Saturday, May 26, 2012

Batman: Masks of Shamanism

By Sascha Idakaar

The mask is an idea, a symbol, we could look at from a million angles. It is, even at first glance, our double, a close relative of the mirror -- but it is something other than the mirror. The mirror shows us our double. A mask creates a second double atop us. It transforms rather than reveals.

At the same time, a lot of psych pop lit has been written about Batman. But I'd like to use Batman as the pop culture model of the role of the mask. 

What is Batman, really? 

Is is a story about how an emotionally disturbed, very rich young adult deals with psychological trauma that he cannot let go of. Some ideas, some emotions, are things that we hold onto, and they are done with us the moment we are done with them. But others have us in their clutches, and they are only done with us when they are ready. This becomes a subject of subconscious, and the only way to deal with such things is to try to find a way to speak the language of the subconscious. Not just the subconscious, but our subconscious. Every single one has a different symbolic and emotional makeup. Any therapeutic system that misses this will basically be a crapshoot, whether that system lines up well with the stories that are embedded inside of you.

What Batman does in the Batman Begins version is a very shamanic (if simplified) trope -- to try to make contact with and become your deepest fear as the mask to wear to deal with the rest of the underworld. The mask of a protector spirit is precisely this, an ally that you befriend to keep other terrifying forces at bay. That ally or protector spirit is often nothing short of terrifying itself, but in one way or another you have made a truce with it. (Note: "Ally" is used by Carlos Castenada, "protector spirit" is more generalized. There are plenty of examples of this basic model in Eliade's analysis of Shamanism.) 

In Batman, all he needs to do is confront the fear that underlies the symbol of the bat, and, in conjunction with his other training, he is able to find his ally. Also note the scene, "this -- your face -- is your mask. Your real face is now the face that the criminals fear." I do not mean to belabor this point, as Mr VI has already written at length on this topic

"Just" confronting fear and training in ninjitsu is not always what is called for. Different traditions have different expectations of what one must do to befriend a particular ally, but in my opinion, it is something that happens or doesn't, and takes a bit of trust, a bit of skepticism, and a whole lot of attention paid to the information just at the periphery of your consciousness. The messages you need are there, but you have to learn to look for them, and you have to learn to listen. 

In my case, I noticed an unusual mask in several locations before my mind latched onto it as a synchronicity, or a message to myself. (From, you might say, myself. Though "inside" and "outside" is far less meaningful than we actually believe when it comes to living symbols.) It took me time to track it down, and to get a sense of the story behind it. 
Damn thing showed up
three times in different places
before I realized I should take note.

This mask comes from a Central / South American people in Mexico who were invaded by Spaniards. And to protect their indigenous culture, much as many other colonialized locales, the enforced religion becomes merely a carrier for the deeper, esoteric tradition. Of course, the two begin to blend over time. But at first, this mask was used in a dance, and represented Satan, as lord of the Angels who rebelled, in conflict with the Angels of light. But the original diety who himself, you might say, is wearing a mask, was a trickster. This is not unlike Eshu, who at times takes on a form similar to the Christian concept of the devil. 

What the full nature of this trickster is, I have yet to discover. It seems lost to time, and a verbal tradition that was intentionally keeping tight-lipped to avoid persecution. How much art, symbol, religion, tradition have we lost to such things? We will never know. 

I am using this mask as a jumping-off point. As I began sketches of the mask I would like to build, it changed in subtle ways. With each iteration, it changes, and at the same time, I am trying to keep my mind open to impressions from dreams that might color my understanding of what this thing really really is. After all, eventually I will have myself a mask constructed and then the question will hang in the air: now what?

My most recent remembered dream involved being Hunter S. Thompson, even recognizing "myself" in the mirror, and realizing I was already dead. He was talking with the porn-star Stoya, and the two of them got to fucking at which point a shaman came into the room. I believe I called him a savage, "can't you see we're fucking busy?" and threw a lamp at the wall. He left, and the dream proceeded. Whether this has anything to do with this mask or not I can't really say. I'm saying no. Though the next day I woke up and found out that this meme was spreading all over Facebook for a day or so. And no, I had nothing to do with creating it but yes, the character on the bottom is me playing Hunter for Clark: A Gonzomentary

NOTES: The mask you're seeing a sketch of above - I'm hoping I can acquire the help to build it as it is starting to get a little complicated, and there are materials questions that might bear building several prototypes. (Like if the "snake" parts are best as a layer of something atop a core, or woven somehow.) I want the snake to be well attached, and yet flexible. As you can see on the side view, there is a second part of the snake that turns into an incredibly long goatee of sorts. (It's funny that the eye pieces can actually be to prescription thanks to Zenni optical.)

The horns should probably come from a goat though I'm curious how ram horns would change the whole thing.

The main mask part mache might work for. Though the ideal final version of this would be able to be worn to festivals, which means that being able to take some harsh weather would be needed.

I sure hope my subconscious has some idea what it's doing with this thing. I have a weird feeling this is just step 1 in an outfit that will definitely get some looks if I wear it to the corner store to get some organic milk.

Enough for a web post, and for you to digest if you've been paying attention. It is anyone's guess where exploring this symbol will take me, and how it will unfold as I continue to bring the intention of meeting this trickster and finding what transformation or protection it can offer me as I move forward in this weird, brief dream that we call life.  It was for exploring work such as this that I joined the College of Aethyric Sciences, and hope that when I get my first class together some of you will join us. 

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  1. "We will never know."

    I'm sure you could find out more if you wanted to. A lot of these cultures are still around and being researched as we speak, or are speaking for themselves. (Also, Mexico is in Central America.)

  2. True, though there is some evidence the original tradition came from further south. But you are correct. As for knowing about it -- it's hard to say. I certainly don't have those connections, and there's nothing readily available.

    It's also not very important to me. Those are not my people. I am not looking to re-create their myth. It wouldn't be genuine.

  3. I'm thinking it might be good to follow up this piece with some others... we'll see what "strange birds will hatch" as Jhon said.



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