Ancient Mask Dance Rituals – a worldwide phenomenon

By Paul Robear

Typically in Western Culture today, masks are what we wear at Halloween or seen in a stage performance. Yet the making and wearing of masks has a far more interesting history, going back to the earliest days of rituals, ceremony, and shamanism. Dr. Felicitas Goodman, The founder of the Cuyamunugue Institute, incorporated the ancient tradition of making masks into the early days of the Institute, to create a “masked trance dance” which we continue today. Lets look at the deeper meaning behind the mask.

Indigenous Roots

9,000-year-old limestone mask of the Judean desert

The use of a mask during ritual is found both ancient and modern cultures in all parts of world. There is something in the human experience that compels us to perform similar rituals no matter where a culture exists. Though unique to each culture, masks share many characteristics– the first being, they are not merely a disguise. In ritual they are part of a transformation: to create, amplify or fulfill the wearer’s identity or sense of inner spirituality. They provide the wearer with the means to transcend their personality and enter an alternate state of consciousness. Looking through the eyes of an animal mask enhances an alternative awareness of the world. Here is an ancient practice that has survived to the present, as many indigenous cultures continue to perform danced ceremonies, spirit masked, allowing the spirit of the animal to enter the dancer while in the mask. While the earliest masks we have are 9,000 years old, the making of masks, as part of the Shamanic Tradition depicted in ancient art, dates back 35,000 years.

Different masks play different roles and have different powers across the various cultures and traditions. The function of the masks is seen as a magical way to induce transformation; they may appear in rites of passage and preside over important ceremonies; they help mediate with spirits, or offer a protective role to the society who utilize their powers. Native masks had many different purposes including its medicinal and spiritual uses. Masks have been used by nearly all other cultures throughout the Americas, the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. In addition to their primary purpose for transformation, they also appear to free the true personality. Masked rituals reveal a connection to deeper levels of oneself. Included in this transformative experience, many report that this process of masked ritual induces a sort of shapeshifting experience.

Folklore and films depict shapeshifting as a physical transformation. At CI, shapeshifting, or metamorphosis, happens on the inner level of experience. With the Cuyamungue Method, in the Alternate Reality, we walk in the fur, fins, or wings of an Animal Spirit friend, who has appeared with a gift or lesson for us. We feel the particular strength, wisdom and insight of the specific animal. Dr. Goodman felt this was our ancestors experienced the web of life, befriending and respecting the entire animal kingdom, knowing in the deepest and most profound way that indeed, we are all one.

Traditional elements of shamanic trance dances include percussive accompaniment with drums, rattles, clapping or singing. Some cultural dances follow detailed stories, as they call to the spirits to assist entry into the supernatural realm. Mask making materials include wood, animal skin, bones, feathers, beads, shells, paint, anything to amplify the specific energy sought.

Over the last 35 years, our Masked Trance Dance at Cuyamungue Institute have consistently generated these power types of transformative experiences for participants.

Join us For a Masked Trance Dance at Cuyamungue
Adventure into the depth of inspiration and intuitive guidance as we create spirit masks, and our experiences will follow a mythic story and end in the creation of a sacred dance . Masked Trance Dance at Cuyamungue is more than a workshop … it engages a deep transformative experience using a ritual practice that finds its roots in cultures around the world.

The Masked Trance Dance evolves from a series of postures using the CI Method over several days, in which visionary experiences guide the creation of mask and story. Each posture adds guidance to the elements that are woven together on the final days ceremonial dance, from song, to dance steps, to details of the mask.  It all coalesces into a spirit-inspired story, that, in the performance, creates an energetic shift and stirs the soul.

The Masked Trance Dance has been the centerpiece at the Cuyamungue Institute from its inception. We use The Cuyamungue Method to journey to the home of the animal spirits, who reveal themselves to inspire the making of masks and costumes in preparation for a ritual dance. What emerges from integrating the collective elements revealed by each participants visionary journeys tell a mythic story of power and grace.

** Attending one masked trance dance is a prerequisite for those who also wish to become a certified instructor of the Cuyamungue Method, so your attendance will fulfill this requirement.

More information on attending the Masked Trance Dance at the Cuyamungue Institute.