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This is Freedom Essay 43
Ceremonial masks reveal the truth
about our human condition
Written by Jeremy Griffith, 2017
Ceremonial masks, which have been used in almost all cultures, are extremely revealing of the human condition.
As has been described at length in these essays, and in all of my work, the overall essential feature of the human journey since we first became conscious is that of the accumulation of knowledge at the expense of our innocent soul. Thus the two fundamental aspects of the human condition are the tragic repression of our original all-loving and all-sensitive instinctive self or soul because of its unjust condemnation of our conscious self, and the extremely upset, angry state of the conscious thinking egoic intellect for being so unjustly condemned. (See for the explanation of the human condition.)
In our day to day human-condition-avoiding, Plato’s-cave-hiding lives, the truth of the extent to which our soul has been brutally repressed has been hidden from view. Similarly, the volcanic depths of the anger of our conscious mind has also been mostly restrained and contained and thus also not often revealed. We learnt to be, as we say, civilised; we tried not to let the true extent of our corrupted, upset state show. We went to great lengths to conceal our extremely tortured, disfigured, soul-dead, furiously angry real human condition. The insecurity of our situation even became so extreme that people took up pseudo idealistic causes to delude themselves they weren’t upset at all! (See and , & on the danger of pseudo idealism.)
While this denial of the truth of our immensely corrupted condition saved the upset human race from unbearable self-confrontation, the extreme dishonesty, artificiality and superficiality of living that way could also become unbearable—psychologically and then physically sickening in fact, at which point some purging, cathartic, exorcising honesty was needed. The wearing of masks that revealed the true depth of how either soul-dead or ferociously angry we upset humans had become was a powerfully effective way of bringing some relieving, therapeutic honesty to our lives. It comes as little surprise then that truth-revealing masks have been used in the ceremonies of almost all cultures.
The Greeks call masks ‘ekstasis’, a word which means ‘to stand outside oneself’. It follows that when we stood outside our self we were, in turn, looking into our self and seeing the real devastation that the psychiatrist R.D. Laing spoke of when he referred to the ‘fifty feet of solid concrete’ that now exists between us and our original soulful true self. In some of the most honest writing ever seen, Laing wrote, ‘Our alienation goes to the roots…We are born into a world where alienation awaits us. We are potentially men, but are in an alienated state…the ordinary person is a shrivelled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be. As adults, we have forgotten most of our childhood, not only its contents but its flavour; as men of the world, we hardly know of the existence of the inner world…The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man…between us and It [our true selves or soul] there is a veil which is more like fifty feet of solid concrete…The outer divorced from any illumination from the inner is in a state of darkness. We are in an age of darkness…We are all murderers and prostitutes…We are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another’ (see ). (Read more about R.D. Laing’s extraordinary honesty in .)
The word ‘mask’ is actually derived from the term ‘msk’, which was used in the middle Egyptian period to denote ‘second skin’. That ‘second skin’ that the mask sought to exorcise was our soul-corrupted, immensely upset, human-condition-afflicted real state that Laing described above as being a ‘shrivelled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be’. Masks allowed the wearer to momentarily relieve themselves of their extremely dishonest everyday masquerade of being a secure, sound, well-adjusted, happy person, and let the truth out, which could be very therapeutic for both the wearer and the observer.
By far the most common variety of masks are those that reveal the true extent of the, in truth, volcanic, demonic anger inside of humans. The right-hand mask above from Nepal is one example, as are the following from New Zealand, New Guinea and Mexico respectively.
Masks that focused on revealing and exorcising the other aspect in the duality of the human condition, of the extent of the devastation of our cooperative, all-loving and all-sensitive original instinctive self or soul (you can read about how we acquired our moral soul in , and the previous on cave paintings showed just how much of this all-sensitive moral soul we have now lost), were always going to be rarer than masks that revealed the extent of our intellect’s anger. This is because the more upset humans became, the more we replaced any sensitive, inward-focusing, introspective awareness and concern about our loss of soulful innocence with a need to get even with the world for its unjust condemnation, at which point outward-focusing, egocentric ferocious anger became the dominant concern and orientation of life—which is why masks that exorcise ferocious anger predominated. Put simply, the more upset we humans became, the less we wanted to be reminded of how soul-dead we had become, which means that any masks that did reveal how estranged or alienated from our soul we humans have become were going to be few and far between. However, there are some truly extraordinarily honest masks that reveal the extent of our soul-deadness, and, not surprisingly, these were made by more innocent, less egocentric and more truthful races, such as the ‘Fang’ mask at the start of this essay and the masks below, all of which were made by Bantu tribes in central Africa. (The differences in levels of upset between races is a truth that can at last be safely admitted now that the upset state of the human condition has been explained and defended. talks about this ability to be honest about differences in alienation that ends all prejudices, such as racism.)
Just how deeply these masks affect us when we look at them is a measure of how extraordinarily revealing they are of the true extent of the inner devastation, loneliness, emptiness and sadness of the human race’s now 2-million-year soul-repressed and soul-devastated condition. We are such miserable wrecks of what a human could and ideally should be (and will be again now that the human condition is solved), so it is relieving for our true self to see such honesty. Indeed, the therapeutic, exorcising power of these masks from the Congo region of Africa has led them to become considered amongst the finest creations in the art world. A Fang mask very similar to the one shown at the start of this essay sold for around $US7 million in 2006 (Lot 193, Vérité auction, Paris, Jun. 2006).
It is no wonder some of the world’s greatest artists have been influenced by these African masks. A 2010 documentary, titled Paris: The Luminous Years, describes how ‘The walls of his [Pablo Picasso’s] studio were hung with African masks…There was severe competition in those days between [the great artists] Picasso, Derain, Matisse and Braque, as to who could discover the most beautiful African heads. [As Braque said] Negro masks open new horizons to me. They put me in touch with things instinctive.’ And indeed, Picasso said he experienced a ‘revelation’ (Picasso, Rubin & Fluegel, 1980, p.87) while viewing African art at a Paris museum and his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (see image below) was the first work to result from that inspiration. Picasso also perfectly understood the healing value of masks, saying, ‘The [African] masks were not simply sculptures like any other. Not at all. They were magic objects…They were weapons. To help people stop being ruled by spirits, to free themselves. Tools. If we give a form to these spirits, we become free…I understood why I became a painter…Les Demoiselles d’Avignon must have come to me that very day [when I first saw the African masks], but not at all because of the forms; because it was my first exorcism painting’ (André Breton, Oeuvres Completes, ed. M. Bonnet, 1988).
At this point it should be reiterated that while humans have been as torturously alienated as the mask-makers have revealed, this is not the full story about humans. As has been emphasised throughout all of these essays, and in all of my work, the greater truth is that humans have also been the most courageous, heroic, successful and meaningful creatures to ever exist on Earth. We are not the awful beings we appeared to be; rather, given the magnificence of our fully conscious mind, nature’s greatest invention, and all the injustice we humans have had to endure for some two million years, we fully deserve to be considered divine beings.
So although we had to pay the price of becoming immensely upset/corrupted/alienated/soul-dead, we humans ARE the heroes of the story of life on Earth. Furthermore (as is explained in ), as a result of finding this greater dignifying understanding of the human condition, our species’ tortured state of alienation is about to end, and virtually overnight—well, in only a number of decades which, in the scheme of things, is a very short time—because being able to understand the human condition makes it possible for everyone to finally escape the tortured human-condition-afflicted state and immediately fully participate in a glorious, truthful, sun-filled, effectively alienation-free world. And in only a few generations’ time the human race will be actually alienation-free and fully soul-rehabilitated.
The human race is finally coming home to wholeness and happiness!
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Watch Jeremy Griffith present the breakthrough redeeming explanation of the human condition in , or read . You can also read much more about these ceremonial masks and the tribes that created them in , which is where the content of this F. Essay was drawn.
Discussion or comment on this essay is welcomed—see below.
These essays were created in 2017-2021 by Jeremy Griffith, Damon Isherwood, Fiona
Cullen-Ward, Brony FitzGerald & Lee Jones of the Sydney WTM Centre. All filming and
editing of the videos was carried out by Sydney WTM members James Press & Tess Watson
during 2017-2021. Other members of the Sydney WTM Centre are responsible for the
distribution and marketing of the videos/essays, and for providing subscriber support.