This summer I read a great book about masks, "Masks Tell Stories", by Carol Gelber. It's aimed at older children, but it was thought-provoking for this middle-aged adult, too.
The most interesting thought that occurred to me after reading it was: Masks help make abstract ideas concrete, and bring them a place where they can be physically dealt with. With the aid of masks, ancestor spirits can walk among their people and remind them of the values of their community, and perhaps of the consequences of not being mindful of them. They can teach, protect, and discipline the children of the community. With the aid of masks, benevolent spirits can be cajoled for what a community needs and desires- good luck, good weather, good health, etc and chaotic spirits can be chased away. With the aid of masks, the spirit of the community, the place, or the time itself can become embodied and celebrated, such as we see now with Mardi Gras or Halloween.
However, with the overriding mind-body dualism of this Western culture (mind is good, body is bad) I imagine the idea of making an abstract idea concrete is viewed with much suspicion. Why ruin a perfectly good idea by embodying it? While I'm not advocating (say, for instance) foregoing modern medicine and returning to masked ritual to cure illness and so on, I do often wonder what our culture's dualism has caused us to throw away and lose.
In any case, I sincerely hope I will be able to explore these ideas more thoroughly in future work. Stay posted!