The Great Masquerade

The Great Masquerade

Mask and Books, by Władysław Ślewiński (1854–1918)

Nearly all of us wear masks. It is almost impossible not to do so in a world so gripped by Ego. Most of us feel we must present a certain face to our employer, another to our spouse, another to our friends, and yet another to those who don’t know us. The typical mask is usually diametrically opposed to the way we really are on the inside. Many go through life without ever knowing their true face.

From childhood, we mold our masks to fit a certain image that is inculcated throughout our formative years. Many factors create this phenomenon: family, societal norms, religion, social standing, education, etc. Sometimes, it’s just easier to wear a mask than to be true to ourselves and our true face. In being someone else, it is easier to navigate the social waters we sail in. Even though it is, at times, a necessary fact of life, it’s kind of a lazy way to live.

We know that Jung called this archetype the Persona and that this word is derived from the Greek word for “mask,” specifically, the masks worn by ancient Greek actors. Referring to the Persona, Jung wrote:

Whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own face. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face (Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious” (1935). In CW 9, Part I: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. P.43).

A gaze into this mirror can be dangerous, if one has identified with a particular mask, but no one said our journey would take the easily trodden path.

Of course, the idea of the Persona is intermingled with transformation. J.E Cirlot wrote:

All transformations are invested with something at once of profound mystery and of the shameful, since anything that is so modified as to become ‘something else’ while still remaining the thing that it was, must inevitably be productive of ambiguity and equivocation.

Therefore, metamorphoses must be hidden from view—and hence the need for the mask. Secrecy tends towards transfiguration: it helps what-one-is to become what-one-would-like-to-be; and this is what constitutes its magic character, present in both the Greek theatrical mask and in the religious masks of Africa or Oceania. The mask is equivalent to the chrysalis (A Dictionary of Symbols, p. 205).

Our mask is our chrysalis, if we allow it to be. First, however, we must be aware that we are not displaying our true face to the world. Once we realize that our true visage lies buried beneath a thin veneer of pretense, we can begin to become familiar with the person we truly are.

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