An exorcism mask, Sri Lankan, 1771-1900.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This polychrome wooden exorcism mask represents Mahakolasanniya, chief disease demon, with his victims and the heads of 18 attendant demons. It was worn to scare posesing demons out of the body and to cure hallucinations and insanity. In some forms of traditional medicine, healing powers lie in people's belief in supernatural powers. In societies in which illnes is believed to be caused by the presence of evil spirits, a medicine man or shaman performs rituals, often involving dancing and chanting, to rid the body of spirits. Masks play important roles in religious, healing, exorcism and funerary rituals.