Bosch, the greatest master of esoteric symbolism in the history of western art, invented this extraordinary image in order to show the intellect (the owl) and the spiritual (the pink egg) mastering temptation (cherries) under the influences of life (branch, blue flowers).
The Lord sent forth His servants. St. Gregory says these servants are the order of preachers. I speak of another servant, who is the angel. But we will speak of yet another servant of whom I have spoken before: That is the intellect in the circuit of the soul, where it touches the angelic nature and is an image of God. In this light the soul has community with the angels - even with those angels who sank into hell and have yet retained the nobility of their nature. There, this spark stands bare, untouched by any pain, directed to God's essence.
Meister Eckhart, Sermon 32 (b), The Complete Mystical Works
This is not the only sermon where Eckhart alludes to the physical contact between the intellect, the soul, and God. (See Sermon 39, for example.) This contact occurs in a place. That is to say, Eckhart assigns it a location, the circuit of the soul. In other places he indicates that one ascends to this place; here, it is located in a circulation.
The place Eckhart presents us with is not a corporeal location. It is an inner realm; so we understand that both the angelic nature and the image of God exist within this inner realm. Man, in other words, acts as a container or vessel for this intimate point of contact between the divine and the worldly. Consistently, in his teachings, the intellect (the "head" of the soul) serves as the point for this contact. Yet the intellect he refers to cannot be what Gurdjieff called the associative mind, that is, the mind of words and associations, the worldly intelligence which we use to conduct our daily affairs. Indeed, he advises, The place has no name, and no one can utter a word concerning it that is appropriate. (Sermon 39).
Eckhart alludes here to inner mysteries that don't concede to analysis; they are hidden places inaccessible to our rational analysis, exactly like the disguised face of the master in Bosch's painting of the magus with the owl. What can truly be known is sacred, private, intimate, and inner; it has no outward face. Indeed, it must be protected from the influences of the outside world (the spines around the pink egg) because they all represent temptation. It is not going to far to explain that all ordinary thought is the enemy of this sacred realm and this divine contact; in a certain sense, the virgin is the feminine soul, which must remain untouched by this male, or penetrating, influence.
Thought, ordinary, rational thought, seeks to inseminate the soul; yet for the soul to open itself to the highest influences and touch the angelic realm, it must remain untouched and inviolate. So here we have another allegory for understanding the story of the nativity. Bosch's image represents an ideal of the soul hidden from earthly influences and untouched by outer events; in this state, it receives the higher knowledge made possible by contact with the divine (the owl.)
The proposition that contact with God arises within an inner realm is, perhaps, extraordinary; for we're accustomed to literalist interpretations of God and heaven, where heaven is a physical place of some kind, and God is a separate entity residing with it.
Yet Eckhart reminds us repeatedly that God has no place; God is nowhere. We can be, perhaps, reminded of his remark,
But some people want to see God with their own eyes as they see a cow, and they want to love God as they love a cow. (sermon 14 b, Ibid.)
We are always, when we read Eckhart, dealing with more than just cows. There is no room for the ordinary world of thought within the inner action that seeks God, just as we can't stuff a cow into ourselves. But it is this very act of cow-stuffing that we engage in every time we try to think of God, instead of reaching to God through an understanding bereft of the ordinary senses and the ordinary mind.