Personare: The Truthful Mask

Truthful Artifice

Article 37 Personare: the Truthful Mask

In the previous Article, a novel meaning for the word ‘gods’ was suggested, namely the sense of presence both generally and in relation to particular moments or phenomena. A mask like the example given in the previous Article may have no presence until it becomes the object of attention combined with awareness which heightens the presence fields both of the details of the physical mask itself – form, colour, position, beauty etc. – and the space in which it is manifesting – the room, the time, the situation etc. These monolithic or presence qualities are what I suggested are the essence of what were called ‘gods.’ Of course, this is just one of many possible interpretations; the intention here is to add a layer of meaning to the word hopefully turning it into something more immediate and relevant and in so doing hopefully bringing those ‘gods’ back to life.

One additional element to consider viz the gods is the inherent intelligence quotient. This is assumed in the notion of awareness even with mundane sensory perception which perceives our mask with all its manifold qualities of form, colour, texture, style and so forth all of which comprise the mask’s unique mandalic universe of particularities, that which speaks in the Speech Realm which of course itself is pure intelligence – space, or the universe, talking as it were. In this context, the gods always have something to say and are always talking to us; we only have to be willing and able to listen. All phenomena are speaking gods in some sense.

Interestingly, in Latin the word for mask is ‘per-sonare’ which means to ‘through-sound’ or ‘sound through.’ Many of the old Greek and Roman masks had short bugle-like funnels protruding from the mouth area in order to amplify the voice but it is from this word personare that of course we get the word ‘person.’ A person is that which projects into the outer world through the medium of speech and as such is a bit of a front, a performance, a display, a mask and thus also a social construct (but that’s another story!).

In sacred Greek drama, when you listened to an actor sounding out the words through a mask representing some god or archetypical character, you didn’t think the actor or the mask was a god per se but the sacred message, the presence-enriched intelligence of the speech in question, THAT was the god.

Interestingly, the speech of that sacred god-presence in turn imbues both stage, mask and actor with the same sacredness, the whole ensemble being what can be called a ‘sacred mandala’ for remember that the root definition of mandala is ‘centre and fringe’ the idea being that there is one essential core around which are many subsidiary or ‘retinue’ adjuncts, be this in the context of a person, place or thing. This is why the word mandala is both interesting and useful for we really don’t have an equivalent in English which combines a situation with an atmosphere. Again, think of the difference between the kitchen, bedroom and town hall mandalas: everything in the kitchen, bedroom or town hall is informed by the overall atmosphere of that particular mandala, an atmosphere which is both instant based on what is going on, but also inherited and deepened over time.

There can be sacred mandalas and also profane mandalas, so there is nothing inherently sacred about the term, it’s just that historically it has been used to describe various aspects of sacredness because in such states people are naturally aware of the interconnections between situations, awareness, the overall atmosphere and ‘the gods’ speech in those contexts.

That said, there is such a thing as false speech and thus also false gods. But that will be the subject of the next Article.


From the Oxford Etymological Dictionary:

“person: character, part played; human being; living body of a human being; individual personality; (theol:) distinction of being in the Godhead;

And from :

person (n.) c. 1200, persoun, “an individual, a human being,” from Old French persone “human being, anyone, person” (12c., Modern French personne) and directly from Latin persona “human being, person, personage; a part in a drama, assumed character,” originally “a mask, a false face,” such as those of wood or clay, covering the whole head, worn by the actors in later Roman theater. OED offers the general 19c. explanation of persona as “related to” Latin personare” to sound through” (i.e. the mask as something spoken through and perhaps amplifying the voice), “but the long ‘o’ makes a difficulty ….” Klein and Barnhart say it is possibly borrowed from Etruscan ‘phersu’ = “mask.”

So: Here you see in the very word ‘person’ which we think of as referring to ‘me’ (among many other such characters) the link between the mask, the individual and the sacred as laid out above.

Published by The Baron

Retired non-profit administrator.

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