Conceal Thyself

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The Phantom of the Opera is there… Inside your mind.

There’s something haunting about masks. And about the person that wears one, of course. And while I usually talk about the metaphysical masks we all wear to hide who we really are, I’m talking about the real deal. From revolutionaries and assassins to theater actors and even in video games, masks come in all sorts of colors and designs. And whether outright horrifying or delightfully entertaining, each has a story to tell. I’d have a mask collection if I had enough wall space — except I kind of do… I’ll explain.

Tiki Masks

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By Josh Agle (AKA Shag), an AWESOME artist

Nothing says tropical like an angry tiki! And though their designs can wildly vary, you always know a tiki mask when you see one.

Honestly, I don’t know much about them apart from the pop culture replacement of real Polynesian meaning. According to To-Hawaii.com (a solid source of reliable information?):

Tiki statues were carved to represent the image of a certain god and as an embodiment of that specific god’s mana, or power. With well-formed tikis, perhaps the people could attain protection from harm, strengthen their power in times of war and be blessed with successful crops…

The ancient Hawaiians kept their gods close using many creative forms of communication. Tikis were created as a medium of connection or interaction. Through continued communication with these all-powerful deities, the Hawaiian people were sure to follow the right path to appeasement.

Whether for religious communication or decoration in a seedy 1980’s style tiki bar in Honolulu, tiki masks have become a universal symbol of life on white beaches and calm ocean waves.

And I’m totally into that.

Ritual Masks

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From JustinBowen on deviantArt of a store wall in Nairobi, Africa

From the wiki on Traditional African masks:

In most traditional African cultures, the person who wears a ritual mask conceptually loses his or her human identity and turns into the spirit represented by the mask itself.[3] This transformation of the mask wearer into a spirit usually relies on other practices, such as specific types of music and dance, or ritual costumes that contribute to conceal the mask-wearer’s human identity. The mask wearer thus becomes a sort of medium that allows for a dialogue between the community and the spirits (usually those of the dead or nature-related spirits).

There’s definitely a connection to tiki masks here. It’s exactly what a mask is made to be: a way to hide the identity and create or manifest a new one based upon the mask itself. I have yet to experience a traditional African or Native American ceremony, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

And on the video game side of things, there’s one ritual mask that definitely went to the dark side…

And ones you might recognize from the tombs of Skyrim:

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Hanging on my wall!

Killer Masks

Because a killer in a mask is always more frightening than one without:

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‘Heroes’ wear masks to do their dirty work:

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And some masks can even heal… or kill, depending on who’s inside:

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Finally…

So, all I’m trying to say is, masks are cool. S’true. Some are used for good, some for evil, and if fiction and myth would have us believe anything, it’s that even the masks themselves can turn into powerful symbols or dark incarnations of evil.

For some reason, I don’t like wearing masks. The physical ones, I mean. And it isn’t because I don’t like hiding myself — oh no, I like that part. It’s just that in modern American society, masks are frowned upon. Like your elementary school teacher reminding you that you couldn’t wear masks for Halloween. Or if you were walking down a street at night and you saw a man walking towards you wearing a mask, you’d probably make a hard turn without a second thought.

Masks differ in meaning from one society to another, and from one time period to another. And maybe there’s no good way to understand the story each mask portrays. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth searching for.

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