A Somewhat Rambling Tale of Me and the SCA
I attended my first Society for Creative Anachronism event in the spring of 1988. It was literally a life-changing event for me, and for the next decade the SCA was a big part of my life. I’ve recently become active again, and finally created a device (coat of arms). When I was active previously, I had no idea what I might want for a device, but the perspective of a few decades made the design easy.
That first event was weeks before I moved from Toronto to London, Ontario. I had a fine apartment in downtown Toronto, steps from Bloor and Yonge, and I loved living there. But I wanted to start university (for the third time), and high rent increases (obtained via a loophole in rent control laws) made me uncertain I could afford to stay in Toronto and go to university. As for work, I’d recently been promoted to a mailroom manager position, a job for which I completely lacked the necessary people skills. My employer was associated with a company in London, and I planned to transfer there, enjoy cheaper rents, and attend Western University (then the University of Western Ontario, a name that makes a lot more sense to someone from British Columbia).
My attempt to transfer to the London company failed, but I moved anyway. I was determined to start university, get a new job, and make other changes in my life, including being more social. For all that I loved Toronto, in three years there I’d met a few people but failed to make any close friends or become involved in any organizations. I blamed myself, not the city, but London and the SCA were a chance for a fresh start.
When you attend an SCA event, you dress and act in a manner inspired by romantic notions of the Western Medieval period. It’s “let’s pretend” for grownups, and that’s authentic behaviour for a time when fewer distinctions were made between children and adults. It’s also fun. And when you are wearing a costume and going by another name (Oliver Peren, in my case), it’s much easier for an introvert to shift mental gears and be outgoing. At that first event, I met people who became part of my social circle for many years. I am still friends with one, and deeply miss a couple of others.
It was almost a year before I secured stable employment in London, and a little longer before I started university, but I was active in the local SCA group, Trinovantia Nova. Trinovantia is an old name for London (England). SCA naming rules do not permit the use of real place names for groups, but they did permit the variation Trinovantia Nova, appropriate for London, Ontario.
I briefly ran the London group, but still lacked the necessary people skills for such a position. I wrote various items for the local newsletter, and started a long running column that eventually became my first published book. I registered my SCA name with the Society’s College of Heralds, essentially proving Oliver Peren was a possible name in the Middle Ages and was not used by any other member.
After a couple of years, my contributions were recognized with an Award of Arms. This is the lowest ranking award. It grants the holder the title Lord or Lady (or, more recently, a choice of gender-neutral titles), though these titles are used anyway when addressing a person whose rank or title is unknown.
Regardless of your persona, SCA activities presume all present are nobility of some sort. It would rude to refer to anyone as a wench or servant. Although a medieval re-enactment organization, the SCA follows principals of inclusion and equality. Of course that’s anachronistic, but anachronism is literally part of the organization’s name. I was impressed by the inclusion when I was a member in the 1980s, and more is being done now.
The Award of Arms grants the holder the “right to bear arms,” which has nothing to do with the American second amendment. It is the right to display a personal coat of arms. You can still do this without the award – it’s called a device instead of arms. My award scroll contained a blank space for the arms I could display. The award reminded me of my lack of a device, but I had no idea what to use for the design. As a non-fighter, I did not have a shield, the most common place to display arms, so I usually did not feel the lack.
I’ve never been interested in the martial side of the SCA. My persona, a king’s messenger, is peaceful to the point of indolence, and allows ample time for story-telling, dancing, and flirting in the kitchens of places I am visiting. This seems more pleasant than hitting people and being hit. However, I did practice archery, inspired by a person I saw shooting and another archer I met. At my best, a slow-moving bale of hay that approached within thirty feet of me was risking serious harm. Archery is an odd pursuit for a king’s messenger, but within the SCA there is no requirement that your activities be consistent with your persona.
At university, I ran a medieval club. The club participated in SCA events as a group, identified within the SCA as the Household of Antler River. I didn’t have a car, nor did most of the members, and attending events usually requires some travel. Local groups host no more than one or two events a year, as they are a lot of work to organize, but there are many local groups within a few hours of London. Fortunately, I drove for a bus company, so I had a bus license and access to large vans. Even when I no longer worked there, my license allowed me to rent and drive fifteen passenger vans. I would organize a van or two, make reservations for all, and ensure everyone had something to wear and utensils for feast (one brings one own dishes for meals at events).
A joint presentation by the university medieval club and the university dance club led to my marriage, and at the reception, one of the first dances was a popular SCA dance. The marriage, however, meant new lifestyle changes. It became more difficult to attend SCA events. With children running around, it was no longer safe to practice archery in the garage or basement. My last event was in the late 1990s. By then I had moved away from London.
A few decades and another major lifestyle change later, I found myself living in Halifax, and missing the SCA. I rejoined, but the pandemic meant no events were happening. To do something, I began rebuilding my collection of medievalish clothing, and decided to create a device.
Heraldry consultants advise against making one’s device a resume of one’s activities and interests, but I wanted to recognize past influences, and incorporated them. My device, recently accepted, is heraldically described as “Per fess wavy gules and azure, a wagon and a stag’s attire in annulo conjoined to itself argent.”
The London group, Trinovantia Nova, has a device with a red and blue background (gules and azure, in heraldic terms). At the time I was active, Trinovantia Nova was part of the Barony of Septentria (south-central Ontario), and most events I attended were in that region. The Baronial device is a white (heraldically, silver or argent) bear on a red (gules) background. And the Kingdom of Ealdormere (Ontario) device is also red with with white items (charges). (The laurel leaves on those devices signify that the device belongs to a branch, not a person).
The colour consistency of my former branches made my colour choices easy. I chose red and blue for the background (field), and white (argent) for the charges. There are a great many rules about colour choices for fields and charges, field divisions, and the placement of charges, but these heraldic rules are essentially the common design principals of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity (someone just completed a design course).
The red is on top to be more prominent (the slogan for Ealdormere is “we wear the scarlet proudly”), while the blue below, with the wavy division, is a both a general nod to my new location by the sea and a specific reference to the Canton of Seashire (Halifax branch), my new local branch. Their device has the same wavy division and blue on the lower portion of the field. (I’m amused that both Trinovantia and Seashire coincidentally have similar fantastic beast charges.)
As for the charges on my device, the wagon refers to my former role transporting people to events. At the time, I was sometimes referred to as the Wagonmaster. Broadly, a wagon is an item of practical service with many uses, something I feel appropriate to my activities and persona.
The charge below appears to be an abstract design, perhaps a stylized sun. I like the contrast of this charge in shape and meaning to the practical wagon, and all that the contrast applies. The design is in fact a set of antlers (stag’s attire), arranged in a circle (in annulo), and touching each other (conjoined to itself). This of course refers to my former Household of Antler River. I picked Antler River for the name of the household as it is the English translation of the Anishinaabemowin name for the Thames River that flows through London, Ontario.
I attended my first event since rejoining a few weeks ago, somewhat nervous about returning to an organization I left decades ago, and in another kingdom. I wore the populace badge of Septentria, and was delighted that a few recognized this. (A badge is a simplified version of a device.) More delightful was how familiar the event seemed – as if I had never been away. As always, the people were friendly and welcoming. The highlight, for me, was a session of dancing, with the same music and steps of many magical evenings that began with that first event in 1988. I’m looking forward to my next event, and hope to wear my new device. And should anyone ask its meaning, I shall say “It is a tale long and wearying, but written out here for those who would seek to know.”
Tim, if I had known about SCA years ago, I probably would have joined. I love dressing up and role playing – as long as I don’t have to memorize anything. Do you make all your costumes? Or are they available on line?
You can still join now. Some people make their own clothing, and consider that part of the fun, while others buy clothing. Many events have a merchant area, so sometimes you can buy clothing there. Online was not an option when I was involved before, but there are lots of online options now. The only requirement is “an attempt at a pre-17th century costume.” Some people get very elaborate and appropriate to their persona, while others throw together a simple tunic. Fighters must have outfits which provide protection from injury.