Disclaimer and product warning label: The following is not an official publication of the Society for Creative Anachronism. It is not intended as a rip-off of Curious George (TM), Houghton Mifflin Publishing or the late H.A. and Margret Rey, creators of Curious George. Frankly, Houghton Mifflin should have known what it was getting into when it licensed the production of loveable monkeys who need good homes. Besides, we don't expect to get a single bruised banana for this endeavor. However, this writer rather hopes that the Reys might have been amused by what follows, given that their wonderful character has been exploring the world and learning new things by doing since 1941.
George was so very excited. It was a beautiful spring Saturday morning at his very first SCA event. He tumbled out of my car and climbed up onto the table at the gate to pay his site fee and sign in.
"You know, George," the constable told him, "part of attending an SCA event means wearing the kind of clothes people wore before the 17th century. Besides, if everyone is wearing medieval garb, you'll feel more like you're part of things if you do too. Go look for the tent with a big gold key on the sign. They can lend you something to wear."
GATE: The entry to the site and to the event, where you sign in and pay your site fee, if any. Some kingdoms use the term "troll." Sometimes the gate volunteers will have a site handout for you. Be sure to read it as it includes important information on what's going on and any rules that the site owner requires.
CONSTABLE: These volunteers assist with gate duties, security and lost and found. They wear blue tabards or baldrics with gold maces so you can identify them.
Sure enough, George found a tent with key signs all over it! "You've come to the right place," said the Lady In The Persian Hat.
GOLD KEY refers to the volunteers who can lend you something to wear if you do not yet have something appropriate.
GARB is a common SCA term used to differentiate between clothing of a style which might have been worn before 1600 and modern day dress. You might hear modern clothes referred to as "mundanes."
The CHATELAINE (sometimes also known as CASTELLAN or HOSPITALLER) welcomes visitors and new members. If you are new, ask to be directed to the chatelaine. This person can help you get oriented.
In only a few minutes, the Lady In The Persian Hat helped George find something to wear: a bright red tunic and a coif (a type of medieval cap). "There," she said, "Now you look very stylish." (To see the inspiration for George's medieval clothing, click here.)
George looked around excitedly. Beautiful tents stood all around the List Field and colored banners fluttered in the breeze. "That's the royal pavilion," said the Lady In The Persian Hat, pointing to the large yellow one with the green laurel wreath and crown on the roof. "That's where the King and Queen hold court. If you hear a herald say, 'Draw nigh for Their Majesties' Court,' you should go and watch what happens."
At outdoor events, THE LIST FIELD, BATTLEFIELD (or in the West Kingdom, the ERIC) is the main field where fighting and other activities take place. The field itself is usually fenced off with flagged ropes and stakes, and people pitch their tents and sunshades around the field, allowing space for a walkway all the way around. For your safety, stay outside the ropes whenever anyone is fighting.
George is being a little bit naughty here: sitting ON the list ropes is not the best place to try to watch a tourney from, even if you're really short.
When he tried to watch from ground level at Mists Coronet the following weekend, he couldn't see over the tall spring grass! What's a monkey to do?
Look for tents bearing black and white banners or signs with the words "Guests Welcome." This means the owner(s) of that tent are happy to share their space and vantage point with visitors.
It is always polite to ask permission before entering or passing through anyone's encampment. After all, you wouldn't just walk into somebody else's house without knocking! It is also polite to relinquish your seat if the owner comes back and asks you to.
The HERALD serves many functions: "town crier," announcer of combatants in the tourney, master of ceremonies during royal court. You can identify a herald on duty by their green baldric or tabard with gold crossed trumpets. The Voice of the Crown, it is customary to stop one's conversation or lower one's voice when a herald is making an announcement, so that others can hear what is being said because it may be important. You'll hear polite people say, "Thank you, Herald," when one has finished a duty shout. It's even nicer to offer them something to drink, particularly if they've been making the rounds to cry a very large camp.
George watched the fighting for awhile. It was very exciting - and very loud. He had expected the swords to go "clang," but they actually went "bang" or "thump." "That's because the swords are made out of rattan," an Old Used Duke told him. "It's safer that way. We want to kill our friends, not hurt them." George pointed at the other people inside the list ropes. They were holding long striped staves, like black and yellow candy canes or really skinny bees. "Those are the marshals. They make sure that the fighting is done safely."
The Old Used Duke explained it well. The MARSHAL inspects the fighters' armor and weapons before fighting begins and monitors the fighting while it goes on to make sure that everything is done as safely as possible. There are marshals for armored combat, rapier, archery, equestrian games, even children's boffer fighting.. All of them are our safety officers. If you hear somebody shout "Hold!" that means to stop. It's a Very Good Idea to pay attention even if you are not fighting because that "Hold!" might mean that there's something dangerous going on near you!
There was so much to see and do! George visited the Arts and Sciences Pavilion where there was a lot of brown going on that day. Brown ink, brown dye, brown yarn, brown everything. People had made all sorts of brown medieval things and brought them to show what they'd done and how. There was another tent full of ladies sewing and talking. George was once mistaken for a pincushion, so he hurried past the sewing ladies, just in case.
Lady Sylvie invited him to her tent for a snack. George liked the nuts and apricots. He thought the olives sour, but remembered to be on his best behavior and not say say so.
Then he found Merchants' Row! There were all sorts of things for sale: sharp things and shiny things and things that smelled good. Knives and swords and drinking mugs and jingly belts and bright scarves and rolls of colored fabric and books with pictures and books without pictures and furry hats and rings and incense that smelled like bananas, cloak pins and amber and ribbons and pewter dishes and fancy clothes.
George thought the drinking horn with the brass leaves was pretty. I told him he was too small to own a flanged mace.
This is Jillian. She comes from the Shire of Wolfscairn and likes embroidery.
This is Lady Gillian. She spells and pronounces her name a little differently and is wearing the sort of clothes a Viking woman would wear.
It's easy to make friends when you find you have things in common. Baroness Ghislaine and Lady Gisela played "pull my finger" with George. Their names all begin with G.
A Very Wise Lady once said, "Gentlemen, honor all ladies. Ladies, remain worthy of honor." George politely admired Lady Flidais' purple hat.
ALWAYS ask permission before touching someone or something.
Kirby and George played "equestrian" together.
ALWAYS ask the owner before you approach a strange pet. There are so many things going on at an event that the animal may be excited or scared by it.
George even got to meet Her Majesty, Queen Constantina. He could tell she was the Queen because she was the most beautiful lady there and she wears a crown of silver roses. King Alden, who was busy with affairs of state, wears a crown of silver oak leaves. The crowns are very pretty, but they're very heavy too. Being Royalty is hard work!
The King and Queen are addressed as "Your Majesty. Princes and Princesses are called "Your Highness." There are other titles and items of clothing that are reserved for certain ranks, but if you really don't know, it's always safe to call someone "my Lord" or "my Lady." Explain that you're new. They'll understand. (For a glossary of common SCA terms, click here.)
George thought Their Highnesses of the Mists would be very busy at the Coronet tourney to choose their successors, so he didn't try to say hello that day. The following weekend, His Highness, Leohtulf, Prince of the Mists, shared a meat pie with George at La Prova Dura. His Highness was prickly and hard to eradicate, winning many battles that day. No wonder he needed a snack!
The Royalty are often very busy but they like making friends too. They try to take the time to meet people when they can. Bow and say hello if they're passing by. If they don't have time to talk, it's not because they don't like you, it's because they have so many things to do.
SCA people are very friendly, but they're also very polite. If they see you're sitting quietly by yourself, they may think you want to sit quietly by yourself. It's probably going to be up to you to make the first move. Here are a few ways to do just that:
Approach someone who is wearing something you think is beautiful or working on a project that looks interesting and ask them about it. Most people are very willing to share what they know. You may discover friends with mutual interests and learn how to make or where to get the thing you're admiring.
Keep an eye out for people who look like they could use an extra set of hands and offer to help. Even if they decline your assistance, they will appreciate that you offered. Gentlemen, offering to carry anything for a lady is always courteous, even if it is something small and she looks like she's perfectly capable of dealing with it herself.
Volunteer! Offer to help out at the Gate (a great place to meet people!), work as a list page, be a water bearer, learn how to herald at a tourney. Find the event's autocrat and ask how you can help: replenishing toilet paper supplies, posting announcements and picking up trash will win you their undying gratitude. New help is always welcome and you get to meet plenty of people. Listen for announcements for meetings of heralds, lists, or water bearers the morning of the event and show up. The person in charge can let you know when your help will be needed and provide instructions on what you need to know. You don't need to work the entire day either. Every little bit helps.
AUTOCRAT is an SCA term used to describe the person who is in charge of running a particular event. The autocrat's name is listed in published event announcements, however, if you don't know who it is, ask at the Gate.
Attend court. It's as good as theater. Bear witness to the deeds of the Royalty as they dispense laws and acknowledge the achievements of their people. Some day someone you know may be called into court. It could even be you - and you'll know what to do.
Make a list of your questions. Events can be overwhelming and busy even for old timers, particularly if they are working to make the event run smoothly. If there's not time or opportunity to ask a question at a particular moment, you'll have it written down so that you can ask at another time or ask another person. Having a small pad and pen also comes in handy if you want to exchange contact information with new friends or write down the name of that book someone recommended.
Look and listen for activities geared for newcomers. Some events include newcomer gatherings and some events are even specifically designed for newcomers.
Visit Merchants' Row at the events that have one. Even if you don't buy anything, it's a great place to people watch and get ideas about appropriate clothing, tableware, accessories and so forth.
Visit the Arts & Sciences and Guild pavilions. See what people are making - you may find an activity that you want to learn. For example, the Clothiers' Guild has resources to help you find the medieval or Renaissance look you like and how to make it. Classes are often offered at events. Some events, such as West Kingdom Collegium or the Arts & Sciences Tourney are all about classes.
Attend a bardic circle or drum circle. Even if you don't feel ready to sing a song, tell a story or shimmy to Saracen drumbeats, go watch and listen. You may be inspired to jump in the next time.
Learn to dance. Dance is spelled F-L-I-R-T. European dances are taught on the spot at many events and are great fun, not to mention a way to meet members of the opposite species.
I think I need a name!
Your parents never gave you a choice, but as you will quickly discover, people adopt medieval names for use in the SCA. This is not something you need to rush into. Click here for the SCA Heraldry Page to find all the resources on how to register a name and device (or coat of arms). Get a feel for what culture and time period you might be interested in and then start looking for names from that culture. Once you find something you like, talk to a book herald. There may be someone in your local group who can assist, or you can visit the Consultation Table at the Herald's Pavilion at certain events.
Some customs and courtesies!
Heralds: It is customary to stop talking when a Herald is speaking so that everyone can hear the announcement.
Making a Reverence (Bowing or Curtseying): This is easy to do and adds to the ambiance of medieval courtly life. It is customary to bow or curtsey to the royalty, and it's incredibly courteous to do it to anyone else. Just think how special it'll make that person feel. It is also customary to bow when passing the thrones, whether or not they are occupied at the moment, as a gesture of respect. Gentlemen, a simple bow from the waist is easy. If you see someone who can carry off "making a leg" and bowing with great flourish, ask him to teach you. Ladies, curtseying is not complicated either. Bow your head a little and keeping your back straight, bend your knees. Your feet can't be seen under a long gown and it looks very graceful. You may even see "foreigners" making a reverence in a style appropriate to their non-European personae. Again, if you want to learn how, ask. (Gentlemen, for information on how to kiss a lady's hand without getting slapped, click here. Consent is always appropriate and necessary.)
Children and Dogs: If you bring either, you are responsible for their behavior. At events where pets are permitted, they should be leashed (or crated) at all times and the owner is expected to pick up after them.
Smoking: West Kingdom Law prohibits smoking in public areas of the event. This includes the walkways between the list field and private camps and in Merchants' Row. Smoking is permitted in your own camp. If you are a guest in someone else's camp, ask permission before smoking. You never know who may have allergies or other respiratory illnesses.
Photography: Some kingdoms have specific rules regarding photography. The West does not, however, please use good judgment and be courteous. Snapping a flash photo while someone is trying to perform or make a speech is extremely distracting. It is downright dangerous to do when people are dancing around a campfire and a camera suddenly blinds them! Some people are even camera shy. "May I make your portrait?" is a good way to ask someone's permission.
Personal Areas and Property: One's home is one's castle, even if it's made of canvas. If you wish to enter or pass through someone's camp, please ask for permission. Likewise, if you wish to admire someone's property (pavilion, weapon, musical instrument, etc.), please ask before touching. You may not know the right way to handle something without damaging it.
George is allowed to sit on my hurdy gurdy because he's specially trained - and doesn't weigh very much. Don't try this at home. We're what you call "professionals."
Being Medieval: After all, isn't that the whole point of what we do? Hiding or disguising obtrusively modern things is really easy too. Pour your soda into an appropriate looking cup. Modern camp chairs and coolers are easily disguised under blankets or table cloths. Cameras and cell phones can hide in a belt pouch or basket. (If you MUST make that cell phone call, find a spot away from others. You won't be disturbed and you won't disturb others with your conversation.) Cars should live in the designated parking area as soon as they have been unloaded.
Being Good Guests: Our goal is to leave the site cleaner than it was when we arrived, and chances are, your mother isn't here to pick up after you. Be sure to dispose properly of trash, cigarette butts, bottle caps, etc. (Old Altoids tins make excellent portable ashtrays. Simply close the lid and tuck it in your pouch or pocket until you can find an appropriate place to dump the butts and ashes.)
The Privy: More modernly known as the restroom, and at many outdoor sites, the porta-john. Your assistance in keeping these necessaries tidy will make everyone's event much more pleasant. When using a portable privy, be sure to put the lid down when you are finished. This allows odors to be vented safely instead of remaining inside the privy itself and makes things much more pleasant for whoever uses it after you do. The only thing that should go into a portable privy is you-know-what and toilet paper, otherwise pipes jam, the privy cannot be properly pumped and EVERYBODY is unhappy. Trash and female sanitary items should be taken to a trash can. Don't make a mess all over the floor. It's no treat for ladies with long hems! Please do not remove the light sticks or toilet paper. If toilet paper is low or out, tell the event autocrat and it will be taken care of.
Partying: Please party responsibly. Modern-day local, state and federal laws on illegal drug use and legal drinking age DO apply and WILL be enforced. If you are of legal age and enjoying your libation of choice, remember that a weekend living in a tent and being essentially outdoors is a stress on your body. Stay hydrated during the day, dress for cold conditions, and enjoy your weekend. (George stunt-dived into The Old Used Duke's Beer Gob to impress Lady Flidais, but it was empty at the time. He's not old enough to drink and he thinks beer smells funny anyway.)
Camping: Visit http://dragonwing.biz/col9806.htm for information on how to camp safely and comfortably in the SCA.
The SCA On A Budget: https://cunnan.lochac.sca.org/index.php/To_participate_in_the_SCA_on_a_small_budget
Society and Kingdom Web Links, including resources for newcomers:
Not in the West Kingdom?
https://sca.org/geography/findsca.html has information to help you find out which kingdom you are in. Our Society has branches in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Rim.
George and I would like to thank the gracious and hospitable people of the West Kingdom for their gleeful assistance with this project. Special thanks to Her Majesty, Constantina von Ravenna and His Highness, Leohtulf of the Silver Hills, for taking a moment out of their busy days to participate, and to Her Grace Emma Fitzwilliam, the Duchess of Decorum, from whose "Privy Posts" I have shamelessly cribbed and whose gracious example I fear I am too great a smartypants to ever live up to.
The quote of The Very Wise Lady is from Diana Listmaker's "Courtesy and Etiquette In The Current Middle Ages" from the original Known World Handbook, (c) 1979 by the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Photos were taken by the author at March Crown, Mists Coronet and La Prova Dura (March 25-27, April 1-3 and April 8-10, 2005), except for the fireside scene which was taken at Estrella War (February 18, 2005). Photo of Jehanne and George taken at Mists Cynagua War (April 16, 2005) courtesy of Baroness Ellen of the Western Wind.
Copyright 2005 Lisa A. Joseph.
Permission to link to or reproduce this document for use in the Society for Creative Anachronism is hereby granted. Document must be reproduced in its entirety and credit must be given. Don't make us fling poo.