Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. James Arthur Baldwin
Have you heard the vampire pick-up line: “What’s your type?” Hopefully now you are sucked in to the theme. So what’s your type? I don’t mean blood type, but personality type? What masks do you store in your personality kit bag? Halloween is a great time to reflect on the masks that hide your fears, and decide which ones, if any, are serving you.
Ancient cultures lived in dread of winter because of their superstitious beliefs that winter would only end if the gods returned from the underworld. Many believed that during this in-between time of year, the veil was lifted between the world of the living and the world of the dead and spirits moved freely back and forth. Their rituals were an attempt to appease the spirits and maybe purge their fear.
Our Halloween celebrations grew out of these ancient ideas. Kids dress up as people and figures that seem far away and sometimes scary, and dance on the line between reality and make-believe. They wear masks as if to poke a little fun at fear and claim some autonomy. We let kids walk the streets at night in supervised ways so that they get a safe taste of night life.
As mystery author Nevada Barr writes, “Halloween traditionally was the night we were given the freedom to explore the dark — not to find and be the evil but to see that the night was as beautiful as the day, that we were powerful, others were kind, that there was candy behind those closed doors and strangers who gave us treats….. On Halloween, we learn we can meet with our demons; that monsters are really and truly just us in other guises; that we can survive this interface. We learn that we are trustworthy; that our parents can dress us as demons, send us out into the night of demons to move among the demons and yet trust us to do nothing worse than to beg candy off the neighbors.” Seeking Enlightenment…Hat by Hat.
The Hopi people have a fascinating rite of passage for their children. When they are young, the children experience a ritual during the corn harvest. Kachinas, masked holy men, parade into the tribe’s circle, bless the corn and bring gifts to the children. At the age of initiation, teenagers are taken to an alternate harvest festival. During this occasion, something surprising happens. Instead of dancing, the Kachinas stand directly in front of the children and remove their masks. These men, whom the children had always thought were gods, are revealed in fact to be their uncles and neighbors. It’s a coming of age ritual, where otherworldly magic gives way to ordinary miracle. It’s a way of showing the kids that all of life, even the most ordinary people and situations, are full of divine wonder. They don’t need to live in fear.
Masks are important. They protect us, and its right to protect yourself. I think back to 9/11, and people running helter skelter through the streets of lower Manhattan with their masks protecting them from the dust and ash. I think of people at airports, protecting themselves from the swine and bird flues. Masks are useful for so many purposes. Humor can be like a mask, calming a tense situation. Masks protect your fragile sense of self worth. They give you a way to decide how much of yourself, and which parts of yourself, you reveal to the world.
Masks are healthy as long as you remember that it’s a mask and not the real you in any permanent sense. Beyond the masks lies your true self. Beyond the masks lies a life with less fear and defensiveness. Beyond the masks lies your divine essence. Theologian Marcus Borg describes the Christian idea of the trinity like this, “To speak of one God and three persons is to say that God is known to us wearing three different ‘masks’… in three different roles”. The Greek word for “persons” as in “God in three persons” is better translated as “masks.” Like many ancient cultures, the Greeks and Romans of Jesus day used masks and drama to celebrate the ever changing mystery of life in their theatres and celebrations. The masks were a way of connecting with the gods, by reflecting the image of the gods in a safe and respectful way.
Maybe that’s why many traditions speak of one God. It’s not because there is a single being out there in the way we think of beings. It’s because there are moments beyond masks when you feel completely at ease, one with yourself and others. In those moments, God is inner peace and outer unity. It’s a beautiful experience to finally realize that you no longer need to be afraid of the God of your understanding. God, by any name, is an experience of life as it is – transparent and pure, without pretense and defensive boundaries.
The Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran, tells a beautiful parable about life without masks-
You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”
Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.
And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”
At moments when you lose your fear and know that no circumstance, evil or dark night of the soul can crush you, your bare face and naked soul are touched by the sun and you dance in the oneness of life.
Wear your masks mindfully and know that they’re important, but they don’t define you. You can wear the mask of the strong one for now, knowing that it won’t always be this way. You can be the extrovert who opens doors to new friendships or the calm introvert who grounds the tense situation, but neither introvert nor extrovert fully defines who you are. They are just masks you wear for a time and purpose.
You dance in relationship most gracefully when you know how to move between the various aspects of who you are. The more familiar you are with your own masks and personas, the more you realize how temporary and changeable they are. Every now and again, you remove the masks covering your essence and allow yourself just to be. The peace is transcendent. You let the masks slip and let someone see the real you behind all the personas. Whether in love making, or friendship, these are the precious moments of life, when you are stripped naked before another person and feel completely safe. In those moments you become one.
Happy Halloween! Fear is unmasked. Love lies beneath.
Ps. Please visit Soulseeds for affirmation resources. Fear and negativity don't need to control your life and rule your mind.