Cover of the 11 August 1999 issue of Triad Style, a Winston-Salem newspaper.
Anachronism (noun) A person of thing that is chronologically out of place.
Fog hugs the ground on this early summer morning. Archers stand ready, bows taught, on either side of the field behind warriors clad in plate armor and shining visored helmets.
If yesterday is any measure of what this battle will bring, many brave knights will fall. Last night at dusk, death was spotted stalking the field, scythe in hand. A signal is given, battle cries fill the air, and the sounds of rattan on rattan echo across Pennsic. This annual war between the East and Middle Kingdoms, held at a Pennsylvania campground, is, perhaps, the capstone event for members of the Shire of Hindscroft, the name given to the six counties surrounding the Triad by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).
SCA members make armor, swords, bows and arrows in the comfort of their own homes. They research ancient music and perform authentic dances. They hand-weave garments using authentic dyes, play hundreds of ancient regional varieties of chess, and prepare feasts from recipes that date back a millennium.
If there's any aspect of medieval life that the SCA is not currently recreating, (aside from plagues, religious persecution, the lack of rudimentary sanitation, and other such unpleasantness) they'd certainly like to know -- someone will surely want to take it up as an avocation.
The SCA allows moderns to live in a medieval world as it should have been. Members meet regularly to conduct business and attend events scheduled throughout the year, such as the 12th Night Celebration, the Crown Tourney, and Fool's Twelfth Night.
At these events, Scadians (the name SCA members give to themselves) are stringent, some might say fanatic, about keeping in period, which runs roughly from 600 to 1600 CE, though they allow a few frilly Cavaliers to get away with pushing the upper end of the range.
When I, an uninitiated writer, showed up at a celebration of the Winter Solstice in Gastonia, before I could enter the main hall, a group of friendly, albeit insistent, members scrambled to find a tunic I could shuffle on to cover my T-shirt and comfortable sweater.
After donning my tunic, I was allowed to enter a world in which seventh century Celts mingle easily with Renaissance Italian merchants. With such strange combinations already socializing, the addition of a peasant writer caused no consternation. I saw children laughing to the tales of a heraldic bard, smelled stews and bread in the kitchen, and witnessed the marital union of two personas (their real life counterparts are already married).
What impressed me the most, however, was not the armor, nor the weaponry, but the children. At any SCA event, children are everywhere, and they're having a ball.
"When I was a little kid," says Susan "Signy Bjarnardottir" Terry, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Jane "Sine ni Dheaghaidh" Sellers, "I could run around, and it didn't matter who I bumped into, I'd either know them, or get to know them soon. It's a lot like a big family."
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised -- after all, a country without children has a very limited future. Though you are probably unaware of your fealty, the Carolinas reside within the fair kingdom of Atlantia along with Maryland, Virginia, and parts of Georgia. The entire world is divided up into 15 kingdoms, each ruled by a king or queen who has won the six-month post through a contest of arms at the Crown Tourney. Those who win the crown twice, a rare feat indeed, gain the title of Duke or Duchess.
The Sellers didn't start out in the SCA. Their first involvement with such a group was Starfleet, the Star Trek fan club. "We are costumers," says Jane. "That's what we were doing with Starfleet more than anything. But, once you’ve done one of all the Star Trek costumes, what do you do? You make a red one, a blue one and a gold one. John (Jane's husband) made props: tricorders, medical tricorders, phasers and all that. But you know, you make 20 phasers, it gets a little boring. Ironically, history is much less limiting than the future, because, though it hasn't happened yet, everything has to fit into the Star Trek world."
"In the SCA," says Jane, "we don't re-enact history like the Civil War or Revolutionary War groups who stage events exactly as they happened. We're not trying to redo the past, we recreate it. For example, when you take name, you have to be able to prove that the name was in use in the country and during the time period of your persona, but you can't take the name of a famous real-life person, like Louis XIV or Henri de Navarre. In the Civil War groups, they have people who play Grant and Lee. We don't do that."
All Scadians are assumed to be of noble lineage, but a social hierarchy still exists. "There are peerages in the SCA like in the Middle Ages," says Steve "Dughal" Callahan, a clothier, armorer, and (in "real" life) a sewing machine technician. "It's quite a rank. One way you can get peerage is by becoming a Laurel of the Arts and Sciences. It's akin to getting a master's degree. In a six-month reign, the king or queen usually grants only two or three peerages. You've got to know courtly graces, dancing, singing, gaming, heraldry, and be exceptional in the arts and sciences. You are trying to be what people look up to, someone they go to for advice."
SCA combat differs significantly from combat of the Middle Ages. "With real swords against medieval knights," says Jane, "SCA fighters would be dead in a minute." For obvious reasons, heavy fighters in the SCA do not use real weapons. Rattan canes replace swords, and leather covered rubber stoppers replace arrowheads. All combatants must be at least 18, though some kingdoms allow 16 year olds to participate with parental permission, and their armor, helmet, and face protection must meet strict SCA safety requirements.
That doesn't mean, however, that an arrow to the head doesn't hurt, according to John "Matsudaira Toshiyori" Sellers, an archer and a self-described headhunter.
For many members, the SCA is not just medieval life as it should have been; it's also contemporary life as it ought to be.
"So much of modern life has become fast food and sitting in front of the TV doing nothing," says John. "The SCA is a lot of doing, a lot of learning, a lot of education, a lot of friendships. There are a lot of family-like friendships in the SCA -- people we can rely on and who can rely on us. It's a nice place to be and a nice place to grow up."
Jeff Miller lives in Winston-Salem.
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