Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Updated Europe part 2

Europe 1200 BCE-400 AD

Europe at this time had a number of groups and tribes who were working themselves into organized living groups. We will start with The Celts. The Celts  were various tribal groups who lived during the Iron Age in Europe (1200 BCE-400 CE).  The Iron Age called such because the use of Bronze was slowly falling into disuse with Iron and it’s mixtures being found to be stronger and hardier for use in day to day living. The Celts were prominent during this time, but did not use Iron in their masks the way other cultures would use in their theatre and other applications. The Celts instead would use wood or hemp masks. This is believed to be in large part because the Celts had their connections to the earth as part of their spirituality. It is possible they either shunned metals as not being organic, or perhaps they simply didn’t have the know-how to smith and forge metal. Whatever the reason, wood, stone and animal head masks were used. The Celts had many rituals they celebrated over the course of the year, often coinciding with various seasonal transitions, an important part of the culture as it related to their farming.  The Celts celebrated, the start of the year with , Samhain, the forerunner to modern day Halloween. During this time they celebrated their new year, which began on October 31. The fall was considered the end of the old year, with the winter time beginning the year anew. It was a time of remembering the old year, bringing in the new; not very much different from North American New Year celebrations.  During this festival, the celebration of past ancestors comes heavily into play. While remembering and trying to communicate with those passed on, masks were predominant during this time and believed to be a form of communication. It is believed that during this celebration we would possibly see the forerunner of “ghost and spirit” masks, as they worked to communicate with the dead and pass on their greetings as they started the new year. This would be followed by Imbolc, or the lambing season for the birth of lambs, as well as celebrating the end of winter. Heads of animals, probably sheep and ram were worn during these celebrations, as well as the “Green Man”, who symbolizes the beginning of spring as the trees spring forth. Beltane would be next, celebrated around the first of May. Beltane is well known as the rite and celebration of spring, and probably many animal and fertility related masks would be used during this time. Dances around bonfires and probably mating rituals occurred during this time as it was the celebration of life. The last festival for the year is Lughnasadh, a celebration of the God Lugh, who was responsible for skills and related. This celebration occurred around July 31, either two weeks before or after date. It was a time of trading and testing of skills. Horse masks could have been predominant, with skills and equine trading the big part of the celebration. It was probably believed that wearing the animal heads also allowed them to stay in touch with nature, possibly trying to channel animal spirits. The connection with nature as well as with ancestors was an important rite with the Celts. There were bonfires, feasting and celebrations. Sacrifices were common during this time as well. We know of animal sacrifices, as well as the possibility of humans as well. These days were celebrated with masks of animals and spirits in their rituals. Masks would be used, depending on the celebration, to invite, drive away, celebrate, or give offerings in their various rituals.  Other cultures that also existed during this time period included the Halstatt and Koban cultures.

Finally Getting Organized

I've been doing a lot of work on my mask information site and neglecting this site. Did some re-arranging to make things a little more clean, less clutter-hoping to add some updated history in the next day or so.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Updated Europe part 1

Note this is an updated version of part 1-I will be going through and re-editing my entries based on my newer research.

Europe:  Neolithic to Iron Age (30000 BCE-1200 BCE
Today we put on masks for various reasons, and think little of where it all started. When did we start putting on masks, and why? Masks have been a part our world and our lives since the Neolithic period. With the exception of Antarctica, masks have a history on each of the continents in our world. In this part we will look at each of these continents and establish a historical timeline of masks in each, ending in modern day. The purpose of this chapter is to get a better understanding of how the mask came to be used in these societies. Masks have been used for many things during this time; spiritual ceremony, theatre, celebration, and burial are among the uses. So did we get from a world of masks in our caves to wearing a latex mask at a celebration?  The answer, and our journey, begins in post-modern human France.

Masks by their very nature make us question reality, so it seems appropriate that the first physical mask would be one of debate.  Found in La Roche, France, the stone artefact seems to certainly appear like the upper part of a face. It appears to be a flat stone with a “brow” across the top. There are indentations below the brow, that look to be carved. Wedged between the two “sockets” is a piece of bone, obviously deliberately placed there. The whole appearance gives the view of brow, eyes and nose.  The debate ranges about the mask, believed to be carved by Neandrathal about 33,000 years ago. While there is a contingent that believe that it was carved, and the implanted stone supports that they feel, another group feels that there isn’t enough evidence that the item in question is actually made to look like a face, but possibly some other artifact or even a naturally occurring rock with an implanted bone for whatever reasons.  It is also debated whether they had the mental and abstract ability of their Cro-Magnon counterparts. It certainly is an interesting idea that abstract and artistic reaches this far back in history. There have been Neanderthal graves found with items such as stone tools, suggesting that they already were thinking about life after death. Currently there is more support for the “mask” theory, but it is far from definitive. We will see shortly which mask holds the title as an “early example” of mask making.
  Moving forward about twenty thousand years, the mask would make its first “official” appearance  in cave paintings dating  from 13000 BCE.  In Ariege, France, there is a painting in which there appears to be a human figure wearing a goat head. Dubbed “The Sorcerer” by archaeologists, it is suggested that the figure represents what appears to be a Shaman performing a ritual. The figure is not believed to be a hybrid goat and human, as if it were some new species, but a human wearing a mask. The common belief is that the cave could very well have been a place of worship and ritual. It is one of the earliest examples of the possibility of masks and ritual being used together. The figure being represented may have been someone who used masks in ceremony, possibly trying to channel the animal world or commune with spirits. Little more is known about the actually significance of the painting, other than there are other caves with similar images in Europe and elsewhere. The appearance of these “mask” wearing images do provoke discussion.

Moving forward to the Neolithic period, approximately 7000 BCE, we can find the oldest confirmed physical mask artifacts, as they have been defined by archeologists as “true examples” of early masks.  They are stone in manufacture, with a plain face, with eyes, and open mouth. One such mask is found in the Musée de la bible et Terre Sainte, France. While we don’t know their significance, it is has been thought, that, like “The Sorcerer”, it is believed they had a ritualistic use. Unlike The mask of La Roche, there is general consensus that this is indeed a mask and not something else. The carving is too deliberate, the eye and mouth openings are in their correct position, and the shape in oval, like that of a human face.  What it does suggest again is that humans were using masks as a way of understanding the world around them and a way of understanding themselves since before the Common Era. With abstract thought came the concept of “me”. The idea is that they were trying to figure out themselves as their own identity, and differentiate themselves from other animals, and from other humans. Stone mask artifacts are found elsewhere as well.  In modern day Yugoslavia, there are also artefacts from the Neolithic period. They are statues of what appear to be people wearing masks. Unlike the stone masks, these show variety in shape and expression. The statues also had sculpted hair, showing different physical appearances from 3500 BC towards the beginning of the Common Era. Also during this era the Ain Ghazal in Jordan were making stone masks to bury their dead. The masks were detailed and looked more “human” than that of the mask in Terre Sainte.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Assumptions in research

I'm discovering the joys of research, particularly when it comes to assumptions getting crushed, leading to more research.

My example: I've been doing research on masks in North American arctic-Inuit culture. In my earlier research it's easy to see information that says about Inuit being around since 5000 BCE or more. Well, as I discovered, there were peoples earlier than that-but they weren't called Inuit. Enter the Dorset and Thule, two different cultures that chronologically predated the Inuit. Seems that the Dorset are founded back to around 2000 BCE or later. And even in their legends, they refer to another people who they said they pushed out the area-though apparently they are more legend, and not a lot of scientific basis yet.

So, what now? Well now I get to pretty much chew up my chonology of Inuit and work on the Thule and Dorset cultures as they pertain to their masks, and seeing what I can find out. At first I was understandably frustrated, but then I looked at it as a way of just having more information on the culture and timeline in question, which is turn will lead to more information-so really it's all good.

Hopefully the Dorset and Thule culture research gives me some good information to work with.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Research "Block"

Consider this my first "official" entry into my thoughts on research, and the ups and downs of it. I find myself hitting the "research block" as it were with my current mindset. In this case its a mental one-and it comes back to a question that sometimes comes up: why are you doing this?

This though comes up every so often, as I am doing the writing and research for my own interest; and because the area of interest-masks-may not be among the top research items that people do, particularly when it comes to its history, as I've said before-it's a akin to search for puzzle pieces in a field full of random puzzle pieces. There's a lot of searching and scouring to find stuff that I can use. And because it can get labor intensive, the "why am I doing this" will resurface, and it pulls me back into blockage.

So how does one get past this "research block"? This isn't like I've got a deadline to meet, or that I'm being paid to do this (I only wish!). It's purely for my own interest, and maybe I can get a book published about it down the road if I'm that fortunate. I am sure it doesn't help that while there are people with interests in masks out there, my interest, the anthropology both historic and modern, not a lot of people are into that part of it. I do keep searching though, for the history aspect and people who might follow it.

So how do I come out of these blockages? Often it's just time: taking a walk, or taking things in another direction, or just not thinking about it for a while. Sometimes however it can take a while to "get back to it" when taking a break-and that requires some serious mental discipline.

So here's to taking some time for now to see if I can unclog the blockage.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Clearing cobwebs (again)

It seems like the past couple of times I tried this, I lost track of the blog. Going to see I can stick with it this time. Going to expand a bit too-before the site was just an online scratch book for my research. Going to try and expand on talking about what research I'm doing at any given time, and just observations on the project as I go along, and what doing research on such a wide subject of masks entails. Hope it works out!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Early Mask Musings

As we look back at the earlier history of masks-back in our cave dwelling days and possibly before. 

The challenge comes in trying to figure about possiblities of ritual use. It seems in my view that much of our ritual and following of deities seemed to start for the most part after the last ice age-7-10000 years ago. But could it have something other than ritual? Something much simpler, a simpler version of understanding of self.

If we go back to the somewhat controversial Neanderthal era "mask"-which is still debated about whether it's just a natural rock formation or an actual piece of work-the question becomes blurry. 

We do know that Neanderthals seemed to have some view of abstract thought-they buried their dead, often with tools and crafts as though to carry them to the next world, so certainly the mask in question could be ritual. 

But what if it is a simpler question? What if the masks were made as a way of a "what am I?" construct. Perhaps they tried making masks and faces as a way of understanding, or trying to re-create themselves. Yet they would have looked at the mask and said "this is like me, but it is NOT me". Even today we try and recreate ourselves through computers, through art, and yes through masks. 

It's such a challenge to say "they used masks to communicate with spirits", because we aren't totally sure what concept they thought of them. 

As we see in later cave paintings of what are obviously humans wearing animal heads-it might (MIGHT) be easier that point to say there is ritual at the very least in the form of the hunting. And even then it's open to debate. 

It's certainly an interesting idea to think that if Neanderthals a million years ago were already trying to sort out who they were in the world, and what made them what they were. 

Certainly food for thought.