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).
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).
Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: mittle at panix.com (Arval d'Espas Nord)
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 If anyone notices anything out-of-date,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.
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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
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!