A mask is an object normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance, or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes. They are usually worn on the face, although they may also be positioned for effect elsewhere on the wearer's body. In parts of Australia, giant totem masks cover the body, whilst Inuit women use finger masks during storytelling and dancing.
Masks are used throughout Europe, and are frequently integrated into regional folk celebrations and customs. Old masks are preserved and can be seen in museums and other collections, and much research has been undertaken into the historical origins of masks. Most probably represent nature spirits, and as a result many of the associated customs are seasonal. The original significance would have survived only until the introduction of Christianity which then incorporated many of the customs into its own traditions. In the process their meanings were also changed so, for example, old gods and goddesses were, literally, demonised and were viewed as mere devils, subjugated to the Abrahamic God.
Many of the masks and characters used in European festivals belong to the contrasting categories of the 'good', or 'idealised beauty', set against the 'ugly' or 'beastly' and grotesque. This is particularly true of the Germanic and Central European festivals. Another common type is the Fool, sometimes considered to be the synthesis of the two contrasting type of Handsome and Ugly.
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