Masks have been used for protection, disguise, entertainment, and ritual practices for thousands of years. The oldest found mask dates back to 7000 BC. War masks are made to scare the enemy with big eyes, painted colors, and anger of the carved face. The Venice Carnival Mask originated in the 17th century by French physician Charles de Lorme and was worn by plague doctors to protect them from airborne diseases. Carnival goers eventually started wearing a decorated version as a memento mori, a remembrance of their mortality. The tradition of the mask started in the 13th century when Venetians would hold celebrations and parties from December 26th until the start of Lent and wear elaborate masks to conceal their identity. The mask was held in place by the wearer biting on a button or bit and was finished off with a veil. The custom of facemask-wearing began in Japan during the early years of the 20th century when a massive pandemic of influenza killed between 20 and 40 million people around the world. Covering the face with scarves, veils, and masks became a prevalent means of warding off the disease until the epidemic finally faded at the end of 1919
The use of masks in rituals or ceremonies is a very ancient human practice across the world, although masks can also be worn for protection, in hunting, in sports, in feasts, or in wars – or simply used as ornamentation. Some ceremonial or decorative masks were not designed to be worn. Although the religious use of masks has waned, masks are used sometimes in drama therapy or psychotherapy.
One of the challenges in anthropology is finding the precise derivation of human culture and early activities, the invention and use of the mask is only one area of unsolved inquiry. The use of masks dates back several millennia. It is conjectured that the first masks may have been used by primitive people to associate the wearer with some kind of unimpeachable authority, such as a deity, or to otherwise lend credence to the person’s claim on a given social role.
The earliest known anthropomorphic artwork is circa 30,000–40,000 years old. The use of masks is demonstrated graphically at some of these sites. Insofar as masks involved the use of war-paint, leather, vegetative material, or wooden material, such masks failed to be preserved, however, they are visible in paleolithic cave drawings, of which dozens have been preserved. At the neanderthal Roche-Cotard site in France, a flintstone likeness of a face was found that is approximately 35,000 years old, but it is not clear whether it was intended as a mask.
In the Greek bacchanalia and the Dionysus cult, which involved the use of masks, the ordinary controls on behaviour were temporarily suspended, and people cavorted in merry revelry outside their ordinary rank or status. René Guénon claims that in the Roman saturnalia festivals, the ordinary roles were often inverted. Sometimes a slave or a criminal was temporarily granted the insignia and status of royalty, only to be killed after the festival ended. The Carnival of Venice, in which all are equal behind their masks, dates back to 1268 AD. The use of carnivalesque masks in the Jewish Purim festivities probably originated in the late 15th century, although some Jewish authors claim it has always been part of Judaic tradition.
The North American Iroquois tribes used masks for healing purposes (see False Face Society). In the Himalayas, masks functioned above all as mediators of supernatural forces. Yup’ik masks could be small 3-inch (7.6 cm) finger masks, but also 10-kilogram (22 lb) masks hung from the ceiling or carried by several people. Masks have been created with plastic surgery for mutilated soldiers.
Masks in various forms – sacred, practical, or playful – have played a crucial historical role in the development of understandings about “what it means to be human”, because they permit the imaginative experience of “what it is like” to be transformed into a different identity (or to affirm an existing social or spiritual identity). Not all cultures have known the use of masks, but most of them have
Physical wear or not, we all wear masks… so who are we really