Issue # 1 May 1991 (A.S. XXVI)


with some envelope art

Other Issues:

#2 | #3 | #4 | #5
#6 | #7 | #8 | #9
#10 | #11 | #12
#13 | #14 | #15
#16 | #17 | #18
#19 | #20 | #21

Notes on this issue

ThinkWell TNG
current online ThinkWell


This is the first issue of ThinkWell. It will be heavier on the Ælflæd contributions than subsequent issues will be.

Here follows a letter which has been sent out in a haphazard manner for the past several weeks. To those who have received it, my apologies for repetition. I’d like for it to be on record in the first issue of ThinkWell, as it contains a good statement of purpose.

* * * * *

To those in the Society who think and write for fun,
From Mistress Ælflæd of Duckford, in Spring 1991

I’m beginning a journal for the exchange of ideas among members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. It will be an independent, private publication, and not representative of any group or subgroup within the Society. I’m calling it “ThinkWell” (like a thinktank, but deeper), and would like for you to consider writing, subscribing, or both.

Over the dozen-and-some years I’ve been in the Society I’ve met and corresponded with some incredible people. Some of the thinkers and leaders are known by name to many, and have reputations for being those who can be consulted to guide or instruct others. Many have been officers, sage royalty, writers of re-printed columns (or of columns which should have been reprinted but were swept by in the tide of writing). There are also perceptive, analytical, articulate members who have not yet surfaced, who are busy making costumes and armor, whose insights are shared but with a few friends and students. There are philosophers in shires, far from more experienced members, who have no one on whom to test and hone their thoughts.

When I first joined the Society I was one of the founders of a shire. We were thirty miles from another shire, and ninety from the nearest barony. When we needed answers we usually made them up. This goes on in shires today. Some of the answers being made up are better than any ever had before; some are flawed answers which have been tried before and have failed.

Some of the finest speeches I’ve ever heard (or ever have made) have been in vigils. Not everyone is able to attend vigils, and certainly these speeches are never made before more than a tiny few individuals. In al-Barran (Albuquerque), the group I moved to after my shire-beginnings, we have had five sessions over a year and a half of what has come to be called “Philosophy Practice.” These are all-evening discussions, separate from any event, where general questions are brought out and discussed. The rules are don’t name names, don’t get angry, and allow people to change their minds, both during the discussion and later without any pressure to stick to an opinion once stated. We’ve discouraged newcomers from coming, although a few have really insisted and we let them in. For the most part it’s been peers and dedicated members. A couple of times during these discussions I’ve thought how much such ideas would have helped me when I was starting to want answers to “how and why” questions. The effect on some of our year-old members is noticeable. I’ve seen squires and people who have just lately received awards of arms successfully carrying arguments with ten-year peers, assimilating ideas that usually only come (if ever) after years of autocratting or office-holding, asking “why” of former royalty and getting straight, non-defensive answers. I imagine this is a related thrill to that of a new fighter getting a fair and unexpected blow in on a duke.

For the benefit of myself and a hundred unknown others, I’d like to solicit your help. Please distribute copies of this letter to those who have or want information which can help to clarify the goals and thinking of people who have dedicated themselves (in part anyway) to the Society for Creative Anachronism. As a good practice or meleé can teach fighters, or a hot bardic circle can inspire musicians and storytellers, We can have a forum where thinkers and writers can share their best shots, their most inspiring ideas, and see what comes of the exchange.

“Why are we here?” is an especially interesting question when applied to the Society. When there are simple things which could be done to make our lives better today, let’s find them and try them.

The plan (which is subject to change by convincing arguments) is this: For $10 I will send you four issues of ThinkWell. Each mailing will contain two copies, one to keep and one to pass on. If response is swift from readers, it may take only a few months for the four issues to come; if people are busy (tournament season, vacations) it may take longer. There will be no deadlines, so that we can avoid slapdash writing. There will be no rush to respond to an article. If you want to comment on something two years after it’s written, that’s fine. After a few issues the journal will probably consist more of letters and responses than of essays and articles. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway. If it totally fizzles, I’ll send refunds.

The computer nets are serving this function for many people in the Society, but they are unmediated and unedited, and not available to all. I’d like to keep these writings general and philosophical, and maintain back issues for new subscribers.

I’m also interested in getting enough subscribers from each kingdom that we can collect and compare kingdom differences, and eventually this could serve people as a guide to behavior for travellers to other kingdoms. There are differences in who can wear coronets, how fights are marshaled, how titles are used and how heralds operate. In some kingdoms there is a seneschal on duty at the throne during all official courts. Other kingdoms have never heard of that. Let’s compare stories and the reasons behind them.

How about interviews with those who might not be inclined to write out their philosophies? How about press-conference style articles where several put their best questions to an individual who answers as many as can be answered within the framework we have. Do you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask some famous individual in the Society? Let me know who and what and we can start a list.

* * * * *

[then followed policies concerning acceptance of submissions, which appear on the last page of this issue]


I, the editor, am Mistress Ælflæd of Duckford, a resident of the Outlands. I am a countess, a former seneschal of Atenveldt, former steward of the Society, and have held such offices as chronicler, arts, and have been a titled herald (in the field of language, not devices).

Having now a handful of subscribers, I will send this issue out to them and to others I think might be interested. If you’ve received this out of the blue, you may be too busy or too tired of thinking of these things to care. If so, please pass it on to another who might enjoy such matters.

We probably won’t be discussing much in the way of how to costume, make armor, etc., but it’s not because the readership doesn’t care. There are many wonderful books and periodicals available to teach and discuss the arts and sciences and practicalities of “The Current Middle Ages.” What those same publications don’t and can’t al-low is ongoing discussion of why things are the way they are, and how they might be better. “Why are we here?” is not a question which can or should be addressed in Tournaments Illuminated or even a complete issue of Compleat Anachronist. Kingdom newsletters are tight for space and funds. Local newsletters are local.

I would like to toss out several topics and questions and then will eagerly await responses, rebuttals, or further questions to be printed in ThinkWell #2, which will come out as soon as I have enough interesting material and stamp money.


Ælflæd of Duckford

I think many of the differences in kingdoms have to do with the kinds of people and their behavior patterns over which the SCA was overlaid. Bluntly put, the East is full of Yankees. Brace yourselves for the rest of it: Meridies is still sore about the civil war, and they want no federal government (i.e. the Board) telling them what to do. Sometimes Ansteorra runs on a good-old-boy network. Northern California, in the 60’s (not coincidentally 25 years ago) was the hot-bed, greenhouse and black-light closet of the hippies, and hippies were not hot to tell other people how to live their lives. When new kingdoms said “How?” and “Why?” and “When?” in letters addressed to Berkeley and environs, the answers (if they got any) probably tended toward “Whatever’s cool,” “Do your own thing,” and such agreeable but not-quite-useful advice. On the other hand, I have a hard time picturing lots of New Yorkers eager to write to California for advice.

Aren’t these just generalities? Sure. Maybe. They’re as legitimate as any geographical discussions. When you’re discussing “How people in Atlantia act” or “How the SCA operates in Oertha,” you might do better to base statements and thoughts on how the culture of the mid-Atlantic seaboard states are, or differences between the culture around Washington, D.C. and that of South Carolina. Oertha is Alaska, and Alaska’s Alaska. Why did Trimaris and Meridies have such a hard time getting along? At the time fingers were being pointed at individuals, back and forth, but how does Florida see itself in relationship to the rest of the South ordinarily?

Here are several questions, stories and ideas which may trigger some of your own:

  • When a group of people got interested in the Society in Española, New Mexico, we were by the rules then in place to be part of the shire already established in Los Alamos, 25 miles up the mountain. Los Alamos and Española are worlds apart socially, with a deep-seated animosity running back to WWII. It ended up being two separate shires, to the relief and benefit of both. The whole thing might have played out the same way even if each SCA member had been replaced randomly with another from the same town.
  • What characteristics of Australians will make Lochac so different, in time (if not already), from the West Kingdom?
  • Some towns form an SCA group easily, and some try over and over and it never takes firm hold. Could this sometimes be more a result of the mood of the crowd in that town or city, rather than to the credit or fault of the founders?
  • How do mountain ranges affect travel? Freeways? If travel is easier in some routes and in some directions in a kingdom, is there any way this might affect the making of peers? Do peers get made along the “king’s highway” (when there is one) more easily than in the wilds of state roads and difficult winter travel? For example, we took a busload of people to a crown tournament in A.S.XII or so, from Albuquerque to near Beaumont, which is a stone’s throw from Meridies. There was not a road to take. Look at a highway map of Texas—all the roads in Texas flow from the northeast part of the state to the southwest, with small connecting roads between them. We were trying to travel from the northwest to the southwest, and we were impeded by lack of any direct route. We saw lots of little towns. Could this be affecting the travel of Ansteorrans to some parts of the kingdom? (I really don’t care if the answer’s no or yes, I’d just like for people to consider something besides just the personalities of individuals when a problem arises.)
  • An interesting issue came up once in which a couple of people (I think, but wouldn’t swear) from New Jersey and Pennsylvania proposed that the SCA make a rule banning anyone from having a gun at an event. They meant anywhere at an event, including locked in the glove compartment. I was steward when this was sent to the board. There were board members from four different kingdoms, I believe. As I recall, the Californians didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about the guns themselves, a board member from the Western U.S. (but not California) and I both pointed out that to tell people from most Western states that they couldn’t have a gun would not meet with their amusement or tolerance. We camp with rattlesnakes. There are many states where people can (and do) legally wear guns around in holsters (I don’t mean at events). The board discussed the gun question in a couple of meetings, and the statement which was issued reminded people that the laws of the state where an event is held must be followed, and autocrats should include in their announcements any new or unusually strict laws which will affect people coming from out of state. (Ultimately, though, any adult who travels from one state, province, or country to another for any purpose is responsible for his actions and behavior. It’s not the SCA’s job to educate the membership in the mundane laws of the hundreds of places where SCA events are held.) They said since people are supposed to be in period garb and all mundane items are to be out of sight, that they didn’t consider they needed to make a special ruling to keep guns from being in evidence. Another point was made about period guns (little cannons and the like) which are occasionally taken to events. That’s how it came out, but the point I’m trying to make is that people wanted to generalize their own area’s customs, laws, and fears onto the rest of the SCA.

    Is there a geographer, a sociologist or an anthropologist in the readership? Are there people who have lived in several kingdoms who can offer some bits and pieces to add to this mosaic? Every little bit of information might help. Try to be politely vague and general when necessary, or be as blunt as you want and I’ll make it vague and general before printing it.


    Ælflæd of Duckford

    I’d like to recount in vague terms a conversation I witnessed between a highly-ranked fighter of one kingdom and four lower-ranked fighters of a neighboring kingdom. This was at a mundane New Year’s Eve party, and it concerned marshalling. One kingdom had fairly “active” marshalling, in which marshals were allowed, encouraged, and required to call blows in certain instances. In the other kingdom a marshal calling a blow was unheard of. To question a fighter’s honor, so the argument went that night, was to negate the entire purpose and being of the SCA and all its tournaments and peerage. (I’m exaggerating, but not much.) The other kingdom’s theories justified their style of marshaling more in terms of the honor of the group rather than of the individual. If fighters were allowed to “rhino-hide,” the reputation of the entire kingdom and their collective chivalry was at stake, and so it was in the service of the king, and on royal authority, that if a warranted marshal in the line of duty saw a killing blow that was not graciously received, he was to say so.

    That might have been the end of the conversation, but a couple of hours later both sides were holding their ground. It seemed neither could concede nor conceive that the other view might be acceptable or workable.

    I got in and played devil’s advocate, suggesting that the way a person was “raised” in the SCA would determine what he believed when he was “grown” (an officer, marshal, knight, etc.), and that people would under-stand, accept, and repeat what was taught to them by people they respected when they were new in the group. I was trying to defuse the situation with humor, and this was not a humorous matter for one or two of the participants, but a serious matter touching on Truth and Right.

    “Ethnocentricity” is a concept taught to anthropology students. It concerns the judging of other cultures by the standards of your own. To take one’s own kingdom’s working definitions of chivalry, fealty, etc., and judge another kingdom on the basis of that is kind of like England in the 19th century going around the world declaring every culture they saw to be primitive, indecent, backward, immoral, etc.

    Does anyone have any comment on Truth and Right? Do kingdoms have different cultures which are equally valid? If so, how can we get this concept out to New Year’s Eve parties everywhere?


    I’m interested in hearing people’s thoughts on the appropriateness of or even just the definition of “campaigning” for a peerage. I’ll be glad to give you mine, but would like to hear some people from outside my area first, because I haven’t had that privilege.



    Ælflæd of Duckford

    Here is an excerpt from an Outlands’ information sheet which I prepared for distribution at TFYC which may also have been distributed at the West Kingdom’s Beltane tourney/25th Anniversary. This was written and then checked by the Crown, Kingdom Seneschal, a couple of old-timers, and some who have moved here recently from other kingdoms. If you’d care to venture a similar summary of your own kingdom’s practices, please send it. If you’re able to get some others to look it over, it will probably improve on the detail. (Some things I take for granted had to be pointed out as oddities to me by ‘foreigners.’) I’d be glad to try to chart these all out and we could together develop a traveler’s guide to the kingdoms.

    If you visit the Outlands, you will need to understand a few traditions we have which may not match your own kingdom’s. The wearing of metal circlets of any sort is reserved to barons, viscounts, and higher. Individuals with lower ranks (including members of the three orders of peerage) wear no metal on their heads. We have many Viscounts and Viscountesses from our nine years as a principality. Their coronets are usually a fairly plain band with one projection on front, which sometimes has a charge from the individual’s device. County and Ducal coronets are as they are in other kingdoms. Any of the above may wear a simpler coronet than they are entitled to if they wish. What are called bands and fillets in some places are all called coronets in the Outlands and are reserved to titled nobility.

    Our knights are traditionally the only ones who wear spurs, and they are given in the knighthood ceremony. Masters of Arms wear a baldric, but their squires or students can wear red belts just as the squires of knights do. (We have heard of places where squires wear chains, but it is considered a very odd and foreign idea in the Outlands.) A few of our Laurels have apprentices, but there is not much formal structure, and there are no special markings or insignia for such things. One Pelican who is also a fighter has taken a squire, but in general Pelicans have not taken trainees. (If you’re interested in the reason, ask some Outlands’ Pelicans.)

    Blows in tournaments are judged solely by the entrants or, in an extreme case, the king or ruling noble overseeing the fighting. Marshals don’t call blows, and will some-times hesitate to make a call even when re-quested to by a combatant. All of our marshals are authorized fighters; we have no non-fighting marshals.

    Prize tournaments and set-number melee tournaments (3 or 5 per team) are frequent in the Outlands, with most being fought double elimination or round-robin. In melées and wars, face thrusts and killing from behind are allowed. Killing from behind is accomplished by laying the sword in front of the opponent’s face where he can see it and saying “You’re dead, m’lord.”

    Fencing is allowed and encouraged in the Outlands, with a tournament each reign to choose the Defender of the Queen’s Heart. We have an Order of the White Scarf which is similar, but not identical, to Ansteorra’s.

    Perhaps due in part to our “Wild West” roots, it is not our custom to remove steel in court. The theory has been expressed that the king has no need to fear for his life when surrounded by so many loyal liegemen (and with fealty being available to subjects at all levels in the kingdom, it’s not only the knights who are liegemen). If an Outlander has visited your kingdom and failed to remove steel he wasn’t being rude or discourteous; he was only uninformed of the custom of your land.

    If you’re from a humid land you may be surprised by people coming up to you and offering you water. We have both the desert and the mountains to contend with daily. Events at 5,000 feet are not considered to be high events. It’s not until over 8,000 or 9,000 feet that Outlanders will start to say “We’re up in the mountains.” With less humidity, fewer clouds and less oxygen than you may be used to, never say “no, thank you” to the waterbearer. Chirurgeons and lists officers will probably have sunscreen that you can use, too.

    You may notice that this was written after I came up with the geographical theories, and after the aforementioned New Year’s Eve party.

    I’m really interested in people’s first impressions in a new kingdom, or even in a new group within their own kingdom, if the move took them to a place quite different from their previous home. I would like to print letters as short as one line concerning this. Please don’t think that if you don’t have time or skill to write a long memoir that no one’s interested. Send a postcard!


    Referring back to the first paragraph of the article on kingdom differences (page 3), another factor in the West Kingdom’s reluctance to enforce its practices on other places might have been the feeling that the Society wouldn’t be around much longer anyway, so it wasn’t so important that everyone participated in the same way or followed the same rules. Even when I joined about fourteen years ago the feeling seemed to be that whatever rule, or policy, or practice was being discussed might outlast the SCA anyway. It wasn’t being considered a long-range activity that might outlive current participants until within the last five or ten years. If your experience or feeling is different from this, please write and discuss it!

    a sort of book review

    (by Ælflæd of Duckford,
    who would love to read lots
    of things written by others)

    Since TFYC I’ve received, read and played with two lists of questions. I’ll ask whether they can be made available somehow to ThinkWell subscribers, but in the meantime I’ll give you some sample questions.

    The first was from Mistress Éowyn Amberdrake of Caid. It’s called “The Book of SCA Questions” and it’s still being completed. The stated purpose of the questions is “to make you think, and to spark discussions.” Several questions will be listed below. If you’d like to send your answers in for publication here, please do.

    The other collection was from Atlantia, and was sent by Duchess Melisande de Belvoir. The original was designed by Duchess Ysabeau Cameron to be a set of questions to be used “Trivial Pursuit” style, and it was revised by Duchess Melisande and Duke Gyrth Oldcastle for a session of the University of Atlantia. (I hope I got all that right.) Whereas Mistress Éowyn’s set of questions doesn’t have right or wrong answers, many of these do. I was sent the answer sheet, but I haven’t peeked yet. They’re hard. See Section II below for samples from all the sections.


    Have you ever “taken a vacation” from the SCA for over a year? What brought you back? Did it change your perspectives on anything?

    Does the giving of awards encourage people to keep doing a good job, or just to work for more awards?

    Should the King, using his power and authority, hold to his own morality or should he conform to the morality of the group he presides over?

    If you were equally qualified for all three peerages, but could only have one, which would it be? Why? *

    What best exemplifies courtoisie to you?

    How can the position of arts in the SCA be enhanced? Should there ever be an arts-determined sovereign? Who judges?

    If all heavy-weapons fighting disappeared tomorrow, would the SCA survive? How would it be changed?

    In what ways has the SCA affected your mundane life for the better? For the worse?

    [These are some of over 100 questions.]


    From the section “King and Castle”:
  • Walking upstairs, which side is the wall on?
  • Where do you keep your hawks?
  • When do you slaughter your cattle?

    “War and Weapons”:

  • What is a chamfron?
  • Name the three times when knightings were most often celebrated.
  • What is the difference between homage and fealty?

    “Learning and Lore”:

  • What is the Doctrine of Signatures?
  • Name the humors.
  • Name a sculptor who’s not Italian.

    “God and Church”:

    Name two heresies.

  • Can you eat eggs and milk on days of abstinence?
  • Put the following in order: compline  matins nones     prime sext     terce vespers   lauds

    “Fair [your kingdom]”:

  • List your kingdom’s baronies.
  • Name three peers of each order not resident in Your kingdom.
  • Who were the first knight, pelican, and laurel created by a king of Your kingdom?


    A lady of our kingdom whose observations of others’ interactions is especially keen asked me about differences she perceived between knights and squires in our kingdom and those of some she saw at Pennsic. There’s no telling where they were from, it being Pennsic, and she being from Far Away. Would anyone who has ever written anything in the past about this relationship care to offer it for reprint? Would anyone who hasn’t written about this care to take a shot now? If you want to include other similar relationships I’d be thrilled.

    Let us know whether you’re discussing actual relationships or ideal relationships. If you know any that match both descriptions, let us know that, too. If you have anything negative to say, please don’t use names. (You might consider leaving names off positive things, too; depends what it is you’re going to say.)


    (subject to later improvement)

    I won’t publish things unless I have the author’s SCA name, real name, and address.

    length—no such thing as too short. Don’t know yet what’s too long.

    content—make it productive, positive, don’t name names in a negative context

    deadline—before I print again. Send what you have when you’re finished

    format—legibly on paper (or Microsoft Word on a 3.5” diskette my Macintosh can read)

    cartoons—same as above. Don’t use recognizable people in a negative way.

    Anything I think might get you or me into trouble will not be published (but I might send it back to be toned down, or print excerpts or a paraphrase).

    Please include some information about yourself, such as peerages, kingdoms in which you’ve lived—whatever you think the readers would find useful and interesting. Mundane job and education are optional, and if you think they’re pertinent you’re very welcome to include them, either within your writing or in a note to me so I can put it in. If for some reason you’d prefer not to be identified as to rank, let me know (in case I know your position and would inflict it upon you in print against your preferences). I usually use “Mistress” and rarely “Countess” so I can fault no one for preferring a lower title or no title.

    THE NEXT ISSUE WILL BE BIGGER and will include
    several contributors, maybe even you !

    Owner, Publisher, Editor, Typist, Proofreader, and Production Manager: Ælflæd of Duckford

    If you’ve received this copy without subscribing, either someone told me you would be interested
    or I found your address somewhere and thought it up myself.

    ThinkWell is a private publication, and the views expressed are those of the authors. Although the subject matter concerns the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc., this is not a publication of any division thereof. Subscriptions are available for $10/four issues from Sandra Dodd, 8116 Princess Jeanne NE, Albuquerque NM 87110. Letters or submissions should be sent in any legible format to that address. Other information about publication policies will be found elsewhere in this issue.

    © Copyright: Sandra Dodd. Submissions belong to the contributors. Except for keeping these issues in print, I’m not reusing articles or art without permission, and you can’t either. I will be glad to help you get in touch with individual contributors if you want permission to reprint whole articles. If you’d like to quote small bits in the context of what might be considered a review of this publication (i.e., letting people know it exists. what sorts of things are to be found, and how they can subscribe) that’s fine. I’d appreciate it.

    2006 note:
    Remember this was all 1991, and is provided for historical purposes.

  • In This Issue:

    Kingdom Differences
    And Regional Traits


    Campaigning for Peerage

    Kingdom Traditions: Outlands

    Feeling Temporary
    [SCA history]

    Two Sets of Questions

    Relationship of Knight to Squire

    Copyright © Sandra Dodd 1998, 2002

    and missives: