The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is an international 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 non-profit educational corporation has over 30,000 paid members as of 2017[update] with about 60,000 total participants in the society (including members and non-member participants).
The SCA's roots can be traced to a backyard party of a UC Berkeley 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 helmets, fencing masks, and usually some semblance of a costume, and sparred with each other using weapons such as plywood swords, padded maces, and fencing foils. 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 was A.S. XLIV (44). The name Berkeley 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. "Berkeley" was dropped as the group expanded.
Three more co-founders are mentioned by Douglas Martin in the New York Times Obituaries of August 3, 2001 (p.A23, "Poul Anderson, Science Fiction Novelist, Dies at 74"): "[Anderson and Karen Kruse] moved to San Francisco and were married...They and their daughter, Astrid...founded the Society for Creative Anachronism, which...has spread nationwide." 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 26th 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 Kingdom, 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 kingdoms now called the Outlands, Artemisia, Ansteorra, Gleann Abhann, Meridies, and Trimaris all are made up of lands originally belonging to the fourth kingdom, Atenveldt, which began as a branch of the West Kingdom.
In 2012, SCA agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a lawsuit brought on behalf of 11 victims of child sexual abuse. The abuse was committed in Pennsylvania at the private residence of Ben Schragger, who pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2004. Schragger was a member of SCA at the time of the abuse. His membership was suspended on his arrest and permanently revoked after his plea. The lawsuit contended that the SCA had not conducted a background check on Schragger, though at the time the organization did not perform background checks in general and there is no legal requirement to do so.
The SCA engages in a broad range of activities, including SCA armoured combat, SCA fencing, archery, equestrian activities, feasting, medieval dance and recreating medieval arts and sciences, including a broad range of crafts as well as medieval music and theatre. Other activities include the study and practice of heraldry and scribal arts (calligraphy and illumination). Members are afforded opportunities to register a medieval personal name and coat of arms (often colloquially called a "device" in SCA parlance). SCA scribes produce illuminated scrolls to be given by SCA royalty as awards for various achievements.
Most local groups in the SCA hold weekly fighter practices, and many also hold regular archery practices, dance practices, A&S (Arts & Science) nights and other regular gatherings. Some kingdoms and regions also have occasional war practices, where fighters practice formations and group tactics in preparation for large scale "war" events.
The research and approach by members of the SCA toward the recreation of history has lead to new discoveries about medieval life.
Some local groups participate in nearby Renaissance fairs, though the main focus of activity is organized through the SCA's own events. Each kingdom in the SCA runs its own schedule of events which are announced in the kingdom newsletter (and usually posted on the kingdom web site), but some of the largest SCA-sanctioned events, called "wars", attract members from many kingdoms. Pennsic War, fought annually between the East Kingdom and Middle Kingdom, is the biggest event in the SCA. The Estrella War has been held for over thirty years, mainly between two large regional SCA groups: the Kingdom of Atenveldt and the Kingdom of the Outlands. Most Estrella wars are held near Phoenix Arizona in late February and last around 7–9 days. Several thousand people attend each year, some from as far as Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, and Australia. Other annual SCA wars include Gulf Wars in Gleann Abhann (formerly Meridies), Great Western War in Caid, War of the Lillies in Calontir and others. Other annual or semi-annual Kingdom-level events held analogously by most or all SCA kingdoms include Crown Tournament, Coronation, Kingdom Arts and Sciences competition and Queen's Prize. Additionally, most baronies in the SCA have their own traditional annual events such as Baronial Arts and Sciences competition, a championship tournament, and often a Yule or Twelfth Night feast. Various SCA groups also sometimes host collegia or symposia, where members gather for a raft of classes on various medieval arts and sciences and other SCA-related topics.
The minimum standard for attendance at an SCA event is "an attempt at pre-17th century clothing", and there is a general goal of maintaining a historical atmosphere. However, SCA members will use modern elements when necessary for personal comfort, medical needs, or to promote safety (e.g. wearing prescription eye-wear, using rattan for swords or shear thickening substances for padding). Unlike some other living history groups, most SCA gatherings do not reenact a specific time or place in history, leaving members free to dress as any culture within the SCA's time period.
The SCA produces two quarterly publications, The Compleat Anachronist and Tournaments Illuminated, and each kingdom publishes a monthly newsletter.
The Compleat Anachronist is a quarterly monographic series, each issue focused on a specific topic related to the period of circa 600–1600 in European history. Issues are written by SCA members and have covered a wide range of topics.
Tournaments Illuminated is a quarterly magazine, each issue covering a range of topics and including several features such as news, a humor column, book reviews, war reports and various articles on SCA-related topics of interest.
The SCA is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in California, with its current headquarters in the city of Milpitas. It is headed by a board of directors, each of whom 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. Because the SCA now has groups all over the world, it has also been incorporated in other countries, e.g. SCAA in Australia and SCANZ in New Zealand. These affiliated bodies work with the US board of directors with regards to societal issues, but make all decisions affected by local law independently of the US parent body. Although they agree to work in unity with the US SCA board of directors, they are autonomous and are not bound by any ruling of the US body.
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 Panama and Thailand. 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 non-territorial, 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 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 and chivalry, archery, heraldry, equestrian activities, costuming, cooking, metalwork, woodworking, leathercrafting, music, dance, calligraphy, fiber arts, and others as practiced during the member's time period.
To aid historical recreation, participants in the SCA create historically plausible characters known individually as personae. 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 assist members in creating an appropriate persona name. The SCA rules state that: "We allow elements and patterns for personal names from beyond Europe, but we require them to be from cultures that were known to medieval and Renaissance Europeans or whose members might reasonably have traveled to Europe". So, while less common, there are members with Saracen, Chinese, Japanese or Native American personas.
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/Robin Hood).
A major dimension to the SCA is its internal system of Heraldry. Any member of the society may apply to register a name and device 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 Principal Heralds for each Kingdom, who oversee deputy officers for matters such as heraldic education and processing registrations, and local officers (generally one for each local chapter) who assist the local participants. In addition to design of arms, heralds in the Society also provide services such as voice heraldry (similar to a master of ceremonies) at tournaments and official functions, and organizing tournament brackets or "lists."
The SCA has ceremonial rulers chosen by winning tournaments (Kings/Queens, Princes/Princesses) in SCA armoured 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. The Crown has some authority over other matters relating to leadership, but the extent of this varies from kingdom to kingdom.
Each SCA kingdom is "ruled" by a king and queen chosen by winning a Crown Tournament in armored combat. Corpora require this 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.
This selection method is not based on how actual medieval monarchs were chosen, as there is no record of one being selected by Tournament combat in this manner. 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".
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 four orders of peerage: the Order of the Chivalry, awarded for skill at arms in Armored Combat; the Order of the Laurel, awarded for skill in the arts and sciences; the Order of the Pelican, awarded for outstanding service to the Society; and the Order of the Masters of Defense, awarded for skill at arms in Rapier Combat. In Several of the Kingdoms the Order of the Rose, made up of former Queens, is considered a peerage equal to the other four.
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 the Chivalry, a Knight of the Society (usually the King) must bestow the accolade".
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 Barony of Jaravellir (Madison, Wisconsin).
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.
In David Weber's science fiction novel Honor Among Enemies, 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 19th century 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. A prequel, Escape Velocity, describes how the SCAdians first came to Gramarye, and how lands were assigned to the royal peers.
In Ariel (1983), a post-apocalyptic fantasy by Steven R. Boyett, technology suddenly stops working and sorcery and sword fight take over. Several characters who are former SCA members attribute their survival to their SCA experience.
The fantasy novel The Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle was written after the author attended a few early SCA events circa 1968; but he has repeatedly stated that he then studiously avoided any contact with the actual SCA itself for almost two decades, so that his description of a fictitious "League for Archaic Pleasures" would not be "contaminated" by contact with the actual real-life organization.
In Number of the Beast, Robert A. Heinlein portrayed an SCA tournament where live weapons were used and the battles actually fought to the 'death'. The defeated combatants were either transported to an alternate reality where medical technology was advanced enough that they could be revived from any wound or transported to the alternate reality that was Valhalla. The contestants' desires were placed in sealed envelopes prior to the tournament, which were destroyed if the competitor won and obeyed if a competitor lost.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Society for Creative Anachronism.|