Have you ever had a deep desire to shoot arrows, fight in armor like knights of old, dress in ancient garb, or learn to embroider? Would you like to throw knives, cast pewter, learn calligraphy, work with leather and metal, and sing medieval songs around a campfire drinking mead and ale while camping with 300 other people who are just like you? Well, sit your pretty selves down and strap in for a story.
Welcome to the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronisms. What is an anachronism? It’s a thing belonging to a period that is conspicuously old-fashioned. SCA is an international organization that has been around since 1966. We recreate the lifestyle of those who lived before the 17th century. We dress in period costume, perform battles, rehash old styles of art, and we’re awesome at it.
Select a country you would want to be a part of, let’s say Scotland. Choose a time-period: early 1300’s, perhaps? Now comes the research. What were appropriate names then? Maire or Tomaltach? What did their garb look like? Kilts or breeches and blouses? Did they drink out of leather mugs, or wood? How would they do their hair? We take on all these details when assuming a persona. Some even go so far as to take on an accent and adopt the lingo of the time.
What? I know what you’re thinking. You can’t be sane to this. WRONG! The SCA is a fantastic place to learn techniques lost with the upheaval of technology. We have incredibly educated people playing, many of whom are military. Let me break it down for you.
With the invention of machines, we lost a lot of beautiful art skills. Calligraphy, illumination of manuscripts (beautiful illustrations), embroidery, leather-craft, hand sewing, horticulture, and many others. Black-smithing and pewter-casting falls into this category as well. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to swing a hammer or pour metal into a mold? Ever stamped shapes into leather until you can’t sit straight? Ever practiced writing a perfect O in calligraphy for twenty minutes? We do these things.
The SCA brings these skills back to life. We study and learn from each other, forming guilds to teach these techniques. With each culture comes a different art, so the options are endless. After years of studying and perfecting, you can even achieve highly sought after awards that are not easy to come by. For art we award the Laurel, and it is almost like receiving a Masters in art. You will learn how to do most things well, but there will be a few you are really good at.
Oh boys, hang on here. Did you ever grow up wanting to be a knight? The men in the SCA did, and now they are. Knighthood is something many of the men in the SCA strive for, but it’s just as hard to attain as a Laurel. To be knighted and attain the title of Sir, you must be proficient in weapons, be chivalrous to all peoples at all times, be honorable on the battlefield, and be respected. People play for years before reaching it. But wait—ladies, you can achieve it too. In our kingdom there is one woman Sir who is magnificently respected, and the nicest lady you’ll ever meet.
Being knighted is a fabulous ceremony before the king. You are awarded a belt, spurs, a sword, and are slapped in the face, being told “May this be the last strike that goes unanswered for.” It’s terribly exciting. Then we all sing you home, people cry, and we eat bacon.
We hold tournaments and battles often. These involve sword fighting, archery, pikes, and fencing. All but the fencers fight in lines on a field like days of old. Full armor is required. Some combat in hand-crafted steel (60+ lbs of it!), others in leathers, some even in plastics. To these men, this is a serious game—but it’s a game. Blood usually isn’t shed, but you’ll walk away with bruises and battle stories. It is one of the reasons so many military are attracted to the SCA. Sometimes we even use equestrian skills.
We spend a tremendous amount of time learning this history of our personas. I really do want to know if my hair should be up or down, if I should be wearing boots or slippers, or what the makeup of the time looked like. (Turns out it was lead-based. Not putting that on my money-maker….) We SCAdians (skay-de-ans) are very well versed in our time periods to make sure every detail of our persona is correct. Do I wear pearls or gold chains? Does he carry a belt? We’ll find out!
Kingdoms and Titles
As you play, you climb in rank. Actual titles of yore are achievable within your kingdom. Where you live depends on which kingdom and barony you fall into. There are several baronies within kingdoms. Barons and Baronesses rule baronies, Kings and Queens rule the kingdoms. These are offices you are usually voted into to serve terms from a few months to a few years. And yes, you get CROWNS. That, and you keep your titles even once you step down. Most everyone who wears a crown is an ‘Excellency’, and it is proper to greet people as such.
I realize people think this is like Live Action Role-Playing. Not quite. We are time-period specific. You can choose to be a pirate from Norway from the 1400’s, but not one with faery blood and magical spells. And most of our weapons, besides combat swords, are real.
My personal favorite event is where we gather several baronies together for a camping event. Hundreds of people truck in with their tents and pavilions (yes, period accurate, or just your normal camping tent). Everyone is in garb and character. The King and Queen hold court. We cook over campfires and drink ale from our tankards.
The first time I brought my husband, I knew he would think one of two things: these people are nuts, or, these people are serious about their craft. Well, he joined right away and is now learning how to fight and become a knight. You may think the same thing. I certainly did my first time. These people are either way off their rockers, or are awesome. They’re awesome.
When you’re surrounded by hundreds of people playing, everyone gets along. They understand you’re new, and they want to help. They don’t judge if your garb isn’t quite right yet, or you haven’t picked a name. They are the most accepting, wonderful people I’ve been around, and that culture drew me in.
I was introduced to the SCA at a convention when someone came up and asked if I had made my dress, then asked if I was in the SCA. His response to my questioning glance was Welcome home. And that’s exactly what it’s been. A homecoming to a group of people who understand my crafty needs, my costuming desires, and my wish to be part of a century not my own. I wish the same for you, if you ever desire to step into the current Middle Ages.