A mask is an ancient and powerful magical mediator among the worlds
the living, the dead, and the spirits...
Masks have been worn for
magical, religious, and entertainment purposes since the beginning
of recorded history. Masks actually reveal more than they conceal.
Ancient peoples understood well the power of the mask.
Evidence of mask-wearing
in prehistoric societies shows that masks may have been intended to
transform the wearer magically to achieve or acquire something.
Perhaps the first
prehistoric masked dancer is the "Sorcerer," a Neolithic-Age cave
Trois Freres in France.
The masked figure is
half-human and half-animal, wearing stag antlers and poised in dance
step. The image suggests a Ritual for a successful hunt.
His mask reveals and
liberates the animal nature within the man, which would have enabled
him to come into contact with supernatural forces or the spirit of
animals and petition them for help.
Masks have been used throughout history in numerous rituals,
liturgies, theater, and folk art.
The mask has been revered
as a sacred object of power, a living thing that either has its own
persona or represents the persona of another being.
It enables the wearer
magically to bring to life, and even become, the persona or
spirit being represented by the mask.
While the mask is on, the
wearer is no longer completely himself or herself but shares his or
her identity with that of the mask.
He or she has freedom - and
permission within society - to act differently, even outrageously.
The transformation has
its limits and controls: The wearer cannot go beyond the bounds of
the mask itself and is transformed only during the wearing of the
When the mask comes off,
the wearer must return to ordinary reality.
The transformative power of the mask can be explained in Jungian
terms. A mask connects its wearer to archetypal powers residing
within the collective unconscious.
The mask is a
mediator between the ego and archetype, the mundane and the
supernatural, the sacred and the comic.
It connects the
present to the past, the individual to the entire collective of
race, culture, country - and humanity.
In cultures where the
mask is treated with reverence, mask-making is a respected and
in Bali, masks play
major roles in rituals and performances.
The masks are carved
from wood. Before carving is begun, the sculptors meditate on
the purpose of the mask, the persona in the mask itself, and the
performer who will wear it.
The performer also
meditates upon the mask prior to wearing it.
He or she may even
sleep with it next to him or her to incubate dreams based upon
its appearance and persona, which will inspire the performance
to greater depth.
The challenge of the
Balinese performer is to literally bring the mask to life - to make
the wood seem elastic and capable of illuminating its fixed
Actors who have the gift
to animate their masks are respected as "having taksu."
"place that receives light"...
Actors who have no taksu
are called carpenters - they just push wood around the stage.
In most cultures, masks symbolize beneficent spirits:
deities, the ancestral dead, and the animal kingdom.
North American Indians
have used masks to represent evil spirits over which the medicine
men are believed to have power. Similar attribution is made in
Masks play important roles in,
Sri Lankan exorcism masks, for example, are
hideous so as to frighten possessing demons out of bodies.
Among North American
Indians, bear masks invoke the healing powers of the bear,
considered the great doctor of all ills.
In funerary rites, masks
incarnate the souls of the dead, protect wearers from recognition by
the souls of the dead, or trap the souls of the dead.
The true intent of Halloween masks is
The practice of
wearing masks and disguises on All Souls' Night stems from ancient
beliefs that on this night the souls of the dead and unfriendly
spirits walk the Earth.
It is desirable to
conceal your true identity from them so that they do not follow you
Masks also frighten them
In the modern West,
masks have lost much of their sacred and deep symbolic meaning.
Once, they were
integral to Greek drama, both secular and liturgical medieval
ceremonies, the Renaissance court masque, and 19th-century mime
Contemporary masks are treated as entertainment props rather
than as living things.
They are used to
disguise and conceal rather than
of Magic and Alchemy'