Recently Kerryn asked me to write about my SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) days. In a funny coincidence, two of my oldest college friends, who were also my earliest SCA compatriots, have recently gotten involved in it once again. So, it’s been doubly on my mind.
ye olden days of yore college, my friends and I would dress up in funny clothes, bash each other with rattan swords, go camping in the desert, learn country dances, and call each other odd names. Well, there’s more to it than that. My memories are dimming by the hour, so I’ll start with what I have dug up on it via my best friend, Google. Next post, I’ll dredge up whatever I can remember about my own experiences, and perhaps share some incriminating photos!
Essentially the SCA is “an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe” (I’ll explain the cut-off date in a minute). Most people stay within AD1000-1600, but some like to go farther back to Roman or Greek times, or even prehistory. Some work with cultures outside Europe, like Asia or the Middle East, as there was European contact with those areas during the Middle Ages.
It all started with a bunch of
hippies history and science fiction/fantasy fans in late 1960’s Berkeley, including writers Diana Paxson and Marion Zimmer Bradley. This became the Kingdom of the West; two years later the group incorporated as the SCA and the Kingdom of the East was formed. There are now 19 kingdoms in the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.
Yes, there are kings, and queens. With crowns, even. There are ceremonies, feasts, balls, and festivals. The idea is that you recreate the interesting bits of the Middle Ages, skipping the plagues, lack of central heat, absence of bathing, etc. and keeping modern necessities like eyeglasses. So, people research and recreate the clothing, food, heraldry, music, dance, crafts, and whatever else might have been made or done back then.
How is this different than a Renaissance faire or other reenactment group? Well, it’s not done for money, for one thing. It’s not created for spectators or a money-making enterprise (beyond those who sell items to SCA members as merchants at events). It’s meant solely to be fun and educational for the participants. I would also say that there is a stronger overall effort for period authenticity in the SCA, whereas at a Renfair you might see Robin Hood, wizards, fairies, pirates, and so on. That’s not to say that there aren’t people at SCA events who aren’t in it for the beer and belly dancers, but it’s balanced by people who go to great lengths to obtain period accuracy. (Check out that link; I can only aspire to complete a craft project like that some day!)
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One of the first things a new member does is choose a “persona,” which could be simply picking a name that you wish to be called that corresponds with a particular time and culture, or could be a fully-researched “life” with an occupation and life events. In college, I picked an Italian name because I was minoring in Italian, and my friends’ personas ranged from French to Irish to German. You can simply choose your name and tell everyone to call you that, or you can have the name registered (along with your device) with the College of Arms, so that your identity will be unique within the SCA.
Garb, or the clothes worn to events, are a big part of the process. Many people start out looking pretty much like a peasant, with an extremely simple combination of fairly unadorned items. Then there are people who eventually go whole hog, creating amazing clothing, headgear, and accessories. Some people choose Middle-Eastern belly-dancing garb, or complete Elizabethan rigs. Some people also make their own weapons and armor.
You see, there are actual battles and tournaments. Even wars. How does that happen without massive attrition and major injury lawsuits? Here’s where the rattan comes in.
Combatants wear real metal or leather armor and carry real shields, but the weapons are made of (more or less) non-injurious materials such as rattan. (If you look closely at the photo above, you might be able to tell that the blade on that axe looks suspiciously like it’s made of something padded and wrapped in duct tape.) That way, you know when you’ve been hit, but you’re not really injured or killed. There’s an honor system of acknowledgment of blows in combat. And there are also archers and siege weapons! But there are no guns. Hence, the 17th-century cutoff date.
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Well, as you can see it is a complex subject, and I could go on and on about all the various activities. I’ll leave it here, and in part 2 will talk more about my own experiences.