by Lena Arnold
Masks, Make Up, and Movements in Religious Ceremonies
According to historian Paul S. Wingert (Encyclopedia Britannica 2013, sec. 10, p1), masks are intended to represent the true nature of characters in theatrical performances. “It is most impressive because it can be seen as a reality; it expends itself by its very revelation. The mask participates as a more enduring element, since its form is physical.” When we remember that mimes focus on the “character/persona” rather than the plot, one must consider what “character” is being conjured up. To gain a deeper understanding, let’s look at the traditional uses of masks and/or painted face.
Ashtoreth was a popular goddess who attracted the Israelites during their Canaanite years. Like the worship of Dionysius, worship of Ashtoreth was also centered on fertility or fecundity “forces/features.” (Gods and Goddesses, Pagan para. 2)
If we look at the pagan worship God warns us against, what we find are erotic practices, rooted in Baal (i.e. satanic) worship. The mask in theater stems from these pagan worship ceremonies. Even today, those who engage in the practice of “swinging” will often wear masks to remain anonymous, or to take on a new persona.
In Exodus 20 verses 1-5, God warns his followers who He is and what He did for them, then He continues to state, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”
According to writer/historian Wingert, masks were used to worship Dionysus. Communicants’, “attempt to impersonate the deity by donning goatskins and by imbibing wine.” This eventually developed into the sophistication of masking. “When a literature of worship appeared, a disguise, which consisted of a white linen mask [emphasis added] hung over the face, enabled the leaders of the ceremony to make the god manifest. Thus symbolically identified, the communicant was inspired to speak in the first person, thereby giving birth to the art of drama.” (Wingert 2013, sec. 10, p 2.)
Wingert further explains that masks were historically used: (and still today in many cultures and religions.) to represent potentially harmful spirits, by secret societies, as a means of discipline and admonishment, to perform and or engage in acts of terrorism, for judgement and to perform executions, in religious rituals to represent supernatural and deceased spirits, to exert spiritual power and social control, to honor spirits or ancestors, to perform rituals of initiation and other religious ceremonies, to house totem spirits for protection, in war and battle, to exorcise evil spirits, in the practice of divination, to cure disease (by scaring it away), to bring spirits to life and/or become “possessed” by their spirit in the performance of the dance, and are enhanced by both the music and atmosphere of the occasion. (Emphasis added.)
According to author Tetaun Moffet (Exministries 2013) pantomime was diverse as well as controversial. “Most often they were indecent burlesques unto the god Dionysus in which female performers also took part in sexual performances. They featured dialogue, acrobatics, songs, and slapstick routines.”
Krahl in his defense of mime states on his website Kiko the Mime, that mime has always been used to interconnect, and later evolved into a “true theatrical form in ancient Greece, where performers enacted everyday scenes with the help of elaborate gestures.” He further states, in contradiction to other historians, that mimes “would perform to teach moral lessons.”
Moffet and others would beg to differ. Opponents like him, who argue against mime often, quote Acts 17:22-31 to defend their position, because the following sermon took place on Mars Hill, the location of a pagan temple/theatre; believed to be the birthplace of modern day mime. Paul, vexed by the worship that went on in the temple theatre, sermonized:
“…Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, ‘To the Unknown God.’ Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things…” (King James Version, Cambridge University Press.)
Supporters of mime argue that Christians are to take what the world meant for evil and turn it into good. However, the Bible declares in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” Paul clearly states in his above treatise, that Christians are not to partake of nor indulge in pagan worship practices.