Back in Time
The Society for Creative Anachronism
Most of the costumed people you see around you are from the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. (SCA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational organization dedicated to the research and re-creation of medieval and Renaissance culture: arts, sciences, combat, speech, dress, and courtly manners – all areas of everyday life, from noble to peasant.
At our events, members strive to recapture the atmosphere of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This requires historical research into topics such as clothing, weaponry, armor, food, and music. We then attempt to practice and teach what we have learned, as authentically as possible, by constructing reproductions of medieval artifacts, practicing the arts and crafts, learning to fight with sword and shield, and so on. Our chroniclers produce publications that help us spread this information to our members.
Each member creates a “persona”, a personal character from a specific historic time and place, which the member becomes for our events. Our areas of interest are as varied as was medieval culture: heraldry, knighthood, manuscript illumination and calligraphy, archery, armor making, costuming, jewelry making, needlecraft, theatre, poetry, dancing, singing, cooking, brewing, equestrian arts, and more.
The SCA also attempts to create an atmosphere embodying those lost ideas that are found in medieval romances: chivalry, courtesy and honor. We recreate the Middle Ages, as they ought to have been doing away with the strife and pestilence and emulating the beauty, grace, chivalry and brotherhood.
The SCA has grown from a small backyard tournament in 1966 to an international network of over 40,000 members, organized into 19 Kingdoms spanning North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the Far East. Typical events include tournaments, revels, banquets, craft guild meetings and teaching seminars. This area, the Kingdom of Caid, encompasses Southern California, Las Vegas, and Hawaii. There are activities held nearly every weekend of the year.
The events put on by the SCA are for participating, not simply spectating. They are not performances for the public, but a way of learning and living in the “current” Middle Ages. However, the SCA also gives occasional public demonstrations of medieval fighting, dancing, music, theatre, and other activities for schools and different organizations, by request.
Tournaments are the most frequent kind of SCA event, and though they are not necessarily the most important, they generate many of the avenues of participation in the SCA.
Groups or individuals construct pavilions to use for the day, good food, finish costumes and prepare for contests. Many fighters make their own armor of chain mail, heavy steel plate or leather, which may weigh 50 – 100 pounds. We have professional armorers and blacksmiths within the SCA whose expertise has re-created these fine crafts.
Fighters in each tournament are competing for a specific honor named for that day, such as who will be the next King or Queen reigning for six months, the Queen’s Champion, the Baronial Champion, or other honors or prizes. Bare steel is never used in combat, although some people carry a blade for show. Fighting weapons are made of rattan wood covered with duct tape and have the weight of a real medieval weapon. A blow must be hard enough and place properly in order for it to be counted as a fatal blow. If an arm or leg is struck, the fighter must stop using that limb.
A fighter is bound by honor to rate and count each blow, although there are Marshals on the field to regulate safety and give advice if a fighter is unsure where or how hard a blow was. Most fighters wear a favor into battle, often ribbon or embroidery, from their lady or lord.
Knighthood is taken very seriously in the SCA. Only the most experienced fighters become Knights, and the Crown on the advice of the other Knights chooses them. Knights must also be exemplary in matters of chivalry, courtesy and honor, and show knowledge of dancing, gamesmanship and general medieval studies.
Some members of the SCA devote much of their time in the organization to the research and re-creation of specific arts and crafts. Individuals who have achieved a high standard of excellence in a particular art or craft and who research, practice and teach their craft are awarded the Order of the Laurel, based on the recommendation of the other recipients of the award to the Crown.
Likewise, certain individuals whose service to the SCA has been extensive and exemplary are recognized by their admission to the Order of the Pelican. The name of this award comes from the medieval belief that the pelican would cause its breast to bleed so that its chicks could receive sustenance in times of need. The pelican was therefore a symbol of sacrifice and service.
Each of these three awards – Knighthood, Laurel and Pelican – are equal in rank and are recognized throughout the SCA. There are also Kingdom and local awards to recognize accomplishments in fighting, arts and service at all levels of participation.