What’s Behind the Mask?

Prologue: When you wear a mask you are stepping out of your usual self and and becoming someone else. You can look around  through different eyes and those around may see you as a stranger. It emboldens you to say things and behave in ways that you had never imagined because of fear of looking ridiculous, overstepping some boundary or displeasing someone. Suddenly there are no limits. You are liberated. No disapproving comments can touch you; your thoughts come out of hiding. Someone else is there and expressing them. Are you evading responsibility? Perhaps, but you have traveled to another country where you know the language but nobody knows you. You are incognito.

You are free.


African Masks

Images of people wearing masks have been found on rock paintings in many parts of the world with some going back to 700 BCE. Neanderthals decorated their faces with masks for camouflage during hunts or skirmishes.  All cultures have used transformational masks for disguise.

A masked fool is found in many cultures. His  task is to keep order and to keep children from being  unruly and noisy during ceremonies and observances. Sometimes masks were meant to represent the spirits of ancestors who were thus invited to participate in the festivities.

In the theater world the masks of comedy and tragedy were created in ancient Greece and exhibited during performances. Sometimes, masks started out as a religious ceremony, but later evolved as entertainment.

Often masks were also worn for protection against a disease just as we do today in the case of the Covid 19. Plague doctors wore a mask to prevent them from being infected by the deadly disease during the plague of 1656 which killed 145,000 people in Rome and 300,000 in Naples.

Many of these masks had birdlike beaks that were stuffed with herbs and foodstuffs to protect the wearer or at least dilute the odors. Some believed these masks would purify that air. Other believed that Death would not recognize them thus transformed.

In Jewish culture,  the holiday of Purim celebrates deliverance from captivity and is marked by a parade of fancifully costumed and masked men, women and children enjoying their freedom.

Today we also have many mask wearing ceremonies like the Venice Carnival which features a procession of elaborately costumed revelers parading in the streets.

An entire opera by Verdi, The Masked Ball celebrates this joyous custom.  I would think, though, that it is not easy to sing with masks on.

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2 years ago

One of my current fantasies is to give an unmasked ball, socially distanced, of course. At midnight we all put on masks and wait to see what happens next!

2 years ago

Masks are beautiful as well as protective. I feel like wearing them forever! Thank you for the post, Simone! If you need some fancy masks, please let me know!

2 years ago

I love the idea of a mask changing our face so death can’t find us…such a beautiful summarization of so much of human effort!! Exercise, eat well, take this pill, not that one…