Friday, July 25, 2014

Masks- Sacred Conduits To The Soul

In the movie "The Mask", Jim Carrey's character Stanley Ipkiss finds an ancient mask belonging to the god Loki and upon donning the face covering takes on the characteristics of a trickster. His true identity concealed, Ipkiss is free to do and say anything he wishes, no matter how outrageous. He is magically transported to a place of unbound reality by the mask he wears.

Wearing a mask transforms the wearer into something or someone other than himself. The individual is taken from the realm of the impossible to the realm of the impossibly real. Rather than concealing the individual's persona, it transcends convention and frees him.

Psychologists such as C.G. Jung believed that the mask connected the wearer spiritually to an archetype and the powers it represented. Masks are conduits between the mundane and the sacred. Ancient Greek actors were masters at this when they donned their theatrical masks. In doing so they instantly became something Other.

John Denver's mask 
The symbolism of masks culturally vary: it may represent a character in a story, an animal, a spirit, or a demon. Masks allow the wearer to psychically shapeshift. Masks are also canvasses to the soul. The mask pictured at left was created by singer John Denver a couple of weeks prior to his tragic death, for The Mask Project. The neutral background-a muted bronze-is a spectacular foil for the blossoming tree which appears to be split in two. The two halves of the tree sprout from the same trunk, but it appears to be gloriously full on the right (creative) side, and slightly less so on the left (logical) side. There appears to be a tear in the right eye, which is smaller. The larger left eye is partly in shadow. Below the lips, there is  a bouquet of blossoms and a heart, the combination of the internal and external personalities. At first glance, the bright colors and flowering branches of the tree denote a rich beauty; upon further examination, however, things aren't quite as they seem. The left side of the face is subdued and darker. The rich beauty still exists, but it is not as ebullient as it appears at first. John Denver's music was for the most part upbeat and positive, it spoke of hope for the future. Denver's off stage personality was essentially as he presented himself on stage, only a bit quieter and deeply introverted. His first wife, Annie, said he was a complex man, and he was...but no more so than others. Knowing him as I did, I believe this complexity was more apparent because he worked so diligently at internal self-realization that it showed on the outside.

I participated in a workshop on individuation where all the participants made masks of their own characteristics. (Most arts and crafts stores carry blank masks and all the materials to make one.) You can also use a white paper plate cut to fit. Another time we made a mask of someone else in the group portrayed as a god/goddess. I think you'll find the results surprising either way!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Unexpected Visit To Avalon...

This was not the blog I expected to write tonight. Honestly, I never dreamed I would be writing this at all. At least not today.

My friend Arthur died sometime during the past week. We aren't sure when it happened. When he didn't show up at work and his family lost contact with him, the police were called to check on him at his apartment, and he was found in his bed. We are still awaiting details and  a reasonable explanation for his death.

Arthur and I met during our first heady days on Pagan Space, when we were each trying to connect with real people in our area just for coffee,conversation and validation that neither of us were crazy to believe in the power of magick. We had chatted back and forth online for about a year and actually knew each other pretty well  before we finally met at Magic Mushroom late one afternoon for pizza. I senses we were both a little nervous about that first meeting, but once we were happily munching away, it was like we'd been old friends forever. Because of our online friendship we both were pretty certain the other wasn't an ax never know. Sitting outside near a busy street late on a Friday afternoon just as everyone was getting out of work seemed pretty safe. The conversation and coffee (later,when we'd adjourned next door to Starbucks) flowed freely. We hated to say goodnight, and in fact, we were back online chatting away later that evening. It wasn't that we were infatuated with one another, it was that each of us had finally found someone to connect with who shared similar backgrounds in our spiritual journey, and who had similar tastes in...well...just about everything. Books. Music. Theater. Art. We'd both come out of the Episcopal Church and found we had many mutual friends. Individually, we'd explored Buddhism and still kept Buddhist principles. And the best part was we had the male/female polarity thing going with no sexual baggage.

We spent a lot of time together the first couple of years after we met: we went to rituals and festivals, worship services, art shows and recitals.We haunted Barnes and Noble. We spent hours on the phone discussing philosophy and religion, the latest missive by (the former)Teo Bishop, and which occult books we thought were a waste of paper and ink. We wrote liturgy and rituals together. Arthur was in many ways more than a friend; he was my brother. We came to be close enough to be able to finish one anothers' sentences and thoughts...and I was heartbroken when I finally decided ( with Arthur's encouragement) that I had no other choice than to move out of the area to seek better health care and housing options. It was not a choice I made lightly; the majority of people I hold dear live in North Carolina. Arthur reluctantly gave me his blessing-and wrote my character reference/letter of introduction to the housing manager for my new digs.

I was now two and a half hours and two hundred twenty something miles away by car, but only a few minutes away by phone, but we kept up on our magickal and mundane lives. Arthur promised to visit when he had a few days to get away. Last year, the holidays had been difficult because I was still very much alone and missing him; we'd made it a habit to spend most holidays together. I was looking forward to welcoming him to my new home and sharing a meal at my table. We talked about making a trip to Asheville-a place I adore, and as it turns out, just happened to be his birthplace. At some point there was a Rick Springfield concert in our future because Arthur was a closet RS freak and wanted his copy of Tao autographed.

In the space of a breath, it was all gone.

My friend, priestess and sister Laurel, herself still in shock, private messaged me on Facebook last night with the news," I don't know a whole lot yet, but please hold Arthur in the light. He died in his sleep..." I immediately called Laurel because I needed to connect and hear her voice. We spoke briefly in quiet voices, two priestesses midwifing this death. Laurel's mother, our Elder and Crone Priestess, felt that Arthur was waiting for us because we didn't know he'd gone. And she's right: that would be like him, he wouldn't just leave us alone.He would make sure we were alright. If nothing else, as a consummate Southern gentleman, he would not take his leave without a proper farewell. I spent a little time grieving with other friends online, then made some coffee and headed out to one of the back balconies of my apartment complex to watch the full moon rise over the mountain and cry in private.
While there I wrote a few words to release Arthur's spirit and help guide him on his journey.

Step into the boat
The Ferryman has been paid
With the tears of those who love you.
Should you hear weeping
Do not turn back-
Sail on and do not stop.
The Ancestors await
Your arrival in Avalon.
The Veil between us closes for now...
Farewell, Arthur!
We who have loved you
Wish you a good journey home. 

Life is impermanent. Dying is inevitable. That is the truth that transcends every religious tradition and indeed is the only thing that is a given in our earthly existence. We are born and die: what happens in between is pretty much up to us. Arthur chose to be humble, gracious and loving. He lived a life of service faithfully to the Immanent Divine and his brethren as druid, priest, teacher and friend to all kindred. He will continue to live on in memory with us until we meet again.