THE SCA BY DAY: My Corners of Make-Believe
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
STAMINA - How I Became A History Major
THE TREBUCHET - How I Got Into Medieval Reenactment
THE SHIRE - Making Garb, Travel Plans and a Home in the SCA
Game o’ chance.
Would you like to see it? I mean, really see what I’ve lived and walk where I’ve walked?
Before we continue with my more personal adventures in this faerietale world, I’d like to show you what it looks and sounds like so you can understand it more clearly. When all of this is new and foreign, it can be overwhelming. I find it overwhelming as I try to describe it, especially these first glimpses where I didn’t understand much of what I was looking at and had to have everything explained to me.
I can’t begin to do every corner of the SCA justice. It is too vast and too varied. As of this post, there are twenty kingdoms throughout the Knowne World, six annual inter-kingdom war events, and a myriad small-to-midsize events that take place around the globe. People have even been known to play on naval vessels, so today we’ll stick to the realms I frequented.
You’ll have to use your imagination for the scents and tastes, and for the sensation of a dirt road crunching beneath your boots... The breeze kissing your cheek, or the icy rain-daggers stabbing at you between the strained ties of your pavilion's entrance every time the storm gusts. The wallop of a knight’s great-sword caving you in at the gut, or the weight of a long brocade train dragging several feet behind you through the dirt. (It whispers more softly across grass.) The touch of that special hand on your face beneath the moon. The scorching heat of the bonfire, the thud of the drums through your bones, and the shudder of the porto-castle around you as you shut the door with twenty-gazillion layers of clothing hiked up around your hips so you can hover over the rim. (You don’t really want to sit on that thing, but sometimes you do because you’ve imbibed too much drink or too much sun or way too much fun to squat with enough stability.)
If you’ve never been to an SCA event, you’ll have to supply these textures and sensations from your own memory. Think back to any fair or camping food you’ve ever had, then combine it with the most exotic restaurants in your palate’s history. You’ll also have to supply your own scents of dusty roads, hay bales, sweaty people by the thousands, spices, perfumed oils, and dew at dawn. The battlefield is sometimes draped in mist as the sun rises. When you pass by that empty sweep of grass on the way back to your own camp, you would swear it was painted solely for the purposes of romantic idyl.
Wait a few hours.
Everything will change.
If you can pack those missing sensations into the bags of your imagination, I can take you the rest of the way there with a little help from the Scadians who possess that dark fae magic called “video.” Ooooh…shhhh. Such modern witchery!
Our journey will mostly consist of footage from Pennsic, the largest of the SCA wars held in Pennsylvania toward the end of each summer. It was the third event I ever went to, because I don’t believe in doing anything halfway.
Before that, I had cut my teeth at one small, regional event in Wisconsin and an even smaller event up near Thunder Bay, Ontario. But in many ways, it’s all the same, huge or sparse.
The first time I attended the great war between the East and the Middle Kingdoms, it was Pennsic XXIV (1995). There were around 8700 people there that year. On its 25th anniversary, it was closer to 10,000. Pennsic was my first time as a newly authorized fighter-chick, so my first experience of “going live” was in the opening field battle, a maelstrom of 3000 armored bodies bull-rushing each other across an open field, then slamming together like the sky after a bolt of lightning has ripped it apart. It was deafening. To call it “jarring” is laughable.
It was horrifyingly glorious, especially while I sprawled face-down in the mangled grass, contemplating, “Holy fucking shit. And this is merely play-war," as large, sweaty bodies landed on top of me, crushing me and piling up beneath the jostling, hacking, screaming others who mashed us further into the dirt.
So let’s go there, shall we?
If all you have time (or inclination) for today is a pitstop, you can go HERE to get the basic idea, and then wait until I paint it for you through my own eyes. If, however, you’d like to spend a day-in-the-life with me, then come along. Hop-skip, sample, or immerse yourself to your heart’s content.
Welcome to the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Good morning! Getting dressed in the 14th Century…or at an event:
Or if it was a fighting day…(granted, I could only dream of wearing such splendid armor, but I knew people who did and it was always a treat to watch them arm up):
This is it. This is the magic of the daytime camping culture. This is what it feels like, sounds like, looks like. All we’re missing are those overlapping scents and the luscious tastes. Join us with a plate of breads, meats, cheeses, and fruits, along with your favorite morning drink.
Ahhh, so many choices of things to do. This collection is from Gulf Wars, but Pennsic was same-same. Just BIGGER. A lot of documentaries outside the society--and videos within, for that matter--focus on fight-fight-fight. And not just fight, but heavy-weapons fighting. Contrary to popular belief, there is soooooooo much more to do than whapping your buddies in heavy armor or cheering on people whapping their buddies. Which I loved. But that’s not remotely all there is to do at War.
You might never think of some of these activities until you start poking around among your favorites that you do at home. Who are you there? Most likely there's a spot for that side of you in the SCA.
This is the Athenaeum (named for Athene, Greek Goddess of Wisdom and Warcraft, as well as the Divine Patron of the Arts). The event is specifically for Arts & Sciences, but it will give you an idea of the widely varied types of activities and goods you can find at the bigger events and wars, as well as in the homes of devotees.
If they did it, wore it, made it, ate it in this historic time period, you can find groups of people who reenact it today.
Wow. Just...wow. The History Major and the artsy-craftsy mad scientist in me is always blown away by the work people do. This was one of the most heart-squeezing aspects for me--not merely that I never had enough clones to do justice to the variety of disciplines that entranced me. But this one in particular--the arts and sciences--to really do them well, to do these things up to this caliber required an income I never had.
At first, I was a college student with an oversized course load, so I was always short on both time and cash. In my later years, I'd moved across the country after my life had crashed and burned in Minneapolis, and was only barely beginning to get my feet back under me when I shifted focus away from the SCA into the worlds of professional belly dancing, classical martial arts, and my favorite, recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury.
But in my heart, I always dreamed of having a wealthy clone dedicated to doing nothing but these types of arts and sciences. Sewing, needlecrafts, fiber arts, armoring, cooking, weapon crafting, calligraphy, illumination, leather working, jewelry making...I ached to do it all. Mostly I had to live vicariously through the people around me.
It's some pretty great vicarious living when you're surrounded by people executing this kind of craftsmanship. Ah, the wondrous Casa Bardicci & Gaston House at Pennsic:
Oh yeah, and another clone to do all those courtly graces and hostess-with-the-mostess things that would eventually earn me titles like Executive Assistant in my "mundane" life.
Buttcrack Joe is perfectly capable of elegant, eloquent decorum--especially in the twenty-eight years prior to being struck with Think-It-Say-It Syndrome and becoming an Involuntary F-Bomber. (In contrast to being a purposeful one. Which I am.)
But in my courtly moments, I was a Baronial Champion for a time, as well as a man-at-arms, then a brandy-new squire. I adored serving, waiting, guarding, parading, arming, dressing, feeding, attiring, gifting, carrying, putting up tents and sunshades, and tearing them down. For those who have my loyalty, my love, my respect, I live to serve.
I know. You'd think that notion clashes with the fact that my first household was a mercenary house--I'm such a dastardly Bonehead Skull-Chick, yarrrr! In some ways, that's kind of true. People who demanded my respect simply because of what they wore on their heads or around their waists would probably have a vastly different opinion of my selfishness versus my generosity. I also don't do well with back-end price tags when people are generous with me and then dole out expectations that I never agreed to up front. That makes me finicky about service. Sometimes it makes me downright fanged.
There is, after all, only one of me and I've always had a limited amount of spoons when it comes to interpersonal interaction, especially in crowds. Even before Dain Bramage, events like this were difficult. But I'd never heard of an HSP or neurodivergence. Sensitivity had always been a dirty word, something that I strove to eliminate from myself, so as not to be "weak" or "unreliable."
That mindset did me a grave disservice, particularly at these huge SCA events I favored, which meant that my ability to serve others the way that Hal and The Shire had taught me from my earliest days was always a sketchy thing. I tried and often failed to counterbalance it with dancing, fighting, classes, trying new activities, sewing and other services I traded for armor and cross-country rides, visiting people I hadn't seen in a year, household commitments, and crafting all my basic event needs on a college student's budget and time, with an HSP's limited spoons. Oh, yeah, and a part-time job.
I, uh...I was just a little overwhelmed at times.
But geez, I wanted it ALL so badly. From one corner of the SCA to the other, I longed to learn the arts of juggling most of all, so I could do justice to each of my passions.
🎶 I would dance away the hours, and fight among the flowers
🎶 A lady in skull-bones
🎶 I would squire in my nice gowns and embroider for the big crowns
🎶 If I only had some clones...
🎶 And cash.
🎶 A brain.
🎶 The time.
Yeahhhhhhh, so combat. It’s not just for stick-jocks anymore. Since these were not my worlds, I’m going to let you go tumbling off down your own rabbit holes if you’re interested, but there is light Rapier Combat, both tournament style and melees. Then there are a variety of Ranged Weapons for (padded) use amidst human combat, or for (pointy) use against targets. These include archery, crossbows, thrown weapons, artillery. Remember that wonderful trebuchet that started this whole adventure?
Here's one teensy example amidst a plethora. Firing a siege engine for authorization prior to battle - note the padded tip of the bolt. This is designed to fire at foe-licious friends, not inanimate targets:
You can even do some of these combat activities from horseback, or if you prefer, you can make it more of an art. Birds-of-prey and hounds are also popular spirit animals for medieval reenactment. Very period.
Fight culture also includes scouts, heralds, marshals, chirurgeons (medics), and a variety of support crew bearing water and food, marking boundaries of battlefields, setting up hay bales or obstacles for "castles, bridges, towns" in which to fight, and so much more.
And yeah, okay, fine. There’s just a little bit of this:
Sorry. Outlands. ✌️
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: THE SCA BY NIGHT - No Sleep At Pennsic!
--OR: If you want to know how I became interested in being an armored fighter-chick, it goes back to second grade when I became obsessed with GLADIATORS.
GEEKING LINKS --Society for Creative Anachronism