|Society for Creative Anachronism|
Arms of The Society for Creative Anachronism
Blazon: Or, a laurel wreath vert.
|Type||Historical reenactment society|
The Society for Creative Anachronism (often called the SCA) is a living history group with the aim of studying and recreating mainly Medieval European cultures and their histories before the 17th century. A quip often used within the SCA describes it as a group devoted to the Middle Ages "as they ought to have been," choosing to "selectively recreate the culture, choosing elements of the culture that interest and attract us." Founded in 1966, the society had about 32,000 members as of 2008 .
The Society for Creative Anachronism's roots can be traced to a backyard graduation party of a medieval studies graduate, the author Diana Paxson, in Berkeley, California, on May Day in 1966. The party began with a "Grand Tournament" in which the participants wore motorcycle helmets, fencing masks, and usually some semblance of a costume, and whacked away at each other with weapons including plywood swords, padded maces, and even a fencing foil. It ended with a parade down Telegraph Avenue with everyone singing "Greensleeves". It was styled as a "protest against the 20th century". The SCA still measures dates within the society from the date of that party, calling the system Anno Societatis (Latin for "in the Year of the Society"). For example, 2009 May 1 to 2010 April 30 is A.S. XLIV (44). The name "Society for Creative Anachronism" was coined by science fiction author Marion Zimmer Bradley, an early participant, when the nascent group needed an official name in order to reserve a park for a tournament.
In 1968, Bradley moved to Staten Island, New York and founded the Kingdom of the East, holding a tournament that summer to determine the first Eastern King of the SCA. That September, a tournament was held at the World Science Fiction Convention, which was in Berkeley that year. The SCA had produced a book for the convention called A Handbook for the Current Middle Ages, which was a how-to book for people wanting to start their own SCA chapters. Convention goers purchased the book and the idea spread. Soon, other local chapters began to form. In October 1968, the SCA was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in California. By the end of 1969, the SCA's three original kingdoms had been established: West, East, and Middle. All SCA kingdoms trace their roots to these original three. The number of SCA kingdoms has continued to grow by the expansion and division of existing kingdoms; for example, the Outlands, Artemisia, Ansteorra, Gleann Abhann, Meridies, and Trimaris all originally belonged to the fourth kingdom, Atenveldt, which began as a branch of the West.
The SCA is divided into administrative regions which it calls kingdoms. Smaller branches within those kingdoms include Principalities, Regions, Baronies, and Provinces, and local chapters are known as Cantons, Ridings, Shires, Colleges, Strongholds, and Ports. Kingdoms, Principalities, and Baronies have ceremonial rulers who preside over activities and issue awards to individuals and groups. Colleges, Strongholds, and Ports are local chapters (like a shire) that are associated with an institution, such as a school, military base, or even a military ship at sea.
All SCA branches are organized in descending order as follows:
Groups are active all over the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, with scattered groups elsewhere, including the Panama Canal Zone. At one time there was even a group on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, known as the "Shire of Curragh Mor" (anglicized Irish for "Big Boat"), and the shire's arms played on the Nimitz's ship's badge. There is also an active chapter in South Korea, the Stronghold of Warrior's Gate, with a mix of active duty military personnel from the several services and military-connected civilians. There are also local and regional sub-groups, usually called "households", which are not part of the Society's formal organization, the largest of which is the Mongol Empire-themed Great Dark Horde.
The SCA is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in California, with its current headquarters in the city of Milpitas, California. It is headed by a board of directors, each of which is nominated by the membership of the SCA, selected by sitting directors, and elected to serve for 3.5 years. Each director serves as an ombudsman for various kingdoms and society officers. The BoD, as it is called, is responsible for handling the corporate affairs of the SCA and is also in charge of certain disciplinary actions, such as revoking the membership status of participants who have broken Corpora regulations or modern law while participating in SCA activities.
The nineteen SCA Kingdoms are (in order of founding):
The Society as a whole, each kingdom, and each local group within a kingdom, all have a standard group of officers with titles loosely based on medieval equivalents.
Members of the SCA study and take part in a variety of activities, including combat, archery, equestrian activities, costuming, cooking, metalwork, woodworking, music, dance, calligraphy, fiber arts, etc.
To aid historical recreation, participants in the SCA create historically plausible characters known individually as a persona. To new members, a persona can simply be a costume and a name used for weekend events, while other members may study and create an elaborate personal history. The goal of a well crafted persona is a historically accurate person who might have lived in a particular historical time and place. The SCA has onomastic students who try to assist members in creating a persona name which could have existed in a particular time and place within the SCA's studied period. However, claiming to be a specific historical individual, especially a very familiar one (e.g. Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Henry Plantagenet, Queen Elizabeth I), is not permitted. Likewise, one is not allowed to claim the persona of a fellow SCA member, alive or dead. Nor is one allowed to take on the persona of a sufficiently familiar fictional character (e.g. Robin of Locksley or Robin Hood).
A major dimension to the SCA is its internal system of Heraldry. Any member of the society may apply to register Arms for their persona, which are checked by the heralds for uniqueness and period authenticity, before being blazoned and recorded in the society's Armorial. The system has evolved since the formation of the society; and now has three Sovereigns of Arms, with Pursuivants for each Kingdom.
The SCA has ceremonial rulers chosen by winning tournaments (Kings/Queens, Princes/Princesses) in SCA Heavy Combat. Barons and Baronesses are appointed by Royalty, although some baronies hold elections or competitions to choose their preferred Baron and/or Baroness. One of the primary functions of state for reigning monarchs is to recognize participant achievement through awards. Most awards denote excellence in a specific pursuit such as local service, arts and sciences, and combat. Some awards change the precedence and title of the recipient, giving him or her the privilege of being known as "Lord"/"Lady", "Baron", "Duchess", "Master", and so forth. High level awards are often given with the consultation of the other people who have received the award, such as peerages and consulting orders.
Each SCA kingdom is "ruled" by a king and queen chosen by winning a Crown Tournament in armoured combat. This is required by Corpora to be held as a "properly constituted armored combat" tournament. The winner of the Crown Tournament and his/her Consort are styled "Crown Prince and Princess" and serve an advisory period (three to six months, depending upon the scheduling of the Crown Tournament) under the current King and Queen prior to acceding to the throne and ruling in their turn.
The highest ranking titles in the SCA belong to the royalty, followed by the former royalty. Former kings and queens become counts and countesses (dukes and duchesses if they have reigned more than once), and former princes and princesses of Principalities become viscounts and viscountesses. This system is not historically based, but was developed out of practical necessity early in the Society's history.
Directly beneath this "landed" nobility (current and former royalty) rank the highest awards, the Peerages. The SCA has three orders of peerage: the Order of Chivalry, awarded for skill at arms; the Order of the Laurel, awarded for skill in the arts and sciences; and the Order of the Pelican, awarded for outstanding service to the Society.
In May, 1999, The Onion ran a front-page article headlined "Society For Creative Anachronism Seizes Control Of Russia" featuring photos of actual SCA participants from the Madison, Wisconsin Barony of Jaravellir.
Members of the SCA are given pivotal roles in S.M. Stirling's Emberverse series; where their skills in pre-industrial technology and warfare become invaluable in helping humanity adapt when all modern technology (including firearms) ceases working.
The novel Murder at the War (Knightfall in paperback edition) is a detective story concerning a murder that takes place at the SCA's largest annual event, Pennsic War. The story takes place entirely at Pennsic.
In the David Weber science fiction novel Field of Dishonor, main character Honor Harrington mentions that her uncle is a member of the SCA and that he taught her to shoot from the hip (the time the SCA covers having been moved up to the 1800s in the future era in which the novel is set, to include cowboy and Civil War reenactors).
In Christopher Stasheff's "Warlock" Series the inhabitants of the planet Gramarye are revealed to be descended from SCA participants.
The SCA will use modern elements when necessary (like plastic-framed eyeglasses) or to promote safety (like replacing steel swords with rattan during combat). Also, most SCA gatherings do not reenact a specific time or place in history as do most living history groups (e.g. Colonial Williamsburg). For this reason, SCA events are more self-referential to individual members' personas where several cultures and historic periods can be represented at an event. For example, in a tournament, a Roman may fight a 15th-century knight, then a Viking, and even an American Indian. Thus the SCA may be more of a subculture than a reenactment group. For instance, the discussions of the Grand Council of the SCA, an advisory group to the Board of Directors, debated this at length. There is evidence that the SCA is recognized in the popular culture as a subculture "fan" group, not a reenactment group.
One argument in the SCA is the meaning of "Creative Anachronism". An oft-quoted though unofficial SCA motto is "The Middle Ages as they should have been" – that is to say, lacking such undesirable elements as religious persecution, bubonic plague, and open-pit sewers. Another element of the Society is a ban on public religious ceremonies or proselytizing, in stark contrast to the real Middle Ages, and overt displays of religion are discouraged in many areas.
Despite such criticisms, there is some educational quality to the group's activities and they have helped to foster a good deal of valuable research, especially in the area of medieval crafts.
While the Kings and Queens do have a significant influence within their individual kingdoms and the larger Society during their reigns, their duties are primarily ceremonial. The day-to-day business of running the Society is performed by volunteers or appointees in kingdom-level offices, and by the Society's Board of Directors. In fact, the Board of Directors can strip any Crown of its authority (retroactively to the beginning of their reign, even after it has ended) if that authority is abused. To date this has never occurred, although the Board has on several occasions voided individual awards given by Kings and Queens (usually for raising an individual from another kingdom into the peerage without first obtaining permission from their fellow sovereign), or banned individuals from competing for the Crown for a certain period.
The extent of the Crown's authority also varies from kingdom to kingdom. Argument over the extent of royal influence is another strong element of the SCA's internal culture. One view of this can be found in Mike Woodford's Trends of Change in the SCA.
SCA peerages are bestowed as lifetime awards to those who receive them, though the recipient may surrender the title if he or she so wishes. It is possible, although usually difficult, to again receive a peerage so surrendered. Peerages are bestowed by the Crown (the Sovereign and Consort) of a Kingdom. In most cases, this is done with the consent of the members of a given peerage, often at their suggestion. The Society's Bylaws state that "the Crown may elevate subjects to the Peerage by granting membership in one of the Orders conferring a Patent of Arms, after consultation with the members of the Order within the Kingdom, and in accordance with the laws and customs of the kingdom. Restriction: to advance a candidate to the Order of Knighthood, a Knight of the Society (usually the King) must bestow the accolade."
Some people criticize the SCA because it does not require its members to adhere to as high a standard of authenticity as other living-history or reenactment groups. Other SCA members stipulate the fact that they are not 100% authentic in their recreations and merely add that this is the reason they have the word "creative" in their name. This attitude has created the unofficial motto: "The Middle Ages not as they were, but as they should have been." This tension is highlighted by David Friedman in his articles "A Dying Dream" and "Concerning the C in SCA".[20 ]
SCA events tend to be unique to the SCA's culture. For instance, events can be heavily dominated by court and award granting, the bi-yearly (or, in one kingdom, tri-yearly) combat for the royal seats and subsequent coronations. Some SCA events have been dedicated to particular historic events or have portions of their camping sectioned off for only strict reenactment, sometimes called "Enchanted Ground", in which much more strenuous attempts are made to keep anachronistic objects and actions out. However, this is not the norm.
Although it may be a false dichotomy, the distinction between the goals of fun and authenticity is an ongoing philosophical conflict within the Society. See, for example, the debates from rec.org.sca, the SCA newsgroup on USENET.
SCA Armored Combat techniques are highly developed and many techniques commonly seen at events are based on what works with SCA weapons and armor rather than those used in history. As a result of deviations from historical combat, SCA combat is often placed into the category of "sport fighting" by critics and some participants alike. However, it would be hyperbolic to declare that all SCA combat techniques are historically inaccurate. The SCA hosts events where hundreds and sometimes thousands of participants enter the combat field. As a non-profit organization, the SCA is also bound by insurance company mandates where participant safety is involved, regardless of the number of participants. Such policies do impact certain combat techniques and their historical accuracy.
Some SCA combat techniques include things that work with SCA combat and armor as well as more historically accurate techniques, depending on the group observed and on what techniques and weapons they employ. There are SCA regional groups and individuals over the globe who research and teach historical combat techniques for medieval weaponry where possible. As with all other areas of historical research, the quality of one's work is dependent upon the surviving material for study as well as the effort an individual puts into research.
The broad historical scope of the SCA, as well as a notable absence of documentation on certain fighting styles and techniques, requires participants to fill in the gaps as best possible using knowledge of other combat techniques. The most well known of these changes is that the knee and below are invalid targets within the Chivalric combat style. Another known change is that certain historical weapons are not allowed as there is no safe way to construct an approximation of historical weight and function, as with the flail.
Rapier combat has a greater abundance of surviving historical documentation of various fighting styles from Europe's fencing academies, both in original language and translated forms, and many practitioners attempt to fight in a historically accurate style using a more historically accurate Renaissance-style blade. SCA rapier combat also makes concessions of accuracy for safety by disallowing percussive cuts, though there is currently investigation into the subject under the experimental "Sidesword" program.
These deviations from historical fighting techniques have led critics to classify SCA combat as "sport fighting" rather than "re-creation fighting", regardless of the reasoning behind them.
Actual medieval monarchs were not chosen by Tournament combat. There are, however, literary and historical bases for the custom, most famously the tournament in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. In the Middle Ages, there were a number of different "mock king" games, some of which involved some form of combat, such as King of the Mountain or the King of Archers. In the 17th century the Cotswold Games were developed, the winner of which was declared to be "king". Also, the medieval sagas contain accounts of uniting petty kingdoms under a single king through actual combat.
The SCA's first event did not choose a "king". Fighters vied for the right to declare their ladies (only men fought at the first event) "fairest", later called the "Queen of Love and Beauty".