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SCA-intro-art - 2/21/00


An Introduction to the SCA.


"Life in the Current Middle Ages" by Mistress Siobhan Medhbh O'Roarke. Updated and reposted irregularly by Arval Benicoeur (mittle at panix.com).


NOTE: See also the files: SCA-Rialto-FAQ, SCA-trans-msg, 4-newcomers-msg, courtesy-msg, intro-books-msg, names-FAQ, callig-beg-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given by the individual authors.


Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: mittle at panix.com (Arval d'Espas Nord)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: newby with questions

Date: 20 May 1998 15:29:19 -0400

Organization: PANIX Public Access Internet and Unix, NYC


I haven't posted this in a while.  If anyone notices anything out-of-date,

let me know.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


             Life in the Current Middle Ages



Written by Mistress Siobhan Medhbh O'Roarke


Edited and revised with the author's permission, and posted at irregular

intervals by Arval Benicoeur (mittle at panix.com).  This article may be

copied and re-published in SCA publications or used as an introductory

handout by any SCA participant.


This is not an official publication of the Society for Creative

Anachronism, Inc., and does not define official policy in any regard. The

terms "SCA" or "Society for Creative Anachronism" in this document refer to

the international social organization, not the corporation, SCA, Inc.


Last revised 27 Oct 97.



The SCA is the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a group dedicated

to researching and recreating the Middle Ages in the present. Many groups

meet weekly, and at these meetings we dance, talk, study, learn, revel, and

make plans. But first, let's get a little bit of info about the SCA in


              Where did the SCA come from?


The avowed purpose of the SCA is the study and recreation of the European

Middle Ages, its crafts, sciences, arts, traditions, literature, etc. The

SCA "period" is defined to be Western civilization before 1600 AD,

concentrating on the Western European High Middle Ages. Under the aegis of

the SCA we study dance, calligraphy, martial arts, cooking, metalwork,

stained glass, costuming, literature...  well, if they did it, somebody in

the SCA does it (Except die of the Plague!).


As you can probably guess, the thing that separates the SCA from a

Humanities 101 class is the *active* participation in the learning process.

To learn costuming, you design and build costumes. To learn SCA infantry

fighting, you make armor, weapons, shields, etc., and put them on and go

learn how it feels to wear them when somebody is swinging a (rattan) sword

at you. To learn brewing, you make (and sample!) your own wines, meads and



You will frequently hear a SCA person describe the SCA as recreating the

Middle Ages "as they ought to have been." In some ways this is true -- we

have few plagues, indoor plumbing, few peasants. In the dead of winter we

have other things to eat than King's venison, salt pork and dried tubers.

However, a better description is that we are *selectively* recreating

medieval culture, choosing elements of the culture that interest and

attract us.


The SCA was started in 1966 in Berkeley, California by a group of science

fiction and fantasy fans who wanted a theme party. Following the party, a

group got together to discuss the idea of a medieval re-creation and

re-enactment group (which has ended up being much like the Civil War,

Revolutionary War or Buckskinning re-enactment groups that were beginning

to form in the US). In Britain, medieval and British Civil War recreation

societies had existed for any number of years. The Californians

incorporated as a non-profit educational society, started forming groups,

and away they went.


Since 1966, the society has grown to include over 20,000 paying members in

the US, Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, Okinawa,

New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, and

Spain.  Many of us guess that for every dues-paying member, there are three

or four other active participants.


              How is the SCA Organized?



The SCA is a feudal society. The SCA "Knowne World" is divided into

fifteen Kingdoms, each with a King and Queen (who rule by right of arms),

a Prince and Princess (heirs to the throne), and a council or Curia of

Great Officers who handle the day to day business of running the kingdom.


A feudal society takes its form from the idea of service and duty.  A noble

owes duty of service to his lord, who might be a Baron or Knight.  In

return, his lord owes protection from danger and food, money, etc., when

times are bad.  For his own part, the lord owes fealty (the word that

encompasses this idea of reciprocal responsibilities) to his own overlord,

and so on up the ladder to the King. In return for their service as good

stewards of the land and readily available warriors, the King owes Knights,

Barons, and other high nobles protection, honor, and a return of money,

food, etc., in times of hardship. It is something like the idea of a

Pyramid club, but the benefits are greater and the ideas of personal honor

and mutual responsibility, not profit, tie the structure together (or at

least it did in Europe for nearly a thousand years).


In the SCA this structure underlies our Society, although not nearly as

rigidly as in the medieval days. Our King, the head of our Kingdom and our

liege lord, has fought in a Crown Tournament for the right to make his Lady

Queen and the right to wear the crown. <In the case of female fighters, she

has fought for the right to make her Lord King.> Royalty are bound by the

laws and customs of the kingdom and the Society as a whole, but still wield

significant power over their subjects.  Of course, four to six months later

there is a new King, with different ideas. Life can get interesting.


Fighting in the SCA, or Why are those people hitting each other?



Fighting in the SCA evolved from what happened when two armed knights were

unhorsed and had to fight on the ground. It resembles nothing so much as

medieval foot tournaments. There are two basic types of SCA fights: single

combat, and group or team battles, known as melees. SCA fighting does have

rules. The first, and most important rule, is that each and every fighter

on the field has honor. The fighter keeps faith with his honor by accepting

blows that would be killing or wounding (more about this a little later).


The second basic principle is like the first; A fighter keeps faith with

his brother fighters by acknowledging his opponent's word -- if he says a

blow was too light to cause injury, then it was light. Since we prefer

that no one get hurt, SCA fighting is done with real armor (made with

leather, metal, padding, kydex, etc) and rattan swords. Rattan is that

bamboo-y stuff, only with a solid core, that furniture is made of. Rattan,

surprisingly enough, is springy enough to absorb some of the force of the

blow (although blows are *real solid*) and light enough to approximate a

real steel sword. Swords are made by wrapping rattan staffs with strapping

tape, covering them with duct tape for aesthetic reasons, and attaching

some sort of crosspiece or guard.  Armor is much more complex -- some

armor, being made of steel, rivets, leather, etc, can take more than 40

hours per piece of armor (for example, a gauntlet, or armored glove, with

moving fingers and joints can take upwards of 75 hours to complete).


There are several essential and required pieces of armor -- helm, neck and

cervical vertebrae protection, elbows and knees, kidneys, hands, groin.

After that, most SCA fighters wear chest, leg, arm and forearm, and foot



Before being allowed to participate in combat without close supervision,

each fighter is trained by senior fighters, and must be judged safe by an

officer called a "marshal."  This training aims at ensuring that the

fighter is safe to himself or herself and to others, and typically lasts a

few months.  As part of this training, the novice fighter is taught how to

recognize a "good" blow.  Each fighter judges whether blows received in

combat strike hard enough to do injury through armor.  If the blow is

"good" to an arm or leg, the fighter will give up use of that limb; if the

blow is good to the head or body, the fighter is "dead," and falls to the

ground, signaling that his opponent is victorious.  At the end of training,

each fighter must prove to a panel of marshals that he is competent to

fight on his own.  If the panel decides the fighter is safe (not good, you

understand, but unlikely to hurt him or herself or an opponent) they

authorize him or her to fight in tournaments.  This process (from starting

to fight to being authorized) can take from a couple of months to a year or



We also have unofficially added a form of dueling, which simulates the

honorable combat found toward the end of our period.  We use collegiate

fencing masks and blades, primarily, but we fence in the round and use

weapons or blocking implements in both hands.  As with sword and

shield combat, we require authorization for safety reasons. In period

dueling would have been done in street dress: we require padded

jackets and other safety gear, but often it is decorated to appear as

street clothes.  It has become quite popular in the last five years.


Our other official combat sport is archery.  We offer both target

shooting, and in some places we allow light weight bows and very

special arrows to be used in simulations of combat archery. Again,

we are extremely concerned with safety.



                 Why Do you all have such funny names?



Every person in the SCA picks a name to use in the Society choosing a name

appropriate to some time and place within the historical scope of the

Society.  It could be something simple and familiar (John of Wardcliff) or

something elaborate and exotic (Oisin Dubh mac Lochlainn). Some SCA

participants try to create a "persona" which could have lived in some time

and place within the scope of the SCA, and fit their garb and activities to

that persona; some people try to live at events as if they were their

personae.  Other folk simply pick a name and go ahead with life in the

"Current Middle Ages."


Even our towns have medieval names. Lansing, MI, is Northwoods, Toronto is

Eoforwic, Boston is Carolingia, the San Francisco bay area is the

Principality of the Mists, etc.


The SCA has its own College of Arms, which assists participants in choosing

their SCA names and heraldic devices.  The College of Arms assists

participants in their research to ensure that their names and devices are

appropriate to the medieval world we try to create.


         Rank in the SCA, or How Come She is Wearing a Crown?



The SCA has an elaborate system of rank, awards, and honors, which are

granted to individual participants by the royalty in return for various

kinds of service to the Society.  SCA rank is earned, not inherited:

Everyone is presumed to be minor nobility to start, but any noble titles or

honors used in the SCA must be earned in the SCA.  Many new participants

(and lots of long-time participants!) find the SCA's system of rank to be

rather peculiar, in that it differs rather radically from medieval

practice.  Like many of the SCA's institutions, our system of rank wasn't

so much planned as growed.  It seems to serve our needs most of the time,

but don't be surprised to hear people discussing how it could be improved.


There are two sorts of peers in the SCA; Royal Peers and Awarded Peers.

Royal Peers are folk who have ruled a Kingdom or Principality at least

once. Ex-Princes are Viscounts, Ex-Princesses Viscountesses, and from there

it gets complex.  Those who have been King or Queen once are

Counts/Countesses.  Those who have been King or Queen twice are

Dukes/Duchesses.  Those who have been King or Queen more than that are

generally considered masochistic! (Small in-joke!) There are many who have

reigned at least three times, and in the West there is a legendary Duke who

has been King eight times.


Other sorts of Peers are folk who, by dint of talent, hard work, and long

effort, have earned recognition for their contributions and skills.  There

are three awarded peerage orders, all of which have the same basic

requirements: new companions must be honorable and courteous, familiar with

the basic gentle arts of a medieval court, and should have proven their

dedication to the Society and its ideals.  These orders rank equally.  The

oldest of the peerage orders is the Chivalry.  The chivalry, who include

the Knights, are fighters who have achieved great skill at arms, and who

are considered by the other members of the Chivalry to be models of

prowess, chivalry, and honor.  The knight is considered by many to be the

central figure in our medieval mythos.  Second oldest is Order of the

Laurel, which is awards to craftsmen and artists recognized for their

research in medieval crafts, their willingness to teach their skills, and

their skill at their arts.  The laurel wreath was anciently used to crown

victors at Greek games, great poets, etc., and has always been a mark of

achievement and skill.  Finally, there is the Order of the Pelican, given

to those whose work in service to the SCA has made a great difference.

Companions of the Pelican are often skilled bureaucrats -- somebody *has*

to do the hard paperwork of running a Kingdom of 3000 people, and some

people keep working at this sort of task for years.  The Pelican was

thought in medieval times to be the most self-sacrificing animal: It was

thought a Pelican would pierce her beast to allow her heart's blood to drip

into the mouths of her offspring when food was short. Peers are created by

the desire of the King and Queen in accordance with the recommendations of

the companions of the order.


               Feasting, Dancing and Merrymaking



One of the most interesting parts of the SCA is "events", our word for the

times when we put on our medieval clothing, go out and dance those dances

we've been practicing, flirt, eat, talk, and generally have a good time.

Events are held almost every weekend of the year somewhere; some weekends

there may be as many as a couple dozen events scattered around the SCA.

Most groups hold at least one event per year; some larger groups will hold

two or more.  At events there are often tournaments, art exhibits or

competitions, classes on all manner of medieval skills, workshops, and,

later in the evening, a medieval feast, Royal or Baronial Court, and

dancing.  There are many different kinds of events, and the common pattern

varies from place to place and season to season.  The events are the most

fun to most folk, because you get to go and show off all the things you

have been learning in the past few months.


              What Kind of Person Joins the SCA?



SCA folk tend to be people like you and me -- just plain folks, but people

who enjoy doing something more with their weekends.  It seems that a high

percentage of SCA participants are involved in high tech fields -- Computers,

Aerospace, high energy physics, etc. Perhaps the attraction the SCA holds

for them can be attributed to the fact that people who send all week with

highly complex, modern technology find it relaxing to spend their leisure

time working with a different kind of technology, in a less modern setting.

There are lots of people in all fields in the SCA -- historians, writers,

secretaries, law enforcement personnel, teachers, programmers, insurance

agents -- the appeal of the SCA is widespread.


A housemate of a SCA person recently said: "From what I can tell about

these wild and crazy SCA people, they do more than just this fighting

thing. They really like to make and wear the medieval clothes (garb), eat

the medieval food, dance the medieval dances to the medieval music, maybe

even make their own medieval music, and other medieval party type

activities. They also seem to like to be medieval so they can relax and

have a good time. They are quite willing to talk about SCA or invite you to

the SCA stuff or whatever."


              How You Can Get Involved



We welcome you to our local meetings and our events. You needn't join the

SCA, Inc, to attend and participate (although if you decide to be with us

regularly you may wish to join). The only requirement to come to an event

is that you make some attempt at pre-1600 costume -- and most groups have

"loaner" costumes for people who want to come to their first event.  Each

SCA participant remembers the day s/he started, and most people are happy

to help out a newcomer.  Many local groups have officers whose sole duty is

to help new participants find their way into the SCA.


If you want more information about groups near you, you can call our

corporate office in Milpitas, CA, at (408) 263-9305, or send a notice to

this mailing list or newsgroup.


Welcome to the current middle ages!


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org