Mandated or recommended, masks are the talk of the day. Do we have the right to choose wearing them or not? Which ones are best? Why do we dislike them? And do we really need them?

Personally, I see mask wearing like cigarette smoking. I understand the desire and choice to smoke but I hate the smell, and I don’t believe anyone has the right to inflect their second-hand smoke on me and my health. In the same way, I understand the discomfort and inconvenience of mask wearing, but I don’t believe anyone has the right to spread their potentially deadly germs in my face. If they won’t wear a mask, they can remain in their home.

Since the Stone Age, masks have been worn by nearly all cultures. The oldest known mask is from 7000 BC. Traditional ones were used for protection, disguise, hunting, entertainment, punishment, membership in secret societies, celebration, healings, and rituals. They were made from any number of materials including leather, wood, and feathers. I have one from Hawaii made from volcanic ash and covered in carved symbols.


One of the few collections I have is a wall grouping of masks, carvings, and a painting I’ve acquired from my travels. In addition to the one made from ash, the collection includes a ritual mask from Papua, New Guinea purchased in Hawaii and one made by the Incas and purchased in Aruba, festival masks from Venice, Italy, face carvings from Alaska and Jamaica, a totem from Hawaii, a leather work from Portugal, and a painting of a turtle on tapas, a type of fabric carefully and arduously made from softened wood bark. My attraction to these items stemmed from their craftmanship, symbolism, and personal contact with the artist or vendor.

When I purchased the ritual masks, I was assured that they had been cleansed. The spirits of the dead or other beings were no longer attached, so I needn’t be concerned about carrying those spirits home with me. That statement opened up a greater fascination and appreciation of the artifacts. I had no knowledge of the historical or cultural meaning of them or that death masks were created in the likeness of the deceased.

Some ritual masks, such as those in West Africa, are used to communicate with ancestral or animal spirits. They can be quite symbolic. For example, closed eyes may show tranquility while bulging foreheads means wisdom.

Today we are familiar with masks of protection such as those for welders, gas masks, police shields, oxygen masks, and our all so familiar, medical and health masks. I don’t plan on adding any of these to my wall.

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Have you read “Angels to Guard You Wherever You Go” and “Easy Test with Big Answers” on Mary K Doyle Books?

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