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Forgive me. I could continue to wax lyrical about links in our current traditions seen as folk lore to those of our ancient ancestors. To me there is a tremnedous link which is bound up with very nature of people we are and how we have developed. Our formative roots live in our societies now. That is why I find masks so powerfully evocative. Along with other forms of primitive and traditional art we can trace our own links to earlier times. Even today shaman / magician exists following ancient magik rules.
Even modern latex masks contain some of same magic, because they are linked back to same collective unconcious and traditions of masquerade, disguise and spirit world. As a school teacher I have come across some quite vociferous reactions by parents to having Halloween in school. Some see its pagan links and reject it. The seam runs deep into modern psyche.
Perhaps most potent place to view this link is in Mexican Day of Dead Celebrations. This festival combines a mix of Christian and Pagan practices. In particular Halloween has a juxtaposition between dead and children. Here children are masked to scare away evil spirits and look after dead. By this means a link with ancestors and children is perpetuated.
Another fascinating link between masks of many cultures is fool. The fool has many characteristics, most noticeable of which is paradox. The fool can be wise and foolish; handsome and ugly; playful and barbaric. He straddles line between extremes of other masks switching from one role to other. Perhaps fool simply represents many dualities and paradoxes in life.
Also fool plays a full part in staging of ritual. Noohlmahl in Kwakwaka'wakw rituals is a grotesque creature covered in hair with snot pouring from his nose. He struts about entertaining crowd, making jokes and anticipating reponses. Should reponses become too familiar a violent response could be expected. Of course responses to watchers comments could be of another more humourous roposte.
Surprise and paradox are essential to nature of all fools. Another of his jobs is to control children. He treads line between clowning for them and ensuring that they do not disrupt proceedings. As with inappropriate comments from adults a violent response can be provoked should children, literally, over step line.
To return to my original point masks are a way into very nature of our being. The mythology of Palaeolithic times is linked directly to tribal mask and western folk lore masks. For me this is why mask holds such power and magic. The mask allows us to physically touch and share our past in a way which few objects can do. Tribal Masks carry a universal signature that appeals to our nature.
© Ian Bracegirdle 2004 http://mask-and-more-masks.com You may use this article freely on condition that you include this copyright line and URL and that people who subsequently use this article follow same conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.
Teacher, Course Leader, Mask maker. Ian has studied and taught masks making and information for several years. He sees masks as a link back to our cultural origins.