. This is a phenomenon that belongs essentially to the new historical age of the consciousness-soul. It was to meet this need, which he foresaw, that Steiner wrote and taught about these matters at the beginning of this century. Whether men will be found who are sufficiently constant and strong-willed to submit themselves to the self-discipline that is demanded of those who seek true initiation is now no longer a matter for decision among a secluded group of priests or initiates guarding the sacred knowledge from profane eyes. Each individual must take such a decision for himself upon himself. The responsibility that is placed upon each individual is therefore the greater, but the next step in spiritual development can only be taken by man in freedom through his own choice.

The theme of the reincarnation of the individual is touched upon at several points in the text. It is an integral factor in the spiritual development of mankind through the ages and cultures and their inherent problems, tasks and achievements.

Steiner taught and wrote frequently about this aspect of the life of man and it is impossible to give a full bibliography in the framework of this book. An introduction to the concept will be found in his book Theosophy [51], [58], [59].

Finally a brief note for those readers of this book who are familiar with the German volume. Some of the notes to the study of The Prodigal Son and their accompanying illustrations have been incorporated in the text by the translator with the author's agreement. The figures have therefore been re-numbered throughout in this edition. However the author had died at the time when the rest of the book was translated, and it was therefore thought best to adhere more closely to the German format. The German Note 13 to The Temptations of St. Anthony has been incorporated in the introduction, and a new note (20) on the illustration of the man assaulted by three fiends (Fig. 91) has been introduced from the author's first book [65], as he assumes knowledge of this in the present text, and it seemed to be essential in order to understand his comment on Fig. 90.

The translator wishes to express profound thanks to Frau A. Wertheim Aymes-Koome for her permission to complete this translation, her encouragement and help in the undertaking, and the loan of the plates for the illustrations. Meeting the late author has proved an experience of lasting inspiration. Grateful thanks are also due to Mrs. Gabrielle Hess and the Rev. Peter Kaendler who checked the translation, and to the late Camille Bosset, Librarian, Rudolf Steiner House and her staff for help with the bibliography.

The whole enterprise was made possible by Captain John Fletcher of Saltoun, to whom the translator wishes to express her profound appreciation for his support.

FLETCHER: Like many names derived from occupations Fletcher (an arrow-maker) is as common elsewhere as it is in Scotland. Most Highland Fletchers came from the 'Fleisdhaires' ('Mac-an-leisdeir') who stoutly proclaimed that they were the original inhabitants of Glenorchy in Argyll wherein, tradition relates, "they were the first to raise smoke and boil water".

-- Fletchers of Saltoun Hall Scotland, by Kaye Van Fleet




i. Trans. note: They are often called the opposing forces or forces of opposition in the text.

ii. The Influences of Lucifer and Ahriman, Rudolf Steiner. Rudolf Steiner Press.
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This book is intended to be a contribution to the study of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch c. 1460-1516. It is a study of two paintings: The Prodigal Son, and The Temptations of St. Anthony, and the second of two volumes, the first being a study of The Garden of Heavenly Delights [65] (Hortus Deliciarum). However, the present volume has been re-edited by the author and the translator, to stand alone as an introduction for English-speaking readers to the ideas and methods of observation, which have been used by the author to interpret the content and meaning of Bosch's work in a new light.

Bosch's great works cannot be regarded merely as ordinary paintings. By their very content, and the quality of the presentation, they challenge the student to attempt to find the meaning and the systematic sense in what initially appears to be irrational although beautifully painted, chaos. It will be shown that these paintings can be "read". They are then found to contain the teachings of a world philosophy which stems from the Rosicrucians, who developed a new cultural impulse for Europe and the West from about the middle of the fifteenth century. Bosch's paintings are in this respect comparable to the many secret writings and symbols of the Rosicrucians, which abound from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. However, his paintings must not be confused with the artificial symbolism of certain alchemists. They radiate a depth and quality only to be found in works of art of the highest order, and demand that the content be taken seriously.

It would be erroneous merely to classify Bosch as a "symbolic" painter in the modern sense. What Bosch painted was the content of his spiritual imaginative vision; it was the result of direct inner pictorial experience, not an abstract, calculated representation of theoretical ideas or dogmas.

Something more must be said here to explain the possible different degrees of pictorial experience, in order to explain how a method of observation was developed to study the paintings by this artist.

In a real, imaginative vision which is usually the product of concentrated meditative activity, a man can grasp the spiritual aspect, the living entities, of the outer and inner world of experience in such a way that an inner picture arises for him which truly represents the essential content of the subject of his meditation. This "picture", however, forms itself in terms of the outer percepts which are experienced by the individual in everyday life. Because this inner picture contains the essential content rather than the outer happenings of the original subject of meditation however, it may form itself out of outer percepts which appear to be arranged in a very bizarre way. Curious combinations of form and substance may appear which are not the product of abstract fantasy, but of a creative pictorial faculty. This faculty in fact lies dormant in all men, but to activate it, it must be cultivated. Many modern artists are experimenting with a new use of form and substance to reactivate visual pictorial faculties. Bosch painted out of a direct inner experience of visions which arose through a particularly vivid creative faculty.

Dreams, during sleep, are a decadent remnant of this same pictorial faculty. As the imaginative visions grasp the essences, and not outer forms, the inner imaginative pictures of various seers or true visionaries, have a similar content, though their outer pictorial form may vary according to their different perceptual experiences, i.e., the historical and geographical circumstances in which they lived. Thus the same spiritual thread may be followed through them all.

It has been shown with reasonable certainty by other scholars that Bosch was a Rosicrucian. The Rosicrucians and their work and teachings, must not be confused with those pseudo-alchemists, and charlatans, who in later centuries brewed a questionable picture of the world from outer symbols and low occult practices, at a time of spiritual decadence. The true Rosicrucianism belongs to the spiritual stream of esoteric Christianity, which adapts and transforms the way of its teaching according to the needs of new historical circumstances. Its message remains the same in spiritual essence, but its form must always be appropriate to the historical development of man. In 1413, Christian Rosencreutz founded his brotherhood. They bridged the historic transformation of the cultural life of the Middle Ages into that of the new scientific age. This mission, and its significance, have been fully discussed elsewhere [8], [53], [55], [56], [57], [60]. Their history is briefly summarised by Heyer [30]. The people of the Middle Ages in Europe tended to experience life inwardly, in devotion and contemplation. Their picture of the world was shattered by the great new geographic and scientific discoveries (Columbus, Copernicus, Galileo, etc.). People began to turn their attention outwards, into the world as it was.

It was the deep concern of the Rosicrucians that this sense-world to which the people were awakening, should not be experienced by them only as materialistic fact. They endeavoured that men should also see spiritual life in the outer world, as previously they had experienced it through inward religious contemplation. They taught that events should be seen as part of living processes, not merely sequences of outer arbitrary cause and effect. For this reason, the Rosicrucians practised "alchemy" instead of chemistry [47]. They laboured to achieve the synthesis of natural science and Christianity, the union of that which is spiritual and material for man.

Man only becomes aware of himself as an individual when he comes up against the outer sense- perceptible world. In this moment of awareness, the "feeling-soul-life" turns to "conscious-soul-life". Once self-awareness has been thus achieved the human will awakes, and turns outwards to express itself.

The teaching of the Church, that man consists only of a body and a soul, had, by the time of Christian Rosencreutz, become elevated to the status of a dogma. Against this dogma the Rosicrucians taught that man not only has a body and a soul, but also a spirit. This was rooted in much older Christian teaching than the contemporary dogmas. It dated from before the time when the church elders decided that man merely has a spiritual portion of his soul, and withdrew the wine from the sacrament. This older Christian teaching was in turn based on the ancient Aristotelian concept of man. Aristotle had called the "feeling-soul" of man "kinoetikon", and the "consciousness-soul" dianoetikon. Steiner has re-described these aspects of soul-life for modern western philosophy [51].

With the development of the "consciousness-soul", i.e. of self-awareness as individuals, men inevitably became less and less bound to that religious order of life which had prevailed throughout the Middle Ages. Similarly, the old social order no longer sufficed to contain the new dynamic brought into society by new outer experiences of the world, and the new quality of self-consciousness in individual men. It was for this reason that the Rosicrucians endeavoured to found a new social order which could do justice to the new human situation. For this, a profound knowledge of the nature of the human being and also of a new road to the Spirit were essential. Such problems cannot be solved by political measures alone, without a great deal of education of the individuals in society to enable them to make the correct use of a new political status and rights.

Fig. 1. QUENTIN METSYS (MASSYS), 1465/6-1530: Portrait of a Notary. Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland.

Doubt is often cast on the existence of a Rosicrucian movement before the beginning of the seventeenth century [67], but an observant student can find its traces long before this date, e.g. in painting. An example can be found in the picture by a painter 15 years younger than Bosch, who included an indication of its true significance for the benefit of a restricted circle, an indication which has even escaped modern art critics (Fig. 1). Quinten Metsys painted the portrait of a man. This unknown man is writing with a quill, but he also holds in that same hand, a rosebud and a cross. In other words, he is writing "Rosicrucian". He is thought to be St. Fiacre, as he has a halo above his head and other appropriate things. However, the cross of the Resurrection (empty) and the rose in his writing hand are useless symbols for St. Fiacre. Unless one wishes to regard these curious details as coincidental, which does not seem an appropriate view in our estimation, then this picture alone answers the question whether historical evidence exists of the presence of Rosicrucianism before the seventeenth century for Quinten Metsys died in 1530. If one adds that Quinten Metsys was strongly influenced by Bosch in his early years, the circle of the argument closes, and it becomes plain how the ideas and concepts of the Rosicrucians were transmitted from one to another.

The Rosicrucians searched and studied the Gospels, particularly that of St. John, from the point of view of their esoteric teachings, and found content for meditation in their wisdom. They taught by means of pictures and symbols, appealing to imagination rather than intellect. They can only be understood if the student himself is able to develop imaginative faculties. The Rosicrucians tried to evoke imaginative effort and ability in all sorts of ways, not only through pictures and tablets, but through a wealth of fairy tales, legends proverbs and songs -- even to children's games and acrobatic feats. By all these means, they were able to bring the content of esoteric wisdom to the people, in the form of picture and parable, and at the same time to educate in the people the faculties needed to understand them. By thus educating the individual imagination of ordinary folk, they developed initiative and resource, abilities very necessary to deal with the new experiences brought by scientific discoveries to ordinary men.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it was essential to hide religious and philosophical ideas if they did not coincide with the dogmas of the Church, for this was the era of the Inquisition. Here was another reason for the need to hide the new spiritual teachings in parables and allegory. Hieronymus Bosch had cause to fear the Inquisition which took an ever firmer grip on the people of the Netherlands in his time. He was one of the most important transmitters of Rosicrucian teachings.

Beside his imaginations and symbols, there appears many a "sign" in which he characterises the spiritual difficulties of his time, or answers the persecutors. One can recognise throughout a sort of secret language through which the intimate members of the Rosicrucian brotherhood communicated.

We must add here a short account of the individual who was most probably the spiritual guide and teacher of Bosch within the brotherhood. He was Jacob von Almaengien, almost certainly one of the chief figures among the Rosicrucians of that time.
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There is a possibility that the initials "I.A." which are mentioned in the Fama Fraternitatis [1], [67], refer to a certain Jacob van Almaengien, a Jew. In the Fama, this individual is expressly described as a "non-German". If this is so, Jacob can be regarded as one of the first disciples of Christian Rosencreutz, and the person mentioned by Cuperinus in his curious history -- Die merkwuerdige Geschichte der Stadt von den Bosch, written at the time of Philip, Duke of Brabant and King of Castile [21], [25]. Fraenger's attention was drawn to the original documents by Jan Mosmans Archivist of the church of St. Jan, at s'Hertogenbosch [42].

Cuperinus writes as follows:

"In the year of Our Lord, 1496, on the thirteenth day of the month of December, the new Prince and Duke, Philip, came into the city of Bosch, where he was received with much merriment and rejoicing. There, on the fifteenth day of the same month, the people swore fealty to him and received him as Duke of Brabant, in the presence of his father Maximilian, the Emperor of Rome. The City made him a gift of two large and valuable oxen with silvered horns and two hogsheads of wine. When the ceremony had been concluded, the young Prince Philip rode to the church of St. Jan. There a certain Jew was baptized by the Dean, Master Ghysbert de Bie, in the presence of Duke Philip, of Lord Jan van Bergen, of Cornelius van Sevenbergen, and of other noble Lords who all stood as godparents and witnesses, and he was given the new name of Philip van Saint Jan. His name previously had been Jacob van Almaengien; but this Jew did not remain constant (to his new religion); he neglected his Christianity and again became a Jew."

Fraenger comments that at the same time, Jacob van Almaengien, alias Philip van St. Jan, became a member of the illustrious Brotherhood of Our Lady (Liebfrauen Bruderschaft). We find a record of "Master Philip van St. Jan, erstwhile a Jew", as a member, in their Year-book, 1496/7. The title of Master, Magister, indicated that he had received a University education. Yet, despite such an illustrious baptism, the proselyte had apparently the impudence regardless of the implied affront to the ruler of the country, the city, and the burghers, to return to his former religion, after only a few brief years: For those times he was a unique example of monstrous religious egocentricity.

It is probable, in our view, that Cuperinus took exception to Jacob's neglect of his religious (Church) duties. Cuperinus expresses his wrath at this in his last sentence. As Fraenger failed to recognise the abundant evidence of Rosicrucian ideas and concepts in the paintings of Bosch, the real reason for Cuperinus' condemnation of Jacob also escaped him, i.e., Jacob's apparent neglect of his church duties. Had he recognised the Rosicrucian content, and its connections, Fraenger would have realised the impossibility, at least at that time, in s'Hertogenbosch, of a convert from Judaism to Christianity being re-baptised into Judaism.

Bosch, the painter, was also a member of the illustrious Brotherhood of Our Lady, and belonged to the inner circle, where Rosicrucian ideas were familiar to the members. It is significant, therefore, that Jacob was admitted to this Order in the very hour of his baptism.

At this point, it is necessary once again to refer to the Fama Fraternitatis. We find in The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz, A.D. 1459, and the Fama Fraternitatis [1] [67] that, literally "'I.A.' brought in a skilled painter, 'B'''. This painter, "B", could easily be Hieronymus Bosch; at all events, in the documents of Cuperinus, there is mention of a meeting of two men whose initials are "LA." and "B" respectively.

Recent radiological examinations of two different versions of The Temptations of St. Anthony further point to the identities of these two people. Both carry the signatures "I.A." and "B". (Photos alleged to be of both are reproduced, (Figs. 121, 144.) Strangely, an extended "M" is written beneath the signature in the first illustration. This may be intended to refer to the book, "M" (Liber Mundi) which is mentioned in the Fama. There are a large number of other indications pointing in this same direction, but research into this has not been fully completed.

The late Johan Brouwer gives an authoritative account, from his intimate knowledge of Spanish history about the year 1500, of his research into documents of that time. In Johanna de Waanzinnige [16] he describes how a priest of Salamanca denigrated Philip the Fair and scornfully called him a "friend of Jews" (after the death of Johanna's husband). This priest was correct in his statement, as Philip gave his name to the Jew, Jacob van Almaengien (i.e. Germany) according to Cuperinus, and he was present at the baptism of Jews in Veere, Zeeland, in the year 1497 [21]. Most probably it is correct to suspect the support of the Emperor Maximilian, Philip's father, for all this, as Philip the Fair was still too young to be able fully to appreciate the value and meaning of Rosicrucian teaching. Maximilian had also kept Erasmus Grasser, the sculptor, in his service for a considerable time (see Figs. 146 and 147) [29]. He must have known exactly what was afoot and what the world philosophy was that stood behind it all.

In the above book by Brouwer, there is a reference to Bergenroth, who published his research into the historic documents of the period of Johanna and her times, in 1868. He is of the opinion that Johanna was of sane and sound mind, but was taken prisoner on behalf of the Inquisition for heretical ideas. (On the death of her husband, she was deprived of her royal rights, first by her father, the Emperor Ferdinand, and then her grandson, Philip II. She died aged 75 in 1555, having been kept a prisoner at Tordesillas because of her alleged madness since 1509!)

From the known facts Bergenroth deduces that Johanna early showed an aversion to the traditional Roman Catholic Church, because of her belief in a new form of ritual; also that she was an enemy of the Inquisition because of its inhuman exercise of political and judicial power. Her husband, Philip, had entertained Protestant views which Johanna took up, and he also had wished to restrict the judicial power of the Inquisition.

In our view, the thread of Rosicrucian ideas and concepts can be followed throughout this history and it can be shown that others have also come to this conclusion, as in Chapter 10 of Johanna de Waanzinnige by J. Brouwer [16].

There is today a growing interest in the genius who was a "painter of little devils" [3], [19]. There is a comprehensive literature on Bosch. But Bosch does not merely need to be understood and appreciated as a painter; he is also a prophet. One can only understand a prophet if one knows his terms of reference -- his spiritual background and world philosophy. For this reason, this Introduction was essential. What follows is an attempt to contribute to the appreciation of this great Master who, standing at the threshold of a new age, painted his "confessions" in order to show to man, who was developing into a modern natural scientific thinker, a new road to knowledge.

As was said earlier all real imaginations are indications of spiritual links and connections, and for that reason their "meaning" is inexhaustible. This is so also in the imaginations which form the pictures of Bosch. We have tried to show a consistent thread of thought in this abundance of meaning. If this stimulates the student of the paintings to enter more deeply into the pictures and imaginations which they present, our task has been achieved, it was to bring Bosch and his imaginations closer to the reader by giving him a key to their unravelling.
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Plate A. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Prodigal Son. Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen.



As has been said, to understand Hieronymus Bosch, it is necessary to develop a method of observation which will gain insight into the world philosophy, or language, of the Master and reveal his pictorial method of expression. Once such a method has been developed, and if the sources whence he took his inspiration have been divined, the interpretation of one of his last and maturest works should become relatively simple. This book will be devoted to furnishing proofs of the method used by the author to discover the painter's hidden message. The method can be used for all this painter's works; he used the same symbols quite consistently throughout.

The original title of the picture, The Prodigal Son, is the most suitable and a reference to the parable (Luke 15, 11-32) is essential at this point, as the title of the picture in fact refers to this. Readers who wish to pursue a study of the external aspects of the subject are referred to Der Verlorene Sohn, E. Vetter [62].

As we proceed it will become clear that the Master, Bosch, has not occupied himself with the ordinary outward concept of Christ's parable, but has pursued an inner spiritual meaning. Bosch sees the "son of man" in humanity as such, wandering lost about the dark earth, cut off from any connection with the spiritual world, and longing to find it again. As Bosch did not paint abstractions, he shows a person, or rather the portrait of an individual soul on the threshold of death, swaying between Good and Evil. An understanding of the portrait of the soul of this person will also allow us some insight into the man Jeroen van Aken (alias Hieronymus Bosch). The painting will first be analysed point by point, and the last section will present a summary of the picture's theme as a whole.

1b. THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (from the Authorised Version, Luke 15, 11-32).

"And He said, 'A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mightly famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad; for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."

Bosch's direct grasp of the spiritual essence of a theme is shown in the way in which he deals with the parable of the Prodigal Son. This painting is another example of the vividness, power and depth of imagination which he was able to bring into his artistic compositions. Bosch's version differs in more than one respect from other well-conceived and executed presentations of this theme. The result of his vision contrasts strongly with worldly conventions. This in itself gives an indication how profoundly the painter was moved by this parable.


In this picture, Bosch shows his conception of those experiences that take place within the human soul at the moment of departure from earthly life, according to occult teaching. As has been explained elsewhere [65] the "tree-man" on the right-hand side of The Hortus Deliciarum [i_], in the part that depicts Purgatory, also represents an image or allegory, of a real process connected with these experiences (Fig. 29).


For a painting such as this to convey more than mere allegory, i.e. to portray real experience, it must bear the stamp of a quite impersonal and objective kind of self-examination, and evaluation. One can only examine oneself quite as thoroughly as this. At the threshold of the spiritual worlds real self-knowledge has become possible, because the grip of opposing spiritual forces has been loosened. It certainly is not an everyday experience for anyone to reach a point where really objective self- judgment has become possible. Such knowledge depends essentially upon the qualities and power of concentration of the individual, on the degree of self-consciousness which he has developed. Consciousness is inner light. The more strongly it burns and the wider it casts its light, the more accurate and true the objective picture of the self will be; it becomes more than mere intellectual self- criticism; it becomes illuminated in a quite concrete way. The self begins to be seen by the individual as though he were looking at it from the outside.

Bosch's self-criticism is by no means gentle, rather the opposite! The parable of the prodigal son had become for Bosch a picture of human life on earth. Living on earth certainly implies that one is far from the spiritual world and it also means that one is exposed to the influence of opposing spiritual forces, is tapping about in the dark, and lives in misery. It is interesting that the German word "Elend" (used in the parable in German to describe the prodigal's misery), once bore the meaning of exile -- he who lives in "Elend" or exile experiences doubts, deprivation and want.

Once man ate off the tree of knowledge, and since then the desire and need for earthly experience has been increasingly forced upon him. Earth has become his inheritance. Increasingly independent, liberated more and more from the guidance of the spiritual divine hierarchies, i.e. living in lands far away from God, abandoned by God, he too easily becomes a victim of error, and runs the danger of heaping one mistake upon another. And yet, it is only in this way that man can find his way ultimately to real freedom.


However fateful man's errors and weaknesses, at the end of every life-span on earth he returns to the house of his Father and his heavenly Father receives him there. For man brings back into the spiritual world, as the result of his life on earth, such experiences as can only be won "in exile". However poor these fruits may appear at first glance, it is these that matter. This same law of winning freedom by experience on earth, does not apply to the sphere of the angels. These must live either in the light or the darkness; they are not permitted the freedom to make a choice, to decide between good and evil. In some respects, these beings are man's older brothers, sons of one father [54]. This is possibly what is meant in the parable, where it speaks of the older brother of the prodigal son who remained in the house of their father.

These comments, which are derived from Rosicrucian thinking and teaching, are important for the understanding of what follows. They also make it clear why the "prodigal son" -- man-- standing at the point of return to the land of his Father, cannot have a very good impression of himself. Saints are few in number, and Bosch did not wish to represent an "ideal" man here any more than in the "tree-man" (Hortus Deliciarum); rather a striving human-being in all his ambivalent manifestation. This human-being, this prodigal son, is a sinner who shows the characteristics of his imperfections.


Knowing this, it becomes comprehensible why, recently this painting has had other names, such as "The Fool" "The Rogue", "The Vagabond", "The Beggar" "The Hawker", etc. All these, however, are but half truths and do not encompass the full reality.

The original title The Prodigal Son is preferred for this study, as the picture is packed with hidden significance even in its smallest details, as also is the parable of the New Testament.


The mood of this painting expressed in the lighting appears to be of eventide -- or is it the beginning of the dawn? Both interpretations will be shown to be right.

Whoever is about to leave the earthly world, experiences his own eventide. He who is about to be reborn into the spiritual world of the Father, experiences his new day.

The canvas is in the shape of a medallion, but the surround has eight sides. Possibly the painting itself also had eight sides originally. However, the frame is not original and so this form may have been added later. This need not imply that the original shape of the picture was round; the original form may still have been eight-sided. This geometric form can have profound significance. It is often used as the ground plan of baptisteries, for example, because this form was thought to be able to express geometrically the process of the incarnation of the human-being into his physical body. These ideas were derived as follows: The earth is often represented symbolically as a square in occult drawings, the four elements -- fire, air, water and earth, each occupying one side or angle (see Fig. 2). At birth, man enters the world of the physical elements, i.e. he leaves the spiritual world in which the archetypes of these four elements reign. The eight-sided geometric figure can be pictured as two squares, of which one has been pushed out and rotated by the other (Fig. 3).

The picture we are studying portrays a man who is about to lay down his physical body, to excarnate. Bosch shows that this death is also a re-birth and it is for this reason that one can assume he may have used the eight-sided boundary for the picture, as this could be the most appropriate. Another indication of this aspect of the meaning of the painting is the foot of a stag, a hart, which protrudes from the individual's shirt. This will be discussed in detail later.

The prodigal son stands in the centre of the picture. He looks back with a melancholy and somewhat glassy gaze. This expression is intensified by a slight pallor around the mouth. His thoughts hover between past and future. The soul can apprehend the inevitability of what is to come.

Fig. 2. Christ at the centre of the four elements (i.e. here "In the body of Jesus").

Fig. 3. The ground plan of Baptisteries -- Octagon.


In a previous work [65] some research findings were described regarding Bosch's use of various birds to symbolise mood states in the human soul, as a sort of commentary on the inner dynamic of what is taking place in a scene he is depicting. Here above the weary traveller's head, we find an owl and a coaltit on the branches of a tree.

The owl is always used by this painter to represent human everyday intelligence. It could also be called the bird representing the souls of many natural scientists. It gazes out of semi-darkness with huge eyes. In this picture it is in an excited state, with feathers fluffed out, for that part of the intelligence which is only interested in sense-impressions cannot cope with situations in which the other world is already playing an active part. Anyone who has studied testaments and wills from a psychological point of view, can tell how frequently confused and obscure concepts seem to lead to conflict and confusion in the soul of the testator.

The other bird, the coal-tit, an extremely mobile bird, which constantly twists and turns, is used here as an illustration of the imaginative thinking life of a man who is lacking direction and self-control. (For a full discussion of the various "soul-birds", see the author's first book [65] and Note 2.)

The penitent St. Jerome (Hieronymus) is inwardly in a similar state to that of the prodigal son, and for this reason, Bosch has also depicted him with owl and coaltit (Fig. 4, on the dead tree).

Fig. 4. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: St. Jerome. Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten.


Bosch uses the black and white magpie to symbolise the doubting mood in the soul of man. This bird was already known to Wolfram Von Eschenbach (singer of Parcival) as the bird of doubt. It need be no matter of surprise that this magpie appears twice. It can be seen in a cage by the awful house and also free on the lowest bar of the gate which we must now study more particularly. On the one hand the soul still feels trapped in a cage -- in the house formed by the physical body -- on the other it is about to become free, at the threshold of the other world.


A gate, door, or portal, always divides yet unites different spaces. A threshold also exists at the meeting point of different spheres, although it may not be outwardly perceptible. Thus we speak of the gate of Paradise, the doors of Heaven, and the doors of Hell. Some examples can be shown to illustrate this. Mary, the mother of God, is found on "the other side" in her "garden" -- he who would come to her must pass through the "gate" (Fig. 5 and Fig. 6, see also Fig. 7).

Fig. 5. HUGO VAN DER GOES, 1440-1482: Adoration of the Shepherds. Portinari Altar (detail). Florence, Uffizzi Gallery.

In the present picture, the gate has a purely symbolic significance (cf. Roemer Visscher Sinnepoppen [63] -- this writer lived a century after Bosch and was in his time, the head of the Rosicrucian movement in Holland. His book contains pictures and sayings teaching sobriety and morality. (See Fig. 9 and Fig. 108 and Note 3.) Here there is no logical explanation of the presence of the gate, no continuation to left or right, whether in the form of hedge or fence. Standing thus by itself, this gate can only be taken to represent a dividing point, a threshold. The Torii of the Shinto temples have stood amidst the fields in Japan until the present time in splendid isolation. They, too, form a barrier between the sacred realm and the profane.

Another example can be found in the sanctuary of the Cathars at Ussat les Bains (Ariege, France), a place renowned for the last defence of the Albigenses during the tragic crusade against the Cathars in the first half of the thirteenth century. The loose stone wall which marked the border between "within" and "without" can be seen to this day. (A. Gadal, personal communication.)

(Shepherd walks by carrying a lantern, leading a goat.)
SHEPHERD: Can't you understand? It has already begun.
OLD BUM: What's he saying?
YOUNG BUM: I have no idea.
SHEPHERD: Who are you? Where do you come from? Whoever you are, welcome. Come, if you wish. But not a word about what you will see.
(Shepherd walks into the woods.)
YOUNG BUM: Who was that guy?
OLD BUM: I don't know, a shepherd that talks like a priest. I'm going to sleep. Goodnight.
(Shepherd ties goat to a tree. Many people are chanting. Beautiful, partially naked women adorning themselves.)
PRIEST 1: Brethren, good tidings from Rome thanks to Proconsul Volventius. The Emperor Gratian has reinstated Priscillian as the Bishop of Avila.
HEAD PRIEST: Thus we are justified. The heretic is not I but he who sits on the throne of Peter and who has taken the title of the Pope. Our doctrine is the right one and soon we will proclaim it publicly to all. Let us give thanks unto God. Our soul is of divine essence.
PRIEST 1: Like the angels it was created by God and it is ruled by the stars.
WOMAN 1: In punishment for a sin it was united with a body. This body is the work of the devil.
WOMAN 2: The devil exists from the beginning like God himself.
HEAD PRIEST: A thing so unworthy and impure as our body couldn't have been created by God.
WOMAN 3: The body is the prison of the soul. The soul to free itself must gradually become separate.
WOMAN 4: The body must be humiliated and detested and constantly subjected to the pleasure of the flesh.
PRIEST 1: So that the purified soul may return after death to its celestial abode.
HEAD PRIEST: Swear never to betray this secret!
EVERYONE: We swear it!
(The men and women pair up and go fuck in the woods. The Head Priest breaks bread with two priests.)
HEAD PRIEST: It is not I who have harvested thee; it is not I who have kneaded thee; it is not I who have put thee in the oven. I am innocent of all your sufferings. And may all those who have caused them know the same agony.
(Head Priest puts his arms around two women, and walks off into the woods.)

-- The Milky Way, directed by Luis Bunuel

The design of this particular gate is not arbitrary. It can be seen from the examples illustrated here that other contemporary painters used the same pattern. Bosch himself painted this same kind of gate in several pictures. It is divided into six fields with a triangle superimposed, and this numerical and geometrical arrangement clearly has significance; however, the details of this cannot be further elucidated here. It may be that the large sow with six piglets (section 11) represents the negative side of the same symbol.


The cow appears in other pictures by Bosch (Temptations of St. Anthony, the Hay Wain). It is the representative in pictorial imagination, of the vital nourishing life-forces. The ancient Germanic tribes told of Audumla, the giver of milk, the holy cow. She liberated the ancestor of Odin, father of the Gods, from the ice of the world by her licking. The ancient Egyptians revered the cow of heaven, Hathor, as the giver of the forces of life. To the present day, the cow represents the essence of the Hindu religion. The modern painter, Marc Chagall, makes use of the picture of the cow in the same way, to represent the forces of living vitality.

Man's catabolic processes -- the result of his physical life on earth -- are constantly being balanced and counteracted by the metabolic processes that rebuild his physical body. In the pictorial language used here man is constantly nourished by "the cow" (Fig. 8).

According to the teaching of occult schools, at death the spiritual and soul parts of man's organism leave the physical body, but they remain connected for a few days with its vital forces. After 3-5 days, these dissolve and merge into the general stream of "life forces" that are present in the world (the etheric forces [51], [58], [59]). This process is hinted at by Bosch here. The living aspect -- or "life- forces" -- of the world can be pictured imaginatively as green fields. Towards these the man is turning his steps and here the waiting cow will still nourish him for about 3 days. The same theme can be found in The Temptations of St. Anthony, with a slight variation -- there the cow bears the shrunken being of man across the bridge into the other world. As Bosch paints real not abstract imaginations, the cow's back is stretched out quite unnaturally (Fig. 102 and Fig. 103).

Fig. 6. Nativity Showing the gate to "the other world" from the small Book of Beels (9).

Fig. 7. JOACHIM PATINIR: Christophorus. Joachim Patinir, 1480?-1524, shows evidence in his picture of Christophorus that he was one of the few contemporaries of Bosch who understood something of what Master Bosch was trying to show. The soul house in the tree, the gate, the tree as the vegetative growth forces of the physical body, the holy white egret or heron, the iris, symbol of purity and resurrection, even the hound which has intruded into the mystic area and is persecuting the white lambs, these symbols which are nearly all to be found in Bosch, are also here employed quite correctly. Madrid, Escorial, reproduction authorized by El Patrimonio Nacional.

This cow could also allude to the "fatted calf" which the Father orders to be sacrificed on the return of his son. If one tries to get back to the archetypal meaning of that scene as it is described in the Bible, one cannot imagine that it refers only to a physical calf. There also the parable has a deeper meaning which has to he fathomed. More will be said about this in section 16.

One could almost expect to see the Father's house behind the gate in our picture. A post such as could be used for hoisting a lantern, stands on a hill in the landscape. They were used in Holland as sign posts by night to point the way. Here it stands also as a symbol of new strength to be given the traveller, the counterpart in answer to the leaning spear outside the old house.

The spear is generally used by this painter to denote the personality or individual (see also Temptations of St. Anthony). As man on earth is subject to the influence of the material world surrounding him, to his health, and to feelings of pleasure and pain, the ego or individuality of man can hardly ever remain erect by its own efforts under the onslaught of the impressions and problems coming from his vulnerable physical organism.


On the left, behind the wayfarer there is an inn, a seedy rundown neglected ale-house. Instead of a flag, an empty can is turned upside down over the flagpole, the barrel outside the house is also empty. The roof leaks and the windows rattle and hang by only one hinge. The whole house reeks of decay. People are flirting in the doorway, a man is unashamedly relieving himself in the corner. The trousers hanging from an upstairs window may be taken to indicate a fairly unconventional menage.

This picture of an hostelry is possibly intended to represent an old saying to to be found in the collection Sinnepoppen by Roemer Visscher, which was mentioned previously. The content is roughly as follows: -- "The feast is over, no more wine will flow". However if the housekeeping has been so carelessly done by the "innkeeper" that the baker and brewer will no longer deliver any goods, then it is said that "The sow has run off with the tap and the host has urinated (pissed) on the wall before daybreak and has paid his dues with his bedstraw" (Fig. 9).

If one assumes that Bosch, who was a Rosicrucian, knew this saying, as is very likely, then the man relieving himself is mine host of the inn, who has to leave his house because he has run up too many "debts". Debts, these, to Him (God) who delivers all (Bread and wine, translator's note). In this case the inn becomes a symbol of his physical body which has harboured him for a time but which has become used up, ruined, as had the "innkeeper", because of his careless housekeeping and the debts he has thus accumulated.

Fig. 8. Bull's heads with the signs of the life-force (10).

Fig. 9. The feast is over. The sow has run off with the stopcock of the wine cask. This cask is the representation of the container of the vitality of the body. From Sinnepoppen by Roemer Visscher(63).

Figs. 10 and 11. Two old pictures on which the Signs of the Zodiac appear assigned to the various parts of the body on which they were held to have an influence.

In this painting of the prodigal son, the wayfarer sees himself and his life in a tableau, looking back on himself. It should be noted that he and mine host wear similar clothes. Like mine host, who has run up debts, -- i.e. who owes much to the spiritual world -- he must leave the house -- his body -- which has sheltered him. He has experienced much within it. Love-making -- and much else that belongs to impulse and instinct. His soul, the "woman at the window of the soul" has watched many storms come, play themselves out and vanish. Now the house of the physical body has become old and fragile. He can no longer remain upright within it. The spear, symbol of his individuality, leans sideways; he himself was the soldier who carried that spear in his youth, when the forces of Mars were uppermost in him. An empty wooden trough, such as builders used in the past to carry pointing mortar, is also leaning against the house, it is empty, and obviously disused. The forces needed to build up the body (the house) are failing. There is an upturned empty can on the roof, and an empty barrel before the house. All these details can be taken together to mean that the life-forces, out of which all creative activities flow, have been exhausted. There is nothing left to build with, and no soul strength to draw on. This individual, who is on the threshold of Death, can no longer be creative on this earth.

A sow and her six piglets feed from a trough in front of the house. (See comment in section 9, regarding the numerical relationships of the parts of the gate.) This is an eloquent scene in the language of the Rosicrucians. We must consider the significance of the number 7 in their terms to understand it further. According to their teaching, seven organs of the body are under the special influence of seven planets, and this influence not only extends to their formation, it also has its effects in the way these organs can affect the mood, or soul-state, of the person. Thus the Moon was held to be connected especially with the brain, the lungs with Mercury, kidneys with Venus, the heart with the Sun, the gall-bladder with Mars, Jupiter with the liver, and Saturn with the spleen. (The use of such phrases as to be "galled", or a "sunny-tempered" person recalls this kind of psychology to this day.) These planetary influences were of course as potent according to this teaching in the lower as in the higher emotional (or soul-) life of the individual. (See Fig. 10 and Fig. 11.) The impulses inherent in the sensual organisation of man are denoted by the picture of the pig. (This is ancient tradition, not only of the Rosicrucians.) The wayfarer is looking back on his seven-fold life of impulse and instinct. The trough is still not quite empty, but soon it will be as empty as the upturned soul-vessel on the roof, or the barrel outside the house. A cock stands on a small midden not far from the sow. The lower aspect of the ego, insofar as it is bound to the masculine instinctual (sexual) nature, appears in the symbol of the cockerel in myth and fairy tale. This soul bird too is left behind by the man.

Anyone who really understands Bosch will know that he never paints only decay, or only the negative aspect. What is positive and will work for the future is also included, but the symbols which he uses to depict this aspect are small and unobtrusive, like small dark seeds.

Where then does the inner eye recognise the positive sense of all these experiences as it looks back?

On the right hand wall of the house, there hangs the inn sign, in an excellent state of preservation, with a white swan painted on it. Beneath this, a small apple tree is in full flower, fresh as spring itself. Both these themes must be taken together.

A general view of The Prodigal Son. Rotterdam, Museum. Boymans van Beuningen.

The swan generally is used to symbolise the higher aspect of the human being, the living spiritual aspect. This is well-illustrated for example in the legend of Lohengrin. Even in the present day, inns, especially in the country, bear names such as "The Swan", "The Red Lion", "The Bear", "The Eagle", etc. All these are symbols derived from ancient lore. The inspiration for such names often came from alchemists in the Middle Ages. "The Swan" was an especially popular name for an hostelry, and a Dutch term for a good guest-house is still "a good Swan".

It is known that Bosch was elevated to the rank of "Knight of the Swan" in the Brotherhood of Our Lady after only a year's membership.

The apple tree has, from ancient times, been regarded as the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil and the apple has been regarded as the fruit of the Fall of Man (see Genesis). From the botanical aspect, the apple is a pseudo-fruit, for the fruit is not developed from the seed capsule only, as in a true fruit, but it also incorporates the structures immediately below it, i.e. it grows both upwards and downwards. Also the fruit of the apple forms a double layer around its seed capsule. It is for these reasons that the apple was taken as a suitable symbol of the Fall of Man. It seems to give a concrete picture of an ambivalent situation by its botanical structures, viz.: Man descends from a "higher" other world (the literal translation of Paradise, is, on the other side of the day), into a "nether", here and now world. The "fall into sin" really means a "fall into separation" (from the Spirit). Man's spiritual individuality (ego) can be regarded symbolically as a pseudo-fruit with higher and lower aspect. In Latin, the apple's name is "malum" -- Evil.

Applying the logic of this study, the flowering apple tree below the sign of the swan can be read to mean that even if the wayfarer's backward glance beholds the decay of the body, yet the (his) tree of knowledge is flourishing and in blossom; it has borne fruit and will continue to do so. Life on earth for man is intended to enable him to gather knowledge. It is won in the right way if man extends his consciousness ever further into the higher spiritual worlds -- i.e. if he follows "the swan within himself" (thus overcoming the effect of the fall into sin, or separation).


Turning now to the central human figure of the painting we see a man who wearily turns from ordinary everyday life and pursues a path which leads him from the unpleasant hostelry to the gate behind which the cow is awaiting him. In his right hand, he holds a clubbed staff with which he is fending off the attentions of an aggressive dog. We will return to this animal in due course. The staff is reminiscent of the well-known staff of fools, and this is probably the reason why the picture is sometimes called "The Fool", an inappropriate title. The significance of this staff can be grasped through a study of the myth whence the symbol is derived, namely, the story of Theseus and the Minotaur (man/ bull, literally translated). This Minotaur reigned within the Labyrinth; he was a mighty bull to whom seven youths and seven maidens had to be sacrificed every year. Theseus, the hero, plans to slay this Minotaur with his club. He is saved from losing himself in the Labyrinth by the king's daughter Ariadne, who gives him a thread by means of which he finds his way back out of the darkness. At the cost of ruining the artistic impact of this story, we must undertake an interpretation for the sake of our further studies.

Fig. 12. Theseus and the Minotaur. Representation on a Greek vase from "Symbols and Mythology of Ancient Peoples" by CREUZER [20] Plate LV.

Looked at meditatively, in the way described in the introduction, the powerful will-forces of the individual which govern the impulsive instinctual and procreative life of man, can be impersonated by the concept of the bull (we speak of the strength of an ox, for example). As is well-known, these will-forces can become "wild", ungoverned and ungovernable. They can dominate a man's thinking and eventually destroy him.

In such an event, the virginal forces of the soul and spirit of man which should mature and bear fruit within him, are sacrificed to the instinctual impulses. The Labyrinth can be taken as a pictorial representation of the human brain, which is easily ruled by the bull if he is not kept under control. Theseus is represented in the myth as the founder of the Greek culture of thought, of philosophy. He unrolls the ball of thread which Ariadne has given him, i.e. the development of logical and connected thought processes begins in him. It is the logical sequence of thoughts which forms the thread that rescues the hero and saves him from losing himself in the labyrinth (of his brain).

Theseus's weapon is the club (Fig. 12). It is also the weapon of Herakles, another hero. The club is the symbol of the power that comes to a man who is able to act out of his personal individual decision (will) rather than because he is driven by his impulses. In ancient times, it was only the hero, or initiate, who was empowered to act by means of this force. Today, everyone must learn to act through it. This theme can be found in other ancient religions. An Indian version of it is shown in Fig. 13. The Goddess Mahishasura kills the Minotaur -- like Theseus i.e. the excessive "bull-forces" in man. Note the three flames at the head of the staff. This can be read to signify that truly ego-controlled decisions must work through the individuals' thinking, feeling and will -- the three aspects of activity which comprise his soul's life. The Goddess is supported by a lion. The soul needs to be courageous to win the battle and to be able to act through knowledge. This courage is here symbolised by the representation of the "Lion".

Fig. 13. Cult figure, probably 11th century A.D. The Goddess Mahishasura Mardini, Calcutta, Indian Museum, (No. 6314).


Although at first glance the staff which the wayfarer carries seems to resemble a fool's staff, the characteristic symbolic details are found to be missing on closer inspection. Also the bearer shows no faintest resemblance to the traditional fool. This can be seen more clearly by an examination of the traditional attributes of staff and clothing of a Fool, which Bosch himself painted in The Ship of Fools (see Fig. 14).

Fig. 14. HIERONYMUS BOSCH. Detail from The Ship of Fools, Paris, Musee du Louvre.

The motley of the fool had as formal a tradition as did the royal robes of the king, and the fool's staff was his badge of office. The fool only rode into combat on his faculties of wit and derision. It was his quickness of repartee that gave him his freedom of action as a fool. This was his weapon. For the fool, the club of the ego-controlled will-forces became the staff of the joker and mocker. The fool's staff is a "caricature" of the club of the initiate, its obverse and counterpart.

One may ask why Bosch paints such an ambivalent representation in The Prodigal Son when the picture of the fool in The Ship of Fools is so clearly and obviously delineated. This question will be answered at the conclusion of this study. Fig. 15 and Fig. 16 show the correct details of the traditional fool's garb. At the top of the staff, there is usually a bead, but sometimes it is the buttocks that are uppermost. The picture of The Ship of Fools (the society of man) presents a situation in which the human will is too weak to prove a directive force, the group has lost control. The ship sails they know not where, while all aboard gossip, eat and drink. Their actions are reflex responses to instinctual needs and immediate stimuli. High up in the tree can be seen the cause of this disastrous situation, Satan (Ahriman) himself. He has made himself at home there, and is gleefully surveying the impending chaos. The cleverest of the bunch, the Fool, who has quick wits and can respond to situations, is doused with wine. He ignores the cherries, the fruit of real thinking, and, like the rest, has a good time. They think they are fulfilling big tasks.


Fig. 15. QUENTIN METSYS (also written MASSYS) 1465/6-1530: Allegory of Folly, painted about 1510-1420. New York, Coll. J. Held (Mondeken toe means keep your mouth shut!)

Fig. 16. ALBRECHT DURER, 1471-1528: The Holiday Fool. Woodcut in: Sebastian Brant, The Ship of Fools. Basel, Kupferstichkabinett.


The title of the painting has been queried, among others, by Ludwig von Baldass [3]. He calls the painting "The Vagrant". However, the sketches which Bosch himself has made of vagrants contradict this interpretation (see illustrations No. 130, No. 131 in the same book, Brussels: Cabinet des Estampes & Vienna, Albertina).

The wayfarer's uniform habit of dress is also against his being a beggar or a vagrant. It does not give the impression of having been collected by begging. Also the heavy basket under which his body is bent hardly fits with the concept of a beggar, let alone the purse which be carries. On the other hand, the artist has expressed in masterly fashion that this individual has amassed a great many things in the course of his life which he has to drag about with him. From this point of view, the label of vagrant is understandable but inadequate. The basket will be discussed presently.


As man approaches the end of his life, his thoughts are turned to the spiritual (other) world. He no longer stands as firmly in this world, and he begins to feel that his foothold has become precarious. He becomes insecure and begins to limp.

With this in mind, it becomes clear to us why this weary traveller drags himself along with a shoe on one foot and a slipper on the other. In our picture, the right foot wears an excellent shoe, the left one an equally excellent slipper -- the quality of both again proves that he is no beggar. A shoe is worn outside the house, a slipper indoors. The shoe indicates the relationship to earthly life. One could regard this combination as indicating that this man is already moving in two worlds. The Dutch saying "To walk on one shoe and one slipper", today means that the individual has no money. This situation however can arise because the particular individual did not keep both feet on the ground in ordinary everyday life. Many a person has landed in a financial mess because he was unable to keep apart what belongs to God and what belongs to mammon or to match them correctly (Translator's note: Christ also drove the merchants from the Temple, Luke 19/45 and 46). The real matchmaker works in quite a different sphere.



i. The Garden of Heavenly Delights.

ii. A go-between who arranged marriages.

(From Albi, Latin Albiga, the present capital of the Department of Tarn).

A neo-Manichæan sect that flourished in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The name Albigenses, given them by the Council of Tours (1163) prevailed towards the end of the twelfth century and was for a long time applied to all the heretics of the south of France. They were also called Catharists (katharos, pure), though in reality they were only a branch of the Catharistic movement. The rise and spread of the new doctrine in southern France was favoured by various circumstances, among which may be mentioned: the fascination exercised by the readily-grasped dualistic principle; the remnant of Jewish and Mohammedan doctrinal elements; the wealth, leisure, and imaginative mind of the inhabitants of Languedoc; their contempt for the Catholic clergy, caused by the ignorance and the worldly, too frequently scandalous, lives of the latter; the protection of an overwhelming majority of the nobility, and the intimate local blending of national aspirations and religious sentiment.



The Albigenses asserted the co-existence of two mutually opposed principles, one good, the other evil. The former is the creator of the spiritual, the latter of the material world. The bad principle is the source of all evil; natural phenomena, either ordinary like the growth of plants, or extraordinary as earthquakes, likewise moral disorders (war), must be attributed to him. He created the human body and is the author of sin, which springs from matter and not from the spirit. The Old Testament must be either partly or entirely ascribed to him; whereas the New Testament is the revelation of the beneficent God. The latter is the creator of human souls, which the bad principle imprisoned in material bodies after he had deceived them into leaving the kingdom of light. This earth is a place of punishment, the only hell that exists for the human soul. Punishment, however, is not everlasting; for all souls, being Divine in nature, must eventually be liberated. To accomplish this deliverance God sent upon earth Jesus Christ, who, although very perfect, like the Holy Ghost, is still a mere creature. The Redeemer could not take on a genuine human body, because he would thereby have come under the control of the evil principle. His body was, therefore, of celestial essence, and with it He penetrated the ear of Mary. It was only apparently that He was born from her and only apparently that He suffered. His redemption was not operative, but solely instructive. To enjoy its benefits, one must become a member of the Church of Christ (the Albigenses). Here below, it is not the Catholic sacraments but the peculiar ceremony of the Albigenses known as the consolamentum, or "consolation," that purifies the soul from all sin and ensures its immediate return to heaven. The resurrection of the body will not take place, since by its nature all flesh is evil.


The dualism of the Albigenses was also the basis of their moral teaching. Man, they taught, is a living contradiction. Hence, the liberation of the soul from its captivity in the body is the true end of our being. To attain this, suicide is commendable; it was customary among them in the form of the endura (starvation). The extinction of bodily life on the largest scale consistent with human existence is also a perfect aim. As generation propagates the slavery of the soul to the body, perpetual chastity should be practiced. Matrimonial intercourse is unlawful; concubinage, being of a less permanent nature, is preferable to marriage. Abandonment of his wife by the husband, or vice versa, is desirable. Generation was abhorred by the Albigenses even in the animal kingdom. Consequently, abstention from all animal food, except fish, was enjoined. Their belief in metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, the result of their logical rejection of purgatory, furnishes another explanation for the same abstinence. To this practice they added long and rigorous fasts. The necessity of absolute fidelity to the sect was strongly inculcated. War and capital punishment were absolutely condemned.

Origin and history

The contact of Christianity with the Oriental mind and Oriental religions had produced several sects (Gnostics, Manichæans, Paulicians, Bogomilae) whose doctrines were akin to the tenets of the Albigenses. But the historical connection between the new heretics and their predecessors cannot be clearly traced. In France, where they were probably introduced by a woman from Italy, the Neo-Manichæan doctrines were secretly diffused for several years before they appeared, almost simultaneously, near Toulouse and at the Synod of Orléans (1022). Those who proposed them were even made to suffer the extreme penalty of death. The Council of Arras (1025), Charroux, Dep. of Vienne (c. 1028), and of Reims (1049) had to deal with the heresy. At that of Beauvais (1114) the case of Neo-Manichæans in the Diocese of Soissons was brought up, but was referred to the council shortly to be held in the latter city. Petrobrusianism now familiarized the South with some of the tenets of the Albigenses. Its condemnation by the Council of Toulouse (1119) did not prevent the evil from spreading. Pope Eugene III (1145-53) sent a legate, Cardinal Alberic of Ostia, to Languedoc (1145), and St. Bernard seconded the legate's efforts. But their preaching produced no lasting effect. The Council of Reims (1148) excommunicated the protectors "of the heretics of Gascony and Provence." That of Tours (1163) decreed that the Albigenses should be imprisoned and their property confiscated. A religious disputation was held (1165) at Lombez, with the usual unsatisfactory result of such conferences. Two years later, the Albigenses held a general council at Toulouse, their chief centre of activity. The Cardinal-Legate Peter made another attempt at peaceful settlement (1178), but he was received with derision. The Third General Council of the Lateran (1179) renewed the previous severe measures and issued a summons to use force against the heretics, who were plundering and devastating Albi, Toulouse, and the vicinity. At the death (1194) of the Catholic Count of Toulouse, Raymond V, his succession fell to Raymond VI (1194-1222) who favoured the heresy. With the accession of Innocent III (1198) the work of conversion and repression was taken up vigorously. In 1205-6 three events augured well for the success of the efforts made in that direction. Raymond VI, in face of the threatening military operations urged by Innocent against him, promised under oath to banish the dissidents from his dominions. The monk Fulco of Marseilles, formerly a troubadour, now became Archbishop of Toulouse (1205-31). Two Spaniards, Diego, Bishop of Osma and his companion, Dominic Guzman (St. Dominic), returning from Rome, visited the papal legates at Montpellier. By their advice, the excessive outward splendour of Catholic preachers, which offended the heretics, was replaced by apostolical austerity. Religious disputations were renewed. St. Dominic, perceiving the great advantages derived by his opponents from the cooperation of women, founded (1206) at Pouille near Carcassonne a religious congregation for women, whose object was the education of the poorer girls of the nobility. Not long after this he laid the foundation of the Dominican Order. Innocent III, in view of the immense spread of the heresy, which infected over 1000 cities or towns, called (1207) upon the King of France, as Suzerain of the County of Toulouse, to use force. He renewed his appeal on receiving news of the assassination of his legate, Peter of Castelnau, a Cistercian monk (1208), which judging by appearances, he attributed to Raymond VI. Numerous barons of northern France, Germany, and Belgium joined the crusade, and papal legates were put at the head of the expedition, Arnold, Abbot of Cîteaux, and two bishops. Raymond VI, still under the ban of excommunication pronounced against him by Peter of Castelnau, now offered to submit, was reconciled with the Church, and took the field against his former friends. Roger, Viscount of Béziers, was first attacked, and his principal fortresses, Béziers and Carcassonne, were taken (1209). The monstrous words: "Slay all; God will know His own," alleged to have been uttered at the capture of Béziers, by the papal legate, were never pronounced (Tamizey de Larroque, "Rev. des quest. hist." 1866, I, 168-91). Simon of Monfort, Earl of Leicester, was given control of the conquered territory and became the military leader of the crusade. At the Council of Avignon (1209) Raymond VI was again excommunicated for not fulfilling the conditions of ecclesiastical reconciliation. He went in person to Rome, and the Pope ordered an investigation. After fruitless attempts in the Council of Arles (1211) at an agreement between the papal legates and the Count of Toulouse, the latter left the council and prepared to resist. He was declared an enemy of the Church and his possessions were forfeited to whoever would conquer them. Lavaur, Dep. of Tarn, fell in 1211, amid dreadful carnage, into the hands of the crusaders. The latter, exasperated by the reported massacre of 6,000 of their followers, spared neither age nor sex. The crusade now degenerated into a war of conquest, and Innocent III, in spite of his efforts, was powerless to bring the undertaking back to its original purpose. Peter of Aragon, Raymond's brother-in-law, interposed to obtain his forgiveness, but without success. He then took up arms to defend him. The troops of Peter and of Simon of Montfort met at Muret (1213). Peter was defeated and killed. The allies of the fallen king were now so weakened that they offered to submit. The Pope sent as his representative the Cardinal-Deacon Peter of Santa Maria in Aquiro, who carried out only part of his instructions, receiving indeed Raymond, the inhabitants of Toulouse, and others back into the Church, but furthering at the same time Simon's plans of conquest. This commander continued the war and was appointed by the Council of Montpellier (1215) lord over all the acquired territory. The Pope, informed that it was the only effectual means of crushing the heresy, approved the choice. At the death of Simon (1218), his son Amalric inherited his rights and continued the war with but little success. The territory was ultimately ceded almost entirely by both Amalric and Raymond VII to the King of France, while the Council of Toulouse (1229) entrusted the Inquisition, which soon passed into the hands of the Dominicans (1233), with the repression of Albigensianism. The heresy disappeared about the end of the fourteenth century.

Organization and liturgy

The members of the sect were divided into two classes: The "perfect" (perfecti) and the mere "believers" (credentes). The "perfect" were those who had submitted to the initiation-rite (consolamentum). They were few in number and were alone bound to the observance of the above-described rigid moral law. While the female members of this class did not travel, the men went, by twos, from place to place, performing the ceremony of initiation. The only bond that attached the "believers" to Albigensianism was the promise to receive the consolamentum before death. They were very numerous, could marry, wage war, etc., and generally observed the ten commandments. Many remained "believers" for years and were only initiated on their deathbed. If the illness did not end fatally, starvation or poison prevented rather frequently subsequent moral transgressions. In some instances the reconsolatio was administered to those who, after initiation, had relapsed into sin. The hierarchy consisted of bishops and deacons. The existence of an Albigensian Pope is not universally admitted. The bishops were chosen from among the "perfect." They had two assistants, the older and the younger son (filius major and filius minor), and were generally succeeded by the former. The consolamentum, or ceremony of initiation, was a sort of spiritual baptism, analogous in rite and equivalent in significance to several of the Catholic sacraments (Baptism, Penance, Order). Its reception, from which children were debarred, was, if possible, preceded by careful religious study and penitential practices. In this period of preparation, the candidates used ceremonies that bore a striking resemblance to the ancient Christian catechumenate. The essential rite of the consolamentum was the imposition of hands. The engagement which the "believers" took to be initiated before death was known as the convenenza (promise).

Attitude of the Church

Properly speaking, Albigensianism was not a Christian heresy but an extra-Christian religion. Ecclesiastical authority, after persuasion had failed, adopted a course of severe repression, which led at times to regrettable excess. Simon of Montfort intended well at first, but later used the pretext of religion to usurp the territory of the Counts of Toulouse. The death penalty was, indeed, inflicted too freely on the Albigenses, but it must be remembered that the penal code of the time was considerably more rigorous than ours, and the excesses were sometimes provoked. Raymond VI and his successor, Raymond VII, were, when in distress, ever ready to promise, but never to earnestly amend. Pope Innocent III was justified in saying that the Albigenses were "worse than the Saracens"; and still he counselled moderation and disapproved of the selfish policy adopted by Simon of Montfort. What the Church combated was principles that led directly not only to the ruin of Christianity, but to the very extinction of the human race.

-- Albigenses, by (Catholic Encylcopedia)
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Postby admin » Sat Oct 03, 2015 6:17 am


The clothing of the legs is as significant as that of the feet. A bandage protrudes from the left rucked-up trouser-leg. This bandage has a profound symbolic significance, although this is hardly realised today. This bandage indicates that its wearer had dedicated himself or been dedicated to a specific spiritual goal. It is an ancient symbol of initiation. The antique origin of this secret symbol is shown by the following illustrations (Fig. 17, Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20) which are taken from Greek vases. [iii] This ribbon of consecration was given to the Mystic who had passed through an initiation in the old Mystery temples. It was the outward and visible sign that the individual wished to free himself from entanglement with the opposing forces of Evil and had united himself with Divine impulses. It also meant that the individual had been admitted to the priesthood of the Initiates. The act of consecration is defined by Schuetze as the conscious union of spiritual thoughts and concepts with a being or object of the physical world [49], [50].

Fig. 17. F. CREUZER [20] Old Greek bandage of dedication, Plate XI.

Fig. 18. F. CREUZER [20] Plate X. Symbols of the Mystic.

Fig. 19. A man girded with the bandage of dedication. [10]

Fig. 20. For comparison again the Greek bandage of dedication, from F. CREUZER [20] (XLI).

Thus wherever such a ribbon or bandage of consecration appears on a figure, whether on the head, arm, leg (knee) or trunk, its import must be taken into account. They also occur in more recent times. A brass memorial of Jan van Liedekerken and his wife, 1518 (Mus. Church of S. Salvator, Bruges), shows the knight in full armour, with a ribbon around his knee. One could call it an Order of the Garter. Mars is shown in Fig. 21 also, fully armed, furnished with two garters. The Order of the Garter which is the highest honour in the gift of the English Sovereign, is also a symbol of membership of a group which, however much it may have become a worldly phenomenon, had its origin in an esoteric fraternity. Margaret Murray in her book God of the Witches [43] gives an interesting account of the foundation of the Order. However, she does not make it clear that a garter was an earlier symbol of initiation into a religion that was much older than the Established Church. It could not therefore be worn publicly with impunity before 1350, since the Church would not allow it. The Church, if it is to remain the regulator of man's aspirations to union with God, cannot permit such a union to be attempted by other ritualistic means than its own. It must regard itself as the only true and legitimate link between God and man.

Fig. 21. Mars wearing two bandages of dedication on top of his armour.

Had not the English nation, even as early as the reign of King Edward III, felt the inclination to release itself from the Roman Catholic Church, Henry VIII could not have made himself head of the Anglican Church without a revolution. These impulses must have been nurtured in the people for many generations. The following is taken from pp. 76-77 of her book [iv]:

"The garter in legend can be of great importance. The story attached to the castle of Sewingshields in Northumberland states that in a cave under the castle sleep King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, their courtiers and thirty couple of hounds. A farmer found his way into the cave and on a stone table near the entrance he saw a stone sword, a garter and a horn. He picked up the sword, cut the garter, then his heart failed as he saw the sleepers awaking. As he hurried out of the cave, he heard King Arthur say: 'O woe befall the evil day that ever the witless wight was born, who took the sword, the garter cut but never blew the bugle horn'."

(A brief comment must be interposed here to show by means of an illustration what is meant by the announcing of spiritual truths by blowing a horn (Fig. 22). The picture shows, in a very ancient representation, what should be done if, in the old treasure chest of the past, a secret, previously locked away, is discovered. As the Cross stands in the background, it is of no importance whether anyone hears or not, the horn must be blown (see also Fig. 128).

Fig. 22. ANDREA PISANO The hornblower. (La musica) Florence, Museo delle Opere del Duomo.

"Strutt states that in the ninth century, cross-gartering seems to have been confined to 'kings and princes or the clergy of the highest order and to have formed part of their state habit'. Later, in the Middle Ages, the garter had obviously a significance which it does not possess now. The Liber Niger records that Richard I animated his army at the siege of Acre by giving to certain chosen knights leather garters to tie about their legs.

The extraordinary circumstantial tradition of the foundation of the Order of the Garter in the reign of Edward III, also emphasizes its importance. The story -- which every child has heard -- relates that a lady, either the Fair Maid of Kent or the Countess of Salisbury, dropped her garter while dancing with Edward III, that she was overcome with confusion, that the king picked up the garter, fastened it on his own leg with the words: 'Honi soit qui mal y pense', and at once founded the Order of the Garter with twenty-six knights in honour of the event, that Order being from the beginning the highest of all knightly Orders in Europe. Though the story may be apocryphal, there is a substratum of truth in it. The confusion of the Countess was not from the shock to her modesty -- it took more than a dropped garter to shock a lady of the fourteenth century -- but the possession of that garter proved that she was not only a member of the Old Religion, but that she held the highest place in it. She therefore stood in imminent danger from the Church which had already started on its career of persecution. The king's quickness and presence of mind in donning the garter might have saved the immediate situation, but the action does not explain his words nor the foundation of the commemorative Order. If, however, the Garter was the insignia of the chieftainship of the Old Religion, he thereby placed himself in the position of the Incarnate God in the eyes of his Pagan subjects. And it is noteworthy that he swiftly followed up the action by the foundation of an order of twelve knights for the King and twelve for the Prince of Wales, twenty-six members in all -- in other words, two covens. Froissart's [26] words seem to imply that Edward understood the underlying meaning of the Garter. The King told them it should prove an excellent expedient for the uniting not only of his subjects one with another, but all foreigners, conjunctively with them in the bonds of amity and peace. It is remarkable that the king's mantle as Chief of the Order is powdered over with one hundred and sixty-eight garters, which, with his own Garter worn on the leg, makes 169, or thirteen times thirteen, i.e. thirteen covens.

The Meetings. "There were two classes of meetings: the Esbats, which were specially for the covens and the Sabbaths, which were for the congregation as a whole". Thus far we quote from Margaret Murray.

To this we must add an explanation of the meaning of the legend of King Arthur. The esoteric wealth of spiritual knowledge possessed by the Round Table, symbolised in the Garter, awaits that someone shall grasp it. However, he who finds it must also "blow into the horn", i.e. what had been the secret knowledge of the Order must be announced to all men, but this implies that the Garter, i.e., the collective wisdom of the Order and the horn (which announces it) must remain united.

We append here an illustration (Fig. 23) showing the god of the witches, the devil himself, catching a human being. The band of consecration at his knee proves that this individual still has a connection with the spirit. The engraving is by Urs Graf (1485-1527/8), who several times dealt with this theme. Fig. 24 and Fig. 25 also show the band, while in Fig. 26 it has become distorted [?], because here the devil appears as the servant of death.

Fig. 23. URS GRAF, 1485-1527/8. The devil prevents the escape of a bound slave. Basel, Kupferstichkabinett.

Fig. 24. URS GRAF, 1517. Dancing Bacchante who pours out her wine. She squanders the gift of the God; yet she is bound to that God. Basel, Kupferstichkabinett.

Fig. 25. URS GRAF (1485-1527/8). The Wild Army. The warrior (Mars) is subject to the spirit; he is wearing a bandage of dedication. Basel, Kunst Museum.

Fig. 26. CONRAD MEYER, after NIKLAUS MANUEL. The Dance of Death (Death and a young warrior). Chalk drawing, Zurich, Kunsthaus.

As a further example we show a reproduction of a picture by Hans Leu the younger (see Fig. 27). This shows St. Peter and other apostles before the Risen Christ. Peter wears the ribbon of consecration on his knee.

Fig. 27. HANS LEU, the younger. Peter before the Risen Christ (detail) Basel, Kupferstichkabinett.

The act of consecration which leads to the wearing of a ribbon or garter such as has been described, need not in every case indicate a direct process of initiation or the membership of a particular brotherhood. The individual may have dedicated himself secretly in the depths of his soul to the service of the Holy Ghost. This could have taken place in early youth, and perhaps remained unnoticed for some years. In such a case, the wearer will in time undertake special, spiritually-oriented tasks.

In Rangoon, the consecrating ribbon still has an important function to this day. During the wedding ceremony the right hands of the bride and groom are covered by a white cloth, and then bound together by it. The celebrant then sprays the "bandage" with aromatic scent, and the bond is thus sealed.

A picture of St. Christopher from the end of the thirteenth century (Fig. 28) also shows the consecrating ribbon as a bandage below the right knee. This painter thereby wished to show that the wearer had entered into such an holy pact. As the name indicated, Christophorus is a bearer of the Christ, i.e. he has dissolved the old ties of blood relationships and tribal loyalties. [v] ("There is no man that hath left home or brethren or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my sake, and the Gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold". Mark 10, 29-30.)

Fig. 28. Christophorus wearing the bandage of dedication, from the book of JACOB VAN MAERLANT, [39] Der Natuere Bloeme (? 1370). Leiden, Library of the University.

Bosch himself has used the consecrating bandage in other pictures, notably in the tree-man (Fig. 29) of The Hortus Deliciarum [vi] and on the only upright figure supporting the altar-table in the Lisbon altar-piece The Temptations of St. Anthony (Fig. 73). Both these bandages are at the knee. The bandage or ribbon however need not always be at the knee, as has already been said. This position is only appropriate if progressive work on earth is to be emphasized. The bandage is also to be found in one of the six pictures of the Prodigal Son in the Velislav Bible (Prague 1340). The pictures are reproduced in Der Verlorene Sohn by Ewald Vetter [62]. Only the last two pictures will be discussed here; they are reproduced in Fig. 30 and Fig. 31, Fig. 30 shows the scene where a ring, a pair of shoes, and "the best robe" are offered to the returned prodigal. On looking closely at the "best robe", we note that it is a stole, in other words a sacerdotal or consecrated robe (or "bandage"). This has exactly the same form and pattern as does the ribbon on Fig. 17, Fig. 18, Fig. 19 and Fig. 20. What had been a bandage on the knee of Bosch's prodigal son has been metamorphosed into a priestly stole. The same being who laid the stole over the shoulders of the prodigal son gives him the ring as a sign of their unity. The shoes, which are offered to him by the other being here are a complete pair, whereas in Bosch's picture, he still limped along on earth in two different sorts of footgear. Fig. 31, the last of the series, shows a living cow being led in while father and mother and son are united at table, awaiting the meal. That the harmony of the spheres is sounding here is shown by the presence of two musicians and the instruments which they play (a trumpet and a drum, the two instruments which are often used to depict that a communication of a spiritual nature is taking place). It seems superfluous to comment that this cow is not a sacrificial beast; it must seem obvious to any serious student. The cow here represents the sum of life's experiences which the individual has gathered on earth and which in the house of his father, serve as "nourishment". This same theme appears in The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz by Johann Valentin Andreae [1]; on p. 15 we find the following: "As She (the Mother of God) looked at us one by one, she sighed and said to her Son loudly enough for me to hear: Alas, how sad I am for the poor people in that tower! (the physical body). If only God (God the Father) would allow me to set them all free! To this the Son (Jesus Christ) answered: Mother, thus has God ordered things and we must not strive against it. If we were all Divine Gods and were to sit together at table, who would bring us food? And so His Mother was silenced ..."

Fig. 29. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The treeman with the bandage of dedication in the purgatorium of The Garden of Heavenly Delights. Madrid, Prado Museum.


Fig. 30. The prodigal son is given the finest garment.

Fig. 31. The prodigal son at home. Two pictures from the Velislaw Bible.

Christ Jesus Himself also used the symbol of the bandage herein as so often, linking Himself with what came from ancient mysteries. In John 13, the washing of the feet is described. Verses 4 and 5 tell how Jesus "riseth from supper and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded".

Taking these words as their lead, many of the painters at the time of Bosch depicted the crucified Christ with a large waving cloth about his middle -- this same "apron" (Fig. 32 and Fig. 33). We can still find remnants of the old consecrating ribbon in lace of the 19th century (Fig. 34). The tradition is such a strong one that it lingered on.

Fig. 32. ROGIER VAN DER WEYDEN: 1400-1464. Crucifixion. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Fig. 33. Another Crucifixion.

Fig. 34. Lace 19th century, Cross and bandage of dedication, Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen.

It is necessary to pause here for a moment and to contemplate this traditional picture of the crucified Christ more intensively. It then becomes clearer that the cloth or bandage is worn by the crucified Christ at that part of the body where the ordinary mortal is equipped with the organs to procreate his kind on the earth. By his deed of sacrifice on Golgotha Christ Jesus was able to make the earth and all mankind fruitful anew. The verb "to gird" is used twice in John 21/18 with reference to St. Peter, who first tied a consecrating band about himself with enthusiasm and then, at the end of his earthly life, went through terrible trials and sufferings to the utmost end, as a faithful follower and disciple of Christ (Fig. 27).

One of St. Paul's letters mentions this consecrating band. This time it is the one by which Paul regards himself as being bound by Christ, and Paul in his turn has bound a pupil, Onesimus, whom he thereby regards as his own son. In his letter to Philemon, he writes: From "Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ", and by this expression "desmios Christou", he emphasizes at once what he elaborates further in verses 9-10, that he has bound Onesimus -- once a slave -- to himself by the same bond. (Authorised version Philemon 10: "Onesimus whom I have begotten in my bonds", i.e. who has been initiated by Paul. [vii]) Paul writes not only as an "aged man" but as one who has been initiated by the Risen One Himself, a man who is equipped with the badge of the new community, the new brotherhood, the consecrating band. With the knot that he has received, he can bind others, but he does not wish to invoke the authority which has thus been given to him and so begs his brothers' help.



iii. See also Fig. 132, and page 110.

iv. By kind permission of Faber and Faber Ltd.

v. Translators note: This concept of "St. Christophorus" shows that his existence as an illustration of a way to the spirit is real enough, whether or not a single person ever had such a biography is quite irrelevant in this context. Anyone who is willing to take up the sacramental bond and strive towards the spirit can become a "Christophorus".

vi. The Garden of Heavenly Delights.

vii. Translator's note: it is unfortunate that the Authorised and New English Translations distort the meaning of these passages and make Paul describe himself a prisoner of the Christ Jesus -- this makes the study of the esoteric content of this passage very difficult.
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Postby admin » Sat Oct 03, 2015 6:22 am


The knee joint is a most important joint in the movement of the human organism, but at the same time it is through the knee that a man expresses feelings of devotion and reverence. We kneel to God or before those high dignitaries of Church and State who deserve our reverence or respect. In ancient astrological traditions, the knees are regarded as being under the influence of the "Goat" (Fig. 11 and Fig. 35). The goat, for these traditions, represents the sign of spirituality which gives man the ability to become inwardly active.

Fig. 35. Man and the Signs of the Zodiac.

Our next picture (Fig. 36) shows the knee of man illustrated as the seat of the higher sustaining forces of the pentagram. The horns are most interesting. The picture illustrates the act of communicating a certain spiritual event (see also Fig. 22 and notes on blowing the horn in Section 16).

Fig. 36 The horn signal of spirituality. Two men, are connected through spirituality and the word-power of the larynx. From "La queste du Saint Graal", trans. Albert Pauphilet; L'Album de Villard Honnecourt.

To return to our painting; the left knee of the prodigal son is visible. There is a hole in the trouser-leg in the area where a man at prayer touches the earth. By this means, Bosch points out the feelings of reverence and devotion which form the preconditions for the acquiring of deeper insight into the spheres of higher knowledge. There is an old expression in Holland "To thank God on bare knees", to which this may be an allusion. To convince ourselves further, other pictures can be studied, e.g. Fig. 38 from the 18th century, which shows the introduction of a neophyte to a lodge of Freemasons, according to the title page of the book in which the illustration can be found. One of the candidate's knees is bare, his shoelaces are loose, he cannot walk normally, he "limps". He has had to take off his "fine clothes", his breast is partially bare, he is temporarily blinded by a cloth over his eyes, to show him how "blindly" he has wandered through the world so far. We also refer the reader to Manbach [40] Gottedienstpflichten. Here the neophyte is called "Knight of the Rose Cross". Fig. 38 is easily interpreted and in many respects reminiscent of the Prodigal Son. The candidate finds himself "in a state of distress" -- he becomes aware of his helplessness. He has to lose the all too human portion of himself, only then may he expect to attain deeper insight. In this way, the Freemasons follow the oldest and most ancient rites of initiation.

Fig. 37. Title page, The Rites of Freemasons.

Fig. 38. Scottish Rite, a stage of initiation in Freemasonry.

To return to our theme, we have now realised that the prodigal son is shod and yet he is not shod, that he is off balance, that he is existing in two states of consciousness, in two worlds, or in other words, that he limps as did Jacob who wrestled with his angel (I Moses 32, 25). We will see yet more indications of the swaying to and fro of this individual soul in the picture.


Our painting has also been called 'The Hawker". A hawker goes from one house to the next, meets many people during his life and plies his trade everywhere. This is an excellent allegorical picture for a man who collects experience throughout his life, and also causes experience to others in the course of constant human interchange.

We cannot see what it is that the so-called hawker carries in his basket in this picture. A wooden spoon is attached outside, and beneath it a catskin.

His burden is obviously not a light one. He is not comfortable and the strap across his chest restrains his arms. The interpretation could be as follows: This man, at the end of his days on earth, drags the whole of his past life along with him as a burden. Its content remains hidden from his fellow human-beings, but it lies heavily upon him and hampers him in undertaking new tasks. Bosch always uses the wooden spoon to indicate the individual's having a profession, a means of earning his livelihood, and it can be found in other pictures (Hortus Deliciarum, Purgatorium, Temptations of St. Anthony, Ship of Fools).

On the other hand, the explanation of the catskin is not so simple or obvious. The cat is a creature drowsy by day, doubly active by night. Phases of passionate emotion (indicated by loud yowls) alternate with periods of calm. It is understandable why the ancient Egyptian goddess of the magic of love (Bastet) had a cat's head. The cat has the same symbolic meaning in the fairy tales of many lands as it seems to have here. Bosch is probably alluding to certain compulsive feelings of love and desire in the individual by using this symbol; the hawker has retained a last remnant, the catskin, of all these passionate experiences. However, although the cat is dead, its remains can still "electrify".

Taking the basket, the spoon, and the catskin together, one can interpret as follows: The heavy content of the burden of the man's soul remains hidden from others, but what he did to earn his daily bread on earth, is known to all. Probably his predilections for affection, love, passion, had also been known to those immediately about him, and had not been kept secret.

Proof that the foregoing is not mere speculation but was really the message which the painter intended to convey, can be found in the altar-piece in Vienna (Fig. 39). Here the same basket appears. In this scene of the fires of hell, a young man sits in the basket, held down by the demon. The face of this young man is identical with that of a young man in the Hortus Deliciarum [viii] (lower right between crystal pillars, Fig. 40 ). In that picture however, the young man is fully clothed. This indicates that he is an initiate with spiritual vision, who is experiencing the scene in the Hortus Deliciarum [viii] while he is still within his physical body [65]. In the earlier volume, this individual was named as Jacob von Almaengien. However, since we know now, thanks to the researches of Mosmans [42], how Hieronymus Bosch looked in his youth, we can say with certainty that Bosch has portrayed himself. The likeness to the young man in the basket (Vienna) is unmistakable. Thus Bosch has painted himself in the basket. As he has never used this basket in any other way and everything has a symbolic significance in his pictures, we can assume that the prodigal son is carrying with him in the same kind of basket the "Spirit of his youth" as a burden in his soul, with all its passionate indiscretions, hopes, and failures.

Fig. 39· HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from the Altarpiece, The Last Judgment. Vienna, Gemaldegalerie der Akademie der BildemijenKunste.

The Last Judgment

Fig. 40. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from the central panel of The Garden of Heavenly Delights. Madrid, Prado Museum.



The tree standing next to the central figure in the composition may be looked on as representing his "tree of life". On looking more closely at this tree (Fig. 41), a bulge, possibly a knot, can be seen half-way up the trunk. It looks like the scar made by the grafting knife, as though a gardener had grafted an improved variety of fruit tree on the pre-existent stem. Bosch shows by this that a mental crisis must have struck the life of the prodigal son suddenly. Many saints will be found to have experienced such a sudden turning point in their lives, e.g. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Hubert, etc. Suddenly they became aware of a change in their lives, a turning point, which gave them a new, and quite unexpected direction. Other great painters, e.g. Raphael, placed a "tree of life" beside men as a symbol. The forces of growth and vitality, the life forces, often appear, in the symbolic language of the Middle Ages, in the form of a tree.

Fig. 41. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from The Prodigal Son, the tree of life showing a knot in the trunk.


Recently some analytically-oriented psychologists have claimed that patients, if asked to draw a tree, may show by means of knots, or bare branches, or other deformities, the incidence of psychological trauma, or illness [38].


A small spindle is stuck, almost negligently, and as if for decoration, in the hat which the wayfarer holds out; it has a short thread. This is a symbol of deep significance and importance. Clearly, there is a special connection with the hat and the way in which this is held gives it extra prominence -- why?

In the paintings of Bosch, a hat denotes what the wearer has inside his head; if fashion vagaries are excluded, this can still be said often today. When he reaches the spiritual threshold, a man has to cast off the everyday ideas, which are geared only to this world. A new inner life then begins.

The weary traveller has taken off his hat and put a cloth on his head in its place (known as a kovel in Holland); this is like the headgear worn by the members of the fraternity of Our Lady at their services in S'Hertogenbosch. This ritual headcovering shows that the traveller's thoughts are already directed towards the other world, a world where thoughts are realities. The symbolic meaning of the object on the hat (Fig. 46) has been interpreted in many ways. Some writers see it as a cobbler's bodkin -- a sexual symbol! This misunderstanding has probably arisen because the stone ring is missing which is used in spinning to give the spindle more weight. However, these were only placed on the spindle during spinning, otherwise they were kept in a pocket so as not to be lost.

It can be proved that we are dealing with a spindle in this case, by the examples still extant in the collection of H. Wiegersma in the Folk Museum, Arnheim, Holland. Bosch has drawn them elsewhere (Louvre, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam) (Fig. 42 and Fig. 43), but so far as is known, he never drew a cobbler's bodkin.

Fig. 42. HIERONYMUS BOSCH. Sketch. Showing a spindle. Paris, Musee du Louvre.

Fig. 43. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Sketch. Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen.

Only a small thread hangs from this spindle on the hat; there is no more flax to spin, the thread of life has been fully used up (Fig. 46). We talk of the thread of life to the present day. In Northern myths the Norns were regarded as its keepers. Other spindles can be found, e.g. in a picture of Eve (Jacopo della Quercia, 1430, Bologna St. Petrino (Fig. 45), the mother of men, is shown with a spindle loaded with thread. Durer (1498) National Gallery of Arts, Washington), shows one of Lot's daughters with a loaded spindle (Fig. 44) and -- Giotto (1266--1337) shows St. Anne spinning (Fig. 47), see also Paul Brandt [14] Schaffende Arbeit und Bildende Kunst.

Fig. 44. ALBRECHT DURER, 1471-1528: Lot and his daughters. Washington D.C. National Gallery of Arts, Samuel Kress Collection.

Fig. 45. JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA, 1374-1438: Adam and Eve. Bologna, S Petrino ± 1430.

Fig. 46. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The thread of life has been used up. (detail), The Prodigal Son.


Fig. 47. GIOTTO, 1266?-1337: St. Anne spinning (detail). Padua, Capella degli Scrovegni.


In a previous work [65] reference has already been made to the hart or stag as the guide of the soul, the psychopomp. Bosch and his contemporaries always characterised this being by painting a stag, or at least a stag's antlers on a being with more or less anthropomorphic features. The psychopomp is always present, in spiritual form, as a kind of messenger for the spiritual world during processes of birth and death. The stag appears sometimes with, sometimes without antlers, as his symbol. This shows that the soul can be open to what enters from above, or may remain enclosed, shut within the living organism. The antlers which are shed every year and then grow again, larger than before, are a picture, a symbol of the growth of the soul. The psychopomp is really that which lies within the soul and makes it possible for the soul to move into the spiritual world, as it also enables the soul to exist in a physical body. (See also Psalm 42/2, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the Living God".)

In this painting, Bosch only lightly hints at the presence of the psychopomp in the hart's foot protruding from the wayfarer's jacket. This points to the approach of his end. It is certainly erroneous to interpret this as a pig's foot. The foot of the hart -- the key to another world for the soul that is gaining its freedom -- protrudes from a region not far from the heart.


The lacing of the jacket is loose, a cord is dangling. This can be interpreted to mean that the wearer is about to shed his physical body. Bosch has a similar theme in the picture of The Ascent to Calvary in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum (Fig. 48) and on the wing of the Lisbon altar-piece -- there too the criminals [>]are soon to die, i.e. to lose their bodies (Fig. 48, Fig. 57).

Fig. 48. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Ascent to Calvary (detail) Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum. (Fig. 89 is on the reverse side.)

Finally, we must point out the dagger and the fairly luxurious and definitely not empty purse, both objects which can only have significance for life on earth and which counterbalance the foot of the deer. They show how Bosch, in masterly fashion, quite unobtrusively juxtaposes the appurtenances of life and death.

It is only when one has begun to decipher the symbols woven into this late work of the master, that one can begin to have some conception of the tremendous spiritual knowledge that he has incorporated in it.


Bosch used the theme of the prodigal son also on this triptych (Madrid and Escorial, Fig. 49). It seems to this writer, that the Master had not yet reached his full stature and maturity of symbolic expression in that picture which is commonly known as The Hawker. The symbols of death here are still rather obtrusive -- the bones and skull of a horse and crows, -- and the pallor around the mouth here appears like a white unshaven beard. Also the little bridge, used here as in the Lisbon work [ix] to indicate a way into the other world, does not seem closely related to the symbols of death.

← Duck
Fig. 49. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Prodigal Son on the outer wings of the Hay Wain Triptych. Madrid, Prado Museum, and Escorial

In this picture, the knot in the tree of life is shown as a little house. This is too high for a shrine; it is a "house for soulbirds". One can see from a comparison with the more mature later picture that this little house had to be placed half-way up the tree of life, if it was to represent a change in the ideas and way of life in the middle of the life-span of the individual. This little house can only have meaning if it is regarded as the new home for the soul-bird of the individual, otherwise it would only be a jest. But with this Master, the smallest detail has significance. To prove this contention, an earlier work is reproduced here (Fig. 50).

Fig. 50. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Juvenile work. Painting in the ownership of Frau E. van der Feer Lader-Lohmann, Baarn Holland. The wise man has built himself a new little house for his soul "above in the tree of life", i.e. in his higher consciousness. Just because the symbols are still relatively primitive in this early picture, they can give clues to Bosch's later works.

To the left of the picture (Fig. 49), we witness the scene of a disgraceful robbery; on the right the simple pleasures of life are shown, while in the background on the hill, above the head of the man dragging himself along, is the gallows and wheel, not only representing earthly reality but also indicating the judgment in Heaven that is awaiting the individual.

The river Lethe, which forms the frontier between this world and the other, is indicated by the stream. Bosch has painted beside it, an egret, which was a holy bird already in Egyptian times. He always represents longing for the spiritual world within the soul by this bird (see also the Lisbon work).

On this side of the bridge, we find a duck. This bird is used by the painter to symbolise the capacity to learn, while a drake is used to mean the spiritual content transmitted in the educational process. These birds, like geese and swans, come from the air (spirit realm) into water. They can also move on land where they are at home, but with greater difficulty. From earliest times the soul, whether of angel or human being, has been represented by a bird. The ducks or geese come from spiritual realms (air), swim on the "oceans of the spirit on earth" and "breed on land", i.e. they move in the thinking of man and so develop and evolve upon the earth [36], [5], [20].

The reeds and rushes belong to the duck in symbol as in real life [24] (Rushes are ordinary plants which grow thick and close together by the waters. Through these characteristics they have become a symbol for the congregation of the faithful, who lead a humble life and keep to the teaching of the Church, which is the spring of living water).

This interpretation is based on Job 8, 11, "Can the rush grow up without mire? Can the flag grow without water?" These plants are also associated with the place whence comes the liberation of people, as the infant Moses (who is regarded as the ancestor of Christ) was found in the rushes (see Fig. 55).

Fig. 55. Reeds as a symbol. The Pilgrim, clearly recognisable by his staff and the seashells on his collar and hat, strides from the tree of life towards the reeds, i.e. from his birth he is travelling towards spiritual growth.

If one imagines the duck and the reeds together one can regard the rushes as representing life and growth, and the duck the spiritual element which seeks to unite with it. The effect of the spirit on a living and growing organism can also be described in one word as "education".

Both this "Prodigal Son" and the later work deal with a farewell to earthly life. However, at the time when he painted the Hay Wain, the artist probably had not yet the courage to combine the consecrating band and hart's foot with all the other symbols already in the picture. Perhaps at that time this would have been too obvious and too dangerous. Clement of Alexandria had already in 220 A.D. condemned the "Skin of hart", "the band across the brow" (commonly worn around the head at that time), "staff" and "ivy" as old symbols, and would only permit the mysteries of the Logos to be shown [46], and the Church enforced this point of view ever more harshly. In the Rotterdam picture, the ancient symbols are shown much more boldly. Probably Bosch thought circumstances to be more favourable, towards the end of his life, for showing such things more openly.


It has already been said that the painter had to beware of the Inquisition. Had the Inquisitors of the time understood what was painted in The Hay Wain, the painter would have found himself in an extremely difficult position.


Bosch was fully aware of this. He hinted at the spies of the Inquisition at first in quite an obscure way in the so-called Hawker or Vagabond, more clearly in the Hortus Deliciarum, and in The Temptations of St. Anthony, later also in The Prodigal Son. It is possible that he became bolder because the political situation changed and also because he knew that no one as yet understood him apart from a small intimate circle. It must also be borne in mind that his works were in different places and so could not easily be compared with each other.

The spies of the Inquisition at that time were chosen mainly from the order of Dominicans ("hounds of the Lord") and by the rule of their Order, they always went in pairs. We met these "domini canes" in the purgatorium of the Hortus Deliciarum [65] (Fig. 51) in the scene with the hare and the "naked ego" of the Inquisitor who now has himself to suffer in hell fire, the tortures which he had inflicted upon so many "hares", the symbol signifying spiritual, Le. independent and selfless men. (See Note 14 St. Anthony.)

Fig. 51. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Hounds in the purgatorium. Detail from the right inner wing of The Garden of Heavenly Delights. Madrid, Prado Museum.


Tryptych of the Garden of Heavenly Delights
Left Panel of the Garden of Heavenly Delights
Central Panel of the Garden of Heavenly Delights
Right Panel of the Garden of Heavenly Delights


In this work also we find the symbol of persecution and espionage -- the "domini canes" -- in the form of hounds, to the left of the picture where they precede the frightful representatives of the torturers of the Inquisition (Fig. 52).

Fig. 52. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Hounds. (Detail from the central panel.) The Temptations of St. Anthony.


The painter's intention becomes even clearer when, on looking carefully, we find a second dog indicated immediately behind the hound in this picture. Possibly it had been painted in one place and then shifted slightly? This seems unlikely. The Master's sureness of touch would seem to contradict this. It is more likely that Jeroen Bosch [xi] made an allusion here in the form of a mock penitence which must have raised a smile among his circle of friends who understood him.


In all these pictures, the dogs wear some sort of armour. In both pictures of The Prodigal Son, they wear a collar with dagger-like studs, small, but clearly painted. This collar may well be a sign of the persecutors of such people as refused to bow blindly to the dogma of the Church. Bosch places a similar collar around the neck of the persecutor of the Saviour (Fig. 53: Note also the half-moon and star, below left, on the headcloth of one of the torturers, which is used here as a symbol of disbelief).

Fig. 53. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Christ crowned with the crown of thorns. London, National Gallery. [x]


Two dogs play in the foreground of Bosch's painting The Marriage at Canaa (Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Fig. 54). These had been painted out in the course of time and have now reappeared, which only goes to show the complete lack of understanding of what it was that Bosch intended to show in these animals. The foregoing comments should furnish an adequate key to the understanding of what it was that Bosch wished to express.

Fig. 54. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Marriage at Canaa. Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen. In the foreground there are two dogs. One seems to be still innocent, the other (the poodle) points to the focus of poodles who is the devil himself (cf. Goethe, Faust, Part I). Here the two spies of the hunt for heretics of the time are peeping through the window.



Once it has been grasped that nearly all the paintings of Bosch also represent a great autobiography, it becomes easier to understand why he -- the wayfarer between two worlds -- paints his staff almost like that of a fool. The ambivalence in this symbol becomes clarified on seeing the gesture with which this staff is held to ward off the pursuing hound. Bosch pretends to be a fool to elude the Inquisition and remain safe from it. Besides, this symbol points to the saying in the Bible, "What may seem foolishness to man is wisdom before God". Outwardly the foolery is used as a support, while inwardly the staff of the mystic is being borne.

Many people have sought a self-portrait of the Master in The Prodigal Son. The self-portrait of Bosch has been determined with certainty, thanks to the research of Jan Mosmans and does not resemble the face of the prodigal son in this picture. But this picture is a portrait of a soul, the soul of the painter Hieronymus Bosch in old age. The Master of the delicate colour tones and the rich composition here shows the greatest heights of his art. As the picture grew with a relaxed and almost humorous self-appraisal, into a full confession of a whole biography, so also the composition points to the greatest degree of human maturity. Only the most mature individual can present his errors and weaknesses so frankly that even today critics suppose that they are looking at a "bad man". They do not know that he who is so advanced spiritually as Master Bosch, has also advanced in a calm self-knowledge of what is only too human within himself.

All this shows that The Prodigal Son must have been one of the last paintings by Hieronymus Bosch.



viii. The Garden of Heavenly Delights.

ix. The Temptations of St. Anthony.

x. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the National Gallery, London.

xi. Translator's Note: Hieronymus Bosch.
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Plate B. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Triptych, the three inner panels, The Temptations of St. Anthony. Oil on panel, wings 51-5/8" x 20-7/8" each, central panel 51-5/8" x 46-7/8". Courtesy of the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

Plate C. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from the left inner wing, The Temptations of St. Anthony, lower group. See sections 4 and 5 of the relevant text.

Plate D. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from the left inner wing, The Temptations of St. Anthony, middle group. See section 6.

Plate E. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from the right inner wing. The Temptations of St. Anthony, middle group. See sections 9-12, 15, 16, 18 and 20.

Plate F. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from the right inner wing, The Temptations of St. Anthony, the lower group. See sections 13 and 17.

Plate G. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony. See sections 23 and 28.

Plate H. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony. See sections 24, 25, 26 and 27.

Plate I. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony. See sections 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31.

Plate J. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony. See sections 32 and 33.

Plate K. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony. See section 31.

Plate L. Detail from the central panel, The Temptations of St. Anthony. See sections 34 and 35.

The Temptations of St. Anthony


There can be little doubt that Bosch identified with St. Anthony. This is very plainly shown by the fact that the figures, events and buildings shown on the central panel of the altarpiece, all belong to Bosch's own time. [?!] He painted several temptations of the saint. The most beautiful complete and mature version is to be found in the so-called Lisbon altarpiece. The inner panels of the triptych are filled to overflowing with demons. [!] At first it seems hopeless to an observer to try and discover any purpose, let alone a consistent thread, in the turbulent scenes which are so strangely linked with each other.

In contrast with the inside. the outer aspects of the wings seem to be very simply, colourlessly, even primitively executed: their deeply Christian content is easily deciphered. These outer pictures provide the key to what is shown within. The same plan is found in the triptych of The Garden of Heavenly Delights [65], whose outer aspect provides a prelude to what is offered within. Bosch has not presented us with mere inventions in this mighty work any more than he did in the other. As we can see in The Garden of Heavenly Delights, so here too in The Temptations of St. Anthony he systematically places one imagination against the next. All the three inner panels of the Lisbon altarpiece, as the picture is also known, show a supersensible panorama. They represent what St. Anthony perceives in the landscape of the soul during his periods of meditation.

St. Anthony himself in his physical guise appears twice on the left inner wing, once as he is borne off like one dead, and once in mid-air. On the right inner wing he is also shown, meditating and holding a book, and in the middle picture he kneels before the altar-rail.

Let us first study the outer aspects of the two wings.


The left side shows the scene which is described in the Gospel of St. John, 18/1-11, and of St. Luke, 22/49-51 (see Fig. 56).

[i]Fig. 56. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The capture of Christ. The left outer wing, The Temptations of St. Anthony, Lisbon, National Museum.


It is evening, the moon is half hidden behind a cloud, and the whole scene is composed in two great groups. Above, Jesus, surrounded by His captors, has fallen to His knees; His calm self-possession is sharply contrasted with the excited tumult of those who have captured Him. The humble posture, the crossed hands submissively folded, all express His readiness to be bound, and to accept the burden of the cross.

The scene shown in the lower half of this picture presents a complete contrast to that described above. St. Peter is brandishing his sword, in order to hack off the ear of Malchus. Above, the yoke is accepted -- here there is resistance to it. There, there is love, patience, devotion, here there is violence. It is significant that a brook separates the two scenes. It is the Cedron, but it represents the boundary between two worlds. We hear the first, and particularly well articulated sentence of the fundamental theme of this triptych: What position do I take up when I confront the forces of opposition in a moral situation? The second sentence: How can I place myself at the service of what is good? a question which inevitably now arises within the beholder, Bosch deals with much less obviously in the inner pictures.

A chalice is shown at the top of a steep mountain in the background -- the vessel of salvation. The body of Jesus, whose Passion has begun, is the holy chalice, in which Christ will go through death and resurrection: this vessel has also been called the Holy Grail.

On the left a bowed figure is creeping away, hands folded in prayer, and carrying a money bag over its back: it is Judas. This small detail points to a specific conception of the painter, deviating from the idea, which is commonly held, that in Judas we see only an ordinary betrayer. Judas expected that Jesus would prove Himself to be the Messiah who had been announced to the Jewish People, and who should re-establish its dominance and found a new terrestrial kingdom. He felt that he must accelerate events, and betrayed the Saviour in order that he might the sooner become a witness to His triumph. He was unable to imagine a suffering God, only a triumphant one. Now he prays that the heavenly hosts should come to the rescue (Note 1).

Beneath the scene with St. Peter there appear two "butcher birds" or red-backed shrikes, as we might expect. [ii] For Bosch this bird is the bird of death. Between them lie parts of a skeleton. These symbols tell us that where there is violence, and the use of the sword the butcher bird, violent death, is king. At the same time the two shrikes make the point that the events portrayed are taking place on the anniversary night of that event in Egypt when the Angel of Death, also known as the Destroying Angel, went abroad [ii]. The lantern that Malchus had held has fallen to the ground; the small flame is flickering: the spiritual light of Judaism is about to go out. (See Note 2.) At the side we see the Book of Life, in which all deeds on earth are written down. Below this stands a duck; it is the symbol of education (see Note 2 Prodigal Son and section 25). Its introduction here signifies that wherever men are educated the story of events of this night will be taught.

The garment of a youth who has fled naked, is lying on the shore of the brook, and hangs in the water. The main theme of this panel is, as already mentioned: How do I face up to what is good, and what is my attitude to what is evil?


On the right hand side (Fig. 57), it is broad day, but the sun is hidden. Again the events are divided into two large groupings. Above, the captors, now in a procession, have arrived at the foot of Golgotha. In their midst, Jesus has sunk to His knees. He is holding the Tao-shaped cross. His attitude expresses the readiness and the will to suffer. Simon of Cyrene goes to help carry the cross; Veronica is kneeling before Him, and offers the cloth to wipe the sweat from His brow. Below we can recognise two groups of three; the groups of the thieves. The theme first mooted in the left wing: How do I face up to what is good, and what is my attitude to what is evil? is continued here; both of the thieves give an answer to it. The one on the left turns from evil, repents his sins, and looks to the Saviour. This is expressed in the picture by his listening to the priest. The Book of Life in which everything that is done by men is written (Liber Mundi), lies close to him.

The thief on the right has his eyes bound; he cannot "see" anything, he is tapping about in the dark, and is spiritually blind. Both have their garments loosened at the neck and shoulders, and only held together by a string: a picture which shows that their physical bodies will soon be shed, as also shown in The Prodigal Son.

A fat woman with two children is standing with the captors above the thief on the right. She represents stupidity or illusion with her two offspring, naivety and lack of ability to discriminate, figures which can be found in the pictures of Bosch in various forms (see Note 3). They are witnesses of the carrying of the Cross, but it all passes them by without their comprehension and without leaving any effect. The small child on the shoulders of stupidity even reaches out in his naivete and offers his treasured apple to a soldier, who, as his gesture shows, has no idea what to do with it.

In our view the painter wishes to show by this that many souls prefer to retain a naive posture with regard to the mighty events that took place upon Golgotha, and by their childishness entrust their treasured fruits to wrong hands.

Immediately above this group there is a withered tree-trunk which divides into two branches; on one branch there sits another shrike, from the other there hangs a dead pig. Vertically below this we find in the lowest corner a broken gallows, with an executed criminal, and here too sits a shrike. The blind thief stands between these two motifs; above his head there is a broken post, which gives a vertical direction through the right-hand side of the picture. The pig is the symbol of all that is shown here; it represents the lower sense-dependent nature of man. The pig has become a banner.

Where the forces of the pig alone hold sway, man falls prey to stupidity and illusion; his spiritual cognition becomes blind, for he lacks any ability to discriminate, and this finally leads him to transgression and the death of the soul.

Fig. 57. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Christ bearing the Cross. The right outer wing The Temptations of St. Anthony. Lisbon, National Museum.


Above the dead criminal in the right lower corner of the picture hangs his sword; by this the painter would indicate: "All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword". (Matthew 26/52.) The theme of St. Peter and Malchus is here continued.

The question: How do I confront what is good, and what is my attitude to what is evil? finds its strongest expression in the upper group. The central figure of Jesus is kneeling in the middle. It is His third fall beneath the cross, and yet with what activity He is holding the cross while kneeling upright. An important trio is formed here including Simon and Veronica; they represent those who would follow the Christ.

We see that in relation to the other wing there are decisions made here, and conclusions drawn. Simon is standing here as the archetypal man who is prepared to help carry the cross, to take upon himself the suffering of the world; Veronica here represents the soul of man, offering itself to Jesus Christ, to receive Him into herself.

Between this group and that of the good thief below, there is yet another at the extreme left-hand side of the picture, again of three people. These accept the whole event as a side-show.

To sum up: at the top there begins the following of the Christ; below on the left the impulse of the Christ is beginning its healing influence on the converted, on the right in the centre it is totally rejected. Besides this there are those who pass everything by out of their habit of merely observing events, they are those who always remain indifferent.


As Bosch shows it was the essential pattern of the life of St. Anthony to have to be able to recognise and overcome demons. The Golden Legend [64], written in the 13th century tells of St. Anthony, how the hermit was beset again and again by hordes of demons, and plagued almost to death. The battle of St. Anthony to assert his ego is very reminiscent of the striving of Faust. We can elaborate this parallel by a scene from the life of Anthony: "When on another occasion he lay hidden in a coffin, an army of demons brought him to such a pass that his servant bore him off upon his shoulders for dead. As all who had gathered to mourn wept, Anthony returned to life before their eyes and bade his servant to return him to his coffin. Although he lay there stretched in pain, he demanded in the courage of his spirit that the demons should come forth and do battle with him. They appeared to him in the guise of various wild animals, and cruelly tore him with their teeth, horns and claws. Suddenly Anthony saw a wonderful light that drove the demons away, and he was immediately well. He recognised the presence of the Christ, and said: Where were you, dear Jesus? Where were you? Why were you not here from the beginning to help me and to heal my wounds? The Lord answered him: Anthony, I was here, but I waited to see you fight. Now, as you have fought so bravely I will make you known over the whole earth".

Fig. 58. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: General view of the three inner panels of the altar-piece. The Temptations of St. Anthony. Lisbon,
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. (See Plate B.)


Thus according to the legend, it is by divine will that man confronts with his ego-forces those demons that are within each of us. One can put it more concretely and say:

Anthony -- to borrow an expression of Lessing's -- felt himself to be especially responsible for the education of the human race, for he was aware that once an ordinary human being had succeeded in accomplishing some thing, others would find it easier to follow him. We are convinced that Bosch not only wished to portray St. Anthony, but also to express himself through the image of the Saint. One notices throughout how he uses the figure of the Saint as a pretext, to show his own convictions and the situation in his own time. He kept to the Golden Legend however, which was well known to everyone, and used this as a disguise for his own world philosophy.

Bosch, as we shall see, tells the story as follows:

St. Anthony's resolve to become a contemplative hermit was aroused in him through the word of Christ to the rich youth: "If you would be perfect go and sell all you possess and give it to the poor". The young Anthony had first, out of the strength of his own soul, to part with all earthly riches, in order to be able to free his inner gaze for the perception of the realities of the spiritual world.



The large main group in the centre of the picture show the theme with which it is concerned. Anthony is being carried across the bridge by three brothers (see Note 5) He had been hidden in the coffin, he was in the death-like sleep of a state of trance, as told in the Golden Legend. It is clear that Bosch knew this legend, and took it as his main theme. This is the scene that shows how the brothers have fetched Anthony out of his grave where he had experienced his initiation. A bridge signifies a transition: here it is the transition from the land of death back into the land of the living.

Beneath the bridge there are those who can understand nothing of this way, who never in their life strove within their souls to attain the yonder from this side of life. Anthony can see how these would have behaved had he really died. In the Golden Legend is the sentence: "As all who had gathered bewailed the dead ..." Above all there would have been much gossip, but none would understand what kind of death he had died. "Stupidity", the figure on the left in the centre of the picture in a vertical line with the heron on the egg, is blowing at full strength on her bagpipes. (In Bosch's pictures bagpipes can be taken to signify meaningless gossip.) Without any reticence she allows everything to run on like the silly cow attached to her, that is being generated by her imagination. Her grey sparrow-soul has sat itself upon the cow's tail, like a flag. Bosch has often used the sparrow as such a symbol, as it is the commonest bird there is (see Note 6). The group beneath the bridge sees a dead sparrow before it, and would have regarded the death of St. Anthony in exactly the same way, as a common event, the death of Everyman. The dead sparrow under the bridge denotes this (see Plate C). Here a monk with an obviously stupid face is reading out the news of Anthony's death. The devil and the nightjar are talking at the same time. The nightjar (caprimulgus) as his name indicates, is a bird that sleeps by day, and wakes and finds its food at night. As a "soul-bird" it is the symbol of a dreamy state of consciousness, which lacks the clear wakefulness of the day. Monks easily fell into such a state of consciousness, indeed their life demanded it; so we need not be surprised that this monk can only understand the letter in this sense.

A strange messenger bears the envelope of this letter that has just been delivered in his beak. On the shoulder of his coat he has the sign of a builder's hut, not that of the Freemasons which is different. The envelope probably bears the name "Bosco" but Bosch himself was called Bosso, or Bosco in Spain. This shows how Bosch identifies himself with Anthony, for it was Bosch himself who belonged to the guild of building-workers, certainly not Anthony. Master-builders, sculptors, masons and painters were combined in one guild. We can therefore regard this being that brings the "Bosso-deathletter" as the representative of the fellow guild members of the painter. The inner nature of this colleague is as usual shown in the form of a bird, in this case a crossbill. (Loxia curvirostra). The funnel which is upside down on his head shows that no water of heaven, no wisdom from above, can flow into him, and he is quite cut off. The tiny opening is even blocked by a dead twig, a sign of complete sterility. From it, and of course to the rear, there dangles a red ball. Bosch would say here: this type of fellow-guildsman behaves in very Christian fashion, he also occupies himself in his work with religious buildings and pictures, and chatters all day about the cross, but in fact he is without any true religion. Such artists pretend that they have received teaching, which however they do not take seriously or understand. Hence their art cannot be alive or inspired from above.

Fig. 59. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The left inner wing. The Temptations of St. Anthony.


We have often found a red ball in Bosch's pictures. In The Garden of Heavenly Delights (middle panel) it is clearly representative of the "causal body" [65]. We must briefly describe its significance in connection with what is shown here:

Individuals who are gifted have not gained their talents only through inheritance -- how frequently a genius stands at the beginning of a dynasty. Nor have they won their gifts out of nothing. The fruits of former earth-lives slumber within them as the potential of genius. They carry these fruits with them as their "causal body". These are the abilities and strengths which have been brought out of one earthly life into cosmic existence, and are then brought back as compressed activity -- hence the red "ball of causation". If such gifted people fall into a dead rut in life, they carry their abilities with them, but fail to develop them further. They become mere technicians in their art, and so, as artists, misuse their talents. They carry nothing forward into the future, but live on their past. Thus in the picture the ball is appropriately carried behind the bird's head (see Note 7).

The crossbill moves like a being wafted by satanic forces, gliding on skates over the ice. This means: Guild members of this sort no longer stand within life filled with the spirit; they no longer make progress by their own efforts, rather they slip and slide along on frozen traditions. One could say: the water of life has been frozen over by the inner coldness of their souls. Such a spirit then resembles the beings of an ahrimanic nature [iii] such as we find in the "purgatorium". (Fig. 60 and Fig. 61.)

At the same time the beholder can see what an early death would have meant for him. The young heron on the left is the representative of death. The great destroyer of life on earth would have swallowed him up, together with the old toad, i.e. with everything that still lived within him that belongs to the sexual life, and had not yet been purified and transformed (see Note 9). The young birds that are coming out of the egg on which the heron of death is standing, would have been killed, as also the little one near the egg. The "young ibis in the egg" too, the symbol of the possibility of deep spiritual development -- even this would have been destroyed. Why a young heron? Because here we are dealing with the death of a young person. Above in the picture a young heron with a sickle appears again as the symbol of death.

Fig. 60. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The crossbill on skates (see Plate C) (detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony).



Above the three brothers who are carrying Anthony in their arms we can see a young man lying upon his knees, bowed down under the burden of lands and estates. With his body he covers a small house, which has a woman looking out of its window. Beside this there stands a lance or spear, and a cask with a white jug upon it (see Fig. 62 and Plate D). An arrow is protruding from the forehead of the man, which has probably been shot at him by a satanic archer. We will show later where this archer is concealed.

If we look up the Golden Legend we shall soon understand what is shown here:

Fig. 61. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: purgatorium. The devil presented as a spoonbill on skates detail. The Garden of Heavenly Delights. Madrid, Prado Museum.


"When Anthony was twenty years old, he heard it read in church: 'If you would be perfect, go and sell all that you possess, and give it to the poor.' So he went and sold all he had, divided it among the poor and led the life of an hermit."

Anthony sees himself in retrospect in this panorama; his past rises before him; he sees himself as a youth; in other words, he recognises the spirit of his youth. His goods have brought him down. He can no longer progress, because the weight of his riches is pressing on him. His thinking has been poisoned; he stares out into the world dumbly and without comprehension. Because of this his legs have become wooden, so that he no longer stands within life in an active way, his way of life is sterile and unfruitful, he makes no progress in his own development (the feet are missing). His striving and his will have become stiff and wooden. In the words of an idiom, he has strayed onto a wooden path. Just as thinking is attributed to the head, and feeling to the mid-region of the body, with the heart and lungs, so the will is associated in man with the metabolic and limb-system in common parlance. In German it is said idiomatically that the will goes to the legs. A man's resolution, his force of will shows in his step. Here, however the inner force of uprightness is lacking, hence also the symbol of individuality, the spear, is leaning sideways.

Fig 62. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The young Anthony bowed down under the weight of his lands (see Plate D) (detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony).


We can assume that the painter is alluding to the words of Jesus Christ about the rich young man from the Gospel of St. Luke, 18/18-30, since he shows a woman looking out of the little house. In that case Anthony may have been carrying the image of a woman in his innermost heart. This woman must have played an important part in the life of Anthony, for she also appears twice on the other inner wing, and once on the middle picture of the triptych. If we assume that Anthony had left her in order to take up the life of an hermit, as is also mentioned in chapter 14 verse 26-7 and verse 33 of the Gospel of St. Luke the relevant passages become clear in an outer worldly sense. However it is also perfectly possible that Bosch here represents the soul of Anthony himself as a woman, for to imaginative experience the soul appears in feminine guise (and the spirit appears as masculine). In that event the woman in the house could have the same significance here as in The Prodigal Son, she would represent the soul of the individual concerned. Thus the woman here is the representation of the soul of St. Anthony which is watching in the house of his body for the outcome of events, while the ego of Anthony has not yet resolved upon his course. She sits and waits for what is to come. We are often met with dual meanings in the work of Bosch, but his dual explanations are never irreconcilable. The woman is looking towards the empty cask and the leaning spear; both are motifs which we have already met combined together in a similar way in The Prodigal Son. The soul of Anthony knows that at the present time she is unable to draw new impressions from her surroundings, but that the inner possibility is there for her to receive new spiritual content through a new white vessel.

St. Anthony can also see what is positive in all this negative landscape. This is indicated by the bright white jug. On St. Anthony's right leg (the side of activity), a small white flag is waving hopefully, a sign that he will presently raise himself from his fallen posture; on his left leg (the side of the heart) we can even discern the glimmer of a white bandage, the first sign that he has become bound anew to God [iv] His conversion is also shown by the appearance of the real face of St. Anthony, his future adult man's face, which is looking out backwards from between the legs of the young Anthony. His matured face can be seen in the dark cavern shining through a cobweb-like structure which is hanging from the crotch of the young Anthony.

Now we must study the middle portion of the picture. From the left a fish-like creature within a scorpion-shaped armour-plated vehicle is approaching. It moves upon wheels, has the legs of a locust to enable it to jump, and bears a church spire on its back. From its jaws protrudes the tail of a half-swallowed fish, which bears a nest containing an egg upon the tailfin. The driver of this vehicle must be the diabolic being who had shot the arrow into Anthony's forehead, for he carries a variety of weapons.

This is a terrifying imaginative picture of the Church of that time, which appears before the spiritual eye of Anthony, alias Bosch. The dead shell of the scorpion carries inside it the Fish of Christianity. In Greek the word "fish" is "ICHTHYS". The single letters were taken as the symbols for the initials of the Christ, as follows:

Iesus CHristos THeou Yios Soter, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Redeemer (Saviour).

During the times of the catacombs in early Christian centuries, the fish was used without hesitation as the symbol of Jesus Christ. In the picture of The Garden of Heavenly Delights Bosch used this symbol not only to indicate the Christ, but also Christianity as it existed upon the earth, in church and ritual.

Here the fish of church-Christianity is stuck in the scorpion shell. The twelve apostles were each held to represent aspects of cosmic realities, to each was assigned one of the signs of the Zodiac. It is well known that St. Thomas, for example, expressed the picture of the Twins, Gemini. In esoteric knowledge Judas was regarded as the representative of those forces that inhabit the constellation of the Scorpion. In the circle of the apostles he was the "scorpion". Judas wished and strove, like Judas Maccabeus, for a renewal of Judaism, an outer kingdom, earthly power and might, in short, "a kingdom of this world" (see Note 1).

To be stuck within the shell of the scorpion therefore may be taken as a wish to represent a terrestrial domain, a political power, instead of the kingdom of love. The Church had the sting of the scorpion, for it ruled through physical might. The immense dues and taxes which in the time of Bosch were being demanded by the clergy, caused this institution to resemble a locust, that eats the land bare. Therefore the fish of the Church is no longer swimming in the water of life, as Christ, the True Fish; it is propped up on dry land on two flippers, and the rest of its body is borne by an iron machine. A bureaucratic organisation had developed from the spiritual community of the priesthood, which ruled with iron discipline, even by violence. This had swallowed the fish of Christianity as far as the tail. But here there is still a nest, with a shining egg: the possibility of renewed development is given here in embryo, but the true fish is trapped by a catch-ball. This ball means that what was originally given to the young Christianity at its beginning as possibilities and potentialities, has been caught and confined. For example not long before Bosch's time there was a struggle raging between three Popes; indulgences in the time of Pope Leo were sold dearly for money, etc. There is no need here to go further into the aberrations of the Mother Church at that time.

The driver of the Church-scorpion resembles the devil who looses forth his arrows -- i.e. men are not converted in a Christian way to new thinking, but aims and intentions are shot into their minds by force, so that they become muddled and entangled and true Christianity has been ensnared.

Fig. 63. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The soul of Anthony becoming loosened from its physical bonds (detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony).


Diametrically opposite the armoured fish, at the edge of the bare grazed field, we can recognise a dignitary of the Church, whose hand is pointing impressively to the church-fish. He is accompanied by three figures; who are these three companions? One is the fiend with the spoonbill, who is already known to us from the round picture in the Rotterdam Museum (Fig. 91, Note 20), and the purgatorium, and whom we often meet in Bosch's pictures. He is the spirit of the forces of rigidity in thinking and the forces of darkness, Satanas, or Ahriman, also known as the Mephistopheles of lies, because be pretends to man that the material world is the only one that is true and worth striving for. Beside this figure there walks a hart clad in the purple of a prelate. The inner striving after divine goals, which is given to man as the companion of his soul, as psychopompos, (the hart with his antlers, which continually strive upwards, and are always renewed and enlarged), has dressed himself up as a priest (see also Note 8, Tabula Smaragdina). He operates under the cover of the purple of the Church; that is to say that man has not learned independent direction of his soul, nor has he practised the discipline of his inner being, but that the Church directs birth and death as it does the conduct of daily life. This leader of the soul does not lead to Christ, but to that caricature of the true Church of Christ. For this reason both fiends are advancing under the outstretched mantle of the dignitary. He however, carries a half-moon [and star] upon his bishop's crook, the symbol of unbelief, one that at that time was well known, and much feared. It was not only the emblem of the Turks who had invaded Europe but also the symbol of that spiritual stream of Arabism against which Thomas Aquinas had already fought, under whose power however many clerics of that time had fallen.


The third figure with the white hat is turned outwards. All the same he belongs to the group. The white hat represents a form of thinking that is not concerned with what is of the material earth. If such non-materialistic thinking has such companions it will eventually serve the pseudo-christianity whose path all three are treading together.

So the middle of the picture shows us the past of Anthony, alias Bosch, in the time before he had resolved to live the life of an hermit. He had received an arrow of Satan in his thinking; his desire was for earthly things; his possessions prevented him from making any advance spiritually. He recognises the church as a caricature of the true Church of Christ.


Though the lower portion of the picture shows us how earthly ideas are still mixed with death in his imaginative experience, we can recognise in the uppermost part of the panel that his soul has become further freed from his physical body, for Anthony feels himself to be airborne (see Fig. 63).

In the Golden Legend this episode is described as follows: "Once when he was borne into the air by angels, the devils came, prevented his flight, and showed him all his sins that he had committed from the time of his birth" ... etc.

One can see that Bosch has only used the Golden Legend to portray his own ideas.

Anthony has not died, but has taken a further step "across the threshold". He is wafted on a toad, which signifies that he is still bound to a masculine body. He overcomes the devils by prayer. Such a degree of release from the body is not without danger; the scythe of death is near to him, held by a young heron, whom we have already met in the lower part of the picture, and bearing the same meaning. As the heron is upside down in this case, we can see that Anthony will not lose his life.

Fig. 64. From the studio of JAN BORMAN ± 1493. The figure of a knight with a fishtail on the chair of the church in Diest, Belgium.

One must not mix up the two different symbols for death, the shrike, and the heron. The former symbolises violent death, the second death as such, that is rather, natural death. In this more intense spiritual vision Anthony can see the present state of his being. Although the two great opposing forces, the wolf-faced Satan-Ahriman, and the bat-winged Diabolos-Lucifer, as well as the toad of his sexuality are still active he is also a knight in armour, who fights with an iron will in the oceans of the spirit. In the Middle Ages men and women, even horses were often depicted with the tail of a fish. This was meant to show that they were not to be regarded as physical beings (see Fig. 64). We can see this in the second picture on the left in the air. He is seated upon the fish, which in his youth he only experienced as a caricature of a true Church within the scorpion's shell. Now he knows that a man can free himself from this fish. He must himself grasp the image, the symbol of the True Fish, Jesus Christ, and bear Him in his arms; but he can also see how far he still is from this ideal, once he studies his higher self. The third picture on the right in the air shows us this. Bosch always represents this "I" (ego) in spiritual-vision, as a naked human being. This ego which examines the world from below, as children like to do in their play, is travelling in a boat of life, which is being carried by the nightjar; i.e. it is sailing along in a dream. A shark-like preying fish has sprung into the boat: the wild unbridled greed for possessions. The rope that leads up to the crow's nest, is tied to the tail of the monster. This shows that the everyday ego, the little man, still holds on to the desires of the sense-world. No wonder that he cannot reach the lookout. Bosch has painted it dark, because as it lives in the body it is still in the dark, like the helmsman in the bows of the ship, which is another aspect of the individual. The rescue boat carries a frog upside down; the man can save himself from the shark through the transformation of his procreative forces, but the boat is tied to the tail of the nightjar. So even this transformation is more connected with the dreaming Anthony who has turned from the world, instead of overcoming it. But the rescue boat is surrounded by birds by which Bosch indicates a host of thoughts or attitudes of soul.

If we add that the knight on the fish has no feet we can take the basic theme of this whole vision of himself to be the following: Anthony can see that his battling and efforts still mean little for the world around him. He does not yet stand upon the earth as a knight of the spirit. He is an ascetic and a dreamer, and still travels, as the little boat shows, with a broken mast.


On studying the landscape, which forms a background for these events, we notice two ships in the bay. (Plate D and Fig. 59.) One has been shipwrecked, because it had been steered towards a false beacon but the other is sailing with full sails towards the torch and the cross painted below it, which is the beacon in the harbour. The theme of the old and new beacons will recur twice more and we will only touch on it here. Anthony had to choose between two direction-giving points; if he had not altered his thinking at a certain point, he would have suffered shipwreck from a spiritual point of view.


We found on the left inner wing the temptation to become too attached to all that the earth offers, to the satisfaction of the senses, and the longing for power and riches. For this reason we find portrayed there all that is connected with the physical body.

On the right side other temptations are shown, and particularly the temptation to lose courage, because the soul, too weak before the challenge of mighty tasks, threatens to break down.

A possible consequence of such a breakdown is the false and unchristian idea: flee the world, for anyway you can achieve nothing. This is the second temptation; it can be seen in many oriental paths of spiritual thought.

To arrive at a proper explanation it is necessary, when dealing with such a wealth of pictorial motifs, also mixed with lesser temptations from earlier life, to analyse one image at a time, and then to follow the ideas which connect these images together.


Let us begin with Anthony himself, who sits in the centre, painted as a large figure, immersed in thought. (See Plate E and Fig. 65.) He still holds in his hand the book of his own life that he has just been reading, and in his vision he views his past and a possible future. In his hand he holds his staff, which indicates that he will continue upon his earthly path awake in himself, like a Christophorus. Bosch has again put the T sign on the garment of Anthony, as in the left panel.

Looking at the flat landscape that surrounds Anthony we can see a mill in the upper left corner. If we hark back to the motif of the thought-mill in the purgatorium scene, which is on the right inner wing of the Hortus Deliciarum [v] in the Prado, Madrid, and in which Bosch painted a mill directly over the head of the tree-man, we can find the beginning of the train of thought that the painter has spun here in his own rather concealed manner. Had we not clearly recognised what is happening in the purgatory scene, and particularly within the tree-man [65], the connecting links here would necessarily remain obscure. (Fig. 66.) There, on the mill-stone of thought, we find apart from the bagpipes, (the symbol of gossip), the symbols of money (a purse of the time of Bosch), mockery (the mocking-bird, which had just been imported from Brazil), a woman, and wrath (an upright bear). Anthony has already trained himself out of gossiping. But still we find here the thought-mill, woman, mockery, wrath, and even the opposite of gold and riches, poverty. In the purgatory scene there is shown the picture of the soul of a man who has passed through the gates of death. Here is shown the picture of the soul of Anthony who has attained a point in his own development that is so advanced that he can in his soul pass freely across the threshold of death as is otherwise only possible after death.



i. Trans. Note: This is the author's translation of the title of the altarpiece "Hortus Deliciarum", which is usually called "The Garden of Delights" by English Bosch scholars. See Prodigal Son, note 1.

ii. Trans. Note: Butcher bird = der Wurger in German Destroying Angel = der Wurge Engel

iii. See translator's preface.

iv. Translator's Note. See comment on the significance of the leg-bandage in section 16 of "The Prodigal Son".

v. The Garden of Heavenly Delights.
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On looking at the first soul-picture of Anthony the old Faust motif can be recognised. (Fig. 65, and Plate E.) A naked, ape-like human soul-form lies fainting on its back, raises a glass in its right hand, and waits for the luciferic she-devil to pour him a drink out of the phial that is held ready. Anthony can see here the impotence of his own soul, which has whispered to him: all your trouble is in vain, you cannot improve the world, or attack what is evil or compel the good; drink but of Lethe's draught of oblivion out of the phial, and you will be rid of all the misery.



Fig. 65. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The right inner wing. The Temptations if St. Anthony (see Plate E and Plate F).



Fig. 66. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Head of the tree-man and the thought-grinding mill in the purgatorium (detail from The Garden of Heavenly Delights). Madrid, Prado Museum.


Goethe, in Faust I, following an ancient tradition, causes the sound of the Easter bells of the resurrection to dispel this unchristian mood of soul; evidently Bosch was drawing upon the same tradition.

In Goethe's Faust I [27] the choir of angels sings:

Christ is raised up,
Death has no sting
Love's blessed King
Lives conquering
Trials that bring
Misery's cup

Goethe then ends the scene with the lines:

Begin once more, oh sweet celestial strain
Tears dim my eyes: earth's child I am again.

That Anthony also overcomes this temptation, and that this is very salutary for his soul is clearly shown by the event that is painted above his head, to which we will return in Section 16. This portion of the picture is dominated by the mocking bird that is sitting above on the withered twig. If this symbol of mockery, this becoming aware of one's own folly after the event, is not recognised, much will remain obscure. We shall show that this motif of the mocking bird occurs in several parts of the right inner wing.



On the left, facing the picture of Anthony, a curtain is being drawn aside. The naked woman, who now appears within a dead rotted tree, is often regarded as the "temptation of St. Anthony". If this figure were to represent a temptation, she would need to be painted as a young seductive beauty. In that case she would certainly stand in a different posture, and within different surroundings. (See Fig. 67 and Plate E).

Fig. 67. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Faust Motif (see Plate E) (detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony).


We can find this woman in all the stages of Anthony's life. We believe we recognise her in the little house, that the young Anthony was trying to guard when he was still bowed down under the burden of his lands. She is painted kneeling beside Anthony on the middle panel of the altar-piece, and also appears in mid air riding on the fish, on the right inner wing. If we take all these aspects of the woman together, her meaning for Anthony becomes obvious as "the woman in his life". Whether this woman did in reality enter his life or not is not the most important thing. For a painter like Bosch the important factor is the nature of femininity. As has already been said, the soul always presents itself to the imaginative vision in female guise, while the ego of the human being with its active aspect, always appears as masculine. To this extent every person bears the two polarities of the male and the female within himself. If the soul-battles of a St. Anthony are to be depicted therefore) this feminine aspect must also appear. We must again mention however that it is perfectly possible that a real woman was also present in his life. Here too Bosch lifts outer events into the inner picture.

Here he experiences the woman as his sexual opposite. This is shown by the toad which is sitting beneath her figure, at the edge of the water. (See Note 9.) As the Saint (also Bosch himself) recognises the human body as withered through the fall, it is not surprising that the painter represents it as a dead tree. Above all the picture of the mocking bird in the tree is important. Anthony regards this whole aspect of life self-mockingly. For this reason the bird is sitting above the woman. It shows that Anthony is mocking the impotence of his own soul.


In the Golden Legend there occurs the following:

Someone asked Anthony: what rules must I keep to please God? Anthony answered: Wherever you go, have God before your eyes, find support for your deeds in the witness of Holy Writ; when you have settled in a place, do not leave it too soon. Keep to these three things and you will be saved. An abbot asked Anthony: What shall I do? Anthony answered him: do not trust to your own justice, deny your belly and your tongue, and you will not have cause to repent any thing that has happened. Then he added: As the fish die if they have been too long where it is dry, so also with monks, who remain outside their cells and have dealings with worldly people. They soon forget the vow of seclusion.


The dying fish, hit by the arrow of a Luciferic demon, belongs to this mood; it lies to the right below the curtain, a symbol that would say how soon the new life in the spirit dies if one falls into the temptation of mourning one's old worldly life.


The saying quoted above, "deny your belly" has also found expression in the picture in connection with wrath and mockery (see Plate F and Fig. 65). In the true Christian sense mockery is only justified when it is directed against one's own impulses. The pot-belly on legs still lived within the soul of Anthony, but he has himself murdered it by his own hand. Below on the right we see an imaginative representation of the potbelly, impaled on the dagger of righteous wrath. Anthony still has the monk's hood. He knows himself that he cannot place too much reliance upon his own righteousness, that beneath his own "head" the evil forces still cause mischief. Anthony has thrown this second hood behind him; a small dark ball that is attached behind it shows that it belongs to his past. The form of the hood resembles a lizard which again indicates that not everything in his past was particularly beautiful (see Plate E).



The upper lefthand picture has also grown from his self-mockery and is connected with these ideas. (See Fig. 68.) The couple on the fish are complementary to the old man in the baby-walker, for both deal with the idea of what might possibly have become of Anthony had he not left house and home and changed the tenor of his thinking, but had led instead a bourgeois kind of life. Then he would probably have become a philistine like the little man shaped like a money-bag riding on the fish, who is painted in mid-air above the mill and the burning light-house, and who bears a marked resemblance to the money-bag demon on the mill-stone in the purgatorium [65]. He would have become similar to many others who believe that one needs only to sit on the fish of church-Christianity, in order to go straight to heaven together with one's dear wife, or one's own precious soul. However, this is not so. If we allow ourselves to be carried quite passively by that institution, without even transforming our potbelly, even the dark ball of the causal body becomes changed. It is turned into a belching torch of pitch. This travesty of a shining little causal body is also a play upon the fact that we carry something demoniacal in our banner if we fancy that we are entitled to journey to heaven in such an unpurified state. Today, as in the time of Bosch, the devil is called in Dutch "Joosje Peck" (pitch). The torch of pitch is to be regarded as a flag of the devil.

Fig. 68. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The fish in mid-air (detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony).



Another picture of his soul appears to Anthony "behind his back". (See Fig. 65 and Plate E.)


Now he can make sport of what previously caused him anxiety, while he faced the decision whether to change his ways in real truth and to leave everything that he possessed. He had also asked himself, while he still lacked the courage for such a decision, what would become of him if he were to become old and frail, poor in wealth and feebleminded.

Now he sees his former horrifying picture of himself in his imagination: himself, become childish, in a baby-walker, as used for small children who cannot yet stand upright. In the time of Bosch children were placed in such rectangular structures in order that they might learn to walk. (See Fig. 69, detail of a picture which is reproduced in its entirety in Fig. 80).

Fig. 69· Babywalker to teach infants to walk, detail from a Cebes table. Kassel, Landes museum. (See Fig. 80.)

He is holding a child's windmill on a stick in his hand. This self-spinning wheel is a secret symbol of the sun which Bosch has also placed in the hand of the boy in his picture known as The Playing Boy, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (see Fig. 89). We are convinced that this picture is intended to represent the Jesus child of the Gospel of St. Matthew.

At one time children's toys were based on, and indicated, archetypal symbols; this sun symbol here reveals what dwelled in the innermost heart of Anthony although, on the other hand his want of trust in God was still hindering him. Now he knows quite certainly within himself that he no longer has to fear anything of this sort, certainly not mental impairment. The next section will show clearly why we can be sure of this.

If one contemplates this vision of Anthony as he had been in his past, and recognises the humour with which he now sees himself, one is reminded of The Prodigal Son, and of the creator of these two paintings, who must have felt all this in his soul to be able to paint it like this.


Above the head of Anthony, between the she-devil pouring the drink of Lethe, and the horrific picture of the possibility of becoming childish in old age, we can discern two quite small symbols which turn out to be most important once one has learned to understand the painter's language. [?!] On the left there is a porcupine, and on the right the skeleton of an animal and some bones. (See Plate E.)

The hedgehog is to be found in Europe, the porcupine, among other places, in Africa. Both are armoured, but neither is imprisoned like a tortoise within his armour, their coat of barbs is merely for protection against attackers, they can put them up or lay them flat as they please. They can roll themselves into a ball and are then protected against attack, but unroll again when they are no longer under threat. It is worth noting that Bosch chose to use the porcupine for this symbol; he is sometimes inclined to use the African fauna although he had never seen the animals himself, and had to rely upon descriptions. We connect this with the journey that Christian Rosenkreutz made via Damascus, Damcar and Fez through North Africa to the south of Spain, as is told in the Fama Fraternitatis [1], [67]. In Europe the hedgehog was usually taken as the symbol to denote the same thing. Its "signature" [vi] can be found in the Apocalypse of St. John 3/7: "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.

I know thy works: Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name." The word little is not intended here as derogatory. By it is meant the little strength of the ego into which man is compressed into one point. He who has found himself as an ego -- who is no longer dependent on blood or kindred, or the circumstances of a people or a race, he has an open door before him, he can follow the Christ. ("I am the door", says the Christ.) Then the ego becomes unselfishly loving, and in this state it can open itself for all men and for the whole world in love. However it can also shut itself off entirely from its surroundings, as Anthony was now also able to do.

Bosch has painted this symbol of the porcupine beside Aegidius on his Altarpiece of the Hermits (see Fig. 70) and in the Zodiac (see Fig. 71), and the Paradise scene, both in the Hortus Deliciarum [vii]. These examples again show that Bosch was consistent in his pictorial language. From another example, portraying the European porcupine, the hedgehog, we may assume that others were also familiar with this symbol. An unknown sculptor has used a hedgehog in a stone group on the outside of the cathedral of Amiens. (See Fig. 72.)

Fig. 70. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Right wing of the altar of the Hermits (Aegidius) Venice, Palace of the Doge. The porcupine is arrowed.


Fig.71. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: Detail from The Garden of Heavenly Delights, Madrid, Prado museum.


Fig. 72. Relief from Amiens Cathedral.

Here the hedgehog is accompanied by the sign of the TAO, which Anthony also always wears; it is surrounded by a church, and above it there is a dove, representing the Holy Ghost in the language of Christian symbolism. Here then the sign of the TAO cross, borne by Anthony, is brought into relationship both with the hedgehog, and with the open door.

We can find the porcupine carved in stone in Dijon (see Note 10). In fairy tales the hedgehog plays the same part with the same meaning: among others no. 108, Hans my hedgehog, and no. 187, The hare and the hedgehog, in the collection of the brothers Grimm [28]. The latter is a typical fairy tale of the Rosicrucians.

So it can be seen that in different lands the hedgehog was used as a symbol, in the same way that Bosch used it. The Rosicrucian source for the use of this symbol has already been touched upon.

The hedgehog or the porcupine is the symbol of a high initiate, as the TAO cross is his emblem. For he who takes up the cross of his own free will, and has imbued himself with the idea that a man cannot progress further in his own development if he will not take this cross upon himself, is in reality an Initiate.

But every initiate who has attained the stage of the hedgehog or porcupine, achieves a completely different relationship to his own body. The contrast between an initiate and a sage will make this clear. We can formulate it quite simply as follows:

A sage has formed true thoughts about the spiritual world, and about his eternal being, but he mainly experiences himself within his own body, to which he is bound as is any other man. A high Initiate on the other hand experiences the actuality of the true ego, and to him his body is merely a sort of marionette, which he is guiding from the spiritual plane without allowing himself to be influenced in this by physical pain or any other physical sensations which might occur in the process. The sage is not able as yet to open his ego, or close it to the world at will, and he cannot yet experience his body as a tool that he carries about with him as something extraneous, something like dead bones. This is why a skeleton had to appear close by. It can be seen on the right of the porcupine, so that the signs of the spirituality of the initiate and of his hardest physical aspect appear beside each other.

We shall discuss what lies in the background and stands in intimate relationship with these symbols after we have studied the last detail of the picture, on the left lower section; otherwise we should lose our perspective of all the images that are grouped about Anthony.


The picture below on the left, refers to Anthony's relationship with ritual worship; a round ceremonial table is depicted, which Bosch always uses in these situations for this purpose. (See Fig. 73, and Plate F.) For Bosch the ceremonial table is the image of the earth, in contrast to the church, where the altar table is rectangular, as originally Mass was read over the grave of a saint. Upon this partially covered table bread lies prepared, and there are also various flowers, which we cannot interpret (see Note 11). The wine jar, which is placed next to the bread is closed by a hart's foot. As we have already recognised the hart as the psychopompos (see Ref. 65, and above) the painter's language should here be easily understood; we must be able to turn our soul upwards (see Psalm 42/2), i.e. we must use the forces of the hart within ourselves if we would unite ourselves with the fire-forces of the Christ which must be recognized in the bread and the wine as the Flesh and Blood of Christ upon earth.

Fig. 73. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Cult table (see Plate F) (detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony).


Anthony, that is, the Anthony whom Bosch has painted, and behind whose image he has concealed himself, can see in his vision that many demons are still playing about the altar of the earth and that two of the three priests are serving as representatives of men on earth not the Christ, but His opponents.



The first priest, on the far left, is blowing a horn. He blows (which means that he is announcing loudly) but his call is as the smoke, and from his instrument there hangs a sausage; he is a Hans Wurst; (Translator's note, a German name for a clown), a ludicrous caricature of the being of St. John. (Translator's note, in German Hans is an abbreviation of the name Johannes, English John). He is pretending to support the table, but in reality he is only standing beside it and uses both his hands to make a row. In addition he has put a hood on his head (a cloth like those the servants of the church wore on Bosch's home town) to identify himself as a servant of the church of men.


The figure on the right is upside down and carries the table on his feet. Whenever Bosch paints something upside down he means that something is going on that is the opposite of what is right; in this too he was consistent. Here it means that such representatives have the wrong attitude to their task. They talk of divine matters without turning them into deeds. The sword of the word, in his mailed right hand is only an ornament; his words a barren and ineffectual pretence, by which he yet desires to exercise power. From his gullet there protrudes the dagger of an egoism that murders the spirit; in place of the true priest there stands here the boaster (in German Prahlhans), a no less evil opponent of the Christianity of St. John.


The Hanswurst (clown) is a mouthpiece for fanaticism without inner content, and the second figure is a representative of soulless violent rhetoric, which by its warlike nature destroys everything that is genuinely spiritual.

The third figure in the middle holding the balance between the two, denotes something quite different. His mien is remarkable for its spirituality, and positive expression; he bears the table vigorously on his left shoulder, and supports himself on his left foot which is in a winejug, i.e. this man stands in a cask of wine of the "true vine". The man is using a crutch to help him stand upright, for to keep one's balance if one would stand simultaneously on the earth and in the spiritual world is not as yet a state that can be simply attained, and is only permitted to a very few. This wavering between two worlds was already shown in The Prodigal Son. (Part 1, Section 15.) The man here also bears a curious mark: like the tree-man in the purgatorium and The Prodigal Son, he wears the sign of the band of dedication, or of the mystic, at his knee which denotes that his footsteps upon earth have received a certain serious imprint because he had connected himself with the spirit. Ribbons denoting that their wearer belongs to a spiritual or a worldly order are universally known today. But the knowledge that these bands come from a very ancient tradition, and were already well known for example to the Greeks, and appeared in early Christianity, has been almost lost. More was said about the band of dedication, or of the mystic earlier in this study, and in that of The Prodigal Son. (Section 16.)


The countenance of the true bearer of the ceremonial table shows the traits of a strong will, and unless we are very much mistaken we are dealing here with the same personality that is painted in the foreground of the Hortus Deliciarum [viii] and appears there twice; once on the far right, in a mask, and once again in the group with the Ethiopian woman and two holy women, hidden away in the background. The possibility cannot be excluded that we see here a portrait of Jacob von Almaengien, (I.A.) alias Philip von St. Jan, who is said to have transmitted the teachings of the Rosicrucians to the painter. (See Introduction to the book.)

To sum up the essence of this last image, it can be said that here is painted one of the causes that led Anthony, like Bosch, to form the resolve to entirely change the direction of his life. He recognises that his naive contemplative but passive Christianity must transform itself into a Christianity of action, as the true supporter of the ceremonial table has shown him by his life.


This battle for what is positive is now depicted on the next highest level. (See Fig. 74.) As is usual with Jeroen [ix] Bosch, he has presented what is most important and positive, in small insignificant figures, so as not to force his own view of the world and his most intimate thoughts upon those who would not understand him anyway. Bosch has often been reproached that he is always negative, that he only paints what is ugly, cruel or demonic. Once one has learned better to understand his painting, one will be able to see why his honesty would not permit him to beautify his picture of the world, but he only paints the negative, the bad things very obviously, in order to make possible the recognition of what is good.

Fig. 74. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The battle with the dragon. The hare is watching. Also Beacons and Statue of Christ. The City is in the background (detail, The Temptations of St. Anthony).


On the upper left corner of the left wing of the altarpiece we saw Anthony represented in the form of a knight. This same knight appears here in the water, along a vertical line that can be drawn from the head of Anthony through the porcupine. He is fighting against the dragon equipped with sword and shield, and standing in the ocean of the spirit. We can see in the picture how the man who attempts this does not always win; often the dragon goes off with the head of the one he has conquered, i.e. one can completely lose one's head in the battle against evil. Behind this lonely spiritual battle another is seen in the background, where armoured mercenaries move against mercenaries, that is men against men.


In the mad delusion that one is serving Christianity wars can be instigated -- all religious wars sprang from this delusion. In reality one is drawing a sword like St. Peter did, and he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword. The dragon represents what is evil in all men, and must be fought within oneself. The battle of many men against each other is, as Goethe expressed it, a fight of slaves against slaves. (See Note 12.) In the middle of the turmoil of the warring mercenaries there is a statue: a human figure bowed under the burden of the globe of the earth; in this globe there is a flag with the emblem of the Turks, a sign of this world's unbelief. We assume that one can recognise in this statue a representation of the Christ Jesus, who bears the whole earth with all its opposing forces upon His back. It is as though the Christ Jesus is watching, as it is described in the Golden Legend, and to Anthony's question: Where were you dear Jesus? Where were you? Why were you not here from the beginning to help me and to heal my wounds? He replies: Anthony I was here, but I waited to watch your battle. Now that you have fought like a man (an ego) I will make you known over the whole earth. (This "making known" should really be read to mean "holding up as an example".) Through hard struggles Anthony has attained inner illumination; his self-consciousness has become extended to world-consciousness and for this reason Christ would now hold him up as an example for all.

It has already been pointed out that Bosch has interwoven the lines of composition in such a way that he has succeeded in showing all these aspects simultaneously. For example, one of these lines leads horizontally from the young Anthony on the left inner wing, where he lies bent under the burden of his lands (denoted by a piece of land), to the right inner wing, where the Christ Jesus stands bowed under the weight of the whole earth.


The two towers, joined by a bridge, on which there are two battling groups, form a symbol that is difficult to interpret. To anyone who does not understand what the painter means by these two different towers, the significance of this whole section including the meeting of the warriors must remain obscure. They are not fighting in the ordinary sense, they are merely pushing against each other.

Let us first explain the towers: all that has lived leaves a corpse behind which during the process of decay always combines with oxygen; expressed pictorially, it is burned in the oven of nature. To represent this process, or its chemical opposite, the painter invents something between a limekiln and a lighthouse. In Holland lime is still extracted from shells by burning. These limekilns still have the same pear-shape as the painter depicts, (also on the middle panel). The limekiln was often taken as the symbol of death (the bony skeleton, of chalk, disintegrates, and the soul goes on into purgatory). (See Fig. 74, Fig. 95 and Fig. 100.) To substantiate our proposition we reproduce a miniature (see Fig. 75) from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, who married Arnaud, Duke of Gelre about the middle of the 15th century [17].

Fig. 75. From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, wife of the Duke of Gelre. Utrecht, ± 1435. New York. Pierpoint Morgan Library.

Towards the centre of the book is painted the face of Hell, in which all that is impure in the soul is burned. The cleansing flames blaze in both limekilns, which heat a cooking-pot. The human souls are thrown into this cooking-pot; the skulls show, superfluously that all this is taking place after death, i.e. "beyond". Right at the bottom we find the seven deadly sins with their Latin names. We see what else happens on the second picture (see Fig. 76).

Fig. 76. From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, wife of the Duke of Gelre. Utrecht, ± 1435. New York. Pierpoint Morgan Library.

If one compares the limekilns in which the remains of shellfish are burnt to make substances for new buildings and the kiln pictures reproduced here, with the structure that Bosch has painted, their correspondence is striking, and the master's intention becomes all too plain, that death and hellfire, beacon and limekiln correspond to a reminder: "memento mori". (See Note 13.)

However, the left and the right limekiln/lighthouses on this picture are different. The one on the left is a beacon from ancient times; in these a simple wood fire was burnt, to lead fishermen into harbour by the glow of the flames and by the smoke. The one on the right however is novel for the time of Bosch; i.e. it had been recently invented and was modern in his time, a product of the new age. On a lever there is suspended a bucket of pitch, this can be lowered on a chain, filled up, lit, and when it is burning well it can be pulled up high again. Examples of both kinds are given here. (See Fig. 77, Fig. 78 and Fig. 79,) This modern process heralds the new technical age. This new age also brought with it a complete revolution in men's attitude of soul.

Fig. 77. Old beacon tower.

Fig. 78. Transition from old to new beacon tower.

Fig. 79. New beacon tower.

The idea which was concealed in this picture is that death is like a beacon, but that men experience this beacon differently. One philosophic stream was still immersed in the emotional beliefs of the Middle Ages, without asking or searching. The other wanted to become less dependent, to study the Gospels and to comprehend them. This was the basis of many religious wars, and is represented in the quarrel between the two groups of warriors.


Under the new lighthouse, on a diagonal with the battle against the dragon, there sits a small hare, watching alertly. (See Plate E.) What does this hare mean?

The hare has extraordinarily fine hearing, shown by his long ears. He is especially alert; it is said that he sleeps with open eyes. He only has a form, no actual home. Wherever he is he is hunted. The following tale was told about the hare in the time of Bosch: If a hare is being pursued and can run no more, another takes his place in the field, and lets the pursuit follow him. One must grasp these essential signs in a more or less super-sensible sense (see other examples in Note 14); they make of the modest gentle hare who attacks no other animal, a very elevated spiritual symbol.

When a man has reached a point in his inner development that is so advanced that he can inwardly hear and see what escapes the attention of others, when eventually he can so love that he gives his own life for his brothers, then he resembles the hare. Thus the hare is the symbol for the ego that is able to love unselfishly, that begins to be fully effective throughout the whole earthly organisation of man. Briefly, it means initiation. The man who has become a hare has no actual home, he must be at home everywhere and belong to all men. If he has reached this stage of selflessness however he always attracts persecution, as in the words of Jesus: (John 15/20) "If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you."

The Buddha appears in the form of a hare. As he rose from a Bodhisattva to become Buddha he sacrificed the last vestige of his own life. Jesus Christ brought the greatest sacrifice of all; for this reason many painters in the 14h and 15th centuries painted a hare beside the child Jesus. (See Note 14.)

It has been said that a great initiate is at home to such an extent in the spiritual worlds that he can experience his body as if it were a tool. When Anthony has withstood the second temptation, and is now battling with what is evil, the dragon, within himself, he has reached that stage in his own development. Expressed pictorially, the hare within him is able to observe the battle as if from without and watch himself from a higher vantage point.

The two symbols of the hedgehog and the hare, which both belong to Anthony, must not be confused, although both are connected with the penetration of the ego-forces. The difference is the following: the stage of the hare indicates readiness to die for the ideal, while the hedgehog stage shows readiness to live, directing one's activities by spiritual cognition.


The city in the background only apparently contradicts the life of Anthony. In fact it is just as pertinent to the theme that Bosch wants to paint as the modern lighthouse.

On the left inner wing we met an example of an early Christian initiation. Such an initiation demanded seclusion, asceticism, and a total renunciation of life. On the right wing Bosch shows us the battle of soul into which the seeker of esoteric knowledge is plunged once he has recognised the increasing degeneration of Christendom and the size of the social task. A new path must be systematically followed, which can be trodden at any time in the midst of ordinary life. Hence it is logical that Bosch should paint a city in the background, and this turns the whole scene in the central picture of the right inner wing into a contemporary picture of the painter; we can see more and more clearly that this "Anthony" is in fact an initiate of the 16th century.



Once Anthony was able to perceive spiritual facts with spiritual vision and hearing, he inevitably gained a general view of the evils in the world about him. Here Bosch has painted a review of these evils, not however those of the world about St. Anthony, but those of his own time. It has several times been said that he identified himself with St. Anthony in some respects.

Of course, on a panel measuring 139 x 113 cms Bosch was unable to portray every evil "for which the whole surface of the world would hardly be great enough"; he had to limit himself to the most important features and movements of his time, those which pained and worried him the most.

Thus we see Anthony in the midst of the world that Bosch knew -- that of the 15th century -- and certainly not in the Africa of A.D. 300. This obvious fact needs re-emphasising because we must now expect to see the problems of Bosch's own time depicted in the central panel, cast in such forms as the Master dared to express, which were only intended to be understood by the members of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood and their friends. The pictorial language, of which he among others made use, was not always able to command those highest powers of imagination which would make it immediately comprehensible to their friends. Other, less gifted contemporary painters, had to incorporate written words in their paintings and drawings to indicate, even though in a concealed way, and preferably in Latin, what they were incapable of expressing pictorially. Such an example can be seen in Fig. 80, which has already been discussed in section 15. Here the whole picture can be examined.

Fig. 80. A Cebes table. ± 1550. Kassel, Landes museum.

Because the artist's intention was to depict a world philosophy the name Cebes or Kebes -- one of the Pythagoreans -- was used, as a concealed allusion to his own philosophy. Unfortunately we must here dispense with the discussion of the Kebes panel, because it would take us too far.

Many woodcuts of these themes can be found dating from Holbein's time. Holbein himself probably owed to his friend Erasmus some knowledge of the insights underlying what was pictured on the Kebes panels; the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam also possesses such a Cebes panel from the year 1573 (now in the Muiderslot). Another example of the need for explanation of a symbol by means of writing a superscription can be found in Note 8, where a picture from the Tabula Smaragdina is reproduced and discussed in detail, as it is connected with much that is mentioned in this book.

Bosch never used written words, but rather the pictures of objects which, by their special names, that were well known to the Brotherhood's members, substituted a concept in those places where he could not attain his objective by higher means, such as symbols. Such an object dominates the first picture that is to be discussed in the central panel. It was a piece of luck to catch the significance of the name of this fruit that is depicted. We are grateful for this to Professor J. Hermans, director of the Hugo de Vries laboratory in Amsterdam, and the library there.


An imagination of the withered soul-spiritual and physical organs of man since the Fall.

To the left and in front on the central panel there is a large fruit, from which various figures emerge (see Plate G). It was erroneously regarded as a tomato or pomegranate, but is in fact recognisable as the Diospyros Kaki (see Fig. 81). It is known that the name Diospyros was already in use before 1500 and one must assume that Bosch knew this name, for he uses the image of this fruit to say in his pictorial language that humanity has gone forth from the fire of Cud, for Diospyros means the fire or the seed of God. It is also possible that he had heard of the addition "pseudo lotus" to the name, and that the fact that the name of the fruit is Diospyros pseudo lotos, "as if it were the fruit of the lotus", caused him to use the image yet more forcibly as a motto. On the central panel of the Hay Wain triptych he used a toadstool which is called "the bread of the devil" in the same way as a motto, to indicate the heading of a new chapter. Here he uses a pretend-lotus fruit, to cause a disturbed image of humanity to emerge from the holy flower of Buddha. However that may be, the hint can be understood that humanity has become degraded. The question remains whether Bosch had seen the fruit himself in Africa, whether he had been sent a sample by the Emperor Maximilian, or whether his Master Jacob von Almaengien alias Philip van St. Jan had described and drawn it for him.

Fig. 81. Diospyros Kaki, as the fruit is now called.


The donkey (physical body) and heron (death)

The first figure to be discussed in the group that is bursting forth from the Diospyros fruit is the donkey at the top. The impression given is that he has come forth first and has then stepped back to reveal his neighbour, the heron, more clearly. Since ancient times the donkey has been the symbol of the physical body as the bearer of the spirit, but the donkey represents the physical body as it became after the Fall, serving the spirit only reluctantly, both lazy and tough, difficult to guide, yet full of endurance when laden, clever and stubborn. In Isis and Osiris Plutarch tells that the god Osiris -- who corresponds to what is higher and divine in man -- was suffocated by Seth Typhon in a casket which had the form of a human body. This Seth Typhon is portrayed with a donkey's head. Here already the donkey appears as the symbol of the living physical body. When the human body became hardened, and grew to be the casket of the soul, man began to develop material understanding, but became cosmically dull. St. Francis of Assisi called the physical body brother donkey.

In front of the donkey there stands the head of the grey heron, the image of death. We have already met with this symbol used in the same sense in two places on the left inner wing. It is right that donkey and heron should stand beside each other, because, at man's Fall, his physical body appeared on earth for the first time, together with death. This death-heron raises his head from a sort of shield, a sign that Bosch always used to portray counteracting terrestrial forces. Diagonally opposite the Diospyros group there is a clear example of this sign, where a Mars boat is floating in mid-air. (Fig 105). There the shield is equipped with a spear, here, in the Diospyros group the head of the heron, which gives the same penetrating impression as the spear, is the symbol of the striking power of death. As the symbols of the living body and its death have been found in the background it is to be expected that various aspects of the soul will be found, since this also belongs to man as a higher member of his organism.

The old woman in the basket

Beside the heron's head a sort of witch is emerging from the burst Diospyros fruit; she is sitting in a basket and carries a crooked sword; the basket does not stand upon the earth, it is dangling from a dead branch. Painters of the 15th-16th centuries often used a basket to denote something into which unused fragments are gathered, which one then carries about. The old woman represents the tangled astral forces [x] that are connected with the unpurified instincts and passions [51]. Where these gain the upper hand they appear as witches in the fairy tales. One might say: while these forces of the witch hold sway within a human being the soul is old and parched, it has lost any connection with the living source, and hangs dangling from the dead branch of the tree of knowledge. However, the witch holds in her hand the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the ability to judge, the sharp intellect which appears in the form of a cleaving sword.


Goldfinch and two harts (the forces of the spirit within the soul).

After the donkey, heron and witch, along the same line follows a goldfinch ("waterdrawer" see Note 15). He is just emerging from the fruit, and stands between the symbols described previously and two little devils which are peeping from another split in the divine fruit.



He and the two harts form the positive counterbalance to all the rest that is negative in their group.

Let us discuss the goldfinch; one must refer to the triangle of large birds on the left in the central panel of The Garden of Heavenly Delights (Fig. 106) in order to show that Bosch has several times used the goldfinch as a symbol of the human soul, which must seek its nourishment among the thistles upon the earth. (See Note 2 Prodigal Son and Note 15 St. Anthony for a more thorough explanation.) The symbol of the goldfinch can be followed in art immediately before and after the time of Bosch, it was not at all uncommon at this time. Fiorentino uses the symbol in a painting in Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, to represent the soul of Jesus, only just born (see Fig. 82 & Fig. 83). Raphael painted the same goldfinch symbol in two pictures (see Fig. 84 & Fig. 85). Tiepolo, about 300 years later, even places the goldfinch in the hand of Jesus. Fig. 86. All these examples -- which could be increased by many more -- show that the pure soul of the child Jesus will wander among the thistles of the earth (will climb per ardua ad astra), and like the goldfinch on earth, will seek spiritual sustenance among the thorns, or in other words -- like the goldfinch or "waterdrawer" will there find the water of life. Thus Bosch has used the goldfinch to point to that divine spiritual force which is present in the soul of every man, his ego. Other painters did the same but in relation to the Jesus child, the shining example for all humanity.


Fig. 82. FIORENTINO: Virgin and Jesus Child. Musee de Dijon, Palais des Etats de Bourgogne.

Fig. 83. Detail of Fig. 82. A Goldfinch is on the right.

Fig. 84. RAFFAELLO SANZIO: 1516. Madonna del Cardellino. Florence, Uffizi Gallery.

Fig. 85. RAFFAELLO SANZIO: Madonna, Jesus with a goldfinch. Berlin, Gemaldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz.

Fig. 86. TIEPOLO: Madonna of the Goldfinch. Washington, D.C. National Gallery of Arts. Samuel H. Kress Collection.

To give a second aspect of the divine-spiritual element of the soul the painter has put two harts on the other side of the group. One is coming, the other is going; the one with the antlers narrowly observes the beings between himself and the goldfinch. The other can only be seen from the rear, and has his hind legs in the waste water. He has turned again towards the original divine fruit, and is a worldly picture of the soul which is concerned partly with life upon earth, and partly with what is divine. The symbol of the hart has already been discussed repeatedly (c.f. The Prodigal Son, the left inner wing, and Note 8 on the Tabula Smaragdina) so its meaning will by now be well known. The psychopomp in the soul, the hart, plays a passive part in man in contrast to the goldfinch, which from the beginning shows a pronounced and strong will to seek out what is spiritual on earth and bring it into action. These are the two aspects of the soul mentioned above.


The badger and the goat in a duck skin (the two opposing powers in the soul)

The two animals between the goldfinch and the two harts represent the opposing powers; they are drinking the waste-water; the badger, symbol of the Diabolos (Lucifer) is also shown as a long-tailed monkey. (See Section 27.) The wide open jaws indicate his uncontrollable emotions. On his painting Operation for the Stone (Prado, Madrid), Bosch used the word "badger" ("das" in Dutch) and we find again the picture of these wide open jaws in the round picture in Rotterdam which is reproduced at Section 27 (see Fig. 90 and Fig. 91 and Note 20). It is clear what kind of aberrations of the soul are here meant. Bosch used it everywhere on his paintings in the same sense.


The second animal beside the figure of Diabolos -- Lucifer, is the goat. It is quite covered, and only the head is visible. The goat has always been the symbol of Satan (Ahriman), and appears with the same significance in the Zodiac of the Hortus Deliciarum [xi]. The shoes made of bone can also be clearly seen, which belong to the satanic being and by which Bosch has characterised its nature in various places, e.g. in the Purgatorium on the right wing of the Hortus Deliciarum [xi]. But here Satan has concealed himself in a white duck-skin. We are familiar with the symbol of the duck, it stands for the education and culture of the human race. Here there is a plucked duck's skin, and we shall meet with a similarly plucked bird in section 25. In the painter's language, to be plucked means that the soul-bird of man has lost the beautiful feathers of paradise, and only retains the plucked skin -- just the bare form of dead thought -- a frozen part of the soul here confronts us, and it is not surprising that this Satan carries on his back the sign of dead fantasy (the skull of a horse), The black veil of this horsewoman has been drawn back, and the mask of the dead horse skull becomes visible. She is playing upon a harp on which there sits an owl. (See Note 16.) All these symbols, now familiar, point to this picture as an expression of the greedy impulsive goat who bears a completely dead structure on his back. Taking all together this is a picture of certain soul-forces which have fallen prey to a demoniac rigidifying influence. In response to this group there swims out a sewer rat, one of Satan's most unpleasant gifts; it is aiming towards a drain where another demoniac animal is awaiting it. This could be seen as a prophecy.



If this whole group of the divine fire fruit -- the creation of man in Paradise, and his subsequent Fall that is connected with this -- is allowed to speak to one as a total imagination, admiration grows ever greater for the great genius of the painter who constantly brings forth the spiritual essence in old symbols, and uses their archetypal forms in a new spirit.



vi. A term borrowed by the author from the language of those who aimed to heal by finding the characteristic "signature" of a plant or animal that would indicate its therapeutic use. Trans. Note.

vii. The Garden of Heavenly Delights.

viii. The Garden of Heavenly Delights.

ix. Hieronymus Bosch.

x. Translator's note -- soul forces.

xi. The Garden of Heavenly Delights.
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