The "masco" of ancient Provence

What Provencal has never heard of masks, or "lei masco" as they were known?

Photo André Abbe

An ancestral belief

These days, nobody believes in it, at least... I don't think they do. Today, the expression is only used to describe someone who is "pouting", i.e. looking at you with nasty little eyes. Yet our ancestors believed in them like the devil, and the mere mention of them was enough to worry even the most reckless. Belief in their existence was tenacious, even into the 20th century.

Why this terror?

On the one hand, people believed in the Gospel, which - as is well known - could only bring good things, and on the other, in the mascoes, which could only bring bad luck, disease and even death. No one found anything wrong with this, we lived with these fears, and if we happened to let out a blasphemous swearword, we would never have dared insult a masco, because if God forgives, the masco doesn't!
Contrary to popular belief, the masco did not have to be a woman, it could even be a man. If you were unlucky enough to get caught up in it, you were in big trouble! Fevers, malignant diseases, insomnia, hip pain, bad harvests, you name it, you were in trouble!

The masco could affect you even through your animals; so if your cow calved a stillborn calf, or your rooster stopped crowing in the morning, you didn't need to look any further - you were definitely mascoed.

How do you get out of this predicament?

Above all, don't think that you'll get away with going to the doctor, because his power over the one who's got you stuck could be considered null and void. Pharmacopoeia and science were no match for the dark forces of evil, and even the parish priest didn't have the prayers to save the day.

Hunchbacks, cripples, one-eyed people and other cripples were considered to be punished for a serious fault, and not only did they have to put up with their physical disgrace, they were considered to be potential emmascaïres. It was said of them:

"Aqueli que lou boun Diéu marco
Dou diable soun pris en cargo"

"Those whom God has marked, are taken in charge by the devil..."

So what can we do?

Fortunately, all hope was not lost.

In the dark world of the masco, there were two types of people: the "emmascaïre", who cast the spell, and the "demascaïre", who could sometimes ward it off. In fact, it all depended on the strength of one's power versus that of the emmascaïre - a question of balance of power, as it were. Once you'd told him your case, the demascail would look serious, scratch his head, and if he thought he was up to the task, he'd tell you an infallible recipe that would deliver you from the spell. For example, he'd recommend cooking a liver into which you'd previously stuck needles, which would then become stings in the heart of the masco, provided of course that you cooked the liver at midnight after tracing the cabalistic signs indicated by your savior in front of your door... But the demascaïre might also confess his powerlessness:

"Vous poudi pas démasca. Aquéou que vous a emmasca a maï de poudé que iù. Sérò un' aùtre, vous démascariou... D'aquéou, pouadi pas... A troou de poude.
(I can't unmask you. Whoever took you has more power than me. If it were anyone else, I'd unmask you... I can't unmask him... He's got too much power.) "

All you had to do was find a more powerful demascaper, even if you had to go a long way to find him.

In conclusion

No one could escape a curse cast by a masco. From the poorest farmer to the local notable, anyone could be taken in. It's little consolation that this was one of the few forms of justice that existed at the time.

Everyone is equal when it comes to masks.

Claude Boyer

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