Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Featured Creature: The Mask of Mephistopheles

Excerpted from Marge Hollander's Digest of Demons and Devils:

This golden horned mask was commissioned by the nineteenth century Italian actor Arturo del Volto.  In 1831, under the patronage of an unknown nobleman, Arturo was paid to facilitate the creation of the mask at a local smithy in Umbria.  The mask was to be used as a special costume piece for the role of Mephistopheles in a production of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust at the Teatro delle Visioni.  It is wondered by many occult historians if Arturo made some deal with his own devil due to the apparent curse of tragedy and death that followed the mask after its forging.  Arturo would wear the mask only once.

Accounts of the mask's creation indicate that odd materials were added to the forge during the casting process.  Timber was brought for the forge fire that gave off an unpleasant smell when burned and bystanders remarked on the odd color of the flames once it had been added.  During the casting, the process had to be halted multiple times.  The flames within the forge were burning so hot that they threatened to consume the forge itself.

When the mask was finally complete, it was to be tempered in a specific concoction of herbs mixed with the blood of a black goat.  Arturo had been present throughout the forging process and had apparently grown mad with impatience.  In his ignorance, he grabbed the mask after its tempering but before it could be quenched.  He placed it on his face.  The mask was still glowing hot and immediately burned itself into his flesh.  He screamed and struggled against the mask, but could not remove the burning metal.  In panic and pain, he fled the smithy and died writhing in the street.

Despite its obvious monetary value and its intended use for the theatre production, Arturo was buried wearing the mask.  The mask had seared itself into his face and none were grim or greedy enough to remove it.  Of course such civilized veneers often give way to meaner urges under the cover of darkness.  The mask was later reported stolen in a horrific act of grave robbery.  The newspaper article describing the incident indicates the faceless corpse of Arturo del Volto was left exposed to the elements afterwards.  Neither the mask nor the perpetrators were ever found by authorities.


There are two other historical incidents where the mask is mentioned.  Both involve deaths related to the use of the mask in a production of Goethe's Faust.

In 1883 at the Lucius Dorian theatre in Britain, actor Marcus Blenheim wore the mask only once.  Records indicate that the mask was on loan from a private art collection for the production.  The history of the mask was viewed as a quaint and curious legend to help promote the play and was given little credence as an actuality.  Blenheim was wearing the mask in rehearsal when an assailant, Jacob Ritz, entered the theatre agitated and yelling.  He claimed that Blenheim had been sleeping with his wife.  There was a scuffle and Ritz produced a knife, stabbing Blenheim to death.

Grieving but undaunted, the acting troupe chose to continue with the production.  Leon Smythe, Blenheim's understudy for Mephistopheles, wore the mask twice during rehearsals.  The night before the production opened, Smythe and four others were killed when the boarding house containing their apartments caught fire and burned.  The production was cancelled.

The second appearance of the mask occurred twenty three years later in America at Chicago's Randolph Playhouse.  Once again the mask was on loan from a private collector and again for another performance of Faust.  There is no historical indication that the players possessed any knowledge of the mask's history.  Else, much like the true name of "The Scottish Play", I am sure that it would never be allowed in any theatre again. 

There is no record of any odd events during rehearsals, and the performances had several nights of positive reviews.  On the sixth night of the performances, the positive reviews had drawn the attention of the entire city.  The theatre was packed beyond capacity.  It is unknown exactly how it began, but sometime during the performance, the theatre caught fire.  It quickly burned to the ground.  Sixty-six people were killed in the fire, including all of the actors and stagehands.

At this time, the current whereabouts of the mask are unknown.
{Created in Adobe Photoshop}

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