Picture if you will a green field encircled by colorful pavilions with pennants flying in the breeze. Lords and ladies, medievally dressed and engaged in pleasant conversation, stroll about. A minstrel, softly singing a love song, strums his lute while the sound of recorders wafts softly in the breeze. On the field armored knights strive with sword and shield for their kingdom's highest honor. In the royal pavilion the King and Queen confer with their officers. After the fighting a green-cloaked herald steps forth and announces a Royal Court. The people in all their finery begin to gather around the throne.
A scene from a medieval film? Not quite. For on a closer look things aren't quite what they seem. Look behind the fighters; are those cars? Look at the Royal Court scene: the herald is wearing glasses, and the Queen is wearing a wristwatch! Welcome to the current middle ages. This is the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international, non-profit, educational, organization dedicated to re-creating medieval and renaissance civilization not as it was; but with the grace, courtesy, chivalry, and honor that are associated with those centuries in many modern minds. In the years since the first tournament in May 1966, the Society has grown from a small backyard-and-basement club to an international organization with over 30,000 members.
Participants and members of the SCA strive to recapture the ambiance of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. More than playing "make-believe," the SCA encourages research into such topics as dress, weaponry, armor, combat forms, jewelry, food; in other words any facet of the medieval life. Because authenticity is encouraged in as many areas as possible, the members put their research into practice by actually constructing medieval-style artifacts, practicing medieval arts and crafts, learning to fight with sword and shield, and so on. But more than that, the SCA also attempts to embody those lost ideals that are found in the medieval romances: chivalry, courtesy, honor, and graciousness. This is re-creating the Middle Ages as they might have been, adding a note of consideration for others in an often too-indifferent world.
The SCA sponsors many different events. There are numerous revels (the medieval equivalent of the modern party), seminars, demonstrations, wars, and tournaments. Banquets are held which copy the medieval high feasts with authentic recipes and entertainment. There are also various craft guilds which hold meetings for those interested in specific arts. Seminars or Collegia are also held on topics of interest to members and other students of medieval history. between tournaments and other medieval events, each branch holds regular meetings, workshops, and fighter practices. The most well-known SCA event is the tournament described above. At an official event, everyone comes in pre-seventeenth century costume, from the simplest peasant tunic to the most elaborate court dress; if this is your first event, loaner garb is often available for you. The SCA also holds public demonstrations of fighting and other aspects of medieval life by request of schools and other local organizations.
The Knowne World of the Current Middle Ages includes North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, eastern Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It is divided into 19 kingdoms, each ruled by a sovereign who won the Crown by the sword. These kingdoms may be subdivided into principalities ruled by a prince and princess who also owe their coronets to victory in combat. Kingdoms and principalities are composed of local branches called (depending on the size of the group) provinces, baronies, cantons, shires and others.
The responsibilities of administration do not rest solely on the shoulders of the sovereign, as there is a well-organized civil service to take care of much of the tedium of running a kingdom. Seneschals oversee the daily affairs. Marshals supervise the fighting and related safety regulations. Chroniclers publish the newsletters. While various other officers encourage the practice and research of medieval arts and sciences, scores of other people help keep the whole organization running smoothly. While most tasks are handled at the kingdom level, the Corporate Office of the Registry processes membership applications and maintains the mailing list. One of the three peerage-level SCA-wide awards, the Order of the Pelican, is bestowed for service to the SCA.
One of the most visible activities is the practice of medieval Martial Arts. Participants study and practice the medieval martial arts, making (or purchasing) their own armor and (simulated) weaponry. Heavy weapons combat is used for the selection of the new Crown, but there are also many matches, melees, wars, and other tournaments to test one's still at arms. Rapier combat, or "light weapons combat," is comparatively new to the SCA. This form of fencing recreates the style of fighting used in the later periods. Since such combat was done by civilians as well as soldiers, the armor, weapons, and rules are quite different from heavy combat. In addition, target archery, combat archery, and "live weapons" combat (thrown spear and knife) are also practiced within the SCA. Knighthood, another of the peerage awards, is an honor bestowed by the Crown and the council of knights upon those who have demonstrated excellence on the field of heavy combat and who also embody the highest ideals of the chivalric tradition.
For those whose main interest lies in areas other than fighting, a tournament also involves the pursuit of the gentler arts such as music and dancing to while away a pleasant afternoon. Areas of interest are as varied as the culture itself: heraldry, manuscript illumination, archery, weaponry, armor making, jewelry, lace making and other needlecraft arts, dance and music, poetry, cooking, brewing, costuming, and much more. There may also be competitions to test the skill of the participant, or classes to learn new skills. The Order of the Laurel, the last of the peerage awards, is bestowed in recognition of excellence in the Arts and Sciences.
Not only do we recreate the daily life of adults in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, we also include games and learning opportunities for children and young people. Often through specialized activities just for them, they can have fun learning about history by re-living it, as well as absorbing those ideals which will make them better adults.
Part of the process of joining the SCA is selecting a persona, the creation of a personal character often from a specific historical time and place. This is not a figure taken from myth or literature, nor is it an actual historical figure. If you have always wanted to be a 6th century Celt, or a 12th century Viking, or even a 16th century courtier, this is your chance. Make up an identity from that period, research the culture of the time and place, and come as your new self. Everyone joins on an equal basis; all titles are awarded by the Crown. Your persona is eligible to receive any of the SCA-wide or local awards: an Award of Arms which confers Lordship or Ladyship, one of the three peerage awards, or one of the many local awards which are given for service or achievements in the arts, sciences, or fighting. You may register your name and device (the shield-design from a coat-of-arms) with the College of Heralds and foreverafter, they belong to you.
While Society events are often colorful to observe, the deeper satisfactions come from becoming a participant. To realize the truth, one need only experience the feeling of accomplishment which comes from having a piece of research result not only in a printed paper, but in a suit of mail, a costume, or a medieval dish. In addition to having fun, we gain a little wider perspective on our world by learning to do as our predecessors might have done; by discovering things about the past, we discover things about ourselves. We walk not backwards into the future, but forward into the past.
For further information about the Society for Creative Anachronism, contact the corporate office:
Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.