MASKS: New Challenge & Shamanic Tradition
AUGUST 2020 - by ANNETTE HØST
Masks are for the time being a part of our social life. I know some people have a hard time accepting wearing a facemask. Who feel it is a loss of individual freedom. Or – if in a shamanic circle or ceremony - some people can hardly imagine approaching the spirits with a mask on.
So I think it is time we take a good look at the use of MASKS in shamanic traditions, and see what we can use right here and now:
Connection, Protection, Flow of Power – all this is at play, when we talk of masks in shamanic ritual, in magic, in spiritual practice. And it all comes down to intention:
The flow of power between shaman and spirits is essential in shamanic work. Shamans all over the world have used ritual gear and dress to enhance that flow, that connection. Masks and headpieces are key parts of the ritual garment. It can be a facemask in the likening of one of the shaman’s spirit guides, or a god. Or the mask may show the soul-face of an animal - like deer, or salmon - whose help, protection or meat, the ritual is asking for. When you put on the mask, it is a magic act of leaving your ego or human identity outside the ceremony. The mask helps the spirit to arrive, and the two of you to become one, be united. The shapeshifting happens both physically and spiritually, and makes the otherworld more tangible for the other participants in the ceremony. A friend of mine put it this way: The masks in a ritual invite the gods, and make it easier for them to walk among us.
I have an old carved raven-mask made of wood, a traditional ritual mask. When I put the mask on it is a bit harder to breathe, and I can’t really see. But that’s the point! In the ritual, it both shields me from ordinary world inputs and opens me for the spirit world. I don’t have to be me, I can be betwixt and between. If you then look at me, you may easier see Raven, not Annette. You will hear Raven speak, not me.
Some shamanic masks are for the sight mostly: A fringe in front of the eyes, both shielding for ordinary view and strengthening the spirit vision. And on the other hand, some shamanic face masks have been used in healing work for protecting against dangerous spirits.
What has all that shamanic stuff to do with the masks in our daily life in corona-time? At first glance it is hard to see the kinship between a light blue, medical disposable mask, or a cloth mouth cover, and the expressively painted, traditional ritual masks. But you also know from your shamanic training to shift you vision so you see the “inner-side”, the soul of a thing, rather than its surface. So yes, the surface of a medical mask may be light blue - but what is the inner-side? What is the soul of the mask? A lot depends on which storyline we imbue the mask with, which narrative we choose to “paint” on our masks. Some people feel that “Fear” is written on the community masks. Others feel “We take care of eachother” is the message. Another friend of mine see “Compassion” as the clear signal of the community mask. The choice is ours.
Why not make our own new mask magic, building on the old mask tradition? Using word-power, image, clear intent to work together with the spirit of the mask. Some ideas:
For daily life masks, I can add signs or bind-runes of blessing and strength on both a disposable and homemade mask, visible or invisible to others. I can sew my own mask. I can do a journey and ask if my power animal or guardian spirit are willing to be represented or hinted at on my mask. I can find new blessing spells, or simply, when I put on a mask, I can say “Corona, I respect you, but do not pass this barrier.”.
For masks in shamanic or ritual circles, we will – for a while - sometimes have to wear them, for example if we are all singing loud in a seidr, or shouting. Also here our magic could be to add visual spirit-representation on our mask. And we can invite new mask prayers or blessings, declaring our intention. Like “May this mouthpiece I wear let my voice be heard in all worlds”. Or “May this mask I wear bless the flow of power between me and the universe/ my fylge. “
Masks are here to stay – as long as h. highness Corona reigns. We might as well befriend them. With curiosity, inventiveness and inspiration we can make a Virtue of Necessity. We can create good relationships, even strong healing pacts with the Masks. As shamans always have done.
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