Halloween masks and the history of Halloween

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  • By far and away the most popular use of masks today, loosely but definitely within the drama arena, is for the annual ritual of Halloween, and most of all within the US.

    The evening of the 31st October has long been celebrated in Church circles as the eve of All Saints' Day and is properly known as All-hallow-even. Originally, in pre-Christian Britain, this was New year's Eve. Basically it's a Vigil for the morrow's Feast commemorating all the saints and martyrs, who originally had no specific public recognition in the form of their own feast day, and was finally instituted in its current form in the 9th century. Subsequently the 2nd November was dedicated to all the other holy souls who have made it to Heaven, but not been canonised as saints - All Souls Day.

  • All-hallow-even or All Hallows Eve became in addition the secularised Halloween, deriving from its Celtic and Gaelic roots in Britain. This now includes a tradition permitting children a chance to "trick or treat" - to visit houses, carrying a jack-o-lantern (a pumpkin carved to resemble a diabolical face and having a lit candle within it), to demand a treat. If the treat is not forthcoming, tradition allows the children to play a trick on the householder.

  • In Scotland Halloween acquired a special significance partly due to the poem of that name by Robert Burns. Young lads and lasses, who observe certain rites, are supposed on this night to have their future wives and husbands revealed to them.

    Ireland is quoted as being the origin of the modern secular or pagan feast and Irish emigrants for taking their superstitions with them to the US.

  • Modern popularity will have been greatly boosted by the Halloween series of horror movies, where a mask is used to conceal the identity of the very scary killer. Today popular masks for Halloween include the Slipknot range, Homer Simpson masks and gorilla masks. The Slipknot masks, created by the heavy metal band of that name, rely on a wide range of influences, not least S&M, as well as maggots, clowns and skulls.

  • The lead characters in the popular adult US cartoon series have all spawned commercially-available masks, with Homer Simpson's mask in particular rating high in demand.

    Gorilla masks likewise rate highly for Halloween, joined by all sorts of other devilish creatures such as hell-hounds, werewolves, bats, sharks, and dangerous or even mutant beasts of every kind.

  • As with so many Christian feasts deriving from earlier pagan celebrations, there sometimes seems to be a vast gulf between the Christian devotion on the one hand and the modern version of the pagan ritual on the other. If there is a link, I can't help feeling it lies in the common cause of trying to put the fear of God into us (come Hell or High Water, probably the former!).

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