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Making Spirit Masks
an article by Lauren Raine

Masks are truly magical tools.  Making a mask,  wearing a mask,  finding it's hidden story and performing with the very unique mask you made, can provide many  powerful opportunities for personal insight and alchemical transformation.

Who are we, beneath the many masks of our lives?  What faces do we wear in the course of  a day,  a year, a lifetime?  What are the mythic  masks that inform our stories of who we are?  Can we envision our "social masks", our "shadow masks", our archetypal masks,  the Deities within each of us?  Masks can immerse us in the myths of our lives, and can help us to find the voices of unclaimed and abandoned aspects of ourselves that are crying for expression.

Creating and exaggerating the expression of our "social masks", for example, can help us to loosen identification with them, finding humor, and sometimes  no small sense of the tragic as well, by consciously interacting with them.  We find we have the freedom to literally take those weighty masks off, to dance more lightly  within them.  Making a mask of the "Inner Child", discovering what she or he has to say,  how that buried child moves or dances, can set free a playful vitality buried for too many years beneath the roles we have assumed as adults, as "professional people", as parents.  Making the "Mask of the Shadow" can also be a profoundly revealing exercise, a ritual to name and acquaint ourselves with our internal "monsters",  the inner demons we project onto others unless we know what their faces look like within ourselves.  They can commune with us within the mask, through our creative imaginations, through improvisational dialog, or within the sacred circle of ritual theatre. 

Masks, animated by our vision and our bodies, become living metaphors, doorways into the house of our multi-dimensional selves.  In tribal cultures around the world,  masks were always made and used with a great deal of  ceremonial preparation, as they were intended to house the spirits of the Gods and Goddesses, the Ancestors or totem animals the tribe wished to invoke.  This same sense of the sacred can belong to a group that enters the Magic Circle with their masks.  To wear the Mask of the Green man is to invite that great archetypal being into your own spirit,  to make the Mask of Gaia is to find Her presence within ourselves, and all the Circles we share. 


With your Circle, be it a coven or a small group of friends, begin by choosing a mythic archetype that is important to you: an aspect of the  Goddess, or of the God, an Element, or perhaps a Power Animal Guide.  Discuss the qualities of the sacred presence you wish to invoke.  Do you need the fiery inspiration of Bridget?  Have you journeyed your personal descent and rebirth this year?  Would wearing the face of Inanna, the Sumerian Goddess  who made Her journey into the underworld, help you to integrate your experience?  Do you need to reclaim Spring in your life by calling the joyful Green man?  Share what the mask would mean to you.  When you go home, make an alter to the Persona of the mask,  and begin to incubate it by keeping a journal,  gathering poems, collecting objects, remembering synchronicities, and inviting your dreams to inform your creative process.   

When you gather to make your masks set aside a weekend.  On the first day, share your writings and insights.  Then, make plaster casts of each others faces (plaster impregnated bandages can be purchased from an art supply store - and don't forget the Vaseline you will need to liberally cover your face, especially eyelashes, eyebrows and hairline!).  When the mask is dry, cut away the eyeholes and the nostrils with an exacto knife, and trim the sides.  Build on the mask with more plaster bandage or papier-mâché if you wish. Attach objects, leaves, and seashells you've collected.  Using acrylic paints, paint your mask, and don't worry  whether it is "perfect".  It is perfect as you imbue it with it with your unique  vision.  When finished, varnish each mask with an acrylic varnish or gel medium.  Then place them in the center of your circle to contemplate.

The next day, create a safe, sacred space in any way you wish:  by casting a Circle as a group, or individually consecrating the space.  Light votive candles to invite the Spirits of the Masks to enter.  It is helpful to chose a member  to facilitate, sensing and calling transition points.  Begin your performance time by meditating on your mask;  let whatever comes up arise.  Afterwards, play some evocative music, and do some muscle stretching together to relax your bodies and your minds.  Separately, claim your own private place within the circle, and in that spot that belongs to you,  explore the mask.  Put it on, see how it wants to move.  Let it move your body, and speak to you with your rhythms or an inner dialog.  If there is exuberance, dance it.  If there is sadness, investigate it.  Allow yourself to make any sounds that arise.  You are in a completely safe space, free to allow yourself full expression.

When the facilitator senses it is appropriate,  she or he can invite the group to rest in their places around the circle.  As individuals feel the desire,  they may enter the center of the Circle and perform the mask.  What does this Being wish to say?  How does it move?  What story does it tell?  How does it wish to interact with others, if it does?  Let it emerge in any fashion it wants to,  let the Spirit of the Mask come through you.

When the ritual performance is over, take off the masks and place them in the Center.  Thank the great Beings embodied in the masks for joining your Circle,  and release them with gratitude to the Other worlds.  Place your hands on the ground, and devoke by sending the energies you have held back down into the Earth.  Release the Circle, and then feast, drink, and share your insights and experiences.  You are now a sacred performer.

Making Spirit Masks - © Lauren Raine 2000


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