This pandemic has created a new look for our society.
Today, the “in-thing” is to wear a mask anytime you’re in the public.
I’m from an era where I still feel uncomfortable walking into a convenience store wearing a mask.
Unless one is wearing one of the high-tech models, I think the main function for most masks we encounter today is mostly ceremonial.
I thought I would try to spread a rumor that some cities were experiencing tree deaths due to carbon dioxide emissions being reduced by mask wearers.
Prior to recent weeks, my mask-wearing was limited to ill-fitting plastic devices for Halloween and Trick-or-Treat where the eye holes never matched the location of my seeing organs.
When I pumped liquid oxygen into jet aircraft in the USAF, I wore a mask/shield device to keep me from freezing off my nose.
I also had a winter face mask to wear while stationed in Greenland.
Those eye holes matched up better than my childhood costume facial gear.
I wore paper masks while performing dusty home remodeling projects that involved saw dust, insulation or drywall.
Some of my childhood heroes wore masks.
The Lone Ranger.
Not only was he a good guy but he also handed out those silver bullets to the folks as he rode away.
Some of my other Western heroes would pull their bandannas over their mouths to keep the dust from choking them as they pursued bad guys.
(Did it ever rain in the old West?)
But masks go back further in time than the Wild, Wild West.
The oldest ones date back to at least 7,000 BC although they could have been around longer but may have decomposed.
Most of the oldest masks were for rituals.
In parts of Africa, the masks were meant to connect with the ancestral spirits.
Often they were made of wood and were ornately-designed, many in the shapes of animals to communicate with their spirits.
Mask “faces” meant things.
Closed eyes indicated tranquility while a mask with a bulging forehead was a sign of wisdom.
War masks were meant to scare the enemy and were often made and painted with big eyes and looks of anger.
Pacific Northwest Indians made complex masks of wood, leather, bones and feathers, some with moving parts.
They were a little more elaborate than one of my cloth masks with elastic that’s too tight so my ears resemble a car driving down the road with the doors open.
Ancient Aztecs and Incans covered the faces of their dead with masks.
If you were “well-to-do”, you probably had a copper or gold death mask while the worker bees had face-coverings made of wood, leather or clay.
Funerary masks covered the face of the deceased to honor them and to establish a relationship through the mask with the spirit world. Sometimes, those masks were to force the spirit of the newly-deceased to depart for the spirit world or to frighten away evil spirits.
Ancient Egyptian death masks were made so the soul could recognize the body and help the deceased to be accepted by other “divine immortals” in the afterlife.
Ancient Roman burials sometimes involved a mask resembling the deceased worn by a paid actor who accompanied the funeral cortege to the burial site.
(Hey! Doesn’t that look lime old John Foster over there? Didn’t realize he passed!)
Except for ritual purposes, many ancient masks were used in theater.
Credit the ancient Greeks and the traditional Japanese Noh drama.
Those wily Greeks had masks constructed with brass megaphones where the mouth was to amplify the talking actors.
Would it be fair to assume that the lead actor had a bigger brass hole that others?
The “Moretta muta” oval mask worn by women for the Carnival of Venice had no straps.
There was a button on the inside of the mask that was held in the mouth by the performer.
The featured actor in the Indonesian Topeng dance had upwards of 40 masks for his use only. No one else could use them for fear of offending the spirits residing in them.
When the Topeng dancer died, the masks he used were never moved from the place they were left at the time of his death.
Also, at the end of a Topeng dance, it was customary for one of the jesters to rush into the crowd, grab a child and taken them behind the curtain to be given candies to share with friends.
Could you see that happening in a modern-day theater production?
Call the police and lawyers.
Chinese opera masks were color-coded.
Each hue described the personality of the character so the audience would get a better, faster picture of that character.
Korean masked dancers wore face-coverings to entertain with satire and social commentary.
Masks have also been used for punishment by shaming.
In some cultures, judges wore masks to protect them from future recriminations.
In some African countries, even masks worn to represent female beauty were always worn by men.
Some African tribes were the first to use them for admonitory purposes.
Let’s say a youngster was repeatedly told not to follow Mommy when she fetched water.
Sometimes Mom would paint a hideous face on the bottom of the water gourd and show it to the youngster.
Sort of the origins of “scared straight”.
Twenty-first century mask-wearing might be connected to ancient times as well.
Masked members of secret societies thought they could drive disease demons away.
The “False Face Society of the Iroquois people” had masked professional healers who performed violent pantomimes to exorcise dreaded demons.
In ancient times, Chinese children wore masks to ward of the measles and they also wore cholera face-coverings during epidemics of that malady.
Today, fencers, baseball catchers. hockey goalies and football players wear masks as do welders, law enforcement officials and medical professionals.
So, you see, this “mask thing” of today is really nothing new.