Halloween 2020 will be a unique year.
This whole year has been nothing but masks, of half-visible faces, from the Carona Virus to the protests and riots. It seems all anyone is wearing is masks. This kind of participation in anonymity used to only come twice a year: Halloween & Mardi Gras. It seems 2020 has been more of the former rather than the latter, a year-long season of horror and death instead of merriment.
The custom of wearing masks for Halloween seems to have come from the superstition that a mask could protect a mortal from being attacked by spirits. Halloween was regarded as a bewitched evening, a wide open portal much like 3:00 a.m. wherein the spirits would come out in full force. So patrons of this holiday would don the mask, perhaps feigning as spirits themselves in the hope of scaring off or dissuading any malicious entity from harming them.
In turn it seems the feast of Halloween is coupled for a remembrance of death. This may be in part due to the spiritual activity that we are keen of for this holiday’s pagan roots, or in part due to the actual “Hallow Day”, All Saints Day, wherein we remember reposed saints. Couple this with the feast of the “Day of the Dead”, moved from the summer time to the feast of “All Saints” after Catholocism baptized the holiday of remembrance.
Not much has changed this year. An unseen malicious force creeps about our world, and we have put on masks to protect ourselves. This year’s spirit of death roaming about seems to be the Carona Virus, and so we have put on our masks to abate its wispy grasp upon us and our loved ones. Perhaps the cloth masks we are all donning also serve as a reminder, the looming threat of death that could take anyone of us. Perhaps the thing we could reflect on from this pandemic is the important reminder that we remember our own death: Memento Mori.
Thinking of the relationship between protection, the remembrance of death, and masks got me thinking of the age old creation story: Adam & Eve.
Genesis-Nakedness, Image, likeness, and “playing god”
Adam & Eve were given pretty free reign in the garden, set with only one boundary: don’t eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eve enters into dialog with a serpent that temtps her to try the fruit, assuring her she won’t die but that she will be like God. Eve tries it and then tempts Adam, and Adam partakes. The first thing they notice about themselves and each other is their nakedness, and so they create a covering for themselves of vegetation. God acknowledges their attempt of hiding from Him, and in the end we hear that He makes for them “garments of skin” to wear, and are cast out of the garden.
The two parts of the text I’m struck by in particular is the theme of hiding, of covering.
Let us consider the first revelation: nakedness.
We take this detail for granted, but if we stop and consider this to be Adam and Eve’s first revelation after eating/acquiring “knowledge of good and evil”, what would we assume the first thing to happen to Adam and Eve? Do you consider knowledge of good and evil at first to be an understanding of nakedness? Wouldn’t the concept of death be perhaps the first musing? Or of wealth? Wrath? Pride? Consider for a second what we might think to be the first natural thought or awakening for Adam and Eve after receiving this knowledge, and then consider, why would nakedness be the first musing?
Now, there is a risk here that our minds will go from the word nakedness to an immediate possible interpretation of “naughtiness”. Nakedness makes us think of sex, and so our assumption of “nakedness” being the first awareness is that Adam and Eve are introduced to a topic that would make them “lose their innocence”, that being sex. Possible, but I think it’s deeper than that.
Consider why we wear masks. We wear masks to protect ourselves. Why do we protect ourselves? Because we know we are vulnerable. We also happen to wear masks to pretend to be someone else, because being someone else might be more fun or have some utility. Consider the ancient Greeks who wore masks in drama to play a new part…do we not relish the opportunity of playing, for one day out of the year, the part of someone else? As a super hero or villain, as a character from a book or movie, as a monster? There’s something to be mined here…
I think the nakedness that Adam and Eve felt was no different than what we feel when we put on masks. We put on masks–even simple ones such as sunglassess–as a protection, whether it be to protect our bodies/health or to protect our identity, our emotional vulnerability, our identity, etc. Consider how popular sunglasses are among poker players, concealing the “tells” of their eyes, or consider the confidence that wearing these sunglasses has on our everyday lives. Adam & Eve at that moment understood how vulnerable they themselves were, and how vulnerable the other was. The understanding of this vulnerability, the fear and temptation to be abused or to abuse the other, is there.
And then consider the snake’s temptation, the notion that Adam & Eve will be like God. Perhaps we could think of the fruit of knowledge to be a mask that Adam & Eve put on, the cowl of Batman, the face of Guy Fawkes, an invitation to feel like an all-powerful arbiter of justice. The fruit is not a mask they put on, but the endeavor to “play god” is the invitation of any mask, or rather a mask is an invitation to “play _______” (whoever that mask might depict). Adam & Eve did not get to wear the mask of God, but they realized how naked their faces are, not being God.
I find the “irony” in this is that Adam & Eve were already made in His image and likeness, and so that affinity, that resemblance was already built into their frame.
So Adam and Eve build for themselves garments out of the vegetation. We can begin to wonder why or what they were trying to “play as” or protect themselves from. Did they attempt to then create for themselves a “mask of God” out of all this, to try and play His part, to feel His majesty? Did they do this protect their bodies knowing how fragile they were, protect their identities? Did they put on these leaves feeling the same way we might feel putting on a pair of sunglasses, feeling a bit more safter, reserved, shut off from all others?
The hiding under this vegetable garment and the subsequent hiding behind the trees of the garden is their attempt for power, for safety, for retaining/acquiring status. Before partaking in the fruit, Adam and Eve seemingly had no reason to hide, to protect themselves, to pretend. They were in safe communion with one another, with creation, walking freely with God.
Perhaps we might wonder, how the story might have ended if they did not attempt to hide so helplessly. What if, in the dissonance of their awareness of their nakedness, they chose to remain as they were, without any attempt to make up for their revealed vulnerability, shamelessly presentable in what they did?
Interestingly, God does not leave Adam and Eve in the state of their vegetable attire. God creates for them new garments, “garments of skin”. This is a curious saying with many interpretations. Was this garment of skin merely a warm leather, a protection for Adam and Eve, testifying of how they would not have to defend themselves, hide themselves, from the wild and treacherous beasts, to brave the cold world distant from God’s warmth? Was this garment of skin the “corruptible nature” Adam and Eve put on, their susceptibility to corruption, sickness, and death.
Whatever the case may be, humanity henceforth has a new identity, a new “face” or mask wearing this garment, and any new type of “clothing” would not be seen until the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, wherein St. Paul speaks of “putting on the garment of Christ”, more of a disposition and an invitation back into relationship, but something transformative nonetheless.
Our New Costumes
In the span of human history, garment has evolved. Whether it be the primitive loin-cloths worn in isolated tribes, or the formal attire you and I might wear for work or for some party, we clothe ourselves. This clothing in part is a civic agreement to cover our actual nakedness. It is is a protection from the elements. But consider every piece we put on, every clothing attire we chose. I remember my first time “dressing up” out in public made me feel confident, wearing a suit, tie, slacks, and dress shoes to feel rather empowering; I could feel a difference walking through a grocery store in this, and I noticed others noticing me differently than what I might consider to be “comfortable” clothing. Consider what we wear, or what little we wear, to attract attention to ourselves. While this might appear less protective and in-fact more inviting, I would argue that any scantness in our dress is still a protection, a shielding of our vulnerability of loneliness, of feeling unacknowledged, of self-esteem.
In this year of 2020, we are only wearing one more mask to our fully clothed bodies, one extra layer of protection to resolve our subconscious awareness of our vulnerability. On Halloween, on Mari Gras, or on any day we wear a pair of sunglasses, we will put on yet another layer, a guise pretending to be someone else than our normal, corruptible, vulnerable selves. We will put on a mask of confidence, of power, of anonymity, and we will consciously or unconsciosuly break through our inhabitions with these disguises, tied not down by our real selves, but armed with an agency to act out of character.
So what’s the moral behind all this?
My invitation for us all is to examine what masks–both overt and subconscious–we put on daily. Whether its the clothes we chose to wear, the glasses we need not for our faces, or even the smile or persona that doesn’t fit our inner self. Let us be aware of whatever guises we assume and ponder on what utility they serve, what strengths they offer, and most importantly what harm they can do.
And lastly, let us consider our vulnerability. We do not freely share ourselves to each other, perhaps for some good reason. And yet our subconscious awareness of our “nakedness” of our vulnerability needs to inform us how we do “good” or “evil”. How have we harmed one another out of our own vulnerability? How have we exploited each other’s vulnerabilities? How has our knowledge of our vulnerability inclined us towards goodness, and how does our knowledge of each other’s vulnerability incline us towards doing good?