A Brief History Of Masks

Masks have been a part of human culture for centuries.  The earliest masks were used for divine purposes across the world.  However, the use of masks changed over the years for more aesthetic purposes.


Masks were a large part of Ancient Egyptian traditions, but have since fallen away.  The masks used by the ancient Egyptians were for religious purposes and often appear to be mysterious to us now.  Masks were used to represent the gods and to turn often mundane objects into the divine.


africans used various masksSome of the oldest masks come from Africa, and they were used in the earliest days of human civilization.  Masks were often used to help people communicate with the spirits and to bring the spirits to the mortal plane.  These masks were made to look like human faces and often had very stylized markings.

Dance Masks

In Indonesia, masks have been used for Topeng dance which is a form of dance that is accompanied by music.  These masks first appeared in the 15th century in Java and Bali but were found on other islands.  The dance originated from tribal dances which were used to communicate with the ancestors and to honor them.  The masks were used to represent the different characters of the dance, and many artists would play different people within the dance by changing their masks.


Korean masks have a long history and have been used for various reasons over the years.  In the early days of Korean masks, they were worn by soldiers who were going into battle. There were also different masks created for the soldier’s horse when they went into battle.

Masks made with jade and bronze were used for funerals. Shamans would use them to drive evil spirits away during their rituals. Masks were also used as a way of honoring historical persons when they were made in their likeness.


diving and snorkelingIn our modern times, we still use masks in many ways. Ceremonial masks are used less and less frequently. But we use a lot of functional covers for the face. Gas masks, masks for snorkeling, virtual reality goggles. You could even argue that we use sunglasses in a similar way. We hide most of our face with them and feel more private and anonymous. Well, we don’t have many rituals with sunglasses, but that could be a matter of time.


venetian carnival maskSince 1168 Venetian masks have been used for Carnival, but there is little evidence for why masks were worn during the festival.  Many believe that it was to rebel against the rigid class structures in Europe at the time.  Two different types of masks are used during Carnival, and they are Commedia dell ’Atre and Carnival masks.


chinese actor wearing incredible maskChinese masks have a rich history based in shamanic rituals.  The masks were used as part of funeral rights and for exorcisms.  Masks slowly entered other parts of daily life and are now used for funerals and births.  During rituals, the masks are used to protect against evil and welcome gods and spirits.

Masks are also employed in festivals such as the Chinese New Year.  Theatrical masks are used for artistic performances such as the opera.  The audience uses them to determine the role of the character in the play.