Masks of the Past

Masks of the Past

In my household, I am the least technical person. My use of technology and internet presence is quite limited, but recently my children have introduced me to a new online passtime: scrolling through Reddit. There are some funny pages on there. I was looking at one called DIWhy. As the name implies it shows images of several interesting “do it yourself” inventions people have come up with. Many of the images make you scratch your head and wonder why people create such things. For example, here is a chicken treadmill someone invented.

 

It seems a little cruel, doesn’t it?

I guess it’s human nature to be innovative. And even when something isn’t really needed, it’s fun to create. This got me wondering what silly things people made in the past. I was hoping to find items from the Regency Era to share with you, but it seems silly creations are more frequently captured through the use of photography. There was, however, one item that has been redesigned over the centuries to serve various purposes some of which might count as silly: masks. Given their recent surge in popularity, it seemed fitting to share with you just how versatile this little accessory can be.

 

 

Let’s start with the vizard. Now, this mask doesn’t attach to the face with the regular straps. Instead, a button was sewn into the inside of the mask and the wearer (always women) would grasp this button with her teeth. Considering the method of affixing the mask, mouth holes were unnecessary for this type of mask. But why, you may ask.

No, the purpose of the mask wasn’t to keep the women silent. Rather, these masks were worn by the most elite of women when traveling outdoors to protect their skin from the sun’s evil rays. Because, really, who needs to breathe well or smell if the price one must pay is a tan or freckles? Not too surprisingly, this mask was not very common, but their unique design allowed them to retain their place in history.

 

I’m sure some of you are thinking this design seems very familiar. You would be right. The moretta muta is a similar style of mask that also employs the button/teeth method to stay in place. This mask however is smaller and is oval-shaped. The purpose of this mask is to be worn during Carnival in Venice. This makes perfect sense. I mean, if you were going to a party, wouldn’t you look for something that would prevent you from eating, socializing, or being recognized?

Here is a mask from 1939. As you can see after a couple of hundred years the design has become noticeably more comfortable. Okay, your child may lose an eye when you go in to give them a goodbye kiss, but at least with this mask, you can speak. “Is this some sort of 20th century chastity belt?” you ask. No. Again this mask is designed to protect a woman’s beauty. Specifically, the plastic cone mask will ensure that when it rains, her makeup will stay in place. I’m sure we can all sleep a little easier knowing that problem has been solved.

Gee, are all masks about keeping the women folk beautiful or mysterious? No. In fact, some have a practical purpose. Consider this option from 1932…

 

 

With this mask on your face, you can enjoy poker without fear that your opponent will read your facial cues to determine your hand. Look at that pile of coins! With such riches at stake, it’s no wonder she is sacrificing comfort to enjoy an evening of cards.

Are you noticing a theme here? So far, this list has included a lot of masks worn by women, but this accessory was equally important when it came to men’s attire. Soldiers in the Roman Calvary wore masks like this one during the first century. It was both ceremonial—being worn during parades—and functional—being worn into battle.

 

Of course, masks have also been used for countless other purposes: to decorate the dead, in Greek theater, in religious ceremonies, during the Black Death to protect people from dangerous smells, to reduce the spread of infection, for modesty, and the list goes on. Personally, after a look at a very small part of the history of masks, I am rather pleased with the comfort and functionality of the masks I have in my laundry basket.

On a side note, I wanted to share with you chapter one of my newest release available on November 23. I am currently running a raffle to give away 100 copies of A House in the Woods. It is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel and ties into my fairytale series.

Chapter One – Adele

Every nerve in my body screamed when the ice-cold water hit my skin. The jolt was so sudden. Sleep didn’t gently fade into a distant memory, it vanished. My eyelids snapped open, and I looked down at the tattered sheath I had for a dress. It was soaked through. I’d overslept—again.

I sat upright and threw my legs over the side of the bed.

Mrs. Schlecht watched me, a smug expression on her face and an empty bucket in her hand. Her breath smelled of rot, and her skin hung from her frame like oversized rags.

The old crone had survived another night. I was disappointed but not surprised. God had not yet seen fit to come to my rescue.

“I need these by seven, so you’d better be quick.” Her voice was rough and grating. It irritated me under the best of circumstances. She thrust a piece of paper in my direction.

I scanned the extensive list of plants and herbs.

“The ones above the line are for the customers. The ones below it are for tea. You had better keep them in separate bags.” She leaned in. I wilted under her icy glare. “And don’t think you can fool me. If you try to be sneaky and slip something funny into my tea, there will be a price to pay.”

I nodded. Despite her many health problems—she had an uncanny knack for detecting subterfuge.

My stomach grumbled as an appetizing fragrance wafted by. Another opportunity to toy with me. I would never taste whatever emitted that scent. My morning meal was always a single cup of gruel, and considering the amount of work I’d been given, I probably couldn’t finish my tasks quickly enough to even eat that much.

The list I held was varied, but I had my secret garden and knew the surrounding forest well. I might be able to gather what was needed before seven—if I was lucky. And having a deadline added an element of urgency. I could pretend it was a game: Adele versus Father Time.

I stood, ready to give the old man a run for his money, but a sharp pain radiated up my leg. I yelped and fell back on my bed.

The witch narrowed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose, seething.

“My ankle is twisted. I fell from the tree yesterday getting your mistletoe,” I explained.

She sneered. “Don’t expect to be rewarded for your clumsiness. Your duties will not be lightened. I don’t run a charity.”

I nodded and bit my lip. I refused to show her further signs of weakness. Mrs. Schlecht hadn’t learned sympathy. Complaints were always met with irritation. She hobbled out of the room, and I bent forward to rub my ankle.

My apron hung from the bedpost. I grabbed it, ripped a strip of cloth from the bottom, and wrapped my foot for support. I again stood up, being careful to favor my left leg.

I looked at the list again. At least she needed nothing that grew on cliffs, or in trees.

ooOOoo

I crossed the field, glancing up at the sky. The sun was high, revealing that seven had long since passed. I slowed my pace. If she planned to punish me anyway, I had no reason to hurry.

A bead of sweat trickled down my brow. I wiped it away and entered the forest. My skin appreciated the cool shade, and my eyes feasted on the stunning array of dark, rich colors. Moss clung to one side of the trees, giving the bark a splash of brightness. Songs from nature surrounded me. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. The air was crisp—such a welcome change from that warm, stuffy cottage.

A smooth, large boulder lay a few feet away. It called to me, promising a reprieve for my throbbing ankle. I found my way to the rock, took a seat, and removed the bags from my shoulder. I had gathered all the items listed except for one that would be used in a potion. I scanned the forest floor, looking for the illusive yarrow with no luck. The forest was too shady and wet.

Some mushrooms grew at the base of an ivy-covered boulder. They were an unusual treat. I grabbed my knife, leaped from my perch, winced, and collected a handful. After dropping them in my bag, I bent down for more, but the wind blew the curtain of vines just as a beam of sunlight broke through the forest canopy. A sparkle caught my notice. Intrigued, I stretched out, leaning over the mushrooms. I pushed my fingers through the tangled web of vines, expecting to touch the smooth, hard surface of rock. Instead, I grasped air.

I tried to reach in farther, but the ivy formed more of a wall than a curtain. Anything larger than my fingertips couldn’t push through. I used my knife to separate the vines until I could fit my hand—then my arm—inside. Still nothing. Determined, I cut an opening large enough to see behind the leafy barrier. There, I found a cave.

I could taste freedom. This cave appeared to be the perfect sanctuary. It offered protection from the rains and was well hidden. Had I located the last remaining item needed to escape? I went to work liberating the cavern. After ten minutes, my palms were sweaty, and my muscles ached. My knife tried to break free from my hold, but I tightened my grip. Blood coursed through my veins as I toiled, warming my face and torso. Sweat stung my eyes. In times such as this, I was grateful that my dress was threadbare.

At last, my efforts were rewarded. I swept aside the curtain of vines. The threshold of the entrance was low and the width was narrow, so I had to crawl forward. No sooner was my head inside than I smelled the musty, earthy aroma of mold. I pressed on until my entire body was enveloped and only the faintest of light breached the ivy curtain. Coolness wrapped itself around me, making up for the unpleasant odor. It didn’t take long to determine the limits of this cave. It was large enough to sit up, but standing was out of the question. Still, it was long and wide, providing adequate room for storage.

Because of the darkness, I relied on touch to find my way around. The walls narrowed as I edged deeper inside. This space would serve my purpose. The end of the cave had to be within reach. Only a few more feet and I’d be able to feel it. But, just to be certain, I inched forward. That was when it happened. As I shifted my weight, the sharp edge of a rock that jutted up from the dirt dug itself into the space below my knee-cap. Pain shot through me, and I rolled onto my bottom. There I sat, cradling my injured leg.

Eventually, the pain subsided, and I leaned back to dream about a life of freedom. With my eyes closed, I stretched my legs and listened. It was quiet and still. I reached out, as far as my arms would allow, and my hand landed on something soft—too soft to be a part of the natural cave. It wasn’t fur either. Rather, it was a type of fabric—something similar to the small velvet purse Mrs. Schlecht used to store her coins. I picked it up. It was weighty considering its size. The bag either held something that was broken or contained many smaller items. With the pouch in my right hand, I shimmyed my way back through the vines. I shook out the contents, spilling a small fortune of gemstones, gold, and coins into my palm. My heart pounded. My future would be different now.

I closed my eyes repeatedly, but every time I opened them, my hand was still filled with glittering treasure. Excitement coursed through me as I ran my fingers over the riches. With this discovery, my escape was imminent.

After pouring all but a sampling back into the bag, I further investigated, looking at each piece carefully, biting the gold, and trying to gauge each item’s weight. It was useless. Having never touched anything valuable, I couldn’t tell if it was real. The only gems I’d ever seen were worn by the wealthy women who came to the cottage to purchase potions and elixirs.

Things like this never happen. Loot wasn’t just left behind.

This could be a trap—or a test—set up by the witch. My gut told me I should do everything in my power to hide this from Mrs. Schlecht. After rooting around, I withdrew a brooch and left the rest. The next time I was sent to the village on an errand, I would consult with someone more knowledgeable.

My stomach grumbled with hunger, and I looked to the sky. There were too many trees to judge the sun’s position, but it was likely after lunch. I pinned the brooch to the inside hem of my dress, gathered my bags, and walked back to the cottage. It was time to be punished for my truancy and failure to locate the yarrow.

ooOOoo

“Well, well. Look what the cat finally decided to drag in.”

Mrs. Schlecht sat at the table. Her face was red, and her beady eyes focused on me with such precision, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I burst into flames. But her favorite client was here. It seemed the woman came to visit the witch even when she had no potions, oils, or other goods to collect. For once, I was glad of her presence. No matter how angry Mrs. Schlecht was, she would wait until we were alone to unleash her wrath.

“Your girl is back,” the countess purred. I’d given her the sobriquet since she proclaimed to be one, although the witch had assured me it was a lie.

The countess sipped her tea and smiled at me sweetly. She was phony, manipulative, rude, and cruel. In so many ways, the two women who sat before me were birds of a feather. The countess turned to the old woman. Lowering her voice, but not enough so I wouldn’t hear, she said, “Oh, look at her face. She’s devastated. Do you think she’s disappointed my boy isn’t here? You know how I’ve seen her watching him. Poor thing. No little peasant girl could ever gain his attention.”

I ground my teeth. I had no interest in her stuck-up son. That woman believed everyone envied her and all of her belongings—including her children.

Mrs. Schlecht set down her cup. “Girl, get us more tea.”

I dropped my bags on the chair near the door and scurried to the kitchen. I carried the tea pot toward the pair. As I bent down to pour, my skirt swung forward and hit the table leg. The brooch fell against the wood, making a faint thud, which was audible through the thin fabric of my dress.

“What was that?”

I shook my head. “I heard nothing,” I said. I filled the second cup.

“You’re lying.”

No sooner had I set down the teapot then the witch had my wrist locked in her grasp. She searched me until she’d discovered the brooch. She unpinned it and moved it backward and forward near her eyes. The countess gasped, and once the witch stopped moving the object, her eyes grew wide and she went pale.

“Where did you get this?” she demanded. I opened my mouth, but before I said anything, she shouted, “Wait!” She looked across the table and gave her client the same stare she had given me upon entering the cottage. “We will speak of this later. Go… go clean the horse stalls.”

The women’s eyes locked.

I hurried outside but didn’t go to the barn. Instead, I crept over to the side of the house and crouched near an open window. A deafening stillness filled the air before both women spoke at the same time.

“I am just as much entitled to mother’s fortune as you are.”

“The girl found it, and she belongs to me, so it’s mine.”

They again fell silent, and I held my breath. At last Mrs. Schlecht spoke.

“By leaving his title and money to that brat of yours, Father gave you everything. The least you can do is let me have this.”

The countess made a choking sound, like her tea had gone down the wrong way.

“Hardly,” she snapped. “I was as much excluded from his will as you. He did everything in his power to cut us both off. I have what I do because of the sacrifices I’ve made.”

“You? Cut off? And yet you live in the family home and manage the estate.” The witch scoffed.

I fought the urge to look into the house. The notion that the two women I’d left were sisters was inconceivable.

“Only because he set everything aside for his first-born grandson. You should thank me, you know. If I hadn’t married that loathsome merchant and produced an heir, everything that our family had built, over all those centuries and countless generations, would have been given away to strangers.”

The witch cackled loudly. I jumped.

“As if you were trying to protect a legacy! You married him for his money.”

“You say that as though it’s a bad thing. Did I not just tell you I sacrificed for this life? Why wouldn’t I use my good looks to secure a future? If you’d been graced with beauty, you’d have done the same. Besides, that money is gone. I live off a pittance of Kristof’s fortune. The rest is held in a tightly controlled trust. And once he turns twenty…”

I saw some movement in the bushes nearby. My heart nearly stopped. It had to be the witch’s nephew. I was about to be caught.

“You know marriage wasn’t an option for me; you should show mercy. Mother’s inheritance is all I will ever have. I will never bear children, and as you can see, I scrape by.”

A deer burst out of the shrubs. I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Mother’s will was clear. Her estate passes to us in equal shares.”

“But we agreed that whoever found it first would keep it,” Mrs. Schlecht countered.

I hadn’t yet wrapped my mind around the history of that velvet bag, but its contents were worth a lot. I looked to the woods. I was injured, but maybe it would be best to run away right then.

“But you didn’t find it, did you? A servant girl did. That is not the same thing. Besides, she’s probably out there now, standing over our fortune, gathering every farthing before making a run for it.”

There was glee in the countess’s voice. It unnerved me.

Slowly, and in a deep foreboding voice, the witch replied, “That’s what you’re hoping for, isn’t it? If you were sure she had it, you’d run straight home and turn those dogs loose. They’d find her and eat her alive. You’d follow the commotion and scoop up the treasure after they’d finished their snack.” Mrs. Schlecht laughed. I had heard that laugh so many times, I could picture her face. “But you made a mistake. She’s smart. She will know better than to go back there alone—at least, not anytime soon. You tipped her off when you gasped. You practically announced she has information that you want. She isn’t stupid enough to cross you—not considering all of your son’s resources.”

The prospect of escaping no longer sounded appealing.

“I’m certain she hasn’t come to such a conclusion. But I assume you intend to make her aware that I pose a threat if she leaves.”

“Of course. Should she run, you would have the advantage. You’re better equipped to hunt down a thief than I am. I cannot allow for that. My only defense is to preemptively warn her. So, you see, I have won this little battle.” The witch’s confidence was unshakable.

“More like a stalemate. She will not give it to you. If she brings it here or leads you to it, you will resort to whatever it takes to keep every bit of it for yourself. Killing her is the only way you will have peace of mind knowing she will not try to take a share from you. Just as you will expose me by informing her what I’ll do should she run, I will thwart you by explaining what you’ll do the moment you know where it is.”

My stomach felt as if I had swallowed lead. Every option, other than remaining here and playing dumb, led to my death.

There was a pause during which tea was slurped. The countess continued.

“It seems to me, neither of us will discover the location of mother’s wealth—unless we work together.”

“Hum. Was this part of Father’s plan? Was he trying to divide us?” The floor creaked. One of them shifted in her seat.

“No. He just couldn’t think of a better way to keep it out of our hands. He once told me he lost sleep thinking of what sort of damage we would cause if we had access to that much money.”

I heard the trickle of water as the cups were filled.

“So, what do you propose? How do you think we will get her to show us where she found mother’s brooch?”

“We must both agree not to do anything further to spook her. You should tell her the brooch is junk. Although I don’t think it will work, ask about where she’s been today. See if you can get any hints.”

“And if she tells me nothing?”

“Keep her at home for the next few days. I will hire men. When you send her out next Thursday, she will be under surveillance. But once she returns to the house, don’t let her out of your sight again until the following morning.”

The conversation paused. After several minutes, the witch spoke.

“Tell me what you want.”

“I recognize you found the girl, and that you’ve fed and housed her. If you agree to work with me, I’ll take thirty percent.”

“Twenty-five—if you find me another girl. Once your dogs tear her apart, I will need a new apprentice. Let them eat your five percent.”

I shivered at this thought.

“I will deliver you a new servant but must insist on thirty.”

“Twenty-seven. She is well trained. Whoever you find will take years to teach.”

“What if I bring you two servants? Would you then agree to thirty?”

“Fine. Thirty percent. But bring me one of each. Try to find a clever girl who can be taught. I need a boy strong enough to tend to my animals and make repairs.”

The chair moved.

“And make sure the boy is handsome. It might come in handy.”

“You cannot be serious. I understand you may be lonely…”

“Not for that,” the witch snapped. “You would be surprised what I can accomplish with an attractive boy working for me.”

“And you think you can charm a servant boy into doing your bidding?”

“If I need to, I can play the part of the sweet old lady.”

The words must have come from Mrs. Schlecht, but her voice sounded different. She did indeed sound kind. “Come, Drusella. We must search the bag she returned with. It may provide us with a clue to where she has been all day.”

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22 COMMENTS
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carylkane
carylkane
November 5, 2020 1:22 PM

Cinnamon, Thank you for sharing this fascinating post!

buturot
November 3, 2020 11:04 PM

Loved this post Cinnamon… I can’t stop smiling. I haven'[t seen most of the mask you presented… but then again I wasn’t fond of reading before. I find comfort that now our masks are much comfortable (eventhough one cannot breathe well) and have a bigger/deeper purpose than before.

Riana Everly
AuAu
November 3, 2020 6:13 PM

I loved that excerpt! What a great start to a story.
I wonder what people will think of our masks 100 years from now? Wouldn’t it be nice if all we had to worry about was our makeup?

Linda A.
Linda A.
November 3, 2020 4:00 PM

Holding a button in your mouth to keep the mask on? Another way to “be seen, but not heard” apparently. wow.

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
November 3, 2020 3:34 PM

Great post and pictures!!

Sharon Lathan
Admin
November 3, 2020 12:22 PM

Oh my! And I thought the hooked-nose plague masks were the weirdest! That clear but pointy mask is hilarious! One could write a horror story based on the damage done while wearing that thing!

Great excerpt! Thanks for sharing.

Mirta Ines Trupp
AuAu
November 3, 2020 8:58 AM

Perfect post. In keeping with the times.

darcybennett
darcybennett
November 3, 2020 7:57 AM

Thanks for your post, I enjoyed looking at the pictures and finding out the histories of the masks. Enjoyed the excerpt.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
November 3, 2020 7:46 AM

Sounds intriguing! I hope they survive too! That witch sounds evil!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
November 3, 2020 7:48 AM
Reply to  cindie snyder

I also got a kick out of the masks!lol The lady playing cards looks like Hannibal Lector!lol

Gianna Thomas
AuAu
November 3, 2020 1:21 AM

Ah. Right in keeping with the original Hansel and Gretel. A little bit bloodthirsty, is it not. Hopefully, your twosome will survive. Well-written excerpt, Cinnamon. 🙂

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