Saturday, October 18, 2014

Masking and Unmasking, Part 2

Here we are at Halloween, a beautifully dark fall evening. It began as a Celtic holiday, Samhain, for remembering our dead and wishing them well on their journey into the next world, and the name Halloween became the most popular name for the day when the church began celebrating All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day the day after. So the name is a contraction for the Eve of the All Hallowed. The Celtic word Samhain means summer's end, and the day after marked the new year on the old calendars and the first day of winter. So you can see how they got the idea for saying farewell to those who died by facing into the coldest, darkest part of the year.

Interestingly, it is also celebrated by Mexicans as The Day of the Dead. Two different cultures, half a world apart, yet at the heart of the holiday is exactly the same sentiment. The Longmont Museum features a special exhibit every year at this time, when people create altars in honor of those who died this year. There are also related exhibits that explain the aspects of the holiday. For example, they always decorate with marigolds and burn copal, a strong, pleasant incense that is a tree resin, like frankincense or myrrh. In both traditions, a place is set at the table with the person's favorite food and things they enjoyed while alive are displayed, such as if they liked playing cards or guitar, reading novels, or other things that they liked. In both cultures telling stories about that person and offering them one last meal and visit before wishing them well on their journey into the next world. The marigolds and copal are to help guide the spirits on their journeys, road markers for the place in between here and there.

There is another holiday specifically for remembering those killed in war, but this one is a time to say farewell to anyone we know who died this year. We speak our appreciation for those who we remember and acknowledge that part of the cycle of life, the ending of this physical reality as we know it.Halloween is a time when kids go trick or treating, wearing masks and costumes. It is a time when adults go to parties dressed as characters they wish they were or want to be.

It is fun watching all the little kids in their costumes continuing the tradition, even though they do not know yet the roots of the traditions they follow, that of the soul cakes and the dumb supper. They celebrate the harvest of candy, and it is a great holiday for kids as a fun time to dress up and get treats from their neighbors. In earlier times, the soul cakes were the precursors to the trick or treat tradition. It actually has a very similar root to the tradition of Christmas caroling. In a Celtic town, people would go from house to house and say prayers for those who had passed. In appreciation then, the host or hostess would offer these sweet cakes to thank them for coming by and praying. The Mexican tradition also includes sweet breads and cookies in the shapes of skulls which are treats when people gather to honor their dead.

Falling leaves signal the shift in seasons with more certainty every day, as less leaves are on the branches and more on the ground. We celebrate all that we have harvested this year as well, and we have some food on our shelves for the winter and we work and look toward the future, pulling a card for the year.

Spirits always dance on this fall holiday, and we dance with them.
When we dress in a mask and costume, we can mingle with people we know and yet be a mystery. When people see us out of context in real life, they are sometimes stumped, like the person you see at the office of a company you do business with, but then you see them having a beer at a concert, and they only look vaguely familiar.
Now add another layer to the mystery. You are deliberately dressed in a mask and costume, and no one knows who you are. You can say or do anything, because they do not know it is you. For this interlude, you are invisible in your costume.
Add another layer to the mystery and you are at a party where everyone is in masks and costumes. They don't know who you really are and so you play with their persona. You play along with the man or woman dressed as the famous movie star, author, artist, musician, politician, athlete or monster. You come up with witty remarks that flow with their theme. And they do the same with yours.
For a moment, you can be anyone you want to be. For an evening, you can be as brave as Braveheart or as sexy as Marilyn Monroe. You can be as witty as Robin Williams or as manic as Martha Stewart. For one evening, you could dress up as the Phantom or the boys from Stomp! You could be as spicy as Emeril or as nerdy as Bill Gates. You could be as outragiously sexily costumed as Lady Gaga or as sultry as Sophia Loren. Be as clever as Shakespeare or as wickedly hot as a vampire. You could be as cranky as Frank Lloyd Wright or Picasso. You could be demented as an ex president still running for election or a market researcher surveying party goers about the new invention, the Orgasmatron. Or maybe you are trying to get everyone to drink one of those crazy new drinks you brewed. For one evening, you can try on that personality and strut your stuff, doing whatever you want to do, and saying whatever you want to say.
Be crazy. Get it all off your chest. It is a day out of time. There were other holidays throughout history where masks and costumes were used, but today, our greatest costume holiday is Halloween. Certainly, people throw costume parties at other times of the year, but this is the one everyone is in on.
Costumes and masks can reveal our alter ego, or our other personas. For one evening a person can pretend to be famous, rich, beautiful and handsome, crazy, musical, funny, charming, lecherous, evil, dastardly, daredevil, talented, romantic, poetic or foolish.
In real life, a person may be simply known as the salesperson, cook, bank teller, the waitress, the mechanic, the nurse, the call center agent, the accountant, the bartender, the grocer, the dry cleaner, the real estate agent, the copy center clerk, delivery man, the barista, the librarian, the vet's assistant or the maid. But for one night everyone can be a star. For one night, everyone can be who they want to be. For one night, everyone's dreams can come true. For one day out of time, it is permissible to make our dreams come alive, and act out our desires in the safety of anonymity.
For one night, everyone has an opportunity to see how it feels to walk around in someone else's skin. And for that same night, we can see how it feels to be on both the giving and receiving sides of that other person's skin. It can be an eye opening experience to see and be seen in a whole new light.

On this fabulous festive occasion, you can see how it feels to reinvent yourself.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Masking and Unmasking

Costumes at Halloween are always intriguing. Of course, people have costume parties throughout the year, but Halloween is probably the biggest holiday across the board for people to host or participate in costume parties.
Masks and costumes can reveal part of a person's personality and secrets that usually stay hidden. A costume bestows an opportunity to live out a fantasy, even if only for a little while one evening. For that brief event, a person can be someone they have always wanted to be, and that can be an exciting experience.
Wearing a costume or a mask can encourage a person to expand their ambitions in life to become more of who they want to be.
Of course, masks and costumes will not affect everyone that way. Some will simply put it away in a closet and regard it as a silly little dress up event they did at a party for fun.

Notice how at a party where people are wearing masks, and we are not certain who is behind those masks, we find ourselves guessing and then when we find out who it is we may feel totally surprised.

The whole process is rather illuminating if we think about it. For example, a person whose life appears to be very predictable and routine suddenly appears at a party in an adventurous, erotic or outlandish costume that would appear to be the opposite of the personality they normally present to the world. Does that radical departure signal a secret desire to really have a life different than the one they have, or is this simply an elaborate way to have fun pulling everyone's leg this evening? You see, even at this milder level of interpretation, there is a loosening up when a person who normally expresses themselves in a very dry or subdued manner suddenly displays a whip snapping wit. Perhaps what is revealed is that this person really does have a great sense of humor and a larger view of the world,  but we never usually experience it because our usual interactions with them make them appear to be a very narrowly focused person.

There is another aspect to masking and costumes that goes way back to the ancient Roman holidays when the costumes might indicate a role reversal for the holiday. Although there is an obvious appeal to humor in such arrangements, costumes could also reveal a person's real desire to have a different life and be a different person. The question we pose to ourselves even in this limited situation, is if we could make important life choices over again, how would we choose differently? Or would we?
How does the process of selecting a costume start? By entertaining ideas of what you would like to be? Interesting, isn't it?
What might that suggest about future directions for you? Or, for that matter, about our present state of mind?

Masks and costumes provide a kind of freedom while we are in them, to experience life from a different perspective, and many find this to be very exciting. That is one of the reasons for the immense popularity of role playing games among a variety of people.

In tribal traditions, masks were often intended to portray a spirit entity in rituals, and they were also used to convey messages by virtue of the animal or bird they represented. Indeed, some of our costume inspirations may come from the same sources. It may all depend on the theme of the party if the host or hostess has announced one.

Consider how surprised some of us are when a dance partner at a costume ball is revealed to be someone who we didn't even know could dance, and they turn out to be a splendid dancer. It reveals another whole previously unknown aspect of that person.

Masks offer us an experience of what it means to us to be human as we engage in the imaginative experience of being transformed into someone else during the time we are wearing the masks and costumes. We then have the opportunity to get a fresh perspective on our life when we return to our existence without a mask.

People may see us differently at different times in our lives. We have all had that experience of being caught off guard at times when we fail to recognize someone when they are "out of context." In other words, when we are seeing someone in a way we do not usually see them or a place we do not usually see them, we relate to them differently. This same thing happens on a larger scale when we change careers or relationships or change our look with a different hair style, facial hair or style of clothing. These things cause us to see a person differently and it changes our experience of them.

For some people this is all just a temporary, entertaining experience, while for others, it can be a life changing experience. How will it be for you?