In my recent moon post about the Full Hunter's Moon, I talked about using masks in ritual, and I thought it would be a good idea to blog about the mask making process. Masks have been used for many purposes around the world throughout history. Masks can be simple or ornate, they can be disposable or keepsakes. Masks can cover your entire head, your entire face, just your eyes or just your mouth.
One of the simplest and most disposable types of masks is one that is drawn on paper. You can take a large sheet of paper and trace out a shape that will be the form of your mask, and then draw on the paper to decorate it. Use a bit of string to tie it on, and voila, you have a mask! This type of mask is great to use as part of a de-masking ceremony, where you make a mask representing a 'face' that you want to shed. When making this kind of mask, you can pencil in words or write a whole letter underneath, and then scribble or draw over it. You can use symbols to decorate it or just stick to representing the emotions it represents with color. Making the mask can be part of your ritual, or you can make it ahead of time (or during a separate ritual), and then start the de-masking ritual already wearing it. As you take the mask off, you can tell it why you no longer wish to wear it, why it was hurting you, or how it was holding you back. Then you can burn or bury it.
A slightly more sturdy mask can be made through the process of paper mache. Add some water to regular white glue to make a thinner paste, and then use this to glue strips of paper onto a form. Alternatively, you can make your glue from flour and water, which would allow you to use biodegradable materials and leave your mask out in nature as an offering. The form can be a pre-made mask form, a mannequin head, your own face or even just a rounded bowl. There are lots of step-by-step guides that will walk you through the process of forming the mask directly on a face, if you wish to try that out.
You can get really creative while making up your basic mask form. You can add ground herbs to the glue mixture to enhance the basic mask. There are lots of options for the paper part too. You can use tissue paper, newspaper, magazines, wrapping paper, and even dryer lint (soak the lint in the glue mixture and press the excess liquid out of it then press it onto the form). You can write messages on your paper strips, or just key words that you want built into your mask. Once you have a few paper layers down, you can start adding in other things: leaves, flower petals, even small stone chips.
You can really tailor your mask making materials down to the last detail. Perhaps you want to make a mask to release conventional perceptions of beauty, and you use only magazine pictures of models (or only pictures of more realistic, everyday people!) For an animal or plant mask you can use pictures on the outer layer to create a photo-montage mask. A mask for your muse might be made of printout sheets of your own writing (or old journal pages). Why not make a birthday blessing mask out of wrapping from gifts you received!
The top layer of your mask will be the main part you see, so this is where you can really go wild. Add feathers or glitter or accent charms! Punch holes around the edge and add ribbon trim or dangling bits of yarn with objects tied onto them. Use tinfoil to mold small beads in any shape you can imagine, and paint them (or use nailpolish) to create colorful additions.
You can also make masks with a fabric base, especially if you enjoy sewing. You can buy felt or fleece pieces that don't require hemming, and use a glue-gun to attach things. Fabric masks can be painted on or drawn on with permanent markers. But, you can also use other fabrics, hem them and embroider designs. This is a great way to turn old clothing or blankets into something memorable, especially if you can make a mask to represent the memory. You could add quilted places, with spellwork or components tucked into the patches themselves. Long fabric tubes can become decorations or hair, and things can be added inside of them as well.
And remember, masks can be highly symbolic. Making a mask for wolf may have a moon over the forehead and wolf tracks along one cheek or you may just find yourself drawing lines and shapes that 'feel' right and ending up with a geometric pattern in black and grey.
You can make masks for all kinds of purposes. You might want a set of masks for the seasons, with flowers, green leaves, autumn foliage and bare branches as decorations (or one mask with all seasons represented!) You may want to do a divine feminine and masculine mask, or have one separated down the middle for male/female. You can make masks for your animal guides or plants that you connect deeply with. Masks for deities you work with. Make masks to represent qualities you want to develop or people who you want to be more like.
You could use masks to help you discover more about yourself as well. Make masks to represent parts of yourself that you aren't that familiar with, or those that make you uncomfortable. You can either wear the mask in ritual and spend time really feeling what those parts of yourself represent, or you can meet the mask in ritual by holding it in front of you and speaking to it as if it were someone else instead of just a part of you.
Masks can also be used as protection. You can make guardian masks, that you can use when you need to take on those qualities, and leave them hung around your house as their own protection in between. Medical masks can be enhanced and decorated for healing rituals or to ward off sickness. You can make anonymous masks (all white or all black) to help you keep your identity hidden or to avoid someone who is seeking you out to cause trouble.
Masks don't have to be a static thing either, they can evolve with you over time. You may make a mask to represent the current year on New Year's, and then every month, every full moon or every Sabbat, you take some time to meditate on your year and add to your mask. You could have a mask that you work with regularly, and every time you plan on using it, you check and see if you want to change it in any way. Especially for masks that represent qualities you want to embrace, you may find your needs changing over time, so you might want to adjust your mask accordingly. If you have a mask dedicated to a deity you work with, you may find bits over the years that you want to add to it as a form of devotion.
Masks are very powerful and versatile tools. They give you the ability to create what you may need, to step into a role that isn't normally yours or to shed parts of yourself that you want to release. They can help us to face parts of ourselves that we don't understand so that we can begin to honor all of ourselves. They let you express what you want to explore in visual and symbolic terms. You don't need any particular artistic skills to make a mask, just play with what you feel is right!