Forward into the Past, an Introductory Guide to the SCA
What is The S.C.A. ?
The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is a non-profit educational organization devoted the the study of pre-seventeenth century Western culture. It concentrates on the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, and members work to recreate the arts and skills of this era. Some members study the Middle East and explore the interaction between Europe and Asia during the period under study. The SCA was incorporated in 1968, but recognizes a tournament held in Berkeley, California on May 1, 1966 as its founding date.
An "anachronism" is something that is out of its proper time frame. "Creative Anachronism" takes the best qualities of the Middle Ages and selectively re-creates them in the modern world. Geographically, the SCA covers the globe, with the majority of its members living in the United States or Canada. There are (over) 12 kingdoms, each with its own King and Queen chosen on the field of combat. You are a subject of a kingdom by virtue of where you live for the majority of the year. Your membership is with the Society, not with any particular local group. If you have any questions, contact the person who is listed as Seneschal of your kingdom. Their names appear in Tournaments Illuminated and in each kingdom newsletter.
The kingdoms are independent of each other, and there is a considerable amount of variation among them. Each kingdom has a body of written "law" established by the King and Queen, to define the specific rules it follows, and a larger body of generally accepted custom that gives each kingdom its unique personality. All the kingdoms build their own laws and customs on a framework called the Corpora, which sets overall rules for the Society. Kingdoms are divided into local and regional chapters called principalities, baronies, shires, marches, cantons, colleges, and ridings. The names of these divisions reflect the size of the membership and/or the larger division through whom the local group reports. Your local group might use one of these terms as part of its name.
Getting Started - Your First Meeting or Event
A meeting is where the SCA members carry on the regular business of the local group. An event is a special gathering, often publicized in the kingdom's newsletter to invite people from more distant groups. People wear medieval garb at events, although some may change out of their modern clothes when they arrive. Customs vary as to whether garb is worn at local meetings. Because people often work on various skills and crafts at meetings, many will stay in modern clothing. Some wear everyday clothes to meetings and then change into period garb.
When you arrive at your first meeting or event, go up to someone and introduce yourself. Explain that you are new and ask who you can talk to about learning more about the group. Some groups have special people (known as hospitaller, castellan or chatelaine) to greet newcomers, but others do not. Approach someone who is working on a project and ask about it. Most people are glad to talk about what they are doing.
At either meetings or events, people may be so involved with what they came to do that they do not notice a new person. Some are too shy themselves to ask if you are new. Begin by observing others and start a conversation about what they are doing. If you see a skill or craft that interests you, ask who might be wiling to teach it. Listen for announcements of guild meetings where people who practice that craft gather to share information and help each other.
If members are so involved in their projects that you feel ignored or unwanted, have patience and persist in coming to meetings. Keep asking questions. Some groups provide special meetings for newcomers to help them learn what they need to know to feel a part of the group. Be sure to attend those. Volunteer to help at any events, if only in the kitchen or with clean-up. Many new friends can be made over hot dishwater!
What to Wear and How to Behave
There are a number of sources in the SCA that tell how to make simple garb. The Known World Handbook, listed in "For Further Information" is one. A simple T-tunic pattern is given in this booklet. SCA members usually make their own garb, although sometimes you can barter or trade services to have someone make you simple garb. For women, a plain-colored long skirt and a peasant-type blouse will serve. A length of cloth, such as a white dishtowel, can make a veil to hide modern hair. For men, try plain trousers (not jeans), and a peasant-style shirt that is not tucked in. A cloak, even one made of a blanket, can hide modern clothes. Plain black slippers or plain boots can serve. Be wary of wearing metal circlets unless they are very simple. An ornate or jeweled circlet may lead you to be mistaken for one of the titled nobility, which can be embarrassing.
Do not wear a white belt, sash, or baldric (belt across the chest). White is reserved for members of the Chivalry. Bright-colored belts, such as red, green, or yellow, are often used to indicate that the wearer is a student of a particular person who has been honored for excellence in one of the SCA fields of endeavor. Although the colors are not restricted, in some kingdoms there may be a misunderstanding. Necklaces of chain links without medallions or other pendants are also worn by special groups. You should avoid them until you ask about local customs.
Avoid wearing a sword until you have asked about what is permissible in your kingdom. Many people wear knives. There is a special etiquette about bearing a steel blade. To keep the knife or blade from becoming unsheathed accidentally, many people fasten a cord around it to hold it in place. Before you remove it from the sheath, it is customary to call "Clear" to warn nearby people that there is a bare blade. Do not threaten another person with your knife, even in play. Also, don't handle other people's property without permission. Ask before you touch.
Courteous and honorable behavior is at the core of the Society. It is difficult to be too polite. Respectful terms of address (see "Who Is Who") and avoidance of discussing themodern world add to the medieval flavor of an event. Skill-at-arms, excellence in the arts, and long service are all diminished without respectful and courteous conduct.
All Purpose T-Tunic
This diagram gives a simple and reasonably authentic pattern for a variety of clothing. By adjusting the angles of the side seams and sleeves and adding gores of various sizes or back, you can approximate anything from a Roman tunica to a Burgundian houppelande.
If this will be your first piece of "garb", consider a washable fabric in cotton and polyester blend, or a wool and polyester blend. Although an all-polyester fabric is easy to care for, it may look too "modern". The color can range from earth tones to vivid, bright colors, but be careful to avoid the "shrieking", fluorescent, modern hues.
Use 60" wide (150cm) fabric, or sew two widths of 45" or 36" together. (If you have to piece it, it is no more work to use a different color for each piece!) Fold the fabric in quarters, with one set of folds at the top and one fold running the long way down the middle of what will become the front (see diagram).
Take the following measurements, being sure to add an additional 1/2" for seams.
- Neck to floor, or wherever you plan to stop (plus 2" for hem)
- Neck to waist
- Neck to widest part of chest
- 1/4 waist plus 1" ease or more, depending on style (plus 1/2" seam allowance)
- 2" for armpit gusset
- As wide as your most comfortable shirt sleeves (plus 1/2" seam allowance)
The dotted lines suggest neck and sleeve lines. Pick whichever seems closest to the period you are trying for.
Cut out the tunic. When cutting out the neck opening, it is best to underestimate your head size and cut too small at first. Enlarge the opening little by little until it is the size you want. Remember that a little cutting can make a big difference!
With the right sides (the outside of the fabric) together, sew up the side seams. Put commercial bias tape around the neck opening so the fabric does not unravel when you put it on and take it off. Hem the bottom. Put on any trim that you want. Wear it over a turtleneck, pants and boots, or over a lighter-weight version of the same tunic with narrower sleeves. =46or most periods, the more cloth you use, the more upper-class the effect. Also, very long floor-length skirts are easier to wear when very full. Add gores at (A) and perhaps also at center back. The closer you come to a full circle, the better. At that point, you can walk in a skirt four to five inches longer than your neck-to-floor measurement without picking up your skirt.
For men, the length can be anywhere from hip to ankle, depending on the period. The dotted line with stars could be a side seam for men, and also for very early women's dress. (Insert picture "Pattern" here...)
Getting in at Events, Feasts, and Court
The Society is a re-enactment and re-creation organization, intended for participants rather than spectators. Everyone who attends an event is expected to wear at least an attempt at medieval clothing. Garb need not be fancy. Anything reasonably "medieval-ish" can do for the first event. In some kingdoms, an organization called "Gold Key" provides loaner costumes at no charge or for a small rental fee. Call someone in advance to see if loaner garb will be available, or at an event look for the symbol of a key on a green or blue background.
If the event you are attending includes a feast be sure you have made a reservation, if required, and that you bring "feast gear" - a spoon, knife, plate, napkin, and something to drink from. You may also wish to bring a small cloth in case the table is uncovered, a fork, a bowl, small containers of sugar and salt, and a plastic trash bag to put dirty feast gear in after you have eaten. Many people bring their own beverages, but often some form of drink is provided. Iced tea, lemonade, and water are common.
For outdoor events, it is wise to bring a folding chair or a blanket to sit on. Carry a portable supply of water or other beverage, especially if you will be in the sun for part of the day. Bring a hat or other sun-shade for protection. Working on a craft, project, or game can be a good way to meet others at an event when you tire of observing. Although at many events a feast is served in the evening, if you wish to eat earlier, you may need to bring your own lunch or snack. Avoid modern-looking food and drink containers or cover them with a cloth.
When the King and/or Queen are present, people in many kingdoms will make a "reverence" ( a bow or curtsy) each time they walk past the King or Queen. They will also make a reverence when the King or Queen walk past them or when the walk past the Royal Thrones, even if no one sits there. The space some 10' or 20' around the thrones is considered part of the Royal Presence. Walk around it, rather than through it. Watch what others are doing and copy them. Be careful not to stand where you might block the view of the King or Queen. When sitting on the throne, they are not as mobile as you are.
"Court" is a very special event with an emphasis on ceremony and courteous behavior. When called before Their Majesties, in most kingdoms people remove their weapons before approaching. They make a reverence when they come near, then kneel. As they leave, notice that they walk backwards several steps, bow or curtsy again, and then turn to walk back to their seats. Try to sit near the front so that you can see well and watch others as they stand, sit or bow. If necessary, quietly ask someone near you to explain what you do not understand.
The policy on smoking varies but is generally not permitted indoors. Ask about the local policy on flash photography. Some kingdoms forbid it, especially at Court events. Keep in mind that the feast, event, or Court is an attempt to recreate the Middle Ages. Cigarettes and flashbulbs did not exist then and are obvious when used.
Names and Personas
Society members create a persona, the person who they would like to have been had they lived in the Middle Ages. Some SCA members have chosen only a name. Others have fully developed personas and can talk to you in detail about their medieval "lives". When you meet someone, they will ask your name. If you have not chosen a medieval name you can use your modern one until you decide. If you have no idea what you would like to be called, then ask the local herald or pursuivant if he or she has a book of medieval names you can look at. Similar books are in most of the local libraries. Avoid using "name-the-baby" books; many of these names were coined after the Renaissance and the authors often do not tell you which names are modern ones.
You need to pick at least one names that parents would haven given a child during the period the SCA studies, and at least one other name or descriptive phrase to set you apart from everyone else with that given name. Some things to remember when choosing a name: You may not take the name of any historical or legendary person, nor may you use the full name of a person in fictional literature. You may not use or imply a title such as Sir, Duke, Count, Earl, Lord, Lady, Master, or Mistress. These titles must be earned. You may not use the full name of someone else in the Society. Try to keep your name only one language; two at the most. Your local herald can give you further information on choosing a name and persona. (include 2-page Known World map. Update!)
Kingdom & Local Officers
Bureaucracy, the people who provide for the smooth running of things, abounded in the Middle Ages as well as in the modern world. the SCA is no different! If you have a question or do not know where to turn, start with the local officers. You will find similar offices on both the local and kingdom levels. Officers in the SCA are appointed to their positions, not elected. Local officers are required to report periodically to their kingdom superiors. If you join the SCA and receive a kingdom newsletter, you will find the names of the kingdom officers and the local seneschal for each group printed in each issue. Local officers are:
Seneschal: The representative for the local group in the outside world. Acts as the chief administrative officer, similar to a group's president.
Pursuivant: The local heraldic officer. In charge of making announcements and helping people research their names and heraldic devices in preparation for submission to the College of Heralds.
Marshal: In charge of the rules and regulations for fighting and archery. Sees to the safety of the participants. Keeps a record of who is authorized locally. Is responsible for seeing that fighters have an opportunity for training.
Chancellor of the Exchequer: In charge of the financial affairs of the group. Also known as the Treasurer or Reeve.
Minister of Arts and/or Minister of Sciences: Coordinates the study and practice of the medieval arts and sciences. See this officer if you have any questions in these areas or want to learn more about one of the skills and crafts.
Chronicler: Publishes the group's newsletter, which can range from a simple schedule of upcoming events to a booklet containing articles by local members.
Chirurgeon: Certified in the modern world in first aid. Usually available at events to provide first aid for minor injuries. Not a required office for local groups.
Who is Who?
Medieval society was highly structured with a system of ranks: kings, dukes, barons and lords. The SCA has a similar system of hierarchy. It is often difficult for a newcomer to tell if the person whit whom he is conversing is "Somebody Important." If you are in doubt, be courteous and polite, and address the person as "my lord" or "my lady". These terms are widely used and acceptable to persons of all ranks.
People who wear crowns or coronets are "Somebody Important." In many cases they are, or were, royalty. They won the right to wear a fancy circlet on their heads. It can be difficult to tell someone's rank, for a person of lesser rank might choose to wear a fancier circlet than someone of a higher rank; it partly depends on personal taste. IF you are in doubt of the rank, address the person as "Your Excellency." For all ranks, the design of the crown or coronet can vary greatly from kingdom to kingdom.
King and Queen: Chosen by tournament combat. As the rulers of the entire Kingdom, they can make or change laws except where the new law would conflict with the Society's rules (the Corpora) or the laws of the governments responsible for the area. The are addressed as "Sire," "Your Majesty,""My Lord King/My Lady Queen." Remember that it is courteous to bow or curtsy when speaking to them or passing by them.
Prince or Princess: There are two types of Prince and Princesses - Crown and Territorial. The Crown Prince and Princess are heirs to the kingdom, chosen by combat in the Crown Tourney. They are addressed as "Your Royal Highnesses." They hold these titles until their coronation as King and Queen. A territorial Prince and Princess rule over a Principality, a territory which is a subdivision of a kingdom. They are also chosen by combat. Their forms of address varies from kingdom to kingdom.
Duke or Duchess: They have served at least twice as King or Queen. Call them "Your Grace."
Count or Countess: They have served once as King or Queen. Call them "Your Excellency." Some alternate titles are Earl (Jarl, Iarll), and Graf.
Viscount or Viscountess: They have served at least once as territorial Prince and Princess. Call them "Your Excellency."
Baron or Baroness: They oversee a large local group called a Barony and act as representatives of the Crown. Address them as "Your Excellency."
Court Baron or Baroness: The titles is a reward from the Crown, often for exceptional service. However, they are not the heads of territories as are the other barons and baronesses. Address them as "Your Excellency."
There are additional elevated ranks in the SCA: The Chivalry, the Laurels, and the Pelicans. They are collectively known as Peers of the Realm. In many kingdoms the Order of the Rose is also Peerage-level and in some former royalty are called Royal Peers.
The Chivalry of the SCA consists of the Order of Knighthood and the Order of Mastery of Arms. Members are chosen by the Crown after consulting with the Chivalry for qualities of courtesy, grace, and skill at arms. Knights swear fealty to the Crown and are entitled to wear a white belt. They wear a chain as a symbol of their fealty. Call them "Sir" (name). Mastery of Arms is for those persons who choose not to swear fealty and is equal in rank to knighthood. They wear a white baldric but do not wear a chain since it represents fealty. Address them as "Master" (name) or "Mistress" (name). In most kingdoms, spurs are limited to the Chivalry as one of their signs of rank.
Members of the Order of the Laurel are chosen by the Crown after consultation with the Order for great skill in the Arts or Sciences, for their willingness to teach others, and for using their abilities to benefit the kingdom. They are addressed as "Master" or "Mistress" (name). Their insignia is a laurel wreath, usually colored green on a gold background. Members of the Order of the Pelican have given of themselves to their kingdom, usually for many years and without thought of reward. They are chosen by the Crown in consultation with the Order. Address them as "Master" or "Mistress" (name). Their insignia is a "pelican in her piety," a pelican piercing her breast to feed her your with her own blood. Members of the Order of the Rose are chosen from those individuals who have served their kingdom by ruling as Queen or Consort. In many kingdoms it is Peerage-Level.
In each kingdom there are a number of different awards recognizing different levels of skill in the Arts or Sciences, fighting, or for hard work in behalf of the kingdom or a local group. Ask the local herald or a local officer about your kingdom's various awards.
The term "lord" or "lady" may refer to anyone in the Society if you do not know their rank, but the title "Lord" or "Lady" is reserved for those who have received an Award of Arms (AoA) from the Crown. This is often the first award granted to a person. It recognizes service to the kingdom or a local group and entitles the person to be called "Lord" or "Lady" (name) and to bear Arms.
The brightly colored designs you may see on a shield, banner, clothing, or personal items are part of heraldry in the SCA. In the broadest sense, heraldry encompasses everything that heralds do, from making announcements to helping people devise their own cognizances. These cognizances, sometimes miscalled coat-of-arms, are personal insignia that distinguishes one person from another. The ones that you see are most likely registered in someone's name, so it is not permissible to copy any of those and use it on your shield, banner, or personal items.
A "device" is the term used for any heraldic emblem registered to an individual. When a person becomes an "armiger," the heraldic device is called "arms." An armiger is a person who has been awarded arms by the Crown.
Heraldry uses a limited set of clear, bold "tinctures." The colors are: azure (blue), gules (red), sable (back), purpure (purple), and vert (green). The metals are: Or (gold or yellow) and argent (silver or white). There are also furs which combine the two types of tinctures in a complex repetitive design.
Since it is easier to see things which contrast with their backgrounds, the rules of heraldry state that colors must be placed on metals and metals must be placed on colors. This guarantees that charges do not blend on the field.
"Charges" are stylized versions of everyday objects, beasts, and birds. Charges can be used in multiples or in combination with other charges. They can be placed directly on the field or layered upon another charge. The combination of field, charge, and tinctures results in the final, unique device.
Your device must be different from all other registered devices, including such familiar heraldry from the modern world as the Nutra-Sweet=AE symbol and the Shell Oil Company shell. If you would like a heraldic device of your own, talk with your local herald about designing one and registering it with the Society's College of Heralds.
Guilds, Households, and Sociability
Within each kingdom a number of social and special interest organizations exist. Guilds comprise people with similar interests who work together and study a particular aspect of life in the Middle Ages. Guilds vary among kingdoms from small, local groups to kingdom-wide organizations. They can meet as frequently as once a week or they might meet once or twice a year, sharing information during other times by newsletter. Both kingdoms and local groups may charter a guild. In general, membership is open to anyone expressing an interest in that study area, although there may be specific criteria within the guild for advancement to different levels of membership.
"Households" are groups of people who have joined together to share the work and fun of SCA. They can be as small as a Lord and his family or a large group with members from several kingdoms. Households are more common in some kingdoms than in others and many people do not belong to one. Household leaders determine the membership requirements and decide who to invite to join. Each household requires a certain amount of loyalty to the group. As a newcomer, you may not be aware of the alliances that come with each household. Take time before bestowing your allegiance on a particular group and consider what obligations you will need to meet as a member.
The SCA encompasses both serious study and frivolity. Those who join for fun, companionship, food and drink play alongside those who make a serious attempt to authentically duplicate the clothing, skills and crafts of the Middle Ages. Both aspects, the playful and the serious, are valid but neither should dominate to the exclusion of the other. Those who lived in the Middle Ages worked hard, but they also took the time for recreation and play. People who join SCA for fun can help make the serious work more enjoyable. Those who join for serious study can add depth to the merriment. Be courteous and show respect for the reason that your neighbor entered the Current Middle Ages.
The Gentle Arts and Sciences and Much More
There are many skills and crafts that can be learned through the SCA. As a newcomer, you may be overwhelmed and bewildered by the variety of things people work on, and especially by the skill of many of the people you meet. If you do not know what you might be interested in, take some time just to observe others and to ask questions. You should not feel pressured to choose things to do as soon as you start going to meetings. If there are guilds or special interest groups that meet in your area, attend some to get to know the people and see what they do. Perhaps you have a skill in the modern world or an interest that can be "translated" into the medieval world. Or, you might see if others share an interest of yours and start a new special interest group. Some of the many things studied in the SCA are:
Agriculture, Archery, Armoring, Bardic Recitation, Basketry, Book Binding, Bow Making, Brewing, Calligraphy, Candle Making, Cooking, Costuming & Accessories, Dancing, Drama & Comedy, Drawing, Dyeing, Embroidery, Falconry, Fighting, Gaming, Glass Blowing, Heraldry, Herbalism, Horn Working, Horsemanship, Horticulture, Husbandry, Illumination, Instrumental Music, Jewelry, Juggling, Lace making, Lapidary, Leather Working, Languages, Masonry, Masquing & Mime, Mathematics, Medicine, Merchanting, Metal Working, Musical Composition, Musical Instrument Making, Needlework, Newsletters & Publications, Painting, Paper Making, Pavilion Making, Period Fencing, Philosophy, Poetry, Pottery, Riddles, Rug Making, Scribing, Sculpture, Spinning, Tanning, Tool Making, Toy Making, Tumbling, Vinting, Vocal Music, Weapon Smithing, Weaving, Woodworking
If you do not know where to start, talk with you local Minister of Arts and/or Sciences to inquire about persons in the kingdom who share your interest in a particular skill or craft. Many kingdoms sponsor a collegium, college, or university, a special one or two-day event where you can develop new interests and skills in the Societyís Current Middle Ages.
Medieval combat with its swords, shield, and armor attracts much attention. It is often one of the first activities that a newcomer wants to try. Both men and women actively participate in recreating medieval foot combat. Most kingdoms require a combat participant to have reached the age of majority in his or her state, province, or country, but he SCA gives the kingdoms the option of allowing participants as young as 16 to fight with parental consent. Your local marshal will tell you what the age limits are in your area.
As in any sport, there are rules designed to increase the safety of the game. The "Rules of the Lists" set out the Society standards for SCA combat. Each kingdom adds additional rules and requirements covering acceptability of blows, styles of weapons and fighting, and armor. The local marshal should have a copy of the current kingdoms rules.
Most local groups offer some form of fighter training, ranging from structured training sessions to an informal "I'll teach you when I have time and if no one else will". A fighter must be authorized in order to fight in tourneys and wars. Authorization procedures vary from kingdom to kingdom. The local marshal can tell you the procedure in your area. Authorization is to confirm that the novice knows the rules of combat and is sufficiently skilled so that he or she will not be a danger to himself or others. While efforts are made by the Society and participants to reduce the likelihood of injury, bruising and similar minor injuries do occur, and there is the risk of more serious injury for all participants.
Fighters are responsible for obtaining their own armor and weapons. Some people make most of their armor, using metal, leather, or plastic, but most buy pieces, either new or used. Before making any armor, check with your local marshal about the safety standards and requirements, or contact the Kingdom Earl Marshal.
For Further Information
Most kingdoms have a specific guide for newcomers giving details about the kingdom's operation, structure, and practices. If none is available at a local meeting, write to the kingdom chatelaine or information officer to obtain one. There may be a small fee.
Through the Office of the Stock Clerk (P.O. Box 360743, Milpitas, CA 95036-0743 USA) the SCA sells a number of helpful publications at modest prices. The most comprehensive is the Known World Handbook which contains over 200 pages of information on dozens of topics to help the newcomer learn about the SCA, as well as some "how-to" articles. Ask for a list of publications from the Stock Clerk.
If you have any suggestions or additions for this newcomer's guide, if something was not clear or was difficult to understand, or is something was missing that you needed to know, please write to the SCA at the address above and let us know.
Keep in mind the three "Pís": patience, persistence, and politeness. Be patient with yourself while you are learning about the Societyís medieval world. Be patient with those you meet who may be so involved with their own affairs that they fail to notice a new person. Persist in asking questions, seeking information, and coming to meeting. Be polite and courteous in your dealings with other Society members. Keep these guidelines in mind and you will soon be a welcome member of the SCA.
The SCA wishes to thank those people who directly contributed to the production of this pamphlet, including Mistress Hilary of Serendip, Duchess Carol of Belatrix, Lady Alix Coeurbois (HRM Calontir), Lady Alys Katharine of Asthorne Glen, Lord Stevyn Silverthorne of Dracanmor, and Master Bertram of Bearington. In addition, the following gentles kindly contributed their expertise by reviewing this pamphlet during the stages of its development: Duchess Ysabeau Cameron of Lochiel, Viscount Galen of Bristol, Master Timotheus Zacharia and Baroness Kate the Curious.