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SCA SURVIVAL 101

The SCA FAQ

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.
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This is not an official publication of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc., and does not define official policy in any regard.
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Last revised 13 Aug 93.
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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.

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Where did the SCA come from?
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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.

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How is the SCA Organized?
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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.

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