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Masquerade – Every Face A Different Shade

Written by: Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


MILLIONS of tourists descended on the most romantic city in the world last month to celebrate the annual Venice Carnival – one of the biggest and most colourful displays of pageantry on earth.

Crowds packed the banks of the Grand Canal to enjoy the spectacular parades of floats and Venetian vessels, led by a 22-foot-long papier-mâché rat known as Pantegana. Many revellers wore harlequin costumes or plague doctor masks with elongated noses, while others were clad in elaborate gowns and powdered wigs in a nod to the city’s rich heritage.

Venice Carnival is believed to have originated in 1162 when the citizens of the Republic gathered in St Mark’s Square for music and dancing to celebrate their victory over the neighbouring coastal town of Aquileia.

Since then the festival has evolved into an annual Christian celebration involving street parties, parades, masquerade balls and historical re-enactments. It’s an opportunity for people to let their hair down and indulge in a period of feasting, excess and joyous revelry before the onset of Lent.

The carnival is particularly famous for its colourful costumes and magnificent masks. While 18th Century dress remains the most popular choice, recent years have increasingly seen participants don a wide variety of attire and even superhero costumes. One of the highlights of the carnival is the contest for “the most beautiful mask”, judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers.

The Venetian custom of mask-wearing dates back centuries to when locals would participate in all sorts of mischievous revelry during carnival, including wild parties, gambling and illicit liaisons. They were able to indulge in these activities with confidence because their identities were safely concealed behind their masks. The anonymity gave them free rein to act without fear of persecution. In the words of the brilliant Masquerade from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s hit musical Phantom of the Opera: “Hide your face, so the world will never find you!”

It's a concept which is sure to appeal to anyone who’s ever felt the need to conceal some aspect of their identity, whatever that may be. We all have parts of ourselves that we hide away from the outside world for fear of judgement or ridicule. The temporary anonymity afforded by fancy dress can allow us to indulge those playful aspects of our inner nature which are normally suppressed by the restraints of society's expectations. We can release our inhibitions and express ourselves openly.

I had direct personal experience of this a few years ago when I attended a Festival of the Dead celebration at which I donned full death-mask make-up and black top hat to join other revellers for a night of glittering raucous fun at the ATIK nightclub in Edinburgh.

My abiding memory from that experience was the sense of fantastic liberation I experienced due to being completely unrecognisable. Concealed behind face paint, I could be whoever I wanted to be that night. I could allow my true self to flourish, cast off all the usual anxieties and inhibitions which come with worrying what other people might think and instead embrace the glorious anonymity of the character I was playing.

My experiences as a therapist have taught me that suppression and repression are seldom healthy. If we bottle things up, they turn toxic. Our hidden sides are yearning for acknowledgement and recognition and the more we try to deny and stifle them, the more strongly they will fight back. What we resist persists.

I'm not suggesting we indulge in bad or immoral behaviour such as our ancestors might have engaged in at Venice Carnival in centuries gone by. And certainly no-one wants to see our streets overtaken by the kind of masked lawlessness depicted in The Purge movie franchise.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally allow free artistic expression to the concealed aspects of our nature through safe outlets such as role-playing and theatre. Whether it’s going to a Halloween party or a Comicon, or joining a local drama or re-enactment group, there are plenty of ways you can experiment with your identity without it harming either yourself or anybody else.

And it doesn’t have to involve dressing up. Writing, composing music or producing pieces of artwork are all healthy ways in which we can give free rein to our inner thoughts and emotions. Over the years I’ve worked with a number of troubled musicians, helping them to transmute their inner turmoil into song lyrics to create art out of inner pain and confusion. If we don’t let these emotions out, they become trapped like a volcano waiting to blow its lid.

We are all unique, magnificent individuals with our own talents and passions, but often that individuality becomes stifled by the pressure to conform to a conceived “norm”.

This concept is highlighted quite brilliantly in the popular movie High School Musical in which Zac Efron’s character, Troy Bolton, attempts to hide the fact that he’s auditioned for the school musical for fear of facing ridicule from his colleagues on the school basketball team.

At first his fears appear well justified. When the truth gets out, his teammates are far from happy and initially go to great lengths to sabotage his chances of securing a role in the musical production. Only when they realise that the suppression of Troy’s musical passion is having an adverse effect on his form on the basketball court do they appreciate the harm they’ve done by trying to prevent him from being his true self.

It also transpires that Troy isn’t the only one who’s been hiding secret talents – Zeke likes to bake (crème brulee no less!), science geek Martha has a secret love of hip-hop and one of the skateboarders plays the cello. The message is clear. Everyone has some secret side of themselves which they feel the need to hide from their peer group, and all are much happier when they’re eventually allowed to embrace that side of their personality and display it openly and publicly.

Carnival, like Halloween, provides a perfect opportunity to do so. These are occasions when you can dress up outlandishly, don make-up, role-play and walk brazenly down your local high street in costume without anybody batting an eyelid. The narrow parameters of society's expectations are temporarily dissolved and you can allow your inner child to sing freely without fear of judgement.

As kids we dress up and play roles all the time, whether that be superheroes or doctors and nurses, but sadly as adults we're not expected to behave that way. Instead we're forced to play another type of role – one which conforms to society's expectations. This is extremely limiting and denies us the chance to explore and indulge all the multifarious aspects of our glorious personalities. We lose that connection with our inner child and much of the joy of life along with it.

There is much that we can learn from the Venetian custom of Carnival – an occasion when the normal rules of society are suspended and we can release our inhibitions and be whoever or whatever we want – whether that be harlequin, plague doctor, witch, wizard, vampire, superhero or Jedi.

At Phoenix Coaching & Therapy we actively encourage clients to explore those aspects of their personality which have previously been denied expression. It doesn't matter whether you choose to express it through song, artwork, theatre or writing, so long as you let it out and give it a voice. In the words of the old pagan mantra "Do as thou wilt, as long as it harms no-one".

If you’d like to know more about the services we offer, you can contact us at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy for details.

For more info, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and visit my website!


Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Andrew Cowie is a transformational life coach, psychotherapist, and author dedicated to helping people overcome adversity and achieve their full potential. He came to the world of therapy after a 20-year career in newspaper journalism was brought to an abrupt end by severe burnout. In the course of his own recovery, he was introduced to meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, martial arts, and NLP. He went on to retrain some of the world's leading spiritual and personal development teachers to become an expert in these fields. Andrew has since dedicated his life to passing on this knowledge, synthesizing the various disciplines into one overarching system blending ancient spiritual practices with the latest cutting-edge techniques from the field of modern psychology. He is the owner of Phoenix Coaching & Therapy and the founder of its associated 'magical training school' The Ancient and Mystical Hermetic Order of the Phoenix (AMHOP). His debut book Rise Like a Phoenix was published in 2021 and is described as a manual for personal regeneration. Andrew works with clients worldwide and is passionate about mental health and exploring the latent potential of the human mind.



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