I’ve been exploring a relationship with a new spirit animal lately. Raccoon came to me shortly after my friend died, and it seemed to be the perfect expression of how I had grown as a result of her presence in my life.
Raccoon is known for being a curious creature with a lot of personality, but the aspect of it that has stood out to me has been its famous mask.
I’ve been obsessed with masks and all of their nuance.
On the surface, the most common association with a mask is hiding, perhaps deceit. I won’t deny that masks have their shadow side which can easily come to mind; however, masks carry so much more magic than that.
Masks create mystery. Some of the most dynamic roles I can think of in movies involve people whose faces can’t even be seen. As a result, their actions have to convey something mesmerizing–e.g. the phantom of the opera’s voice or V’s alliteration.
Similarly, masquerade balls are fun because of the excitement of the unknown—the sense of being attracted and drawn to people and having encounters with people in a capacity that leaves you guessing who they are at the end of the night. Masks deny us the basics of facial recognition and the non-verbal feedback of expressions, forcing us to pay attention to other clues.
But masks also create unity. In V for Vendetta, the mask of Guy Fawkes becomes a symbol of the power of a people who refuse to be controlled any longer. The anonymity of the masks removes the impediment of fear, allowing them to come together for their shared purpose.
Masks empower. In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne makes a comment that Batman’s mask was meant to inspire the people of Gotham—it’s not about who is behind the mask because the point is that anyone could be behind the mask. Of course, we don’t often get to see the benefits of empowerment with a mask in real society, but it’s a present enough truth to make an appearance in most of our hero stories: From Zorro to Spider Man.
Masks also help to embody. Halloween is fun because it allows me to try on a character or archetype—to put on the energy of that person or creature for a bit, to feel it within myself. When I put on a costume, I connect with something deep within me that relates to the energy of that costume, bringing out that part of myself to which I may not otherwise have access.
Perhaps most importantly though, masks help to express. One of the greatest lessons I cherish in my grief is the idea that every day is a day for dress up and costume. Every day, we get up, look in our closets, and choose what mask to put on for that day.
Sometimes it’s the mask of professionalism.
Sometimes the mask of flirtation.
But every day, we choose to portray or hide different aspects of ourselves.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we each have different faces in different situations or around different people. We are complex beings with many facets and layers to our personality.
The question raccoon asks is, “Are you doing it authentically?”