“Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path.” So begins Dante’s Inferno, an epic poem about the many ways we can get lost. Written from a state of exile, the poem begins in a state of confusion. The narrator meets several wild beasts in the darkness before finding a guide who takes him through the nine circles of hell and then back up again.
This spell offers us a guide for those moments when, taken by doubt and fear, we have become lost. We’ve lost our way, lost ourselves, lost our sense of purpose, our grip on where we fit in our lives and the larger world. In this darkness live countless beasts and creatures and we are one among them. Sometimes, this is all we can know about ourselves, that we are one among many. Even with so many possible answers to the question—Who am I?— there will never be a point at which the question is fully answered. Along the course of our lives, aspects of our identity are revealed and concealed, and the tension of this cycling can propel us through our lives—or freeze us in our tracks.
About the spell
This month, we confront our guide through the darkness who asks us to question where we think our own sense of self begins and ends. As you embark on this quest, we encourage you to treat your identity more like a terrain or a location than an object or thing. Consider your identity as having a ground, an underground, and a sky—weather patterns, seasons, permanent residents, nomadic travelers, flora, and migrating birds. What makes this landscape you? What—if anything—definitively delineates your identity from the ones around you? Where are you? Where are you not?
In working with this spell, we’re opening ourselves to the vastness, the mystery, and the shadowy depths that result from having layered and unstable identities. We’re asking you to broaden your perspective—let your vision wander beyond what your eyes can easily see into a wilderness of wondering, imagining, pretending, and forgetting. As your perspective shifts, what can you trust? Who shall guide you through the wilds of self-understanding? By stretching ourselves beyond what we know and entrusting ourselves to others, we broadcast an important message throughout the land: we shall descend into confusion and fear and ascend again into greater clarity—this is the process of transformation—we shall journey to places we’ve never been and yet find pieces of our own heart waiting for us there.
Meditation on Where Am I Not
For this meditation, see if you can clear enough time for yourself to get lost. Secure enough space for this practice that you may actually forget what you were doing beforehand and what you’re planning to do afterwards. Once you’re within this intentional space, settle into these moments by sensing your body, wherever it is resting, and your breath, however it is moving. Let your thoughts be like dust motes—active, perhaps, but aimless at best—and see if you can be more aware of their movement than their content… Eventually, consider that your body is a location - a container with mappable coordinates - a density that you gravitate to and around which your sense of self orbits. Breathing, feel the place that you are become filled with fresh resources and emptied of waste. At the end of each exhale, see if you can grow so quiet that you sense these changing conditions feeding and nourishing the cells of your body. For however long you’d like, you can stay like this, awake to the cycles of nourishment in your breath and resting in the unconditioned rhythms of your existence. If and when you’d like to try something else, open your awareness to the spaces inside of you—perhaps this is easy to feel on the inhale, as you make space for more air, but there is so much space within you regardless of where you are in your breath cycle. There is space within your tissues, your thoughts, your joints, and your cells—there is space between your blood cells and the river beds they courses through. Can you feel into the totality of this space? For as long as you’d like, exaggerate your awareness of the space within you… your body may even start to feel lighter or somewhat buoyant. Then, consider all the space around your body as a continuation of the space within you—breathing, you are an open channel—spaciousness abiding within you, traveling to your interior, returning to the exterior, fluid spaciousness living inside and outside of your body. Then, if it feels natural, let your body dissolve—if only for the briefest of moments—and experience yourself purely as space... No inside, no outside, just the awareness of spaciousness and placelessness. If this feels peaceful, remain for however you’d like. If ever you feel groundless or when you’re ready to close this practice, anchor your attention back into the feeling of breathing, the vision of your diaphragm sliding up and down your spine, the feeling of gravity in your seat and your feet—open your eyes and remember where you are—or, where you are not.
About the painting:
Corina: We had so many ideas about this one before the final composition came together. This was one where the spell came somewhat before the image, or with it—we both had an intuitive sense of how it was supposed to feel, even before we knew what it would mean. Eyes in the darkness, in the woods. Or were they fireflies? Or stars? Friends or foes? I love the how bravely my sister took this one into the darkness.
Jocelyn: It’s hard to paint a dark painting -- there were so many beautiful versions of that landscape and sky, but none of them made the eyes or fireflies glimmer and glow the way we both knew they should. So I darkened it, and darkened it. And, as I did, I began to feel this spell -- its shroudedness and mystery -- the feeling of confrontation -- the way we need a little darkness and fear in order to notice the parts of our landscape that glow and ensure… Also, we both really love wolves and this one is wily and lovely and embodies the wolfy vibe we wanted for it.
This month's offerings:
Smith’s Valentines are IN STOCK and ready to be sent to your lovelies this month!!