100 Days of Halloween: Bizarre Masks (And Their Unsettling Uses) From Around the World

Bizarre Masks From Around the World

So…we googled vintage Halloween masks.” Let’s just say…nightmare fuel!

Masks hold a special place in the Monster Guys headquarters/haunting ground. We ourselves have for a long time collect, create, and display masks of all types. As our #100DaysofHalloween draws closer to its namesake holiday, we feel it’s appropriate to spend some time with some of our favorite theatrical devices and Halloween costume fare.

Here’s some historical and folkloric trivia to pass around the campfire this year:

Masks_CreepyVintageMasks were the spiritual realm’s can of “OFF!”

In early Halloween traditions, those celebrating would leave goodies to “treat” the spirits of the dead, or wear scary disguises to appease, frighten, or “trick” the spirits. And, to be honest, if we were ghosts, these Monster Guys would probably steer clear of anyone wearing those old Halloween costumes — ’cause those things were freaky.

Going back a bit further, many shamanistic cultures would were masks in early exorcisms and banishing rituals.

Masks_Mashiki…also, they were the spiritual realm’s “ON!”

It’s believed that in earlier pagan traditions that shamans would use masks to attract these spirits, and still do in many cultures.

Celtics would call upon nature spirits, while African villagers embodied the spirits of nature as well as their ancestors in coming-of-age rituals. Oceanic people also believed masks could house their ancestral spirits, and worshiped them in this way.

Masks have always been associated with spirits and demons, and often times becoming one.

Remember those banishing rituals we spoke of earlier? We forgot to mention, in some cultures those rituals involved actually becoming the spirit that lived inside those old, handcrafted visages. In Japanese folklore, there are a few instances where an evil or cruel person put on a demon mask (oni or hannya masks) and found that they could not take it off!

Two Latin words for mask are actually persona and larva…

—while persona signifies the relationship between mask and wearer, larva is more specifically a mask of some terrifying demon, creature, or mara.

(A mara is a monster related to the hagridden phenomenon, also where we get the term nightmare.)

Onibaba
I can’t believe it’s not butter!

 

They were (and are) used to preserve the dead.

This one you should know…somewhat.

Masks in Egyptian culture were ornate, created from several different materials and made in the likeness of certain gods for certain rituals. That is, if you were alive.

If you were dead, then your mask was made to look like you. Royalty was mummified and put in the infamous caskets to preserve the body for when the spirit returned.

Skip forward a millennia, and you have death masks.

While these don’t help with the mummification process, death masks are kept in honor (honor or macabre curiosity?) of people recently deceased. We’re talking Abraham Lincoln, Mary Queen of Scots, and John Keats type of people.

The really unsettling part? Certain physicians specialized in making these molds which were taken just hours after the person’s death, so that bloating or rigor wouldn’t be an issue.

Masks_MaryDeathMask

(We’re not sure that is the issue that we would worry about coming off a dead person’s face, but okay, doc.)

And (for us, fortunately) masks were used in some of the strangest cultural fashion and trends.

They were used to escape societal bounds…Masks_carnaval-masks-4

Do you know about Venetian masks? They weren’t made to disguise just one’s personal identity.

Surprisingly, there were laws against wearing certain types of disguises in former periods of time, coinciding with laws against mischievous pranks and vandalism (kind of like today, too).

During Venice’s many carnivals, masks were a way to blend in with different classes, escape the rigid standards (or limitations) of your social rank, and have a good time.

…to shame…

Masks_SchandmaskeOn the flip side, Germany used masks as a way to shame those who had committed social missteps. These schandmaskes were huge, iron things that were uncomfortable to wear and often designed to make wheezing or whimpering noises when a person inhaled or exhaled.

While most were made to look like silly animal heads, the effect is really quite frightening.

 

…and to terrify, er, we mean, allure…Masks_VisardMasks

Finally, in England, women wore visard masks to retain an air of mystery. The only mystery is…why?!

These masks were borderline ghastly, coated with black velvet that resembles the hole in which a soul has been ripped out. To make matters worse, visard masks had a strange little mouth piece that women bit lightly to keep the mask flush with their face, with the added effect of losing any ability to speak. To make matters worse, some women wore glasses over the eyeholes.

Why does this just scream serial killer disguise? Or maybe Silent Hill?

What are some of your favorite masks from around the world – creepy, funny, or terrifying? What are you wearing to hide your face this Halloween? Let us know in the comments below!

Happy Halloween 2014!

 

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