The story of the masks created by North American Indigenous people is mysterious and religious in nature. False Face societies, of the Iroquois Confederacy, governed by the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee, have very protective policies in place regarding the medicine these masks afford the tribal members.
These masks are depicted often times with twisted lips and enlarged eyes, tangled hair and more. To the initiate these masks are very important medicine symbols and are representative of medicine beings.
The masks are most often made of wood from a live tree, and corn husks, and are quite intimidating in the dance performed with them. These masks do not need to be consecrated by medicine people to be considered sacred. They, by their very nature are considered sacred and alive the instant they are made. They may not be sold, traded, or publicly exhibited. To do so is considered irreparable harm to the Haudenosaunee.
Other societies of Native American peoples utilize masks to represent mountain spirits and each one of these spirits brings its own kind of protection and medicine to the community that supports these beliefs. The Hopi, Navajo, Apache and of course the Native people of the Northwest Coast are all renown mask makers. Some used leather, or wooden slats. Others used Cedar stumps to carve their ornate and meaningful Spirit Masks.
Many indigenous people all over the world created and still do create masks for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. The question that has always been in my mind is “why”? Where did the impetus to create such seemingly bizarre and incredibly proportioned representations of mountain, water, planting and healing spirits come from?
As I lay on the ground in New Mexico, resting after a grueling hike into the mountains near Albuquerque, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the thoughts of the people who lived here so many years ago. What did they see that I could not imagine? Was it fear, respect, tradition, or wild imagination that prompted the original people to create these spirits in their minds?
I could only guess, but, I thought that it might be a kind combination of many factors. We might consider, that even the first people who came to this land eons ago, had lived in the bosom of Mother Nature. Did they feel fear? Did they feel a sense of natural existence as that of their brothers and sisters, the deer, wolves, birds, snakes, buffalo? Again, I feel that both of those ideas may be true.
It seems to me that they, the People, felt the existence of something much larger than themselves living all around them, and it was so important to them, (the people), to put a face on these unknown beings. As a Native American teacher, it is this state of mind, which I find myself, in nearly all the time. I have been a student for fifty seven years, a teacher for twenty seven years, and still, I know little of the truly mystical beliefs of those who came before us.
Author is a Native American traditional teacher across North America. Teaching fundamental survival techniques to people who no longer have the resources to find those ways. Operates an online storefront for the authentication, brokering, and appraising of ancient artifacts. Please visit us at http://www.lithicappraisals.com for some very beautiful pieces.