What Makes Normally Sane Adults Love the SCA So Much?

An editorial by Sandra Dodd (SCA Mistress Ælflæd of Duckford),
former Steward of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
(a reprint of an article printed in the Chivalry Sports Renaissance Catalog Magazine.)

I was asked a simple question—"Why do people join the Society for Creative Anachronism, and why do they stay?" I have the simple response and a glimpse of the larger answer. Most people join the SCA because their interest in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance hasn't been satiated by school, novels, movies, and history books. Some are lured in by friends, and some track us down alone. The excuse to wear clothing of the period hooks some; others want to be involved in the music or the dancing; many want the challenge of armored fighting. Some wish to experience the pageantry and the romance.

Friendship

The reasons for joining are rarely the same reasons given when people are asked why they've remained active after many years. I have asked hundreds of people why they've stayed in, and the overwhelming response is "friends." In creating our network of kingdoms, baronies and shires, with their routines of tournaments, feasts, workshops, wars, and so forth, we have attracted a large group of bright, artistic, enthusiastic people of all ages and backgrounds who have common goals and interests. Those who are the most active can maintain relations with a group of friends living hundreds of miles in several directions. Travel between states, between countries and even between continents is common.

Fun Activities

Aside from these many friendships, though, the SCA provides such a range of benefits and activities I could scarcely describe them all without using this entire publication. If I say that the SCA is different things to different people, it is only the ghost of the truth. The SCA is many things to each person. It is an interactive soap opera, in which we create our own characters and ad lib our lines. It is a boundless educational network, with classes and tutoring and voluntary research in joyful surroundings. With the fighting and the dancing and the hiking around large campsites, we can exercise and socialize all at once. For those with the interest to observe such things, is a laboratory for human interactions, political science, and management. Our newsletters provide opportunities for people to have their art and writing published, most of them for the first time in their lives.

Educational Experiences

It has been suggested that the SCA and other such organizations are escapism, that their members hate the modern world and want to get away. I disagree: If I wanted a medieval escape, I would read historical novels. Fifty pages into a good book, I'm there, and I'm not coming out until I'm hungry. No, in the SCA people exist with all their senses at the fullest. We experience our surroundings in a tactile way. We can physically experience details that historians, novelists, museum curators and archaeologists know only intellectually, if at all.

It's a safe guess that a person reading a catalog such as this one wondered as a child what it would feel like to swing a real sword—not just one swing, but for a whole battle. Perhaps the clothes in fairy tales appealed to you—hoods, cloaks, hats with veils, helms with visors, big skirts, ruffs, stiff collars and big boots. When actors perform in Elizabethan costume, the play lasts three hours, and they've practiced all their moves in advance. They're unlikely to actually eat in those clothes, to build a fire, set up a pavilion, or dance for an hour. We learn things about clothing, armor, utensils, tools, etc. that can't be told in books.

Renaissance dances with 30 couples on the floor at once, battles with 500 on a side, cooking feasts for 300 and working out the logistics of presenting it on beautiful platters carried by well appointed servers-- these are things that necessarily take human and physical resources not available in most people's homes. As a group, we provide opportunities that individuals cannot create.

Learning is a thrill. We all are students and most are teachers, since an expert in one field is a beginner in another. If people grow tired of the aspects of the SCA they've been accustomed to, there are a lifetime's worth of other things to try. Someone who joined for the combat said he was glad to know that if he ever got tired of hitting people, there were hundreds of other interesting things to do.

Welcome for Everyone, Young and Old

There are few organizations that accept families, singles, couples and teens all in the same group. The SCA doesn't ask you how much money you have, how you live, where you work, what you believe about the afterlife, how you voted in the last election—all that business that divides people in everyday life is disregarded. People are valued for their willingness to participate, for their personal talents, skills, and dedication. Without spending a fortune, an individual can create comfortable surroundings, and make or gather accouterments and a wardrobe. I have seen people who were important and highly stressed during the week seek a quiet, restful position in the Society, and those whose own lives were drab and lowly seek out the greatest positions of responsibility, honor and activity.

For Excellence and Glory

Idealism has become an embarrassment to many people in the modern world. A few people might think about integrity, but they probably wouldn't bring the subject up over beer or pizza. In the SCA people can discuss personal honor as they're building armor, or illuminating pages of gorgeous calligraphy, or making bread. There are few associations in which honor and courtesy are encouraged or recognized, let alone rewarded!

Benefits are not limited to SCA activities. Dabbling in the concepts of fealty and duty have made many people more responsible outside the SCA. Some members report that the application of honor and chivalry to their decision making has a positive effect on their families, their jobs, and all other aspects of their lives.

Having moved now from the concrete attractions to the esoteric, I hope this has answered some of the questions of those who do not involve themselves in our organization, and that it will encourage those SCA members who might be considering whether they should just chuck it all and just start a stamp collection instead. What we are doing is unique and whole. The experiment isn't over, the soap opera hasn't ended, and there are still things to learn.


The Renaissance Store maintains used to maintain the archives of articles once in Chivalry Sports.
Here is a Wayback-machine copy: from Feb 1, 2001 (it wasn't new, it was already a re-print)

NOTE in 2014: I changed some "which" to "that." I write a little better now than I did then, at least around the "that or which"es.


Ælflæd of Duckford