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Written by Siobhan Medhbh O'Roarke

Edited and revised with the author's permission, and posted at irregular intervals by Arval Benicoeur . Please send comments and corrections to the poster. This article may be copied and re-published in SCA publications or used as an introductory handout by any SCA participant.
This is not an official publication of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc., and does not define official policy in any regard.
Last revised 13 Aug 93.

The SCA is the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a group dedicated to researching and recreating the Middle Ages in the present. Many groups meet weekly, and at these meetings we dance, talk, study, learn, revel, and make plans. But first, let's get a little bit of info about the SCA in general.

Where did the SCA come from?

The avowed purpose of the SCA is the study and recreation of the European Middle Ages, its crafts, sciences, arts, traditions, literature, etc. The SCA "period" is defined to be Western civilization before 1600 AD, concentrating on the Western European High Middle Ages. Under the aegis of the SCA we study dance, calligraphy, martial arts, cooking, metalwork, stained glass, costuming, literature... well, if they did it, somebody in the SCA does it (Except die of the Plague!).

As you can probably guess, the thing that separates the SCA from a Humanities 101 class is the *active* participation in the learning process. To learn costuming, you design and build costumes. To learn SCA infantry fighting, you make armor, weapons, shields, etc., and put them on and go learn how it feels to wear them when somebody is swinging a (rattan) sword at you. To learn brewing, you make (and sample!) your own wines, meads and beers.

You will frequently hear a SCA person describe the SCA as recreating the Middle Ages "as they ought to have been." In some ways this is true -- we have few plagues, indoor plumbing, few peasants. In the dead of winter we have other things to eat than King's venison, salt pork and dried tubers. However, a better description is that we are *selectively* recreating medieval culture, choosing elements of the culture that interest and attract us.

The SCA was started in 1966 in Berkeley, California by a group of science fiction and fantasy fans who wanted a theme party. Following the party, a group got together to discuss the idea of a medieval re-creation and re-enactment group (which has ended up being much like the Civil War, Revolutionary War or Buckskinning re-enactment groups that were beginning to form in the US). In Britain, medieval and British Civil War recreation societies had existed for any number of years. The Californians incorporated as a non-profit educational society, started forming groups, and away they went.

Since 1966, the society has grown to include over 20,000 paying members in the US, Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, Okinawa, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, and Spain. Many of us guess that for every dues-paying member, there are three or four other active participants.

How is the SCA Organized?

The SCA is a feudal society. The SCA "Knowne World" is divided into thirteen Kingdoms, each with a King and Queen (who rule by right of arms), a Prince and Princess (heirs to the throne), and a council or Curia of Great Officers who handle the day to day business of running the kingdom.

A feudal society takes its form from the idea of service and duty. A noble owes duty of service to his lord, who might be a Baron or Knight. In return, his lord owes protection from danger and food, money, etc., when times are bad. For his own part, the lord owes fealty (the word that encompasses this idea of reciprocal responsibilities) to his own overlord, and so on up the ladder to the King. In return for their service as good stewards of the land and readily available warriors, the King owes Knights, Barons, and other high nobles protection, honor, and a return of money, food, etc., in times of hardship. It is something like the idea of a Pyramid club, but the benefits are greater and the ideas of personal honor and mutual responsibility, not profit, tie the structure together (or at least it did in Europe for nearly a thousand years).

In the SCA this structure underlies our Society, although not nearly as rigidly as in the medieval days. Our King, the head of our Kingdom and our liege lord, has fought in a Crown Tournament for the right to make his Lady Queen and the right to wear the crown. Royalty are bound by the laws and customs of the kingdom and the Society as a whole, but still wield significant power over their subjects. Of course, four to six months later there is a new King, with different ideas. Life can get interesting.

Fighting in the SCA, or Why are those people hitting each other?

Fighting in the SCA evolved from what happened when two armed knights were unhorsed and had to fight on the ground. It resembles nothing so much as medieval foot tournaments. There are two basic types of SCA fights: single combat, and group or team battles, known as melees. SCA fighting does have rules. The first, and most important rule, is that each and every fighter on the field has honor. The fighter keeps faith with his honor by accepting blows that would be killing or wounding (more about this a little later).

The second basic principle is like the first; A fighter keeps faith with his brother fighters by acknowledging his opponent's word -- if he says a blow was too light to cause injury, then it was light. Since we prefer that no one get hurt, SCA fighting is done with real armor (made with leather, metal, padding, kydex, etc) and rattan swords. Rattan is that bamboo-y stuff, only with a solid core, that furniture is made of. Rattan, surprisingly enough, is springy enough to absorb some of the force of the blow (although blows are *real solid*) and light enough to approximate a real steel sword. Swords are made by wrapping rattan staffs with strapping tape, covering them with duct tape for aesthetic reasons, and attaching some sort of crosspiece or guard. Armor is much more complex -- some armor, being made of steel, rivets, leather, etc, can take more than 40 hours per piece of armor (for example, a gauntlet, or armored glove, with moving fingers and joints can take upwards of 75 hours to complete).

There are several essential and required pieces of armor -- helm, neck and cervical vertebrae protection, elbows and knees, kidneys, hands, groin. After that, most SCA fighters wear chest, leg, arm and forearm, and foot protection.

Before being allowed to participate in combat without close supervision, each fighter is trained by senior fighters, and must be judged safe by an officer called a "marshal." This training aims at ensuring that the fighter is safe to himself or herself and to other, and typically lasts a few months. As part of this training, the novice fighter is taught how to recognize a "good" blow. Each fighter judges whether blows received in combat strike hard enough to do injury through armor. If the blow is "good" to an arm or leg, the fighter will give up use of that limb; if the blow is good to the head or body, the fighter is "dead," and falls to the ground, signaling that his opponent is victorious. At the end of training, each fighter must prove to a panel of marshals that he is competent to fight on his own. If the panel decides the fighter is safe (not good, you understand, but unlikely to hurt him or herself or an opponent) they authorize him or her to fight in tournaments. This process (from starting to fight to being authorized) can take from a couple of months to a year or more.

We also have added a form of dueling, which simulates the honorable combat found toward the end of our period. We use collegiate fencing masks and blades, primarily, (some areas use heavier weapons.) We fence in the round and use weapons or blocking implements in both hands. As with sword and shield combat, we require authorization for safety reasons. In period dueling would have been done in street dress: we require padded jackets and other safety gear, but often it is constructed to appear as street clothes. It has become quite popular in the last five years.

Our other official combat sport is archery. We offer both target shooting, and in some places we allow light weight bows and very special arrows to be used in simulations of combat archery. Again, we are extremely concerned with safety.

Why Do You All Have Such Funny Names?

Every person in the SCA picks a name to use in the Society choosing a name appropriate to some time and place within the historical scope of the Society. It could be something simple and familiar (John of Wardcliff) or something elaborate and exotic (Oisin Dubh mac Lochlainn). Some SCA members try to create a "persona" which could have lived in some time and place within the scope of the SCA, and fit their garb and activities to that persona; some people try to live at events as if they were their personae. Other folk simply pick a name and go ahead with life in the "Current Middle Ages."

Even our towns have medieval names. Lansing, MI, is Northwoods, Toronto is Eoforwic, Boston is Carolingia, the San Francisco bay area is the Principality of the Mists, etc.

The SCA has its own College of Arms, which assists members in choosing their SCA names and heraldic devices. The College of Arms assists members in their research to ensure that their names and devices are appropriate to the medieval world we try to create.

Rank in the SCA, or How Come She is Wearing a Crown?

The SCA has an elaborate system of rank, awards, and honors, which are granted to individual members by the royalty in return for various kinds of service to the Society. SCA rank is earned, not inherited: Everyone is presumed to be minor nobility to start, but any noble titles or honors used in the SCA must be earned in the SCA. Many new members (and lots of long-time members!) find the SCA's system of rank to be rather peculiar, in that it differs rather radically from medieval practice. Like many of the SCA's institutions, our system of rank wasn't so much planned as growed. It seems to serve our needs most of the time, but don't be surprised to hear people discussing how it could be improved.

There are two sorts of peers in the SCA; Royal Peers and Awarded Peers. Royal Peers are folk who have ruled a Kingdom or Principality at least once. Ex-Princes are Viscounts, Ex-Princesses Viscountesses, and from there it gets complex. Those who have been King or Queen once are Counts/Countesses. Those who have been King or Queen twice are Dukes/Duchesses. Those who have been King or Queen more than that are generally considered masochistic! (Small in-joke!) There are many who have reigned at least three times, and in the West there is a legendary Duke who has been King eight times.

Other sorts of Peers are folk who, by dint of talent, hard work, and long effort, have earned recognition for their contributions and skills. There are three awarded peerage orders, all of which have the same basic requirements: new companions must be honorable and courteous, familiar with the basic gentle arts of a medieval court, and should have proven their dedication to the Society and its ideals. These orders rank equally. The oldest of the peerage orders is the Chivalry. The chivalry, who include the Knights, are fighters who have achieved great skill at arms, and who are considered by the other members of the Chivalry to be models of prowess, chivalry, and honor. The knight is considered by many to be the central figure in our medieval mythos. Second oldest is Order of the Laurel, which is awards to craftsmen and artists recognized for their research in medieval crafts, their willingness to teach their skills, and their skill at their arts. The laurel wreath was anciently used to crown victors at Greek games, great poets, etc., and has always been a mark of achievement and skill. Finally, there is the Order of the Pelican, given to those whose work in service to the SCA has made a great difference. Companions of the Pelican are often skilled bureaucrats -- somebody *has* to do the hard paperwork of running a Kingdom of 3000 people, and some people keep working at this sort of task for years. The Pelican was thought in medieval times to be the most self-sacrificing animal: It was thought a Pelican would pierce her beast to allow her heart's blood to drip into the mouths of her offspring when food was short. Peers are created by the desire of the King and Queen in accordance with the recommendations of the companions of the order.

Feasting, Dancing and Merrymaking

One of the most interesting parts of the SCA is "events", our word for the times when we put on our medieval clothing, go out and dance those dances we've been practicing, flirt, eat, talk, and generally have a good time. Events are held almost every weekend of the year somewhere; some weekends there may be as many as a couple dozen events scattered around the SCA. Most groups hold at least one event per year; some larger groups will hold two or more. At events there are often tournaments, art exhibits or competitions, classes on all manner of medieval skills, workshops, and, later in the evening, a medieval feast, Royal or Baronial Court, and dancing. There are many different kinds of events, and the common pattern varies from place to place and season to season. The events are the most fun to most folk, because you get to go and show off all the things you have been learning in the past few months.

What Kind of Person Joins the SCA?

SCA folk tend to be people like you and me -- just plain folks, but people who enjoy doing something more with their weekends. It seems that a high percentage of SCA members are involved in high tech fields -- Computers, Aerospace, high energy physics, etc. Perhaps the attraction the SCA holds for them can be attributed to the fact that people who send all week with highly complex, modern technology find it relaxing to spend their leisure time working with a different kind of technology, in a less modern setting. There are lots of people in all fields in the SCA -- historians, writers, secretaries, law enforcement personnel, teachers, programmers, insurance agents -- the appeal of the SCA is widespread.


A housemate of a SCA person recently said: "From what I can tell about these wild and crazy SCA people, they do more than just this fighting thing. They really like to make and wear the medieval clothes (garb), eat the medieval food, dance the medieval dances to the medieval music, maybe even make their own medieval music, and other medieval party type activities. They also seem to like to be medieval so they can relax and have a good time. They are quite willing to talk about SCA or invite you to the SCA stuff or whatever."

How You Can Get Involved

We welcome you to our local meetings and our events. You needn't join the SCA, Inc, to attend and participate (although if you decide to be with us regularly you may wish to join). The only requirement to come to an event is that you make some attempt at pre-1650 costume -- and most groups have "loaner" costumes for people who want to come to their first event. Each SCA participant remembers the day s/he started, and most people are happy to help out a newcomer. Many local groups have officers whose sole duty is to help new members find their way into the SCA.


If you want more information about groups near you, you can call our corporate office in Milpitas, CA, at (408) 263-9305, or post an inquiry on on the Net.

Welcome to the current middle ages!

To which we would like to add the following suggestions:

  1. Don't believe everything you are told. There are many people who like to look like they know everything. If you can't check it out for yourself, don't believe it.
  2. Most people who repeat rumors are liars at best.
  3. The SCA NEVER forgets. If you offend someone, they will probably remember it for the next twenty years.
  4. Don't wear a crown, coronet, white belt or baldric, or spurs. They mean something here.
  5. Leave other people's property alone. STRICTLY alone!
  6. Don't mess with other people's Significant Others. EVER.
  7. If a person says "No" to a sexual advance, THEY MEAN IT. Don't push it.
  8. Act nice. Be nice. Be polite.

Don't join a group within the SCA until you have watched them in action for a while. Most of the groups (households, guilds and so forth) are OK, but there are, unfortunately, some that might turn out to be not to your liking. Just hang around for a while, don't be pressured, and make up your OWN mind.


Keep an eye on your kids, if any. We are not baby-sitters. Most SCA people will keep an eye on kids, BUT: it's not our job, it's yours. If you tend to bring your kids to events and let them run wild on a regular basis, then you might get "talked to" about it. You are messing up other people's fun by doing this, so....make your OWN arrangements for your OWN kids.


The SCA is NOT a fantasy role-playing game. If you want to be some kind of Science Fiction/Fantasy character, most people won't care....but they will think of you as some kind of nerd who has no clue as to why the SCA exists. Play the same game as we do. If you want to be an elf, or a 10th level D&D Wizard, go to a Science Fiction Convention.


Most SCA people will treat adolescents as adults. If you are an adolescent, act like an adult. Be responsible. THINK. Don't break mundane laws at SCA events. Leave the head-banger tapes at home. Play the Game with the rest of us, and have a good time. You are welcome.


Remember that in the SCA your reputation will go with you for the whole time you are active. People in the SCA have LONG memories for jerks. Take this as a friendly warning: BE NICE, and BE HONEST. Don't think that by moving to another Barony or Kingdom that you will escape it. SCA people are -close- to each other, and DO talk to each other a lot, no matter how far away they might live.


The following is a direct quote of the decision on matters of religion and magic by the Board of Directors of the SCA inc.

Governing and Policy Decision #6 (June -80, revised July 88)

"Having no wish to recreate the religious conflict of the period under study, the Society for Creative Anachronism, Incorporated, shall neither establish nor prohibit any system of belief among its members. No one shall perform any religious or magical ceremony at a Society event (or in association with the name of the Society) in such a way as to imply that the ceremony is authorized, sponsored, or promulgated by the society or to force anyone at a Society event, by direct or indirect pressure, to observe or join the ceremony. However, this provision is in no way intended to discourage the study of historical belief systems and their effects on the development of Western culture."

"Except as provided herein, neither the Society nor any member acting in its name or that of any of its parts shall interfere with any person's lawful ceremonies, nor shall any member discriminate against another upon grounds related to either's system of belief."

Note in particular that there is nothing which prohibits any form of magical -or- religious ceremony at an event; all that is prohibited is performing them in such a way as to require people to participate, or to imply that they are official activities of the SCA, Inc.

It is considered beyond the bounds of good taste to denigrate or harass people for religious reasons within the SCA, and such activity could get you booted from the group.

We have believers in many faiths in the SCA. Be tolerant. If you wish to spread the message of your Faith, well and good, but do it gently and quietly. If you are seriously annoying, or interfere with others, then you may be asked to leave, NOT because of your beliefs, but because you are being a jerk.


-Alisky MacKyven Raizel

There are many different kinds of SCA events, and going to your first event can be a bit scary. You might wonder what the event will be like and what things you will need to bring. In general, there a indoor events (Coronation/12th Night) and outdoor events (Tournaments). ther are, of course, other events that don't fit these general categories (Game tourneys, picnics, The Festival of the Rose, etc.). Check the Kingdom newsletter for information about the day's activities; call the Autocrat if you have any questions.

Outdoor events:

Planning: Check the schedule for the event. Most SCA Tournaments last all day, from set-up in the morning to Closing Court in the (late) afternooe and on to a Revel in the evening. What do you need to plan for? Something to wear, a place to sit during the day, lunch and some activity that interests you. Something to wear-- the basic tenet of the SCA is that everyone makes an attempt to wear a medieval or renaissance costume. For a Tournament this can be as fancy or as simple as you wish. Clothing for outdoor events is often termed Field Costume or Field Garb. This means the outfit is easily washable but can range from a simple tunic through Elizabethan. Simple costumes for your first event can be obtained from Gold Key or you can construct your own. There are costuming articles in the Known World Handbook as well as in the Compleat Anachronist pamphlet series.

A Place to Sit-- In some parks, all you need is a blanket to spead out under the trees; in others you will need some type of a sunshade an your own chair (a director's chair is pretty standard). Find out if there are others going to the event who will let you share their sunshade or pavilion. If not, a simple sunshade with aluminum poles can be cheaply purchased. Eventually you will want to replace the poles with wood poles or replace the sunshade with a more period pavilion.

lunch: occasionally there is food for sale at at Tournament but usually you will need to provide lunch for yourself. A satisfying lunch can be made from lunch meats, bread rolls, cheese, raw vegetables, dessert and something to drink. All of this can be purchased in a market and carried to the event in a small cooler or ice chest (cover it with cloth). Of course, more elaborate meals can also be planned (see the Known World Handbook for articles) You will also need some basic utensils; a plate, goblet, bowl and eating utensils. These can be obtained at Cost Plus and other similar stores at a reasonable cost.

Activities- While you may be perfectly content at your first event to sit and watch, you may also want to bring something to do during slow moments. You may want to bring some type of needlework to work on or other type of handwork (leatherwork, macrame), a game board such as backgammon or chess, or a sketch pad. You may also wnat to get involved in the events going on. Volunteer to help the Mistress of Lists, learn Field Heraldry, be a Marshall in Training, offer to help the Autocrat.

Opening Court-- This is when the King and Queen (and/or Baron and Baroness) address the populace, announcements for the day are made, awards given out and presentations are done. Everyone should attend court and should be as quiet as possible out of respect for the Crown and in order to hear what's going on.

Lists-- this is a term you will see in the schedule for the day. It has several different (but connected) meanings. it is another term for the fighting competition, as in 'fighting in lists' or 'the winner of the lists'. It also refers to signing up in order to fight in the competition as in "Lists will open at 9:00' and 'Lists are now closed'. Lastly, it refers also to the order of combat in the competition.

Fighting begins-- The fighting portion of the Tournament starts. Tourneys are generally double-eliminations (which means a fighter has two defeats before he or she is eliminated from the competition) and are held in rounds. Often there is an opening general melee in which all the fighters participate.

Closing court-- At the end of the day, after the final round of the fighting portion of the day, closing court is held. Again the King and Queen (and/or Baron and Baroness) address the populace, announcements are made, contest winners are named and generally the winner of the fighting is honored.

Revel-- this is an SCA-style party. It is usually held several hours after the end of a Tourney, giving people time to go out to dinner. The revel is often held at a separate site away from the Tourney location. There may be dancing, entertainment, contests, a bardic circle, and evening court and light refreshments. It's a wonderful time to meet new people, talk and relax. In some Kingdoms, it includes a banquet.


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