Blog: SCA

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.


Friday morning the Pennsic staff announced that Pennsic 49, postponed from last year, would be postponed again to next year. This did not surprise me; I figured a 50-50 chance this year was optimistic, given the uncertainties involved. Our camp had already been discussing the possibility of holding "Little Pennsic"; one person has enough land for our 25 or so vaccinated people to camp for a week.

A few hours later, Cooper's Lake Campground announced that they would be holding "Armistice" during the Pennsic timeslot, and that they need this event to succeed or they might not be around in 2022. As a business that relies on events -- except for this year, they no longer host plain old camping, only large events -- they are certainly hurting, but there was something about the language that felt off-putting to me. (More on that in a few paragraphs.)

The event announcement has the basic information: not an SCA event but designed to resemble Pennsic in most ways. No battles, but groups can "check out" list fields or archery ranges for their own use (and presumably at their own liability). Tents will be available for classes. Merchants are welcome. There will be some semblance of "land grab" for camping spots. You can register now (prices are higher than Pennsic). But they don't yet say anything about pandemic-related restrictions, like whether vaccines will be required and whether, even with vaccines, masks will be required. They'll follow state guidelines but, in April, nobody knows what those will be in July/August. That makes it hard for people to commit.

Pennsic has, over the last several years, felt more and more like a Cooper's Lake event and less and less like one controlled by the SCA, so in a way this is a natural step in the evolution of the event. For most events, the SCA rents space and is responsible for running the event; with Pennsic, Cooper's Lake has much more control, particularly over the financial aspects of the event. It's kind of a weird hybrid.

Pennsic has been at Cooper's Lake for about 45 years. The original Coopers (and Wilvers), who were friends of the SCA and shared its values, are gone. A new generation is running the campground now. They don't have that history and they don't share those values, so it's not surprising that they run things differently. The old Coopers could have said "hey folks, we're in trouble" and help would have flooded in from their friends in the SCA. The new Coopers have not maintained that close relationship, focusing on the business over the people (sometimes at the expense of the people), so it's hard to predict what will happen now. I think this is why I react to their plea the way I do; they moved from personal relationships to a business model, which is a valid decision for them to make, but this is the kind of appeal one makes with personal relationships. It feels out of place, given the changes in direction.

I suspect that when (if) Pennsic returns in 2022, the SCA will own less of it than it did in 2019. Only time will tell what Pennsic will look like in a few more years.

In comments somebody asked whether it's feasible to move the event. I wrote: Read more…

Sad news from AEthelmearc

Master Remus Fletcher, who was an instigating force in music in the Debatable Lands and at events across the kingdom and beyond, died on Friday. The obituary talks some about his SCA participation, and there'll be an AEthelmearc Gazette post.

This is such sad news. Remus encouraged music and was sometimes a one-person source of ambience. During events, if there was no other entertainment happening, he would sit in a corner and play. He was happy to put instruments in curious people's hands and teach. Some of the people he drew in went on to surpass him musically, but I never got the sense that he felt threatened by that -- he just wanted there to be more music. Before there was a Debatable Consort, Remus showed up at fighting practice every week with packets of photocopied music and a bag of recorders and the Consort grew from that. He was part of the Debatable Choir during its early days, and sang individually at events frequently.

Remus was friendly and welcoming to all. He encouraged people he knew to reach higher, to stretch, but he didn't judge -- he invited, never criticized. I will miss him.

The fruitcake of the Laurels of AEthelmearc

Once upon a time, when the kingdom of AEthelmearc was young,1 a mixed multitude of peers and non-peers sat around a camp at Pennsic entertaining each other. And one of the Laurels did observe that the Chivalry have their ancestral chain of fealty, and the Pelicans their ancestral medallion, both of which are passed from inductee to inductee as new people are added to those orders, but the poor Laurels had no such tradition. And someone else did observe that the Laurels could create a new tradition, and in so doing also find a way to mitigate the impression of the order as "stuffy". And then a clever Laurel (who may choose to self-identify) suggested that, rather than a medallion or a wreath or some other such conventional item of reusable regalia, we should have...a fruitcake.

Think about it, this Laurel said! They had cakes containing fruit in the renaissance (Digby small cakes), which are tasty, but the canonical modern fruitcake2 is often a thing you give away, perhaps several times in sequence over a period of years, but never actually consume, it being rock-hard and coated in sugar to the point of seeming shellacked, and would you eat something containing those bright green cherries anyway? The Laurels could have an ancestral relic, one that would pass from member to member (perhaps like the matham of fandom -- a thing you receive and immediately seek to divest yourself of), in the form of an ancestral fruitcake.

The company present was delighted by this idea and promptly had another round of ale.

Time passed, and one of those present received a writ of summons for the Laurel, and another (who was not yet a member of this order) researched cakes of fruit in the renaissance and set out to produce the cake and its reliquary box besides. And this was introduced as the Ancestral Fruitcake of the Laurels and presented to the new inductee in court.

Others thought this was great fun, and that it did have the effect of making the Laurels seem less stuffy and more down-to-earth, and before long another candidate received a writ of summons and asked that the fruitcake be included in the ceremony. And others followed, and the fruitcake became part of AEthelmearc tradition. Along the way the fruitcake was actually shellacked to prevent unfortunate surprises, and a custom arose of new inductees adding some sort of token to the reliquary alongside the cake, over time accumulating quite the entourage to accompany the relic. That first fruitcake-receiving inductee wrote a poem that, for a time, was extended by a verse for each new member, though I do not recall how long that tradition continued. The fruitcake, cared for by so many Laurels over time, was said to have acquired mythic properties, though legends conflicted about the nature of these powers and whether they came from eating a small piece or not eating. The creator of the fruitcake was later inducted into the order and received the cake.

This ceremonial element is silly, which some inductees do not prefer, and other inductees create ceremonies specific to a particular time and place into which the ancestral fruitcake does not fit. It has always been up to each inductee to decide whether the fruitcake would appear in the ceremony -- most have, some have not. There is something entertaining about hearing the herald ask the assembly: "Is there a medallion? Is there a cloak? Is there a wreath? Is there a fruitcake?", especially when it is a newer herald who has not read the script in advance. But it is not for everyone, and the custodians of the fruitcake do not impose where the relic is not invited.

In recent times the ancestral fruitcake of the Laurels of AEthelmearc has come under attack and faces banishment from public view. And it is long past time for its story to be told, which I have endeavored to do from my own observation and memory, having been present for that initial discussion and at many of the ceremonies thereafter.

1 I think this happened in 2002.

2 In which category the delightful cakes made by my friend MinoanMiss do not fall, let me be clear.

A day of song and story (SCA)

Yesterday Earl Sir Byron and Countess Sir Ariella hosted an SCA event at their castle. The day was focused on song and story, with classes interspersed with performances. It was a fun, intimate event with about a hundred people, including visitors from outside our group.

I attended a class on commedia dell' arte -- practicum, not history, meaning it focused on techniques for getting on stage and doing improv. There were some "improv games" as part of the class. I am not a comfortable actor, which is why I took the class. I had fun and learned things. Our local commedia troupe also demonstrates that there are strong female roles available besides lover, love interest, and servant-girl; in the alternate reality where I have time and skill to consider auditioning for commedia, I'd be looking for something that fits me less badly -- at my age (and, frankly, body type), I'm not going to be convincing as a young lover.

I also attended a class on trumpets, which included "make sound 101" with mouthpieces and plenty of sanitizer. I had wondered where pitch comes from; is it like a kazoo, where you're responsible for producing the pitch and the instrument then shapes it, or what? No, nothing like that -- the vibration speed coming off your lips is what regulates pitch. Huh. I did manage to make sound come out of a trumpet by the end of the class, though I think I was the slowest learner in the room. (Yes I can get sound out of a shofar, though not reliably!)

The Debatable Choir concert went reasonably well, I thought, though the effect of some sick members was noticeable to us (don't know how noticeable it was to the audience). We had some "sunlight through the windows into the eyes" moments, a challenge when we haven't memorized everything. One nice thing about an event like this is that you get an appreciative audience and can do a longer concert, which was nice!

The food was excellent, and the cooks for both lunch and dinner took extra care to provide ingredient lists, avoid cross-contamination of ingredients, and account for all the dietary restrictions they knew about. I had a full meal despite not eating the meat and without having to bulk up on bread. Read more…

Choral part-balancing

Overheard at last night's choir party:

Director: ...And I told (another choir's director) that we have five tenors now and quite a few basses too, and she was blown away. [Context: for whatever reason, SCA choirs and maybe amateur choirs in general have a lot of trouble getting enough tenors. Our choir has about 25 members and five tenors is considered very good.]

Transgender tenor: Some of our tenors used to be sopranos.1 She could suggest...

Other choir member: In the Debatable Choir we make tenors!

1 Two, in fact. There is also a woman in the bass section (who hasn't undergone physical changes thus far).

Pennsic photos (mostly of the kitchen)

Last year I posted pictures of our new kitchen trailer, but (1) I failed to take interior pictures at Pennsic and (2) we've made some improvements in the last year. So here are some more pictures from this year.

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Pennsic short takes

Brief Pennsic notes in the form of pluses and minuses:

  • Debatable Choir concert went very well! I hope I get to hear a recording (or, better, watch a video.) One person who doesn't usually comment on our performances described our last song (Ecce Quomodo) as "exquisite".

  • Despite a sudden attack of Pennsic crud causing a coughing fit.

  • Saw two fun commedia shows. (Would have been more if not for dinner conflicts, ouch.)

  • Cooking dinner on the night of both the Pensnic Choir concert and the commedia all-stars show was not, in retrospect, a good idea.

  • But it was a very nice dinner, if I do say so myself. (Teriyaki salmon; teriyaki tofu with snow peas, carrots, and ginger; stir-fried vegetables in a red chili sauce; white rice; fruit for dessert. No meat, no gluten, and everything except the salmon was vegan.)

  • Many improvements to our kitchen! (I need to organize pictures for a separate post.)

  • Not too much rain, though what did fall led to instant large mud puddles in the roads because the ground is saturated.

  • Our block really came together to work through land problems -- swampy patches and two drainage ditches made parts of the block uncampable.

? Being on the corner was good for middle-of-the-night privy access and bad for noise.

  • We doubled our solar power this year. We can now charge not only phones but the electric scooters of the two camp members who require them and one other camp member's CPAP machine. (Not all at once and only during the day.)

+/- I got to see some friends but missed others.

  • Nice arts & sciences exhibit, including someone who wrote (calligraphed and illuminated) a book of Tehillim (Psalms).

  • After the Coopers declined again to tow my house-trailer, the person who towed the kitchen for us agreed to do so, saving us a bunch of money.

--- Toward the end of Pennsic I got email from the Coopers (the first written communication I've received from them about any aspect of my trailer). It contained an eviction notice. I am very frustrated; all this time, the (verbal) discussions with them have been about them (not) towing it, and now they're saying they don't want to have any oversized trailers on their property at all. I wish I'd known that earlier!! I'll probably write more about this separately. Meanwhile, I can keep it through Pennsic 50 (two more years) and then it has to be gone. :-(

More on that last point from comments: Read more…

[SCA] Interesting times -- more of them than there used to be

When I joined the SCA, it was a group dedicated to studying the middle ages and renaissance. Unofficially, the scope was described as "western Europe from the fall of Rome through the 16th century" -- which yeah, I know, is temporally broad. Geographically it wasn't broad enough; people in the SCA wanted to create personas from outside western Europe. The governing documents said something like "pre-17th-century western Europe and cultures that had contact with it". People used that last clause to easily argue for middle-eastern and Mongol personas, and less-easily to argue for Japanese, Chinese, and others. There's one person who does an Aztec persona and that raised some eyebrows. And notice that there's no beginning date there, which a few people have used to justify ancient-world personas. Personally I'm a live-and-let-live sort; I think a few of these are rather far from the clear intent of this organization dedicated to the middle ages and renaissance, but we each play the game differently so, eh, different strokes. (There's maybe a problem when people resort to rules-lawyering this stuff, but that's a tangent for another time.) Apparently in some places it hasn't been so benign, though; some people have gotten very hostile toward people doing these far-from-Europe personas.

The SCA board just put out a new mission statement. It now reads:

The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is an international non-profit volunteer educational organization. The SCA is devoted to the research and re-creation of pre-seventeenth century skills, arts, combat, culture, and employing knowledge of history to enrich the lives of participants through events, demonstrations, and other educational presentations and activities.

(Yeah, the board should really run these things past somebody fluent in written English. But I digress.)

By this new policy, there are no geographic restrictions. And, as before, no early temporal restrictions. Non-European personas are no longer "those other areas we tolerate" but are granted first-class status. The SCA is now a general-purpose historical organization (still pre-17th-century).

I'm of mixed feelings. On the one hand, people were already doing it and there's a lot of support and the world didn't end. It doesn't hurt me if other people's interests are in different locales. On the other hand, from the time I first saw people in armor fighting with swords and shields on the university lawn and said "I've gotta get me some of that", the SCA was at its core about the age of knights and kings and queens, of Vikings and Agincourt and the black death, of Chaucer and sonnets and eddas, of motets and balli and shawms. In the years since I joined my personal interests have broadened and changed; my persona is in Cordova under caliphate rule, not exactly knights and high middle ages either. Medieval, though.

I think, when talking with outsiders, I'm still going to describe the SCA as being for studying the middle ages and renaissance, which automatically implies Europe. (Everybody had a 12th century, but I don't think it makes sense to talk about "medieval Inuit" or "medieval Chinese" or the like.) That's still how I think about it, even if the reality is different.

Pennsic: new kitchen trailer

Here are a few photos (from Pennsic) of our new kitchen. We brought it back to Pittsburgh to continue to improve it.

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Social dancing and rejection

A person who attends a weekly dance felt the group was becoming cliquish. In particular, this person would invite someone to dance, the person would decline (which the poster had no problem with), and then the person would dance the dance with someone else. The poster felt snubbed, said this happens more often than it used to, and wanted to know how to fix it.

I answered:

I used to be part of a weekly open dance group (renaissance dance). Two factors that were challenging for us were:

  1. Some people were there to dance; others were there to socialize.

  2. Among the people who were there to dance, some were there to "up their game" and some didn't care if things went wrong so long as people seemed to be having fun.

Dance involves other people -- at least a partner, but sometimes a set. If you're an experienced dancer who's focusing on dancing well, you might be frustrated if half the people in your set don't really know the dance and aren't in the right place at the right time (so the figure doesn't work). You might also find it not very much fun to have to guide your partner through the dance. I'm not saying any of this is right or wrong; I'm just saying that it happens. We saw it too. So if the person you're asking is much more advanced than you and is taking a more focused approach, and that person knows about the imbalance between the two of you, that person might decline your invitation.

The answer isn't to enforce an "everyone dances with everybody else" rule with dance cards to keep track and stuff. The answer is to find ways to help everybody meet their needs while encouraging a more open attitude. Here are some things we did: Read more…