Please allow me to preface this story with another. For a few years now, I have been working with a set of three masks I made over the course of a couple months at the end of 2009. Perhaps the crown jewel of the three is the Sun God Mask.
Originally intended to be the focal point of Solstice rituals, it has been calling for more attention lately. In particular, it took an unexpectedly prominent role in my Beltane festivities, and since then it has been much more aware. As an experiment, I took the mask with me to Heartland.
For those who haven’t been to Heartland Pagan Festival, one of the major attractions are the nightly bonfires, surrounded by drumming and dancing. The last couple years I ended up spending so much energy on the radically healing and transformative workshops and rituals that I didn’t actually have any left for dancing. This year was different, for better AND worse, and I think I spent more time around the bonfire than the previous two (and maybe three) years combined. I know I spent more time dancing than the last several years put together.
For me, this year, there were three modes of dancing. I danced by myself. I danced with the mask: letting it experience the mortal pleasures that incorporeal creatures seem to find either intoxicating or abhorrent. I danced with the fire, treating it as an idol of the Elemental Powers of Fire.
Dancing alone was an exercise in the pure, hedonist pleasure of my body. Reveling in the feeling of muscle and sinew moving against bone, of the heat of the fire contrasted with the cool night air, of the thundering drumbeats moving through me, the rough sand under my bare feet. Gods, I’ve missed it. Even if I could stand the music they play at dance clubs, it wouldn’t be the same. The drum circle produces an aIchemy of earth, air, and fire that, in my experience at least, is absolutely unique.
Although, to the best of knowledge, I’ve done more mask-work than anyone I know personally, I can hardly call myself an expert. I’ve worked with exactly three ritual masks, only two of which have personalities. Dancing with the mask was an experience unlike any I have had yet. Although Phil Hine tells me that half-masks are difficult to keep quiet, I actually find it incredibly difficult to speak while wearing it. I don’t know if my dancing was perceptibly different to anyone who is not me, but I definitely felt like a back-seat driver in my own body as the mask and I moved around the fire Friday and Sunday nights. One person complimented me on the mask while we were dancing, and it was all I could do to say “thank you.” I don’t even remember what she looked like, even though we were close enough that I could see her without my glasses.
Dancing with the fire itself, this year, was perhaps the most powerful experience of the three. My plan, going in to the festival, had included a lot of visionary and ritual work aimed at pursuing elemental and planetary initiations. None of it happened. After the concert and its coincidental epiphanies, however, I was ready to try. I had already danced by myself. I was dancing with the mask when the sudden calling came to me to put it back down and dance with the fire. I rode the drums into the fire and rode the heat and light back into myself, bringing Fire with me. I haven’t really talked about it here on the blog—I should, but I haven’t; it’s easier to talk about how I was an idiot back in the day than how I’ve fucked up lately—but I’ve been having some trouble with Fire. My elemental journey to Fire, taken as part of my work through Penczak’s Outer and High Temples, left an open portal to the Elemental Realm of Fire in my Inner Temple that would draw me in against my will if I wasn’t extremely careful. Dancing with the fire, becoming One with Fire, I asked it for it’s Elemental Initiation. The fire told me it was already mine. When I returned to my Inner Temple for Monday’s journeywork, the portal was tamed: mine to enter or exit at need, no longer a sucking maw.
1- Phil Hine, Condensed Chaos, (Tempe, AZ: New Falcon, 1995), 153. Maybe he just hasn’t “learn[ed] to speak” yet.