Mask, Ritual

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mask, Ritual


a mask worn in various ceremonies (religious and magical dances). Ritual masks have been widely used since ancient times among many tribes and peoples of the world (in Africa, North and South America, Asia, and Oceania). Made of bark, wood, grass, skin, cloth, bone, and other materials, they depict human faces, animal heads, or the heads of fantastic and mythological creatures. One type of ritual mask covers the entire head.

The use of ritual masks is associated with the worship of ancestors, spirits, and animals, as well as with totemistic concepts. The wearer acts as if he were transformed into the creature depicted by the mask. Ritual masks have often been used by secret societies (for example, among the peoples of Melanesia, Africa, and America) and are used during the initiation of youths into manhood, raids, and the administering of justice. Ritual masks made of cloth and birch bark were formerly worn among a number of Siberian peoples, including the Shortsy, Buriats, and Nentsy, during certain types of shamanistic ceremonies; they were also worn among the Khanty and Mansi, during ceremonies after the killing of a bear.


Avdeev, A. D. “Maska: Opyt tipologicheskoi klassifikatsii po etnograficheskim materialam.” In Sbornik Muzeia antropologii i etnografii, Moscow-Leningrad, 1957, no. 17; 1960, no. 19.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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