Every culture and tradition around the world has masks, costumes, dances, puppets and ceremonial characters that teach or bring meaning to the community. In native traditions these are not considered performances to be watched, they are considered sacred or ceremonial aspects of life that the whole community participates in the magic of creating. Halloween, Feast of Fools, Day of The Dead, Carnival (Mardi Gras) are a few modern festivals that are rooted in this ancient and tribal heritage. The best part isn't to make yourself "look" different in a costume, it is to become something different and feel, sense, interact and role-play with the world from a completely different perspective.
The human psyche is complex and social conventions, inhibitions or restrictions often do not allow for the range of emotional expression and freedom that is necessary for a healthy life. Universal archetypes abound, but the masked fool (clown or trickster, shapeshifter) seems to be the best qualified to transcend cultural boundaries.
Human culture maintains itself by enforcing traditional ways that often become rigid and closed systems over time. Culture clashes and war often occur because of ethnocentrism, when people can not see beyond their own beliefs and accept the validity of other's world-views. In order to keep traditions alive and keep ourselves sane, sometimes we need to break character. Getting behind a mask is a great way to do this!
Indeed Halloween is a wonderful time for foolish revelry and Day of the Dead Celebrations following it are a special time to reflect on those who have passed. One day each of us will eventually leave these physical bodies too, perhaps we will become ghosts that eagerly await Halloween? In a way, our own flesh and bones are like a costume that is animated by our beliefs and the roles that we play in life. As a snake sheds its skin, eventually the roles we play of child, parent, student, teacher, husband, wife, etc. must change and morph while we learn to release these characters that we have become and embrace new ones as we age.
As our world gets smaller, as people begin to awaken to the fact that there are many cultures and many ways to see the world and experience life, we are all humbled to recognize that each is valid. In many ways, we are all fools to have thought our way was the only way, or the best way. True wisdom comes from accepting that each culture has something universal and valuable to teach us all about who we are. Everyone throughout the world knows what it feels like to be sad, angry, lonely, to laugh, to celebrate life, and to make merry in spite of life's struggles. There are universal truths to being human despite the cultural costumes and skin-colors we wear.
It is often said that when we can laugh at something we can conquer it. In a troubled world, what will it take to find the place within ourselves that can laugh at it all and celebrate life in the face of so much uncertainty? It might just be time to dawn a mask or a costume and let go of all inhibitions like a child. Maybe this fantasy-world of imagination and laughter will be the medicine we need to get us into a good place where we can visualize a positive future for our troubled world. It couldn't hurt to try!
***Article originally appeared in Culture Collective***