Long ago when I lived in Memphis I had my first encounter the SCA. Just about every weekend a group of them would gather at a local park I liked to frequent. They were dressed in period costumes (obviously handmade from the looks of many of them). And what they would do EVERY weekend was participate in, or stand on the sidelines and watch 'battle practice'. To someone not familiar with this aspect of the SCA it looked silly and sounded sillier. The combatants would gather in a large circle, suit up (in American football equipment covered with duct tape and chain mail), arm up (with swords made of rattan or bamboo wrapped in duct tape), square off (by two with a referee judging the match), and then start walloping the crap out of each other.
But they did it in a rather civilized manner. They'd thwap each other for two or three seconds, the referee would check them, and then they thwap each other again. I was able to glean enough from watching to guess that the goal was to get in as many head and body shots as possible before the referee declared a winner. It sounded, for all the world, like Daffy Duck (as Robin Hood) pre-battling himself against Porky Pig.
Referee: "Ok, go!"
Fighters: THWAPITYTHWAPTHWAPPITY "OWW!!!"
Referee: "Stop! Are you hurt?" *checks to see if either is injured*
Fighters: (in unison) "No."
Referee: "Ok, go!"
Fighters: THWAPITYTHWAPTHWAPPITY "OWW!!!"
And so a match would go on until someone WAS hurt or a match was declared won by the referee. This would continue on for hours with various combatants throughout the afternoon. It looked very much like a medieval version of "Fight Club". Afterwards people would proudly show me their bruises and cuts they'd received from previous battle practice.
I had read the the Society for a Creative Anachronism was a club of people trying to relive the world prior to 1600 and trying to bring out the best of the arts, costuming, food, music, games, etc. And things were to be conducted in a courtly manner. (How duct tape fit into the paradigm, I'm still unsure about.)
I was asked to participate in the bouts that they would have weekly and flatly refused them saying: "I'm allergic to pain." Later, I inquired "Aren't there other things you do besides hit each other with sticks?" "Yes," they assured me, "when we go to events like Pennsic!" Pennsic, I later found out, was the BIG event that happened in Pennsylvania.
So, to recap, all I'd gotten to see of the SCA was people trying to hurt themselves. But, I was told that there were many people that did other things besides bop the bejebus out of each other. But, I'd have to travel over 700 miles away to see it.
That ended my relationship with the SCA.
Flash forward 23 years.
I've been living in central Illinois for about 5 years and a friend was going to be singing at the feast for the first annual Joseph of Arimathea
event held in downtown Urbana. I offered another friend who was to be "herald" at the event a lift there.
I arrived at my friends home in the late morning and he helped me dress for the event as I had little way in "garb" or proper clothing for the SCA. Once judged to be suitably dressed I helped him pile the bags of things he was bringing to the event. (I was later to learn that he'd brought all the dishes, cups, and flatwear that we'd be dining on at the feast at the end of the day.)
We arrived, were checked in and given programs and told where the events were to be held. Everything was going on inside, for which I was very grateful. It had been facemeltingly humid for the past months and I really did not want to have to participate while turning into a pile of sweat. The events took place at the student union for the U of I. And the feast was at the local UU church in their large gathering room.
I went to two classes that took up most of the day. The first was an introduction to the musical instruments played during the middle ages. The Lady Heregyth Keltisdottir taught the class with 6 recorders, a viol, a tambourine, and a functional lute. I was especially impressed with the lute as it had no metal parts on it (event the frets were made of gut tied around the neck!) After the class, we were invited to pluck, bow, blow, or bang of some of the instruments the teacher had brought.
Someone had also brought an oud to the class (which I later found out they were to be playing at the feast!) and she let us pluck on it. An oud is apparently plucked with a plectrum that looks like a plastic letter opener. An oud has no frets which allows the musician to play some of the micro-tonal notes of Arabian music. It sounded amazing and was a hand constructed instrument as well.
I took a break for a light lunch and went downstairs to the cafeteria. There I met and had a wonderful conversation with the Baroness Alzbeta Michalik. We talked about mead, the SCA, and she showed me her crown. It was outfitted with a circular cushion lining the inside. "When I first got it." she told me, "I took the padding out. And then I got a dent on my head! So, I put it back."
After we came back from lunch the baroness allowed herself to be weighed on the Monty-Pythonesque "Duck Scale" they had, and was found to be a witch. Oh, the trials of royalty! :)
The next class that I took finished off the afternoon for me. It was presented by Mistress Alphia, a gorgeous women in a belly-dancing costume. We danced (or they danced and I tried not to step on too many feet) for 3 hours. Some dances I'd heard of before because I'd played them on guitar. (Almans and Pavans) And some were traditional dances that went with specific songs: "Black Nag" and "Female Sailor" to name a few.
I was one of the very few men at the class and I stayed the entire time. Wow! I was surrounded and got to dance with a huge group of lovely women dressed in costume and some even knew the dances and were leading me around the room. One would think after three hours of dancing, I'd be tired. But I was just getting started! Give a few months and I think I'll be able to do all the dances they taught without stepping on anyone.
After class, I accompanied the teacher and two other ladies to a local bar and a had a beer or two. I found out that the woman that owned the lute was looking to sell it. I thought about playing the lute and then reconsidered. (I didn't spend 1/2 of the rest of my life trying to keep it in tune!) But the conversation was lively and I even met a fellow who's going to chef school this fall.
The feast was a grand affair with the tables on the edges of the central area which was reserved for the dancing and other entertainment. My friend who was singing, the Lady Brigit, was with a group of musicians. There was a cellist, oudist, violist, guitarist, and other folks that played and sung. They did a piece that's a favorite of mine "Gaudete" which is an song performed acapella and I first heard as a song recorded by Steeleye Span.
The feast took a long time because everything was being cooked on site and also because many of the performers were also the cooks. The last dish was served at quarter to eight. And then there was dancing!
And we danced and danced and danced until they kicked us out around quarter to ten. I was amazed, delighted, enchanted, overwhelmed, and will be coming back. I'm seriously considering applying to the music guild.
Maybe the could use a guitar player? :)