Garden of Earthly Delights

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen

Hieronymus Bosch, a Medieval Dutch Painter, is renowned for his triptych oil painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. From a fantastic blue horizon he both graciously and uniformly brings the observer into a majestic enterprise that abruptly ends in a bosh of twisted imaginings. As your virtual curator, it will be my honor and pleasure to guide you through this work of art beginning with the beatific simplicities of life and ending in mindless debauchery.

Along the way (as you observe the video above) pay special attention to the objects that appear as ‘spheres’. Notice how they gradually dwindle into absurdity as the story unfolds through this artistic splendour of delights. This feature is by no means part and parcel to Bosch’s work but is more of an introspective exercise by which to elicit and make further connections into the psyche of one who intimately felt the pulse of the zeitgeist. And not just the pulse of a middle age, but that which stretches back to the beginning and onward to the end of times.

This painting remains relevant to every generation of people who turn to pause and behold the unseen psychological forces that carry us along with the turbulence of a stream towards a waterfall. It’s as though the majority of us are asleep and oblivious to the fact that our end awaits us, whereas an artist like Bosch reveals the inconvenient truth in such a manner that we naturally come to experience the transcendent virtues – be it love, hope or faith – so as to counter our mindless spiral into existential absurdity.

So instead of asking what’s in it for me, we find ourselves inquiring into how best to contribute towards the common good, realizing that our little part in this turning of events is but short lived and insignificant compared to the continuation of it all. We can envision a sustainable coexistence that avoids the extremes if we learn to let go of our aberrations of selfhood.

Therefore on one side of the painting we have a singular reality or an overly rigid representation of life. On the other end we have complete chaos and ruin. Yet in the centre of the extremes resides a middle ground, an equanimous state of affairs, and the height of human flourishing while in balance with nature.

While standing facing out from the center of this landscape you have the gravity of conservatism on your far right and on your left you have the pull of liberalism. As a human being, neither of these polar ends alone can empower you to thrive without equilibrium. In fact they undermine your individuality and freedom to be what you choose to be, but they also attest to the natural law that we must comply with in order to live well.

From the orderly part of the garden you hear a voice that says: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life will find it.” Let’s face the music here! Such an invitation doesn’t attract the majority of people eh.

From the disorderly part of the garden you feel the lure of an orgasmic bliss! Every fibre of your biology, reinforced with the sophistry of academia, including the whispers of the snake (Neo-liberalism) that slithers deep into your dreams made of night, seem to all so seductively nudge you in this open free-for-all direction. Yet some part of you continues to hear the voice from the other side of the garden admonishing you to enter ‘through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.’

So we make some wayward attempts to heed its warning. Perhaps we parade around in costumes in the name of this, that and the other thing, making empty promises as we gather others into our ‘bubble’, like Babylon buying a stairway to heaven, careful not to rock the boat so as to stir the dragon that looms underground, now more cyborg than beast.

This dichotomy can be likened to wrestling with a supernatural creature which will eventually break us at the hip, rendering our egotistic paradigm of the world as invalid. Perhaps this particular myth is more of a symptom of our inner crises or maybe it’s an archetypal story that can be spun in multiple ways to address all sorts of complexities.

Either way, blessed be the house of Cohen & Bosch, for it’s through the ‘crack’ that the light shines in, which will be made clear to you in the end; i.e., at the end of the video above. Our imperfections and blemishes bring colour to the mindscape of our make pretend, by which the artist can sing over and over and again, we must all come to realize the whole through the part, that which brings soulful resilience to our art. So whether we ‘art’ in heaven, or do ‘art’ below in hell, that which brings us together, has the power to break the spell.


About Philosopher Muse

An explorer of volition and soul, a song under a night sky and a dream that forever yearns to be.
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14 Responses to Garden of Earthly Delights

  1. Andrew says:

    A lot of spiritual symbolism touches on the fact that life is made up of opposing forces lightness\darkness, good\evil, pleasure\pain etc.

    As Ernest Becker sums up the human condition,

    “Man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever.” ~ Ernest Becker

    • Yes, of course, there’s no escaping the dichotomies of life while we build and share our lives with others as human beings, regardless of the new age talk that would have us believe that we can transcend duality altogether.

  2. Sally says:

    Thanks, Jason, fascinating. Your voice sounds nice. 🤗

  3. Anna says:

    Something on my mind lately…how does someone’s belief about afterlife affect where they live between the two extremes of heaven or hell, if at all. Also, I wonder how the concepts of “broad” and “narrow” fall on the ears of someone who didn’t grow up with such a framework. Beautiful piece above.

  4. Mary Jo Malo says:

    I typically avoid YouTube these days, since they’ve become censors of free speech; I made an exception here and don’t regret it at all. This triptych has always made me queasy. What I especially appreciate, beyond your words in the video and the blog text itself, is your inclusion of Bosch’s The Ascent of the Blessed; since in the last panel of the Garden there is only artificial light in that Hell on Earth. Wonderful post, Jason, especially in identifying today’s beast and snake. Yes, our imperfections are cracks in the facade that charades as reality. You write so poetically, and those last lines are wonderful. We should use whatever talents we presume to possess for Love and its Author. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

    • My apologies for subjecting you to YouTube but glad you made an exception! As for the Ascent being placed in the arse end of the creature, the analogy was just too poignant to let up. 😉

      Thank you kindly for taking the time to empathize with my critique and bringing your personal illumination into the matter. Your words often feel like the golden touch of the sun’s rays.

  5. An excellent video, Jason. I have the feeling there is more to come in this vein.

  6. I have never heard of Bosch, but your video is intriguing. The imagery in the art is both disturbing and eye-opening. I will have to investigate the symbolism further. Thanks for sharing.

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