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Observations placeholder

Böcklin, Arnold - Die Lebensinsel (Isle of Life) 1888



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience


In 1888, Böcklin created a painting called Die Lebensinsel ("Isle of Life"). Most art critics believe it to be intended as an antipole to the Isle of the Dead, it also shows a small island, but with all signs of joy and life. Together with the first version of the Isle of the Dead, this painting is part of the collection of the Kunstmuseum Basel.

The picture shows an island, with a small hill surrounded by water.  There are numerous trees on the island in the form of a sacred grove.

Light and Darkmasculine and feminine are united in the water and dancing.  And there are swans.  This actually depicts a by then lost world.  This is what life is meant to be a balanced world where masculine and feminine combine to achieve the Dance.

The swan is perhaps the most important motif in the painting.  A swan is a symbolically very important bird in many cultures.  Its size and strength indicate power and it is white - symbol of the aether level and layer, as such symbolically it is a bird 'of the gods'.  Symbolically a swan person is a pure [white] or saintly soul, a mystic or guru. 

The swan can travel metaphorically and literally in the Air and on Water as well as the Earth, so a swan person has advanced spiritual capabilities, is able to travel between and around various spiritual levels.  A swan is thus symbolic of those who are wise and knowledgeable especially of the spiritual world.  There are numerous legends concerning swans who ‘eat pearls’ - partake of spiritual knowledge.

Swans are one of the few birds to have teeth and occasionally this symbolism too is brought into play.  A person being described as a swan is not a meek submissive person.  They may not be very demonstrative in their defensive or attacking role, but they can do both effectively.

But perhaps the most important symbolic attribute of the swan is that they form monogamous pair bonds, so it is a symbol of love.

The source of the experience

Böcklin, Arnold

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Making love