These traditions were taught from generation to generation, till the coming of the Celts, who left much of their traditions, culture and art, well rooted in Europe, and so the people, till nowadays, still use many masks at the day of Samhain, because in a way, it is still the day when the dead can return andcommunicate with the living and vice versa, although most people dont know why, but in many countries, there are still many festivities were the use of masks still symbolizes the ancestral traditions of working with the spirits and be in touch with the divine forces.
You may ask yourself, why do we dress in spooky costumes at Halloween, where did this tradition came from? I’m about to answer that.
You may have heard about Samhain, the festival that takes place at the 31st of October to the 1st of November, a pagan festival that dates to a time before our common era (B.C.E.), an harvest festival that the Celts and the Gaelic peoples used to celebrate, it was thought that in this day, the spirits of the dead and our ancestors could come back to us, visiting the world of the living. The Celts both honored and feared this time, afraid that the dead and other spiritual beings who weren’t that “kindly”, might take them to the other side, so the celts would put masks on their faces so they couldn’t be recognizable. The spirits of the dead would do the same, and everyone could enjoy this time and this festival, dancing and chanting, no one could guess who were the spirits and who were the living ones, because all of them were wearing masks. But this is a subject for a later post.
Wearing masks is in fact a tradition that goes far beyond the emergence of the Celtic culture in Europe, it is indeed a tradition used all over the world that has at least 30.000 years old. In a time when shamanism was practiced all over the world and was a profession that needed to exist and all the community in a certain area, needed a shaman, a person who could teached about the human existance and the meanings of the natural world, a person who also could taught how to respect all living creatures, a healer of both body and soul, a person who could speak with the world of the spirits and the spirits of the land, by means of entering in trance, lets just say that a shaman, was a person with many teachings, knowledge and professions concentrated in just one mind.
To enter in trance and speak with the spirits, ancestors and to the gods, the shaman used manytechniques, many are not “recommended” because it involved an extreme detrition of the body andphysical health. But there were other techniques, more peaceful and less stressful and exhausting, such as the rhythmic percussion of the drum, frenetic dance and chanting, and the use of a mask.
The shaman used the mask, so when working with the spirits, he couldn’t be recognized by an evil spirit who could try to make him harm, and the use of the mask, was also a symbol of the body changes the shaman could pass through in the other world, becoming a better being. Most shamans all over the world use this spirit mask, and sometimes the spirits are so used to have the presence of a particular shaman, that he will always use the spirit-mask they are used to know, otherwise, they will not know if that is the same shaman, and will run away from him.
As an exemple, the spirit-masks of the Siberian shaman, is called abagalei, made of wood and Squirrelhair implants as beard and eyebrows. The mask is a symbol of the spirits inside the shaman, and he wasn’t himself anymore, he was now “vehicle” that could be used to communicate with the spirits and with the gods.
An other exemple is Odin himself, the King of the Aesir gods in the Northern pantheon, he is the mostfamous shaman and he is also called Grimr which means “the masked”.