Masks have been used since antiquity. An object traditionally worn on the face, masks served as protection and disguise as well as for performance or entertainment. It is not known who invented masks and the origin of the word “Mask” is uncertain. History documents that the earliest mask discovered came from a cave drawing in Southern France, dated approximately 20,000 BC. The word “Mask” first appeared in English during the 1530’s and is said to have been derived from the Middle French word “Masque” (covering to hide or guard face”) The Italian word, <em>”Maschera” is believed to have been derived from the Medieval Latin Masca (“Mask, specter, nightmare”). That said, the word may even have an Arabic origin with the word “Maskharah” (“To ridicule”). Who knew? Other descriptions for this “Masked” word of intrigue is “To black the face” or “Mesh”. Again, who knew? It is also claimed that the word “Mask” derived from the Spanish “Mas que la cara” (“More than the face” or “Added face”). I love that one, for in time this word is said to have eventually evolved to “Mascara”. (Alas, could it be that those of us that adore mascara are indeed putting on a “Mask”? Once again, who knew?). The Hebrew form of the word is “Masecha” and another Arabic term, “Maskharat” (refering to buffoonery by disguising the face) is said to have been based on these Spanish roots. Quite a history within the terminology of a word of such mystique…
Wherever the mask originated and the words used to describe it, the power behind a mask is certainly not denied. Tradition. Carrying on the custom of concealing one’s identity in celebration of Mask design has varied in history, ranging from handheld “False Face” (held by a handle), to complete head coverings. Throughout the world masks are used for their expressive power in masked performances. A familiar and vivid element in many folk and traditional pageants, festivals and other ceremonies of ancient origin, the mask is deeply rooted in the world’s history. Perhaps best known as the adornment of wearing masks at ‘Carnivals’, ‘Mardi Gras’, ‘masked balls’ and of course, the adornment of masks with the festival known as ‘Halloween’. Today, the masks donned during these celebrations are worn to amuse and release all inhibition.
The concealed allure of mystery and magical effects that result from donning a mask is meant to be a harmless diversion from reality. Cloaked in mystique, for certain. Indeed, masks are a symbol of continuity and history and transport us to a different realm of reality. For a moment in time, that is. And of the masks to veil oneself? There is something to be said about an alluring disguise of elegance and mystery. “Masked” in enchanting style, indeed.