“Behind every mask, there is a face and behind that a story.” Mary Rubin
Masks have their purpose throughout the ages for many reasons and occasions. In the Ancient Greek theater, actors wore various masks to help the audience understand the theme of the play. Some masks exaggerate common facial expressions, for example, to create an identity of a character. At the same time, others conveyed emotion, mostly comedy or tragedy. In later years, as the forerunner to the Halloween traditions of modern times, people believed a disguise would help to protect people from ghosts. The Celts are said to have dressed up in costumes and wore scary masks, thinking this would trick the spirits into believing that they will never discover their identities.
Perhaps, one reason that inspired the mask-wearing phenomenon originated at the end of the 19th century. The spread of tuberculosis reduced when medical professionals first began to wear masks to protect themselves and their patients from contracting the disease.
In the COVID-19 era, wearing a mask for health reasons is creating significant support and opposition around the country. The media is filled with stories each day of people expressing their views. The facts are reasonably conclusive that wearing a mask offers additional support in maintaining good health during these challenging times due to the pandemic. Yet, there continues to be a lot of debate to support and oppose mask usage. What are the material and spiritual concerns about wearing a mask that has created such a deep emotional response?
Here are a few reasons being given these days for not having to cover their faces as many consider it as a sign of solidarity and taking a stand against the medical and scientific communities and authority in general. For others, the mask is a symbol of vulnerability, of living in constant fear of contracting the virus. The unknown is always adding to the prevailing fear – a fear that someone may not want to confront consciously.
From a psychological viewpoint, each of us wears a mask every day. We do this to survive in a very complicated world filled with demands that we are someone or something other than who we genuinely are as a person. In short, to adapt ourselves to the needs of others. We are taught since our childhood and sometimes directed to act in specific ways that are either in harmony or disharmony with our true nature. Hence, we learn to develop our mask to comply and become what others set out to make us or demand while having a deep understanding that we are someone else but must choose to mask or hide our true nature.
It can be true regarding our outward persona and our inner being – the voice of our truth, our conscience that resides deep within us. The modern era is enabling people to cultivate the strength, freedom, and courage to be themselves while no longer having to wear a mask that does not represent their authentic selves. So, living a life in this state of consciousness is the ultimate goal of the spiritual path. The intent of spiritual teachings and practices is to start living our lives in harmony with our Divine nature.
As a child, Halloween was a time for going door to door begging for candy. A mask, along with a homemade costume, was chosen in the hope of concealing our identities. This tradition dates back to the 16th century. At the time, it was a traditional belief that the souls of the dead roamed the Earth until All Saints ‘Saints’ Day and All Hallows ‘Hallows’ Eve (Halloween). These specific days provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. To avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such revenge, people would therefore don masks or costumes to conceal their true identities.
Today, as in the past, many spiritual organizations use masks as part of their rituals. One of the reasons for this tradition is that members can transcend their ego and personal privileges during the ceremony. Status or power in the outside world or from the ego or world identification is absent for a while. The ground is even. So every member participating in the ritual can contribute equally, regardless of their social status in the outside world.
For several years, I have led spiritual retreats focusing on what I think of as Spiritual Self-Discovery. These events include activities to help those in attendance gain a better and more in-depth understanding of a part of their spiritual being. One of the exercises involves wearing a mask. I buy fabric for each person to use in creating a simple mask – one tied around each head.
They wear their mask for a specific duration of the day. This exercise intends to create an opportunity for their true selves to appear unobstructed by the ego. No longer having to present their worldly outer mask, the participants have a rare chance to be seen without their masks. The hope and objective being that at least during this period, each person could be known for their inner qualities rather than merely focusing on their physical appearance.
The reactions by participants in the retreats to wearing masks reflect what is happening in the modern world. Some people are making their masks without any botheration or hesitation. Then others are less enthusiastic, and some participants are uncomfortable. I remind the groups that we have quite a bit of negative training in this area. People who wear masks are shown on nightly television robbing a bank or convenience store. Often people who steal from others wear a mask – clearly a negative message and one to be dealt with on a psychological and emotional level. Our purpose in this exercise is that anyone participating has the opportunity for soever a short time to feel what it is like not to see or be seen without their masks.
The North American tribes use masks for healing in their rites and ceremonies. I met a member of the Lakota tribe years ago who told me about their use of masks. A ceremony begins at dusk with a fire, prayers, and songs. As the night progresses, the men move into the woods, searching for a particular type of tree with thick bark. After a prayer of gratitude for the tree’s life, a mask is carved from the thick tree bark. The mask is then placed over the face for several hours, during which time prayers for healing and supernatural help are requested.
Masks are now revolutionizing the world we live in. Here is an example, a few days ago, I was standing at the entrance of a supermarket. A man was exiting with his two small children. For a moment, he looked directly into my eyes. I suspect he was trying to determine if he knew me or not. I was wearing my mask. After he walked on, I realized two things, one we rarely make eye contact with strangers. In some neighborhoods, to do so could be viewed as being aggressive. I then wondered if making eye contact has become too intimate – too personal for many of us.
The other dynamic that occurs for me when wearing a mask is, I am now aware of people moving about me. It is an outgrowth of the 6” rule. I can say that I am more conscious and aware of others and their presence in my life than I have ever been. During the few times at the grocery store, I am always observing others. Are they well? Do they need help? I see you.
The final word is that for any of us to face the world without some form of a mask requires great courage. Living an authentic life gives us joy and purpose that eventually make our lives more successful.
Stephen Thomson is a writer living in Savannah, Georgia. His work also includes psychic readings, (clairvoyant and Tarot), numerology, and spiritual mentoring. All of these services are available by telephone or through the internet. Check out his books on Amazon.com. Visit him on the Internet at Stephenthomson.net