A Noob Point of View: The Society for Creative Anachronism

Medieval reenactment? It’s all “thee” and “thou” and such, right? Wrong! That’s not what the SCA is, as I’ve learned in the past few months.

Let me back up a bit. My husband used to participate in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and, having recently run into some old SCA friends of his, he was itching to re-join… and he wanted me to join with him. I was more than a little apprehensive, not really wanting to get stuck in something that might be boring.

What is the SCA, you say? Well, it’s not LARPing (live-action roleplaying) as I mistakenly thought. Sure, they try to keep a modicum of respect when addressing others–using “m’lady” and “m’lord,” “excellency” and “highness”–but the “ye olde” speak? It’s not really there. It’s normal people, sometimes half in normal dress (I myself have worn pajama pants in place of medieval-era pants), teaching and learning and having fun.

Learning, in medieval reenactment? Yep. Did you know the SCA is a non-profit organization? I certainly didn’t. Again, I thought it was a large group of LARPers who took the Middle Ages a little too far. I’m a nerd, but I’m not that much of a nerd. Turns out, the educational activities offered by the SCA are amazing, and actually pretty cool. Calligraphy, illumination (scroll art), sewing, embroidery, cooking, archery, hardsuit fighting, rapier fighting, cut-and-thrust….

Wait, you get to play with swords in the SCA?!? Okay, so it’s not “playing”–it’s serious teaching, with serious safety precautions–but yes, you can practice and fight with real swords, using real period swordfighting techniques. That’s what got me hooked. I’ve never been an athletic person, but I am actually told, by more experienced fighters, that I do pretty well for a beginner. Part of it is that I have no old habits to unlearn (the closest we have in modern day is fencing, and some of the techniques there are quite different from the rapier techniques of the Middle Ages and Renaissance), and part of it is that the marshals and other, more seasoned fighters are such excellent instructors.

The great thing about the SCA? They have loaner gear and even loaner garb for newbies like me. When I first started rapier fighting, I had zilch. No sword, no fencing mask, no upper body protection, no gloves, no gorget, nothing. My local barony (I’ll get into that later) had it all there for me to borrow on practice days until I was able to get my own gear. My instructors–some were already friends, some have now become good friends–are eternally patient with my lack of prior knowledge or training. Suddenly, I had aches and muscle pains from actual exercise, fun exercise, exercise that I was not ashamed to have people see me do. Going to the gym? No way, Jose. Too many witnesses to my, er, girth and awkwardness. Going to a public park and crossing blades? Hell, yeah. Watch me all you want. Sure, I get “killed” a lot, but I do my fair share of “killing” as well. No, we don’t use swords that are actually sharp; they all have rubber tips securely fashioned on the pointy end, and the blades are dulled enough that they won’t actually cut inexperienced dweebs like me. Even so, the protective gear is paramount, and if you don’t have protective gear or use the loaner gear, you don’t get to play with swords. Safety, safety, safety. The same goes for hardsuit fighting (basically, the heavily-armored stuff you think of when you think of medieval battles, only with heavy sticks instead of heavy swords); all the vital bits have to be protected adequately, and there are precautions and rules in place to prevent actual “killings” on the field. What is a “kill” in the SCA? Basically, it’s a blow that, if not for the protective measures, would kill a person. Head, neck, chest, stomach, etc. If you get hit there with the sword, you’re “dead” and the fight ends. If you get hit in an arm or leg, you lose the use of that arm or leg as if you had actually been stabbed. I’ve got to learn to protect my legs more often; I have ended up sitting on the ground “legless” more times than I can count.

The other educational activities are cool, too. I already want to try my hand at embroidering my garb (when I’m done with Phoenix Comicon cosplay prep, of course), and I’m considering learning how to illuminate scrolls or weave belts and trim for the garb. So far, I’ve only managed to scrounge up enough time to make one tunic each for myself and my husband, which have enough layers of period-type cloth to adequately protect us during rapier practice–hence the pajama pants at a recent event. If you don’t have garb, though, the SCA (and your barony, principality, shire, etc) has you covered. Literally. The below outfit is 100% borrowed garb. Well, except for the sunglasses.

Yes, I know that sunglasses are not in any way “period.” It was a bright Arizona day, and I’ve gotta protect my eyes from those UV rays and all. The outfit was loaned to me by a friend who is in the SCA so I could attend an event. Since the event was about four hours from where I live, there was some camping involved, but with the hospitality of the SCA folk it was more like “glamping;” metal fire pits, modern multi-room tents, and solar chargers for cell phones and other devices were prevalent. You can have some of the comforts of home even while sleeping in a tent. The modernity is all optional of course; if you want a period tent with period amenities, that’s up to you. My husband and I had a modest 8’x10′ tent from when he was in Scouts, and we brought along a folding table, camping stove, and cooler full of snacks and goodies for breakfast and lunch. At events they have activities like tournaments, classes, demonstrations, and more, and, for my first event, FOOD! The Mideast Feast was amazing, with over a dozen different menu items to choose from. I’m still drooling over the hummus and baklava. My husband has joined the cook’s guild and is in charge of this year’s Yule feast for our barony.

That’s right, Middle Eastern food served at an SCA event. Turns out, it’s not just the stereotypical “Olde English” type of reenactment you might think about when you think “medieval.” In the SCA, you can choose a persona from any region during the medieval to Renaissance period. Any. Italian? Sure. Viking? No problem. Japanese? Come right on in. It’s all-inclusive, so don’t worry if the British Isles isn’t quite your cup of tea. When I found out that Viking was an option, I was all in. The Celtic/British Isles persona just didn’t “fit” me, but I love stories of Valkyries and shieldmaidens and the like.

The event I took the above selfie at was within my kingdom, but not my barony. What? Yeah, there is a hierarchy to the SCA similar to what you’d have in the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Kingdoms are larger and contain the baronies, principalities, shires, etc. There’s a king and queen, and they’re selected (at least in my kingdom) in a trial-by-combat style event, where hardsuit fighters have a tournament to see who is the victor and future king. This victor becomes prince (or, if the fighter happens to be a girl, princess) until the coronation ceremony. In my kingdom, this is about every six months, but I don’t know about other kingdoms. There are kingdoms all over the US, as well as in other countries. Baronies are smaller groups within kingdoms (think of states here in the US) where the baron and baroness are elected. Depending on how many times you have been king/queen/baron/baroness/etc, you can have titles like duke and duchess. There are even people who are “knighted” by kings and queens who become Lords and Ladies (as opposed to “m’lord” or “m’lady,” which are general honorifics for politeness in greetings). If you can’t remember the titles, one loose rule of thumb is that if they’ve got a shiny crown of some sort, they’ve earned at least baron/baroness, so they’re “Excellency.” Princes/princesses are “Highness,” and king and queen are “Your Grace.” I’m terrible at remembering faces, so I tend to forget which honorific to use, but I’ll learn.

One of the next big events I plan on attending is an Arts and Sciences event for my barony. There will be classes on all kinds of medieval activities, and I can’t wait to learn more on garb and sewing/embroidery in the Middle Ages. I may even start participating more by becoming a deputy social media director. Yes, the SCA has social media! Who would’ve thought? The SCA itself has a website at http://www.sca.org/ where you can learn more about the SCA and how to join/participate. You can look up which kingdom you’re located in, the website for that kingdom, and many kingdoms even have Facebook pages that list upcoming events you can attend. Remember, this is a nonprofit group dedicated to educating and instructing on medieval customs, crafting, and life in general–a pretty cool cause, in my opinion.

So for those who thought the SCA was a bunch of nerds dressing up and play-acting at being in the Middle Ages, it’s kind of like that, kind of not. It’s more relaxed and friendly, and the events are a blast. If you have even the slightest interest in learning about period life and going to entertaining events outside of your local bland Renaissance Faire, check out the SCA. There’s probably something to keep you entertained and educated, and you can even become an educator once you get the hang of it. It’s all of this and much, much more–more than I can go into in one simple post.

It’s the Middle Ages in the Modern Era, and, from this noob’s point of view, it’s great!


  1. Fellow noob! I found you through Tumblr. I’m looking to get into SCA too, but because I was invited by a friend of a friend to participate in an event next year. Thanks for writing this, I’m super excited to see that I’m not the only person getting involved so recently, and hope to read more about it. My “kingdom” is technically The Outlands, but maybe we’ll meet in Atenveldt someday?

  2. This was a fantastic explanation of what the SCA is and isn’t. I am a local Chatalaine (new comers liaison) and Social Media Officer in the Kingdom of Artemisia. (Montana)
    I plan to share this article with my newbies, it will give them a perspective I can’t! Thank you so much for sharing.

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