As far back as ancient Egypt, masks were worn by priests and priestesses as part of their invocation of the god or goddess they embodied during a particular ritual. The ability to allow the energy of a particular Neter, force of nature or consciousness, to flow through one was part of the belief system and temple trainings of these civilizations. During the ritual, each participant would enact the part of that particular god or goddess that related to the myth or rite they were performing. The Greeks continued this.
Soon the rituals became associated with drama, so the practice continued in the Greek theatre. Actors wore the mask to show what character they were portraying. Many actors feel that their craft enables them to move beyond their own personality and explore human natures that are quite different from anything they’d normally experience in their own life. And yet, they say they do draw on an experience or feeling that is their own to move sympathetically toward the character they are developing. Even the word personality, coming from persona, suggests a mask.
When we write, we are close to acting. We open ourselves to our characters and allow them to flow through us and onto the page. We move beyond the limitations of our own personality and embrace people very different from us. Not a one of us is a murderer, but we can put on the mask of one, or the mask of a hero of vast proportions, or the mask of an amateur sleuth who is suddenly in over her head—all to allow our readers to experience a catharsis, according to Aristotle. Carl Jung would say we allow the archetypes of the collective unconscious to express themselves through us to galvanize human consciousness to change—to move toward self-actualization. Perhaps just a trace of those Egyptian priests and priestesses remains in our everyday, hum-drum writing. Just maybe.