Masks are a part of tribal tradition across the globe, mostly used for ritual purposes. The use of masks in ceremonies is a very ancient human practice across the world, although masks can also be worn for protection, in hunting, in sports, in feasts, or in wars – or simply used as ornamentation. Some ceremonial or decorative masks were not designed to be worn.
Included here are Burmese Spirit Nat Masks which are carved in the round, not to be worn. Their purpose in the Shan Tribe, was for protection often hung in the entrance of the village chief's hut. These masks typically have a Nat on top of a human or animal head.
The worshipping of Nats in Burma is part of a traditional heritage that is carried on from generation to generation.
The Nats of Burma make up a structured system of animistic spirits, predating the advent of Theravada Buddhism but coexisting with it and with other systems of divination and prediction such as astronomy and alchemy. The Nat Cult is oriented to handling immediate and personal crises and avoiding evil, whereas in Buddhism, the dominant higher religious ideology in Burma, is concerned chiefly with rebirth and eventually with salvation.
The worship of Nats predates Buddhism in Burma. With the arrival of Buddhism, however, the nats were merged into Buddhism. The Nats are an extraordinary mixed collection of deities, including spirits of trees, rivers, ancestors, animals, and the ghosts of people. They liked a peaceful life and it was believed that they could wreak havoc on people who annoyed them. Originally, they were numberless. But in time a canonical number of thirty-six was fixed for them, with the Buddha included as the thirty-seventh. Even today the Nats exert a powerful influence on the thought and experience of modern Burmese.
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light...Plato