Musings on Masks
Masks can play a really important role in rituals that goes far beyond being a pretty prop. I find them to be a magical tool in their own right. Let’s look briefly at a three aspects in this context.
First of all, if you make your own mask for a specific purpose, the creative process resembles that of making any kind of ritual tool and lends itself very well to imbuing the item with intent and power. You might start by identifying clearly what you need the mask for, you basically set a magical intent. You might then move on to collecting items you wish to embellish your mask with and gather all the other raw materials, layering up correspondences and symbols to fit its purpose. Throughout working on your mask you can get swept up in the moment, concentrating on what you do. This is a great way to keep your conscious mind busy while the subconscious does its work, continuously building up the magic. As a final flourish you could choose to bless and consecrate the mask to its ritual purpose. Et voila, magical tool!
The second aspect I like about masks is a practical one: it makes it very obvious what role somebody is playing in a rite. This has advantages especially in large scale public rituals as even participants further away can easily spot who is who. It also allows for people to take on several distinct roles in the same rite and that “costume change” helps both audience and celebrant to distinguish the different personas.
The third reason I like masks relates closely to that latter point, the act of taking on of a specific persona. For many practitioners the idea can at first be slightly daunting but by “hiding” behind a mask they often find the courage to drop the masks they wear in real life and evoke the archetypal parts of their psyche befitting the role. This can be very liberating and give new insights. Wearing a mask also changes the sensory input a person receives which can greatly aid in achieving an altered state of consciousness.
If you wish to read further on the subject I can highly recommend Keith Johnstone’s book on Improvisation and the Theatre. It has an excellent section on ‘masks and trance’ and how groups might want approach that.