Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mask History Part 3

Mask History part 3

So as we head towards into the first centure CE (Common Era), the Romans would slowly work their way into the Celtic territories. As they came into the region, they discovered the Celtic celebrations. Instead of outright changing the celebrations, which closely mirrored their own, they integrated their own. The celebrations were essentially more celebrations to the gods and goddesses, but their own were substituted for the "pagan" deities they felt the Celts celebrated, and the masks continued to be worn.
As we approach the turning into the Common Era, Christianity would be rising throughout Europe, and after the fall of Rome, this would turn into what is referred to as the "Dark Ages"; being called such because there isn't a lot of information of what happened, as anything seen as artistic or celebratory or "worldly" was frowned upon, and the masks were part of that. The focus came onto biblical teachings and the church, anything else was deemed not useful or desired.
So what happened? This continued until the around the 5th century. It was the church who actually was responsible for the return of masks to the public, among many other things. The crux of the situation is that much devotion was occuring in churches. Any plays were based on biblical history and meant as a teaching tool and nothing more. Yet the belief seemed to crop up that they were losing a chance at adding parishoners. So the church set up a stage outside the church to tell the stories to the masses that they had kept in the church itself. Because there was no concern about being on hallowed ground, more creativity was encouraged. In the 12th century, there is record of priests setting up a play called "The Mystery Of Adam", a telling of part of Genesis. There were trap doors and sound effects, and at one point a couple of characters playing demons, complete in demon masks, whisked Adam off and on the stage before dropping through a trap door. The plays would get more elaborate, and the masks would respond in kind.
So we know about Europe, what about elsewhere in the world? Where else can we see the masks? In the next part I will be discussing how Asian theatre, particularly Japanese theatre, was flourishing, and the influences of that can be seen even today in North America.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mask History Part 2

There is a strange artifact that is dated approximately 33,000 BCE. It is from the Neanderthal era. It is a stone sslab, that looks like it has a carved nose and two carved eyes. It certain looks like a mask, however because of iits design it could very well be either a natural formation or something carved for another purpose. The earliest accepted stone artifact mask is in fact dated from 7.000 BCE. It is a plain carved face, with holes for eyes and a distinct nose and mouth. The mask current sits in the Musee de la bible in et Terre Sainte in France. Again the purposes are unknown. Was it a ceremonial mask, or simply a post modern human trying to understand themselves?
The earliest evidence of masks definitely being used in ceremony dates from approximately 2000 BCE. The Celts were using masks as part of pagan ceremonies and ritual. The celts were a group of tribes that existed during the Iron Age in what is now the modern day United Kingdom and Britian, from approximately 2000-400 BCE. Many of their rituals followed the passing of the seasons, including a the forerunner of what would be Halloween, called Samhain, which is still observed in parts of the world.

So from our cave dwelling days to just before the turn of the common era, masks have had an important part of our history, and a way of us trying to understand ourselves. The turn to the Common Era would be a time of darkness for masks, before coming back to prominence from an unexpected source.