The Mask As Messenger:mask making as spiritual awakening and art therapy

The mask, as a concept, and an art form, has fascinated me since my first week in graduate school (a gazillion years ago now) where I was your typical 21-year-old firstborn high achiever …with no real clue as to where or how or what to achieve.

I had accepted a full-ride scholarship into a Masters degree program in social research, mainly  as a way of prolonging adolescence and avoiding “the real world” a bit longer.  In a nutshell I was a highly energized, apprehensive kid, with a strong bent towards social and psychological observation investigation.

So, when a classmate and friend (now turn professional shrink)  told me about a mask he had made of  his face  – and then carefully helped me apply plaster to my own face ( complete with straws up my nostrils ) my sense of social observation took a turn for the more personal…

making plaster mask of face how toMy first experience of surrender to the confines of the mask was truly life altering: the covering of my face in that wet white goo; my very breath of life sustained by just two cheap (one per nostril) along with the very real worry that I wasn’t getting sufficient error; wondering how much hotter the curing plaster would get — and at what point serious burn might become a real issue  …not to mention “my friend” sneaking, tip toed,  over to me lying on the ground, and covering the plastic straw openings over my nostrils (just for “a little joke”! And now the guys a shrink  – somehow that figures!)

That first mask making experience was, for me, a mini death experience.  And it was extraordinarily revealing.

With my brain center covered in hardening plaster, and my life force sustained through two plastic straws, I was shocked by a how to make a plaster maskpowerful feeling of helplessness. I became instantly transported into an amazing sense of awareness of one’s own mortality… I was confronted with the absolute miracle of life, the mystery of death, and the real fear we all have of truly living.

A continuum and a circle completed itself before my (covered eyes). I was seeing Life and it’s various roles and positions in a whole new relationship!

I became stunned by the mask as a vehicle for individual discovery and social commentary… And I’ve been studying, creating, and leading workshops with mask making ever since.

mask maker sculptor life cast

Persona, politics, roles we play out as a society and as an individual, have become an ongoing observation in my life is artist, social scientist working in the business world, and as a spiritual teacher and counselor.

I noticed for years that people are fascinated by masks – and by the curious power that they evoke. I think we have all probably sensed that feeling of presence when we gaze upon an ancient mask hanging in a museum (or even simply at Halloween or Mardi Gras for that matter).

vision quest maskThe mask emits an almost eery force-field of latent power and potential; the sense of something deeply mysterious; a spirit calling up secrets from within  – and beyond…

The mask has been used throughout history as ritual and ceremony for seeking communion with a sublime, the “Great Spirit”, with “Source”. It is been used in the great Shaman traditions of every no culture as a means for opening to deeper layers of consciousness in obtaining wisdom, gaining protection, seeking guidance, in celebration and rights of passage, and for healing. It is an ancient symbol of transcendence and power.

That the mask is always held a significant ceremonial place throughout history and all known recorded civilizations, has made me all the in awe of its social significance and contemporary value.

So in 1990, I started creating what I call “life-masks” of individuals on a commission basis. And  shortly thereafter after, I began facilitating mask-making sessions as inquiry and transformation with groups of individuals and in workshops across the country.

In some cases, these masks I created or facilitated in workshops were simply intended as artistic portraits – perhaps ornamental or even whimsical. In others, they were literally created as a symbolic way to honor and understand a transition into a new phase of life – divorce, childbirth, entrance into adulthood. In several cases, I was commissioned to create an actual death mask to honor and help a dying individual except terminal disease and his or her imminent passing.

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In all cases, a strange and wonderful alchemy took place in the individual who either made or commissioned a life mask. Each person I’ve seen create a life mask has had a most direct experience with “the spirit of the mask” which spoke to him or her of powerful unawakened dreams and potential realities. It is in exploring the mask (by putting the plaster mask on…and in peeling the mask away)  that we learn how to become genuine.

naming vision quest maskThe mask, as a tool for transcendence, is a vehicle with ancient roots in our human civilization. What I believe I’ve discovered in the contemporary creating of masks is the ancient secret transformational alchemy behind the mask. And it is as powerful today as in any other previous time in our evolution.

The mask is a profound messenger bridging the paradoxes inherent between our two worlds: that of the sublime or spirit with the mundane or earthly. Upon penetrating the darkness inner silence of the mask, one enters the portal of life and all of its great mysteries.

The mask stirs an awakening and all those willing to enroll into its inner journey.

how to make a plaster face maskRonda LaRue incorporates the ancient tradition of mask-making as a contemporary vehicle for social and individual discovery and awakening.  She has produced a 55 minute step-by-step DVD for those interested in making your own life mask using plaster. DVD is available on Amazon as well as at  and Resources Page.  ronda larue c. 1993 (photos, images and art pieces by ronda larue various dates)

Short Trailer for the DVD


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