In 1994, our women’s mythology group created and presented a play using masks. We had explored the story of “Eros and Psyche” for a few years, so knew every detail.
I played the Goddess Aphrodite who, in this myth, is fierce, jealous, demanding, and anything but lovely.
The masks were bought or made by a member of the group who was an art teacher and character in the play. In Greek theater, a mask used in this way is called a persona. C.G. Jung used the term persona to mean our outer personality which is like a mask compared to our inmost authentic Self.
Along with raging and beating Psyche who dared to fall in love with her son Eros, Aphrodite gave Psyche Four Labors, each more impossible than the last. Psyche faced each task with despair, but helpers arrived and each task was finished. In the process, Psyche (Soul) was initiated into the depths of Feminine Wisdom.
Working with the story brought us close to each other and taught us new ways to approach life’s impossible challenges. That first depth immersion in mythology was an adventure and an initiation for me.
Years later, I created my own masks in Marion Woodman’s BodySoul Rhythms Workshops. I’ll call these masks unintentional because I didn’t have a specific character in mind or know what they would look like or symbolize before the process began.
In 2003, about 40 women made face molds the first night of the week-long workshop in a downstairs room filled with art supplies. First a thick layer of Vaseline to protect the skin and then bandage-like pieces of gauze cut in strips, dipped in warm water, and applied to the face in a few layers. Then lying still for 20 minutes to let the plaster dry into a hard mold before another woman eased the mask off my face. After it dried, we painted our masks with acrylic paints. (Directions for mask-making at this link.)
We had five days to create our masks while working with a mythological story, doing body work, dancing, and exploring dreams and Jungian ideas. The art room stayed open 24 hours a day for midnight inspirations. Some nights I worked late.
A Golden Bull with juvenile horns emerged–an image of an young and vital masculine energy in me. I cut off the bottom part of the mask under the chin to open its voice and throat. I was surprised by my Bull, but not everyone was.
“I know him,” my husband Vic said when I showed him the mask after arriving home. “I know him so well.”
Vic knew the bullish and sometimes belligerent parts of me better than anyone–including me since I’d rather deny or conceal those parts of myself. He knew my stubborn persistent intellect and desire to create and learn, a more positive aspect of this bull. Looking back, that bull was a step toward withdrawing a projection from Vic and finding my own inner masculine.
I made the third mask in a workshop in 2007. Vic had a brief respite from treatment that summer, so I signed up for a Marion Woodman workshop in Canada. Vic and I looked forward to a week apart after a year of unrelenting cancer therapy and constant togetherness.
As the women gathered to discuss a mythological story on the second morning, someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Your husband called. You need to call him back,” she said. My heart pounded. He wouldn’t call unless it was an emergency, but his message was about my mom who had lingered with Alzheimer’s for ten years. She was dying and there wasn’t time for me to get home. I’ve written about dancing my relief and grief that weekend.
Vic sat with my mom until she died. I’d pre-arranged her cremation. Everything else could wait until I returned home. My mask and need for inner nourishment felt pressing. I stayed.
I named my mask “Our Lady of Praise and Sorrow.” She weeps on one side and sings praise on the other. I said a tender goodbye to my mother in ritual and dance, but the mask took me deeper, to what I truly feared losing. I was grateful for the 41 years I’d been with Vic, supporting, growing, and trusting each other. I grieved over our future and that word “incurable.”
When I showed my mask to Vic, he inspected every detail. “Thank you,” he said. He knew. The mask reflected grief and praise for our partnership. It spoke to a new life I’d live without him after his death. It helped me trust that I could hold on to gratitude even while I grieved.
With gratitude to the women who have gathered for over 25 years to study mythology together.
Do stories from mythology and fairy tales become guides to help you understand yourself and life’s challenges? For an article about Eros and Psyche, see Clutched: An Essential Lesson from Psyche’s Fourth Labor. Or if you want to see how knowing this story helped me understand my ferocious Mother-in-Law, see My Lover’s Mama and the Negative Mother Archetype. I’ve written many articles about working with Marion, so here’s a link to my Marion Woodman archives.