Article by: Zelda|
While I am very new to the SCA at only 4 months in (there are many people who are lifetime members, with generations of family participating at events) - so I am by no means an expert on everything that the SCA is or does. This article is written from the viewpoint of a newcomer, and with the intent to help promote others to check it out as well. With that being said, perhaps we should start with what the SCA (The Society for Creative Anachronism) is and its history...
The SCA first began in 1966 by a group of friends who were history buffs, science fiction and fantasy fans from Berkeley. It began as a very small tournament between a small group of people, but everyone enjoyed it so much, they decided they should host it again, on a larger scale. There were 6 events held in the first year. Since then, the Society has grown to nineteen kingdoms in the US and around the world, including Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa, and Australia. There are currently around 60,000 people who actively participate in SCA events worldwide, and half of that who are paid members of the Society (it costs a small yearly membership fee which allows you to attend events at a lowered cost, do things like register a unique name and coat of arms, and achieve rank and awards among the society). So then, what exactly do the events consist of?
The SCA is not quite a LARP, not quite a Renaissance Faire, not quite a historical society, not quite a sport - In fact, it encompasses all of these aspects into it's own unique blend. There are different aspects of the society for geeks and nongeeks alike (ok, most of them are geeks, but of the best kind) - Whether you want to focus on fighting, to socializing, to creating costumes, learning period artisan crafts and skills, to bonding with your family (and your dog...there are lots of SCA puppies). Events occur almost weekly if you are willing to put in a little bit of travel - and most people do. It is an ongoing lifestyle and community composed of creative and interesting folks as far as the eye can see.
How is the SCA organized and ranked?
The SCA is divided into Kingdoms, each ruled by a King and Queen who gain the throne by winning a Crown Tournament, held either every 3 months, 6 months, or a year (depending on Kingdom). There are ranks among the fighters as well, squire to knight typically taking 7 years of active fighting to achieve. Typically a knight will win the throne as they are the most experienced fighters - But we will go into that in a bit. There are also a Prince and Princess (the heirs to the throne), and a council of Great Officers who handle the day-to-day business of running the kingdom. Within a kingdom (which may cover many states and thousands of square miles) there are subdivisions called Principalities, and local chapters called Baronies, Shires, and Cantons (I personally am in the Kingdom of Caid, which spans Southern California, greater Los Vegas and Hawaii - a very large territory, and in the Barony of Altavia, which comprises just a small part of Los Angeles). Each group has its own slate of officers to run it. It is the members of the local chapters who actually plan and run the events, practices, and other activities for SCA participants. Households and Guilds exist as unofficial groups within the SCA. Some households have a feudal basis, consisting of a Knight and his lady, and their squires and men-at-arms. Others are participants who are all focus their recreation on the same era in history. And some are simply groups of friends. Guilds are founded by groups of artisans who come together to share their knowledge.
The SCA has an elaborate system of rank, awards, and honors to reward players' accomplishments and service to the Society. Noble titles in the SCA are earned through service and skill, unlike the nobility you may see at Ren Faires, who are generally actors hired on for the events. These honors are bestowed by the King and Queen during Royal Courts. Anyone you see wearing a crown in the SCA has achieved a certain level of rank and nobility, and can be earned in a variety of ways. Companions of the Order of Chivalry are Knights and Masters-at-Arms, fighters who have achieved great skill on the fighting field and considered to be persons of prowess, chivalry, and honor. Companions of the Order of the Laurel are craftsmen and artisans recognized for their skill in crafts practiced during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and their willingness to teach. Companions of Order of the Pelican are awarded for service and volunteering within the SCA. There are many more awards that can be received within the society for a manner of things, and it seems that no accomplishment goes unnoticed to those who possess the skill and desire to participate. The society very much does as it's name would imply - it promotes people to be creative through a myriad of ways.
How is combat set up?
Combat in the SCA resembles medieval foot tournaments. Combatants can face each other in single combat in tournaments, or can take part in large melee battles that can have from dozens to hundreds of participants. Combat exists in many forms, from fully armored combat (the weapons are fake - rattan, but the fighting, the armor, and the bruises are not) to rapier fighting, thrown weapons, archery and unarmored combat. The heavy armor combat seems to be the favorite, and can use a variety of weapons and rules to different effect. I have never been to a LARP, so I can't say how it compares, but the people who fight in the SCA are real fighters - they train often, many of them are skilled martial artists and swordsmen, and most of them are not people you'd want to find yourself in any kind of real fight with, either. But it is honor on the battlefield and among the fighters here! Combatants have minimum armor requirements in order to fight in the SCA, and you will see a variety of styles of armor and weaponry on the field. New fighters are trained by the more experienced fighters, much the way that they were in Medieval times. The process of becoming authorized to fight can take from a few weeks to several months. Competition exists between the other types of combatants as well.
What happens at a typical event or war?
The major activity in the SCA is the events. Historically accurate clothing is required at these events - it is not the type of place to wear fantasy garb such as a LARP or Ren Faire might be. Clothing is oftentimes fiercely researched, planned and executed to great detail. Clothing can be from any time the fall of the Roman Empire to the end of the 16th century. Most people choose to wear clothing from the European countries, but you will see outfits from the Middle East, Africa, the Americas and Asia as well. There will be people cooking and serving the recipes they've been researching (there are cooking guilds and classes), dancing, playing period music on period instruments, socializing, and having a good time. Vendors will oftentimes be set up, selling period fabrics, accessories, clothing, food, crafts, etc. (Vendors are about the only things that seem to be commonly shared with the Ren Faire folk). SCA events take place almost every weekend of the year. There are several types of events for different reasons and occasions, and the locations change often. Events include tournaments, which focus mainly on the combat portion of the SCA. Coronations, which crown the new King and Queen, and generally are much fancier affairs. There can be masked balls and dances. Also collegiums, which focus heavily on education and classes. It will include a class schedule in advance and patrons can learn a variety of skills from period jewelry making, cooking, fighting, scripting, history, crafting and more. Classes generally cost very little to attend as most of the members in the SCA care first and foremost about sharing knowledge. The biggest events are the interkingdom wars, which generally includes camping somewhere over several days and having giant battles during the day and enjoying social activities at night. I have yet to attend a war, but I will be attending 2 later this year, so expect a report back on what happens at those :) Activities at events can include fighting, fencing, archery, art exhibits/competitions, indoor games, feasts and royal or baronial court.
Is the SCA Roleplay?
Yes and no. Every person in the SCA picks a name to go by in the Society. As such, you may find it difficult at first to keep up with, as every has 2 names, and some people commonly go by only their SCA name. Names are all researched for historical validity, and no one may use the name of an actual person from history or legend. No one may also use a name that is already in use by a member of the SCA, so there is a guild of heralds to help you select and register an SCA name and coat of arms. Some members create an entire persona for themselves, give themselves a backstory and try to base their clothing and focus based on their character. Rarely, people will roleplay as their actual character at events. Other people simply pick a name. Others still use their real name, but the intent of picking names is so that you can be properly thanked when you earn awards within the society.
What are the members like?
SCA members come from all walks of life and span all ages. You will see members who have been in since birth, small children in garb, to grandparents. There are many families, married couples and friends who attend events together ľ its the type of thing that is best experienced with loved ones, it seems. Members are everything from students, teachers, historians, scientists, martial artists, musicians, artists and engineers. Here in Los Angeles, many of the members work in the entertainment industry and make their fulltime living at craftsman work. Others simply enjoy artisan hobbies for the purpose of (and because of) the SCA. Many of the SCA participants are highly intelligent and creative people who are very well accomplished in their respective fields. Some people just want to relax and get a break from the day to day of the modern world.
How can I join?
Don't let all of this overwhelm you. The SCA can become as much of a part of your life as you want it to be. There are people who come very casually and never buy a membership, and people who participate multiple times a week. It's not required to buy a membership before attending, although we pay lower entry fees to events and sometimes membership is needed to participate in certain capacities. Many local groups have officers called chatelaines or hospitallers who help new members find their way in the SCA, and they can provide you with loaner costumes for your first event (it's not such a big deal if you attend as a curious party for an event or two, but you will want to get your own garb when you can - you'll probably feel out of place without it. This can be very simple to start, and you might be surprised how eager and willing everyone is to get you set up with your own stuff to start).
You can find more information on the main SCA website at www.sca.org
and facebook page
or through your local chapters. And we look forward to seeing you at a future event :)
-Geek Girl Zelda
Photo credit to Andrew Nimrod / Ludwig Mahler von Koln
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June 12 2013