In an open glade, between Cleveland and Pawnee…
Lords and Ladies gathered beneath the canopy, all watching the knights in armor as they displayed their skills with swords and shields. Nearby, the archers prepared for their competition. The strumming of lute music filled the air as the king and queen, followed by their attendants, crossed the open field.
No, this wasn't a scene from a movie, the passage from a book, or even a daydream. Instead, it was last Saturday’s gathering of the SCA event at Will Rogers Scout Camp.
SCA stands for the Society of Creative Anachronism. An anachronism is a thing, person, custom, event or an idea that seems old-fashioned or from the past, and that perfectly defines the members. They dress and immerse themselves into all things Middle Ages.
Different from a Renaissance Fair, SCA events are not for spectators to walk through and observe. SCA events are interactive, and members live the time period and build a persona. They create and tailor their own period correct clothing. Members engage in bardic competitions, in craft fairs. They dress in armor and compete against opponents. They learn about archery, cooking, and medieval arts. Each evening, members gather for feasts, usually dining on foods that would have been consumed in the Middle Ages.
Attending the events is an opportunity for SCA members to experience what life would have been like in the Middle Ages - roughly from the fall of Rome in 800 A.D. until the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1630 A.D.
The SCA began in 1966 when a group of friends hosted a party in Berkely, California. In the invitation, all knights were called to ‘defend in single combat the title of fairest for their ladies.’ The party was a tremendous success, and the SCA grew from there. Now, there is an SCA event practically every weekend.
There are over 30,000 SCA members worldwide. Their ‘known world’, which includes the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia and Africa, is divided into twenty kingdoms. Each Kingdom is ruled by a king and queen, all who have competed to win the throne. Each kingdom is divided into principalities, and in each principality, there are baronies. The Cleveland and Pawnee area, for instance, is in the Kingdom of Ansteorra, inside the Principality of Vindheim, and in the Barony of Northkeep.
Most of the SCA participants also created names, and they live those personas when they are at the events. In addition, there are titles that are given in recognition of achievements, positions or for significant contributions. The Princess of Vindheim, for instance, is Her Serene Highness Caterina Giovanni.
Sorcha McCullogh is the Hospitaler in the Principality of Vindheim. Part of her job description is to give tours and to help onboard new members. According to her, new members find their way to the SCA for a variety of reasons. Some join because of a love of martial arts, such as sword fighting and fencing, while others are drawn to the group because of a love of history. Some members enjoy the bardic competitors, the cooking competitions, or art competitions.
“This is a hobby with a million hobbies,” she said. “If they did it in the Middle Ages, you’ll probably find someone in the SCA interested in recreating it.”
“Learning in the SCA is hands on. Want to learn to cook dishes from the fourteenth century? Books provide a lot of the knowledge, but it is not the same as preparing the same dish yourself and using trial and error to figure out the quantities and ingredients,” said Her Excellent Kalendra Carmichael.
The SCA, it seems, draws people from all walks of life. Baroness Fionnghuala of the Eldern Hills, for instance, is a Licensed Practical Nurse through the week. Princess Caterina Giovanni is a project manager, and Her Excellent Kalendra Carmichael is a British literature teacher. Often, the SCA members refer to the outside world and their time away from the as the ‘mundane world.’
When asked why they joined the SCA and what benefits they get from being in the group, most of the members point to family, purpose, and a sense of belonging.
The King of Ansteorra, King Gabriel of Maccuswell, attended the event with his wife, Queen, Sonja Ryzaja. As a child, King Gabriel loved Dungeons and Dragons, so later in life, when he happened upon an SCA ball it was a perfect fit. A close connection with the fellow members keeps him committed to the group.
“Through the week I word a job that I’m good at, but on weekends, I do what I love,” he said. “I love hanging out with people who know so much.”
He also points out that from learning chivalry, and morals to martial arts, the SCA is also a wonderful organization for the children of the members.
Baroness Fionnghuala met her husband, Baron Thomas Wesleigh, at an event 30 years ago, and they’ve been active members since.
“When I’m here, I’m not Carol the Nurse,” she said. “The SCA is sanity. It’s the sanest place I have ever been.”
Her husband, Lord Thomas, echoes her sentiments.
“If I didn’t have this, I’d be an ugly person,” he said.
“I started attending SCA events over 30 years ago when I was in college,” said Her Excellent Kalendra Carmichael. “At my second event, I met my future husband, so the SCA had always been a part of our life. There are some years where we have more free time and can spend more time learning and growing in our knowledge of history. There are other years where our careers, families, or other interests take a front seat, but we always try to attend at least two or three events a year. This is my home family that I am not born into said.”
“They are my chosen family,” said Princess Caterina.
Sorcha McCullogh, our Hospitaler put it best.
“We are living the dream, we like to say. We are recreating the dream of living in the Middle Ages. We are living it as it should have been.”
Why Will Rogers Boy Scout Camp? According to Sorcha, the camp is exactly the kind of place they are looking for. With a banquet hall, ease of access, and restrooms, the camp is the perfect place. Plus, scouts built a castle on the grounds and that helps with the ambiance. The group is planning on being back soon, but currently they have no firm dates.
So, the next time you see the SCA signs at the entrance to Will Rogers Camp, listen closely for the sound of sword against shield. You are closer to the Middle Ages than you may have realized.
Those interested in learning more can find information at SCA.org.
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