As the sun beats down on our heads, my three young sons and I watch as their father marches off to war. We are not sad, though, because we know that in a few short hours he'll be back, hot and possibly bruised, but otherwise none the worse for wear. Unlike many modern fathers, my husband is not in the real army, and he's not fighting a real war.
We are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a not-for-profit medieval reenactment group. SCA wars are a carefully planned but never choreographed series of battles with varying scenarios. The weapons the participants use are not the steel swords and axes wielded by true medieval combatants, but mock weapons made of rattan. The SCA is not all about war, though. We also host tournaments, balls, feasts, archery competitions and countless other align="right" hspace="10" vspace="10"activities related to medieval and renaissance culture.
The SCA is an international organization that began in California about 36 years ago. It has been flourishing in the St. Louis area for 27 years. The St. Louis branch of the SCA is called The Barony of Three Rivers and boasts some 150 members. We meet every Thursday at 7 p.m. for armored combat, dance practice and a business meeting at Olivette Community Center (9723 Grandview Drive, Olivette, MO 63132).
I got my start in the SCA 20 years ago when I was enrolled at the University of Missouri. University towns are likely places to find SCA branches, as are large metropolitan areas like St. Louis. Over the years I have dabbled in such pastimes as medieval cookery, costuming, soap making, tent making, archery and needlepoint. I met my husband at an SCA event. He's what we in the SCA affectionately call a fighter an armored combatant. Since we married he has been knighted, which is the highest honor one can receive for prowess with the sword.
Regional royalty confers knighthood and other ranks upon members of the SCA. The SCA is geographically divided into 17 kingdoms. The Barony of Three Rivers is located in the kingdom of Calontir (Welsh for heartland), also known as the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Fayetteville, Arkansas. Each kingdom has a king and queen. The succession is determined not by accident of birth, but by skill on the tournament field. In Calontir, two tournaments are held each year, in January and June. The winner of each tournament is immediately invested as the heir to the throne alongside his or her chosen consort. In the course of a few months the prince and princess are crowned the new king and queen as the old king and queen step aside. Soon after, another tournament is held to choose the next heirs. In that way, Calontir gets two kings and two queens per year, giving more individuals a shot at the top job.
The king and queen are expected to travel around the kingdom to events held in different cities almost every weekend. In each group, they hold court, during which they confer titles and honors to people who have worked hard honing their skills or helping to make the SCA run smoothly. These events generally consist of fighting tournaments, displays of artistry and craftsmanship, and a feast. If the weather and site permit, archery tournaments can also be sponsored. Dances, plays, singing and other pageantry have their place in the SCA as well.
The SCA is a warm, welcoming society. People of all ages and from all walks of life make up our membership. In recent years the local branch has become very family oriented. New members have joined, bringing the whole family, and older members have taken the plunge into parenthood. These days, infants, toddlers, school children and teens are all common sights at our meetings and events. In keeping with this trend the local branch has an officer in charge of children's activities to make sure that even the youngest among us has something fun to do.
Everyone who takes part in the SCA will find something to do. Almost everything we use in the SCA the armor, the clothes, the shoes, the weapons, the tableware and more is handmade. Members don't have to make it all themselves. Many people are willing to sell or trade their goods, and even more artisans are willing to teach their craft to any interested person. Some of the crafts being practiced by local members are pewter casting, woodcarving, furniture building, leatherworking, beer brewing, pot throwing, candle making and arrow fletching. And we are always excited to see people pick up an entirely new craft and run with it. A good friend of mine recently began making glass beads, much to everyone's delight.
But what about the guys in armor? Well, first of all, they're not all guys. It may not be strictly authentic for women to take part in armored combat, but that has not stopped several valiant ladies of our barony from suiting up and swinging a rattan sword. In fact, women all over the SCA are what we call authorized fighters. Yes, authorized. Any person over the age of 18 (or over 16 with a signed parental waiver) may don warlike harness and learn the skills at our Thursday night fighter practice. However, in order to enter a tournament or fight in a war, each combatant must prove to a group of marshals (referees) he is safe to himself and others. Once authorized, the fighter is issued a card to prove he has passed this test.
Safety is important to us, and not only is each fighter expected to prove a minimum level of skill and safety, but his armor and weapons must also pass a safety check each and every time he wants to enter the field of combat. These quick inspections insure that unsafe weapons and armor do not make it onto the field where someone might get hurt. I have been told that the dangers of SCA fighting can be equated with those faced by players of table tennis. Sounds about right to me. Ever get smacked by one of those ping-pong paddles?
Even after 20 years of SCA involvement, I still look forward to the next event. I still enjoy researching and designing projects for myself. But most of all, I enjoy the friendships I have established along the way. And now, my children are also making friends that will doubtlessly last them a lifetime.