Monday, September 6, 2010

Tangible Witchcraft: Devotional Mask Making (Part One)

My lovely friend elfin (who edits and writes for this blog) came over the other day to make devotional masks with us. What is a devotional mask, you ask? It is a mask that is made of and with a specific deity for the purpose of communing with them, gaining information from them, and working with them further. It can be used in a ritual context, an oracular context, or even in a trance when you are alone (with the deity). My mask is for oracular and communal work mainly, so no eye holes are needed, just nose and mouth.

The way that the process works is deceptively simple (although the materials are specific and you need assistance- you cannot do this work alone!):

1. You create a plaster mask base using quick drying plaster strips (the brand we used is called Rigid Wrap) on your own face. The book that we used to help with the nuts and bolts process was this one (to the left!). The book simplifies the process and materials needed so that you can concentrate on the trance work and embellishment part of the mask making process. I liked that a whole lot (as this is a craft project with a sacred purpose)!

You need to pick a specific deity with which you want to work and of which you want to make a mask. Often, they come to you, so you will probably not have a hard time deciding!

2. Then as your helper applies the plaster to your face, you enter a trance state (if desired, your helper can assist with that part, too) where you meet and interact with that God/dess. You have their energy and essence fill you for some time as the mask hardens on your face. The whole process for this step takes 20-30 minutes per mask.

3. When it is time for the mask to be removed, you sit up and blow the energy of the God/dess out of your body and into the mask, enlivening it and creating a link to that God/dess in the seemingly inanimate object. This will help you use the mask in devotional and ritual work with this particular God/dess. This mask is of my patroness, Lilith (as she is commonly called).

Cast of Lily's face
Be warned- this is a messy project. Wear clothes you don't mind getting messy and know that a shower afterwards is a good idea, as you are using lotions and petroleum jelly and such to keep the plaster from sticking to your skin and ripping out your eyebrows. My partner has a full beard, so you can imagine how goopy his face was for this project!

4. Once the mask is set but not completely dry, trim the edges (it's easier while it is still slightly damp).

Rowan finds a witchlet "hat"
at the craft store!
5. After you let it dry completely, the embellishment begins! Remember what information was given to you in trace, visually and energetically, and try and make that come across in how you decorate the mask. 6. A shopping trip may be in order, as the items that you assembled beforehand may not seem as appropriate after the trance. I know that I saw things that I wanted to incorporate into my mask that I did not have on hand- so off we went, looking for items!

I picked up some things at an ordinary craft store (hot glue gun and sticks, lichens and moss, colored tissue paper, Outdoor Mod Podge adhesive), some things I already had (what can I say? I am crafty!), and some things at specialty stores (shark teeth, beetle wings). I have a huge vase filled with feathers that I have been collecting from all my bird friends over the years, so that helped with this project as well.

Candle lit for God Herself
7. After the mask dried, I created sacred space for the embellishment process (which took and is taking several sessions- I am creating this mask for a camp that I am attending Labor Day weekend and it will be used both as an example for others to make their masks, and in ritual at camp.). I do all my sacred crafts in sacred space. It helps me enter trance so much easier. Often I just run with what I am getting in the moment and when I am done I am surprised at the results!

A beak added.
First thing I did to my mask was to create a beak instead of a nose. I did this with clay that air dries, although you could use more plaster strips to do the same thing if you have an armature for support. Then I  cut up some old jeans and created wing shapes to that I could embellish them with the feathers. Notice that I also taped the edges of the mask. This will be covered over in the final product.

First feather layer
Then as the clay beak dried, I worked on the wings, which will be a back to the mask- like flaps that enclose my head completely.

I used regular Elmer's glue (thickly applied) on the first set of feathers, which were more downy and meant to be a general cover.

The yellow of the beak is
also tissue paper
After the beak was dry, it was time to cover the mask. Rather than paint, I opted for colored tissue paper and Outdoor formula Modge Podge (which has the advantage for collage artists of being both a glue and a finish!). I wanted all my mask materials to be natural (as Gods are forces of nature!)- so rather than acrylic paint, I used paper. The colors I picked were symbolic- my patroness calls herself "the Lady of Blood and Moonlight" - so I picked a red the color of exposed blood. For moonlight, I chose a special silver glitter made in Germany- which is not plastic but glass. It reflects and refracts light so much more intensely than plastic and is better for the environment. After this step was done, I found that the wings were dry and I could start again on the wings, adding the heavier feathers.

I used parrot feathers of all colors for this project as well as lichen and beetle wings on the forehead. For these steps, I used the hot glue gun and LOTS of glue. Then I was able to wire the shark's teeth into a mouth shape and attach them to the mask. Final pictures (for now) of the wings and mask:
multi-color wings
almost finished!
really bad orthodontia.
Next steps (in a future blog post): finish the edges of the wings, attach them to the back of the mask, create an elastic strap to hold the mask in place, and wearing the mask! I'll talk about helping others make theirs and using mine in a ritual context.

Hope you had as much fun reading as I did making! Stay tuned for part two!


  1. I definitely had fun reading this. I am looking forward to part two!

  2. You'll get to see some other folks' masks, too. Such creative and talented people at our F(a)eri(e) Camp!!!

  3. Lily,

    Is it alright to ask for explanations behind the symbolic decorations you used on the mask? Why the beak nose, the face the color of exposed blood, the shark teeth, etc.?

    Part of me understands the "getting into the Deity" thing and that it sometimes result in "having to do what is needed" no matter how odd it may seem to outsiders. BUT part of me, the side raised in Catholicism, is terrified.

    Pardon about this:
    (1) You see, Lilith, for most Judeo-Christians, is evil. One of the devils, in fact. I understand that Xtianity did relegate the Ancient Gods as evil beings (well, they're rivals). I am also aware of some lesser known legends that Lilith was the first wife of Adam and that she was replaced by Yahweh because she refused to consider herself lower than Adam. That legend said she wasn't evil. (Just the first Feminist. :>)

    (2) ALso, those of us raised in Christianity are always bombarded with Good as always beautiful--angelic blah-blah-blah. And that images such as hook nose, shark teeth--in short, unpleasant (sorry)--are evil.

    WHAT I am asking is, perhaps you could put in some links regarding how the Lady Lilith is regarded in the Feri Tradition. SOmething which would also help explain why the Lady Lilith told you to make your mask with a hook nose, red-blood face, and shark teeth.

    As peace offering, I have read Anderson's poem, "Lilith's Garden." I have kept it my file. It is very intriguing and needs some digging to understand well.


  4. You should be terrified. All Gods are fantastic forces that are alien and powerful. The Christian God is the most terrifying to me personally, because he did such mean and crazy things (over and over) to people in the stories in the Bible. (Slavery, rape, incest, plagues, child sacrifice- aaaaagh!)

    Yes, all of the things you say are true- Lilith was replaced by newer Gods and demonized- and it didn't even start with the Christians- she was replaced by first another Goddess cult before that. She has been demonized for quite some time. And yet she persists. She's quite the character!

    Victor called her the "Leperous White Lady". Harpy Coven, from which our above-ground witchcraft tradition descends, had her as the patroness of their coven. The relationship between Feri and Lilith goes back a long ways. Reading Lilith's Garden is a great start to understanding what another witch thinks of Lilith. Here's another.

    I cannot tell you what Lilith means in Feri, as each Feri witch has their own practice and works with their Gods in their own way. But I can tell you what Lilith means to me, as a Feri witch.

    She is a difficult patron. She only wants strong followers, and therefore often drags her priests through the mud (metaphorically) to make hem stronger. She demands sacrifice (I turn now to the original meaning, "to make sacred"), and her favorite flavor is suffering. I had a dream when she first claimed me where she was the wind and I was standing on a cliff calling to her. She whipped off my clothes, then my flesh- all the while joyously (not meanly) laughing. Was I terrified? You bet. Was I in pain? Most certainly! But she was doing me a favor at the time. I needed to be dismantled to be put back together, better than before. She is just not gentle- the way that earthquakes and tsunamis are not gentle. It is not her nature.

    What has she asked me to do, in her name in this world? She has asked me to heal in her name. I remove suffering from others and place it in her vessel as an offering. She has given me a current of energy that I can use to do this, similar to Reiki in how it's used but it feels very different to both me and the patient.

    She is also a fierce protector of children and has no qualms about hunting down killing child molesters, for example. Is that justice? To her it is. I can see how she is terrifying to someone who does not know her as I do.

    As for the mask's look, I do not believe in the myth that things must be "beautiful" to be "good". I think that the mask IS beautiful, in that it is True. And whether Lilith is "good" or not depends on who you are and your relationship to her.

    She is the Lady of Blood (Blood being life force, vitality and the original sacrifice) and Moonlight and that is reflected in the colors of the mask. She is the night snatcher so she has an owl's beak. She has sharp teeth to devour suffering and kill her prey (those who harm children and her people).

    Lilith's sacred animals are owls and night moths (take a look around my blog imagery- that is a "prettier" representation of my patron, no? But they both are True.

  5. Ahhhh! This I understand, the "soul-flaying" thing. Dismantling a person's or society's soul in order to make whole again. I agree that this divine act can seem "bad" at first, unless we learn to see it in a positive light. (Heck, as if it will ever be easy. I've had to be "flayed" several times before I understood truths. More will come.)

    Just sharing: Last February, I did a "fingerwalk" in my palm-size copy of the Chartres Labyrinth. I read in some book that God could always be found in a labyrinth's center. ANyway, wanted to try. So I did. In trance, "I" went to the center and found SOmeone there. I didn't know what to expect, but He did strip away every layer (from clothes to soul layers) until the my Core. There was no pain. The pain came later as I learned to peel away illusions and ill-advised wants.

    Thank you for explaining. I really liked it as it helped me to view Her in a different light. Protector & Avenger? I don't mind what She does then. At least She doesn't spend Her time crying and wringing Her hands when there are problems. (Which is kind of my Filipino Catholic culture's image of the Virgin Mary.)

    The Lady Lilith is very interesting. I wonder what it would be like to meet Her on the road someday?

  6. Dear Lilith:

    Thanks so much for sharing
    SARA A.'s blog post. I kept smiling and laughing inside as I read about her Lilith.

    I can sympathize with Lady Lilith's "rage" (for lack of a better word), Her refusal to blend in. There are times when I have the same urges (esp. from my 20s up to present) and I do not know what to do with that "Fire", esp. when I have to make nice.


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