Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The SCA: what to expect, or, I’m interested, now what’s it all about?

The following is an article I wrote for the April Issue of The Rhol -
the newsletter for the Canton of Abertridwr

What do we do?
The following article seeks to outline the various and diverse
activities undertaken by members of the SCA. Most people try a few and
settle on a those that strike their fancy or skills. Over the years many
will attempt them all.

Most of the activities that folks get up to within the SCA are covered
by a Guild or Company. If you are interested in joining a Guild (it's
not necessary to do so to practice or engage in most activities) there
are some entry requirements. Usually you need to display a basic working
knowledge of the area of interest (not too hard if you are already
interested in the subject).
Guilds hold competitions to encourage involvement and honour those who
display excellence. Their members are knowledgeable folk who readily
answer questions and share resources regarding their topics of interest.

Arts & Sciences
Most of these activities can be done in the company of others at
training, Arts & Sciences meeting, or whilst attending other events, but
then again, many of the activities enjoyed by members are time consuming
or engaging (not to mention requiring bulky or specialist equipment) and
often need to be done outside of group activities. The SCA is not the
kind of group, club or association where you can only do it during
events, there is plenty of homework and self directed research and
application. Unsurprisingly this pastime often becomes a way of life
and, in many, inspires a passion for history.
There is a rare form of satisfaction involved in working out how
something was done 700 years ago from scraps of information one has
gleaned from many sources and experimented with till one can recreate a
reasonable example.
Abertridwr holds Arts & Science (A&S) days on the 3rd Saturday of the
month at Kane & Rhianwen's house in Willagee, and Aneala holds A&S
evenings every Tuesday evening at UWA.

People & jargon
Then there is the social side, the SCA is full of geeks of every stripe,
from sport to technology, from musical to culinary. The variety of
people is such that you are bound to find someone with similar interests
to your own.
There will be some in game jargon to learn, as with all specialty
activities. The SCA's jargon tends to be more obvious as it is
recreating a very different age and intrudes on areas that another sport
or craft would not. Chivalry and courtesy are central to our
interpersonal interactions. Polite greetings of "Good Day My lord" or
"Good Day My Lady" to those you meet helps to create the impression of
no longer being in the 21st Century, as does keeping discussion of out
of game matters to a minimum during costumed events.
If you see someone with a coronet or to whom others are bowing it would
be courteous to do the same as these people will probably be either the
Baron or Baroness and may be politely addressed as "Your Excellency".
Any Lord wearing a white belt will be a 'belted knight' and will be
known as Sir 'Someone'.The guys wearing red belts are their squires.
There is one big difference between the SCA and many of the other
recreation (or living history groups) we don't expect newcomers to have
all the kit to begin with before they start to play. A t-tunic, cloth
bag, clay mug, bowl and wooden spoon may be all you need to happily
engage in SCA activities for years (and you are not even expected to
have those for your first event, we have loaner garb and gear to tide
you over), but very few people go to more than an event or two before
they find they have acquired or are making a number of other items to
add to their feasting box, wardrobe and equipment.
The more you put into this interest the more you will get out of it - a
reminder to both new and old members.

Dressing up
As most events are "in garb" getting dressed up is one thing we all do.
How dressed up is up to the individual's ability or interest, though at
least some attempt at pre-17th century dress is encouraged.
Thus at most events you will see folks in everything from simple
T-tunics over trousers to hand sewn high Elizabethan costume recreating
a garment from a royal portrait (well, usually at least some ladies will
be in bespoke bodices and big skirts and some men might be in tights or
braes). Head coverings are a good idea as most cultures during Period
required the well dressed to wear something on their heads. This will
range from a simple head wrap or straw hat to fancy floppy things with
feathers and beads. It all depends of the wearer's persona, culture, or
ability. Wearing hats is a good idea as most of us can then dispense
with the mundane dark glasses to survive Abertridwr's bright sunshine.
Shoes will range from simple sandals or strong boots (usually on
fighters) to handmade turnshoes or boots made either by the wearer or
bought or bartered form another re-enactor whose specialty is making
shoes. If it is chilly most folk will add a warm cloak to their
ensemble, this may be a plain dark wool blanket fastened with a clasp a
la Anglo Saxon or Viking or it might be a beautifully embroidered velvet
silk lined hooded court cloak (though I don't think I've seen one of the
latter outside of Rowany Festival (a camping event held over Easter in
NSW) during a cold court ;-).

If you are into sewing and making costumes you will be in seventh
heaven.As there are so many styles and cultures covered by the SCA's
period, you are bound to find something to suit your taste. Everything
from simple linen (or a close approximation) tunics to highly beaded and
embroidered bodices or houpelands. If sewing is your thing you will
probably end up with lots of fabrics (if you don't already have a
cupboard full) and a number of projects on the go at once (or not,
depending on your approach to sewing and making costumes).
If sewing is really not your thing, don't despair, talk to one of the
folk sitting and sewing at the event and ask around for help - someone
will be more than willing to help turn your material into a tunic or
dress, especially if you have at least some idea of pattern, period or
culture. Busy bees and Arts & Science days are good times to ask for
advice and see what others are doing.

Handy with a needle and thread? There is the Worshipful Company of
Broiderers <> to join. If you
want specky decorated garb and accessories that will win prizes in Arts
& Sciences competitions you will need to embroider it yourself or make
borders by weaving in some manner. At events though, you will notice
that most folks use machine made trim in appropriate colours and
materials (or at least a good approximation there of). Stitch and Bitch
is held during A&S meets and many a lady is seen during training or
tourneys with some sewing on her lap. And not a few of the men too;-)

This is what a lot of folks think the SCA is all about, but I'm sorry
fighters: it isn't the be all and end all... fighters still need to be
dressed appropriately when not fighting and to eat period style foods at
feasts, and the belts and swords they earn the right to wear are made by
someone. OK, so heavy fighting (or being a heavy fighter's consort -
male or female) is the only way to one day be King or Queen but you can
gain kudos in other ways too.
All SCA groups from Shire to Barony hold training sessions for the
various fighters. There are 3 kinds, with both men and women taking part
in all: heavy (you get to wear a padded gambeson under at least minimal
metal armour and helmet - there are several loaner suits available and
more in the pipeline) and hit similarly armoured people with rattan and
tape swords (bastard, one handed, two handed, axe, pole arm etc); light
(usually only seen at war training or war scenarios) which includes
combat archers and who get to wear minimal metal armour too; and rapier
(you get to wear a padded gambeson or similar and a fencing mask) and
fight in the round with metal or fibre glass blades with safety tips.
Armouring in Abertridwr mostly takes place at Bastion (come along to an
open house or A&S Saturday) but there are members spread across the
southern metropolitan area who have an interest in arms and armouring.
(And more north of the Swan River...)
Safety is a big thing in the styles of fighting you will experience in
the SCA. All training and tourneys are supervised by authorised
marshals. If you ever hear 'HOLD' during training or a tourney stop what
you are doing and look to the person who yelled, as there is a safety issue.
Training for both Aneala and Abertridwr is on Sundays for all forms of
combat. Aneala in the morning at Lake Monger and Abertridwr in the
afternoon at South Fremantle High School (See the map on the Regular
event's page) unless there is some other event on that day.

We have both target and combat archery opportunities. You can use modern
recurve bows, but the arrows are all wooden shafted with feather
fletching and, if used in combat, have special rubber 'blunts' instead
of points.
Archery training is held at Lake Monger on Sunday mornings when there
are enough archers and archery marshals.

We all have to eat. Medieval food isn't all boiled cabbage and rancid
meat - that's a Hollywood invention. Some of the tastiest dishes I've
eaten have been at SCA feasts.
Cooks 'redact' or recreate recipes from medieval descriptions or
'recipes' that read very differently from modern recipes. It can be
challenging to find the ingredients or to work out what is meant, or the
measures involved. There are many recipes available already converted
for modern kitchens and available ingredients. Try looking on the Lochac
Cooks Guild <>
webpage or search through Stefan's Florilegium
<> (this is a useful link for many aspects of
the SCA)
The Cook's Guild meets monthly in Abertridwr at Kilic's house in
Cannington, contact Rhianwen for dates, venue and focus dishes.

What to drink? Small beer, beer, cider, spirits, cordials... all kinds
of brewing is done by members of the Barony and Canton. The results of
their labours are often part of feasts and prize tables. The Brewer's
Vintner's and Imbiber's Guild meets intermittently - if at all
interested in making or tasting of their wares contact Creag at for dates etc.

If the performing arts are your thing, then look no further than the
Bardic Guild. All forms of performance: storytelling, poetry, singing
(singly or in groups), instrumental, and plays are covered by this Guild.
What sort of music? Madrigals, plainsong, and some traditional pieces
are the mainstay. Researching medieval music and performance is
interesting due to the lack of written evidence - but that's all part of
the challenge. To get you started there are a number of madrigals and
other songs collected into song books available on the web: an example
is the Rowany Festival Songbook
from AS XL. The local bards meet on the 2nd & 4th Tuesday evenings of
the month at the Aneala A&S evening at UWA.

The Dancers have their own Guild: The Guild of the Silver Rondel. Most
dances are done in groups of pairs and involve fairly easily learnt
footwork. Dancing practice is once a month at Aneala A&S night at UWA
and is available if there is interest at Abertridwr training on Sunday

If drawing or calligraphy is of interest you will not be disappointed in
the opportunities available to learn and share your passion. Two Guilds
cover this area The Painter's and Limner's Guild
( and The Scribe's Guild Weekly meetings will recommence once
Branwen is back in town. Contact Rhianwen for details.

No, not RPGs (though a number of our membership indulge in this outside
of SCA) nor do we run a betting shop! What I am talking about here are
the many old and interesting board, card, field and children's games
that have survived to the modern day and some that did not, but are none
the less played by our membership. Everything from Chess to Dice games,
Alqurque to Nine Men's Morris and an evil game called Tablero.
There are several feasting/tavern events held during the year at which
many games will be played. Look out for the infamous Whyte Horse Tavern...

Want to know what the symbols of the banners and flags mean? And why
some folk have their symbols on their shields and others don't? Have a
loud voice and a flare for talking forsoothly? Then Heraldry could be
for you! The Heralds are the people with the green tabards and booming
voices at the tourney calling every one to Court, or the person who
comes around at 8am at a camping event loudly proclaiming that breakfast
will be over in half an hour so you'd best move along...
The College of Heralds are the ones who will pass or turn down your name
and device registrations and your local herald is the person who can
helps you make a submission.

Speaking of names...
So why does everyone you meet have a weird unpronounceable name? This is
mostly because it helps us to separate the 'in game' from the
'mundane'... and this also aids in playing a medieval persona at events.
The SCA covers cultures and languages, from Norse to Middle Eastern and
beyond, through 1000+ years of history so naming conventions,
pronunciation and spelling are (unsurprisingly) diverse.
When choosing your Society name take your time and do some research
about the culture or time period which interests you - or the people
during period who engaged in your favourite SCA activity. What were they
called and why? Beware, though you can change your Society name as often
as you like, you may end up being known by the first name you chose...
Choosing a name is a wonderful way to end up learning a lot about your
chosen persona's time, place and culture... or even as a way of creating
a persona - pick a name and find out who would have been likely to have
that name and why.

But wait, there's more...
I could go on for pages with tips and information on the many areas of
SCA activity that I have not so far mentioned (like gardening,
metalworking, jewellery, leatherwork, spinning, weaving etc), but space
is limited and you will have fun finding most of it out for yourself - I
know I did in the first years of being in the Society.

Yours in Service to the Dream,
Maria of Heybridge

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