Society for Creative Anachronism activities
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- 1 Activities within the SCA
- 1.1 Garb (costume)
- 1.2 Martial activities
- 1.3 Armored combat
- 1.4 Fencing or rapier combat
- 1.5 Combat archery
- 1.6 Other combat activities
- 1.7 Bardic arts
- 1.8 Equestrian activities
- 1.9 Heraldry
- 1.10 Cooking
- 1.11 Calligraphy and illumination
- 1.12 Dance
- 1.13 Fiber arts
- 1.14 Chirurgeonate
- 2 SCA events
- 3 External links
- 4 Notes
Activities within the SCA
The first thing one notices about a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) event is that everyone is wearing at least an attempt at clothing similar to that worn before 1601 AD. This type of clothing is often called "garb". Wearing garb to events is one of the basic requirements of the SCA. Garb may range from a polyester-blend T-tunic for a newcomer to a hand-embroidered and beaded Elizabethan era gown complete with hoops, bumroll and ruffled collar or a set of ruffs that may take more than six months to a year to complete. Typically, men wear a tunic and pants and women wear a long gown. Members often have "field" garb, simple cotton tunics or gowns that they wear to camping or other outdoor events, and "court" garb made of expensive brocades and silks that are reserved for fancy-dress events. Many SCA members make their own clothing, though the needlework-challenged can purchase their garb from merchants or barter with other SCA members. Newcomers to the SCA can usually borrow garb for their first event or two by contacting the local group's Gold Key officer or Chatelaine/Castellan, who is responsible for helping acclimatize new members.
The SCA recreates three forms of martial activities, including "heavy" armoured combat, fencing and archery. Armoured combat focuses on recreating medieval tournament culture through courteous, chivalric displays of skill in practice, tournament and melee scenarios. SCA fencing employs a form of heavy rapier fencing built upon techniques outlined in German and Italian Renaissance era (15th-16th century) fencing manuals. Archery activities in the SCA include both target archery and combat archery, using equipment modified for safety in conjunction with armoured combat during melee scenarios.
Armoured Combat (sometimes referred to as "Heavy Combat", "Heavy List", or "Heavy Fighting") using weapons fashioned to generally approximate the sword-and-shield, greatsword, spear, glaive and halberd of the High Middle Ages.
Fencing or Rapier Combat, generally approximating the lightly armored "swashbuckling" of the 15th century and the 16th century, emphasizing the rapier over cutting swords. Many members of the Society study and practice period manuals from the salons of Western Europe whose Sword Masters taught the "Arte of Defence", where the term "fencing" came from.
Combat Archery using bows and crossbows has been a part of Society combat from the early days as well, and currently is highly regulated for safety concerns. It is not allowed in tournaments, but only in war or melee scenarios. The arrows used have specially designed tips and tails for safety, and the equipment has limits placed on how powerful it can be.
Thrown Weapons are also allowed in wars and melees. This can include javelins, knives, axes, throwing maces, and other weapons. A weapon must meet certain extra safety requirements (of weight and padding) to be allowed to be thrown.
Siege Combat is the reproduction of large siege engines for use in wars and melees, such as the onager, ballista, and trebuchet. The engines are obviously scaled down in size and power and shoot safe ammunition such as tennis balls.
The martial arts as practiced in the SCA are notable in that there are no referees to declare a winner. "Marshals" are on the field to maintain safety (e.g. watch for loose or broken equipment or to protect bystanders). It is the combatants who acknowledge the effect of blows. A combatant is on his or her own honor to "call" a "good shot", feigning its effect. For example, a good blow to the arm renders that arm useless, so the combatant will stop using it for the duration of the fight. Calling a leg shot, the combatant drops to his or her knees.
The Armored Combat or "Heavy Weapons Fighting" forms practiced in the SCA roughly mirror those of medieval infantry, and both tournaments and battles are fought. The fighters wear armor (often of their own making) made of plastic, leather, or steel, or any combination thereof.
As a full-contact sport; moves are not planned or signaled and fighters strike each other with considerable force and speed. Weapons are primarily made of rattan to resemble swords, pikes, spears, axes and other medieval weapon types. Maces and axes have heads made of rubber or stiff foam, and pole weapons (resembling medieval pole-axes, glaives, halberds or bills, etc.) may or may not be required to be similarly padded, depending upon the regulations in a given SCA kingdom.
For the purposes of calling blows, all heavy-weapons combatants are considered to be armored in a chain mail hauberk, with an open-faced helmet with a nasal. For that reason, a draw cut or glancing blow would have no effect, while a solid blow would. (Mail protects well against a slicing blade; it transmits most of the force of a blow.) Good strikes to the torso and head are treated as a 'killing blow'.
Most SCA fighters use a one-handed weapon in combination with a shield of some kind. With centuries of historical examples to draw upon, shields may range from large rectangular Roman-style scuta to small bucklers, with common styles including the "kite", center-grip (round or oval), and "heater" (so called because it resembles the shape of a flatiron). Other popular weapon choices include two-weapons (one in each hand) or two-handed weapons such as greatswords, glaives, or katana. Some Kingdoms are also starting to experiment with thrown weapons such as javelins and throwing axes for use in melees and battles.
Most groups hold "fighter practices" where individual and group combat is practiced and informal instruction occurs, but in some areas there may be more formalized and structured training in a local style. Typically several years of direct experience in the SCA's Armored Combat are needed to excel in tournaments.
Some weapons, while actively used within the SCA's target period, have been barred from use in SCA combat because it is difficult or impossible to make them safe.
These include staves (the typical style involves a large amount of force on impact), punching weapons (Katar (कटार), punch daggers and offensive shields such as the targe), and flexible weapons such as the flail or ball-and-chain, which can wrap around heads, limbs or shields to cause injury.
Recreations of period firearms, no matter what the type of propulsion used, are banned from use on the Armored Combat field. This ban was put in place by the Board of Directors on January 16, 1999, on suggestion by the Society Earl Marshal at the time. The stated reason was that the appearance of firearms signaled the downfall of chivalric combat, which the SCA attempts to recreate, and therefore having said items on the field detracts from the experience.
All of these weapons have been banned by the Society at large, and therefore cannot be used within any Kingdom across the SCA.
Fencing or rapier combat
SCA fencing rules differ substantially from Olympic fencing rules. Instead of fencing for points, fencers attempt to 'disable' or 'kill' their opponent by striking at target areas. Rapier Combatants are considered to be wearing street clothes and leather gloves, so both thrusts and cuts are accepted as attacks. SCA rules do not recognize lanes or right of way. Opponents fight "in the round". Body-to-body contact is prohibited, but hand-on-blade contact is allowed, so the off hand becomes an important factor.
While many SCA members attempt to re-create rapier combat of the 16th and early 17th centuries, in practice it often becomes a blend of Society rules and modern fencing. Many rapier and smallsword enthusiasts study fencing manuals of the 15th and 16th centuries, and use rapier simulators made with schlaeger or bated rapier blades, rather than the more sport-oriented foil and épée blades. Some kingdoms are reviewing an experimental style called "side-sword", which allows percussive cuts and thrusts with blades suitable for cut-and-thrust style fencing.
Some Fencing Melees allow some firearm simulation (rubber band guns) as well. This activity is not universally accepted within the Society.
All kingdoms except the Kingdom of Calontir now have organized fencing activities.
Combat Archery allows the introduction of bows and crossbows to Heavy Weapons combat. Strict rules are in place to limit the launch force of field weapons and the projectiles are specially built with large blunted tips and special backs to minimize the risk of true injury. Consistent with other SCA combat, arrow strikes to shields are considered blocked, while strikes to armored areas of the body are not. Judging the effects of blows is left to the honor of the combatant struck. The current Society-wide rules for Combat Archery specify that missile strikes are judged just as any blow. That it is up to the fighter to determine if it hit them properly and with enough force. It is stated however that strikes from arrows, by their nature, will be with less force than that with a sword. Due to requirements of larger safety zones to protect spectators from ricochets and overshots, combat archery is usually limited to large melees.
All archers are considered to be exactly the same as any other Heavy Combatant (though historically this hasn't always been true). They are physically struck down to defeat them and they wear the same armor with the exception of the hands which can be more lightly armored half-gauntlets to be flexible enough to use their equipment. Do note however that as always any combatant on the field may yield to his opponent in lieu of being hit. Thus, many combat archers who have no other way to defend themselves will therefore yield when charged by another Heavy Combatant (instead of taking a blow from which they cannot defend themselves).
In some kingdoms, archers properly authorized, are allowed to carry melee weapons and to switch from bow/crossbow to the hand weapon. However they must properly retire their bow or crossbow before making the switch and meet safety requirements which protect any half-gauntleted hand (such as using a basket hilt).
Other combat activities
Thrown weapons are used in melees when permitted. After the latest revision of the Marshal's Handbook basically any form of weapon can be made legal to be thrown. Essentially as long as the weapon weighs under 2 pounds, has every tip padded appropriately, and meets a few other guidelines, it is legal for being thrown. Also all thrown weapons can be used for striking or thrusting as well.
Siege Weapons are some of the most impressive pieces of machinery on the battlefield. They are carefully designed within power guidelines to make sure that they cannot throw their ammo farther than 80 yards. Even at this level however there is much stored power in them and great care and training is required to use them properly and safely.
The "Bardic arts" are also popular. The bard in pre-Medieval Celtic society held a specific social class and had specific duties. In the SCA context, though, "bard" is a general term that refers to most storytellers, poets, and musicians.
SCA bards not only perform historical period pieces but often compose new period-style works, some of which are based on SCA culture. These may be in the style of ancient forms, such as a new version of a Child Ballad, or a piece recounting (in period style) some aspect of the "Current Middle Ages" such as a history of an SCA kingdom, a tribute to an individual, or an account of an event.
One crossover from science fiction fandom found in the SCA is "filking." A filk is a new lyric set to an existing melody. This practice has ample historical antecedent; ancient musical codices are full of tropes that set new lyrics to existing tunes. For example, The Codex Carmina Burana is a collection of often-ribald lyrics set to the Gregorian chant tunes that were used in worship at the time. What sets filks apart is that the tunes are generally modern: Broadway show tunes, top-40 radio hits (going back to the 1960s when the SCA got its start), and so on. Filk has been used to teach novice members something about the organization's history (e.g., 'Imperium Compound,' versions of which were unique to each early kingdom and chronicled the reigns of the kings by the supposed foibles of each). SCA filksongs have also been used to protest Society policies or customs, with some success; for example, the famous 'Berzark Rag' protesting the use of excessive striking force advocated by the Society's Earl Marshal in the late 1960s resulted in his removal from office; and the strains of 'Causes of Rebellion' (aka 'Lie to the Council') by Astra of the Grey Shadows have stirred many a political tempest in their day.
Sometimes, awards are given for prowess in the Bardic Arts; though not as developed or common as the martial arts awards, Bards prize this recognition by their peers. Kingdoms and principalities may have a College of Bards. These may be highly structured or very loosely organized.
Many early music performers resist being categorized only as a "bard," because they may have specific cultural interests and prefer to style themselves as minstrels, troubadours, trouvères, minnesingers, skalds, etc.
A common bardic activity is the "Bardic Circle," where performers take turns sharing pieces. Circles may be structured, with participants passing a token to indicate who has the floor, or they may be informal, with performers following each other in no set order. Some circles may have a theme. Feasts are another common venue for musicians to perform individually or in groups (i.e. consorts and plays).
During camping events at night, bards may practice "firewalking" (also known as fyrewalking or fire-crawling): where a performer or small group travel from campsite to campsite offering entertainment or joining other bardic circles in progress. Generally, it is considered polite to welcome a new bard who enters an encampment to perform (harkening back to the days when traveling bards were mostly the only entertainment or news to be had). Besides the applause, Bards may be offered drink, food or other refreshments for their performances.
The Equestrian Guilds promote the study, practice, demonstration, and teaching of equestrian-related activities in the Knowne World. The EQ Guilds encourage participation in games that are modeled on training techniques used by medieval armies, as well as a version of jousting.
At an equestrian event one may see riders competing in such games as:
- Rings, where the rider uses a lance to collect variously-sized rings from tall stands placed in a row;
- Heads, where the rider must weave through a line of poles that have "heads" placed atop, while attempting to knock the heads off with a padded (or "boffer") sword;
- Reeds, where the rider must ride in a straight line between poles that have reeds set atop them, while attempting to knock the reeds off the poles with a padded sword;
- The Quintain, where the rider uses a lance to strike a shield-shaped target mounted on a pole (to simulate striking an opponent in the Joust);
- Pig Sticking, where a rider attempts to put a spear into a target on the ground (not a real pig);
- Mounted Archery, where the rider must control his/her mount while shooting arrows at a target;
- Mounted Crest Combat, where two opponents, wearing steel helmets, "attack" each other with boffer swords, attempting to knock the crest off the other's helmet;
- Jousting. (Note, SCA Equestrian rules prohibit full-contact jousting at this time. Lances are constructed with breakaway foam tips, and riders must be able to easily release the lance if enough force is made upon contact with their opponent.)
Some of these games are designed to teach the rider to control his/her mount and weapon while in a combat situation. Others simulate hunting from horseback. Riders who wish to participate must demonstrate their ability to control a horse at various gaits, and control a horse while holding a weapon. Riders start at the Beginner level riding at a walk, and then advance through intermediate (trot) and advanced (canter or gallop) when they have proven their abilities to the Equestrian marshallate.
The SCA maintains its own College of Arms to register and protect heraldic devices of its members (at least within the Society).
For the first three decades of the Society's existence, all heraldic device submissions had to be checked against extant SCA arms, heraldry taken from or alluding to works of fiction, and coats of arms granted to families alive or extinct. Following a major revision of the SCA's rules for heraldic submissions (known, in memory of Jonathan Swift's, as the "Modest Proposal"), SCA armorial bearings are now checked for conflict only against major coats of arms, devices and symbols that exist in the real world, and arms awarded within the Society itself.
Thus, while a person cannot register the Coat of Arms of Queen Elizabeth II or of France, for example, the SCA's College of Arms no longer checks for device conflicts with arms registered with the several European colleges of arms. In practical terms, the Modest Proposal rendered the Society as autonomous in matters of heraldry as the Colleges of Arms of various nations are in reality.
The Society's College of Arms also registers and maintains SCA names, checking against duplication and ensuring at least minimal period authenticity. In some cases, names that were once acceptable (for example, Fiona) have been shown to be of modern origin and are no longer allowed. Though bearers whose names were approved before such research are not required to change them, no new submissions with names the heralds have documented as having come into use outside the SCA's period will be accepted.
While there is no requirement to register a name and/or device, members are encouraged to do so. Newcomers are often counseled by experienced members on choosing a suitable persona name, and local heralds are usually enthusiastic about helping new members create and register a unique device that represents their personality and interests.
Many SCA events feature food ranging from simple "fighter's fare" or a "peasant lunch" of bread, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and a simple vegetable or meat soup, to elaborate multi-course feasts served over a period of several hours. Such feasts may focus on dishes from England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, or other locations and times within the SCA's period of study. Common dishes are roasted beef or chickens with mustard or other sauces on the side, meat pies, cheese-filled ravioli, green salads, "armored turnips" (turnips sliced and layered with cheese and spices), glazed carrots, applesauce, and pears or apples cooked in wine.
Feasts are not always limited to strictly period foods and recipes, but they rarely include glaringly non-period items such as hamburgers or corndogs (though there was at least one group which put on a feast in which they documented 'beans and weenies'). As with period feasts, there is often an elaborate main dish or dessert called a subtlety. (One group has a running gag at their annual feast in which the main dish is a mythical beast. To make a "sea dragon", for example, they assembled a 5-foot-long (1.5 m) meatloaf with a dozen chicken drumsticks arrayed along each side.)
Cooks who strive to stick to period recipes for their dishes make an effort to ensure that their menus are balanced to allow for modern palates, ingredients, and equipment, or to compensate for tight budgets or labor shortages.
A running joke in the SCA (and at least one song in very deliberate bad taste) concerns the supposed inedibility of feast food. On the contrary, SCA feasts are typically prepared by talented and capable volunteers who work long hours to prepare a good and filling meal—and usually at a cost of only a few dollars per person. Sometimes these amateur efforts even equal or surpass the quality of many expensive restaurants.
Those who work to prepare feasts are highly regarded, customarily being called into the dining area at the conclusion of the feast and thanked with thunderous applause, and many kingdoms provide for awards and titles to be granted to those who excel in this field.
Calligraphy and illumination
Calligraphy is the art of writing beautifully, while illumination is the artwork decorating the page, usually with paint and gold leaf. Together these arts are used to create illuminated manuscripts, commonly called "scrolls" within the SCA. In many kingdoms, the awards that the royalty give in court are accompanied by an illuminated scroll made by a volunteer. Scrolls are also sometimes made to commemorate winning a tournament or competition, or an agreement between two parties within the context of the SCA. Despite the fact that period documents of this sort usually contained little illumination, scrolls are commonly modeled after the pages in Books of Hours, Bibles or other medieval and renaissance manuscripts, including elaborately painted borders around the text. Scribes use a variety of materials to produce these works. As with other arts, the authenticity of the materials used varies from scribe to scribe: paper, parchment or vellum for the writing surface; watercolor, gouache, acrylic or dry pigments mixed with a binder like gum Arabic, tempera (egg yolk) or glair (egg white) for paint; fountain pens, dip pens or quills for writing. Over the Society's history, the arts of calligraphy and illumination have advanced substantially, so that many scribes now use completely authentic materials and tools.
Scribes often attempt to match the period and style of a scroll to the persona of the recipient. While most scrolls are done on paper or vellum, this has occasionally led to SCA scribes creating works on objects ranging from stone tablets to drinking horns. This kind of creativity is generally encouraged, as long as the resulting object maintains a reasonable level of authenticity.
Most SCA Kingdoms have an officer whose responsibility it is to train and nurture scribes and, if the kingdom gives scrolls with its awards, coordinate the production of those scrolls. That officer's title often includes the word "Signet" from the word for a seal used to sign documents in period.
Dance practices are held where Renaissance Dance and English Country Dance are taught in preparation for events and demos. There are also subsets within the SCA that practice and teach Middle Eastern (Egyptian Cabaret, Folkloric and American Tribal Style bellydance) and South Asian (Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi) styles of dance to be performed at events and around campfires.
Many members, including men, enjoy practicing the arts of needlepoint, embroidery, cross-stitch, weaving, lace-making, quilting, kumihimo, spinning, nalbinding, sprang, braiding and dyeing. Period techniques are employed when possible, yielding intricately detailed and useful artwork which beautifies clothing and objects. Embroidery and cross-stitch in particular are often employed to create favors, given as gifts, tokens of affection or awards and often bear the arms or device of the person (usually a lady) giving the favor, or the arms of the SCA Order which the award is being bestowed (Pelican, Laurel, etc.).
With all the varied activities that go on and all of the people that attend events...accidents are bound to happen. The Chirurgeonate are a group of SCA members who volunteer to provide first aid at the various events. As it says in the "Official Chirurgeon's Handbook" "The members of the Chirurgeonate include Red Cross or ASHI-trained first aiders, medical doctors, military medical corpsmen, nurses, paramedics, St. John’s and St. Andrew’s ambulance volunteers, and many other medical volunteers and professionals. We come from all walks of life and from many countries around the globe. We are united as members of the Chirurgeonate for one purpose: to provide first aid at SCA events."[Chirurgeon's Handbook, 2007, 1.1]
Events, which occur on rented sites, vary enormously, offering a wide variety of activities and are attended by garbed participants. SCA events are not typically spectator-oriented so attendees are expected to follow SCA norms including an attempt to dress in pre-17th century garb (clothing). This is one of the primary differences between SCA events and Renaissance Fairs.
Most events will normally finish with a Court to allow for the awarding of honors, and (in some areas) a feast. Evening activities can include bardic circles (formal and informal), medieval dancing, and post-revels (a party usually held at an individual's home).
Combat events and wars
Combat events involve either tournaments with one-on-one SCA armored combat, or wars where teams compete against each other. Events focused on combat often have other activities happening at the same time.
Where a typical event may host anywhere from 20-800 participants over a weekend, the largest wars typically draw thousands from across the Society for up to two weeks. The longest and largest of these events is the Pennsic War—a two-week event in August catering to over 11,000 people participating in everything from combat to dance to history lessons. Combat at a war can involve forces numbering 100 to 3,000 participants on each side and can include safe versions of archery and siege engines. The largest event in Australia is the Rowany Festival.
Several combat-related activities happen independently at an event. Armored combat (swords, axes, etc.), fencing, and target archery may happen simultaneously on separate fields.
Arts and sciences
The SCA promotes the crafts, skills, and technologies practiced in the time period and cultures that the SCA covers. Arts and Sciences range from the recipes used for a feast to the armor used in combat, the clothes and costumes that are worn to the bardic arts of singing, storytelling, poetry and instrumental pieces. An officer in the local group called the Minister of Arts and Sciences is usually in charge of promoting these crafts and aiding members in finding appropriate information. Other events are set up as a learning experience for the members. Typically, classes are given in history or crafts of the period, or in how to better perform activities within the SCA. Topics can range from heraldry, philosophy, and history to costuming, calligraphy, and metalwork. Some "A & S" events have competitions, with the largest offering overall prizes or championships in the arts.
Coronations and investitures
These events center on the changing of the ceremonial leadership of sub-groups from the local Barony up to the Kingdoms. These events typically are more focused on ceremonial affairs, concentrating more on meetings and organization than combat or arts and sciences. As such, they are also more centered on the SCA's internal culture than on historical matters.
Demonstrations or Demos are intended for audiences and are put on by volunteers for a variety of purposes. Schools and community groups may request or be offered demos for education or entertainment. The SCA provides demonstrations of Medieval arts and sciences. Combat demonstrations are usually of SCA-style combat using rattan weapons.
The Society has attempted, somewhat successfully, to become a more family-friendly environment since its founding. Demos provide an opportunity for interested people to get more information about participation in their local branch of the SCA.
As interest levels allow, SCA groups hold regular practices for a variety of activities. These tend to be unofficial and informal affairs where pre-17th century costume, while always welcome, is not required. Some practices are ostensibly for one activity but attract people interested not necessarily in the activity itself but more in socializing. A dance practice, for example, may draw the entire chapter together to 'hang out', while a small percentage actually dance. This serves to help integrate the group and prevent segmentation. These practices range from a variety of things from the various martial activities to the various arts and sciences. These practices serve a multitude of purposes often the most common practices in a group revolve around the arts and combat. In almost every group there is an associated officer that hosts these practices and serves as primarily a liaison between those willing to participate and those willing to teach. These practices are not exclusively held by an overseeing group; sometimes masters of their trade will hold regular practices to take on new students and to continue the education of old ones.
- SCA's "Arts of Combat and Chivalry" web page
- SCA "Handbook of the College of Arms
- Examples of culinary arts
- SCA Governing Documents - http://www.sca.org/docs/govdocs.pdf
- SCA Siege Engine Handbook - http://www.sca.org/officers/marshal/combat/siege/siege_engines_handbook.pdf
- Favors - http://www.florilegium.org/files/ACCESS/On-Favors-art.html
- Chirurgeon's Handbook- http://www.sca.org/officers/chirurgeon/pdf/ChirurgeonsHandbook2007.pdf