Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

Becoming the Source
Ælflæd of Duckford

The following article appeared in the Atenveldt Seneschal's Handbook, 1980.


Remember when you were little and you believed in Santa Claus? Christmas was absolutely magic—the finest part of life.

Later on you found out that your parents were really doing it. You were disappointed, but Christmas was still wonderful. Maybe you didn't admit you knew the truth, just to help keep the magic a little longer.

When you got older you had to help set up Christmas for younger kids—the ones who still believed in magic. There's satisfaction, but not much magic.

Eventually you become responsible for an entire show—you're the Santa Claus. You do the planning and the footwork, you worry about the cost and pay the bills. It's still worth doing, for the sake of the believers and for the feeling of accomplishment, but they'll hardly thank you because they think it was Santa Claus.

I know now that long hours of hard work went into those first events I attended, but at the time I thought it was all magic and spontaneous.

As seneschal or autocrat you're a stage manager for a medieval illusion. If people think it's magic, if they think the Society runs spontaneously, you've done your job well.

I was thrilled to see my thoughts come back around, nearly eleven years later, with some interesting details, and to a wider audience than got to read it the first time. In the December 1990 issue of The Outlandish Herald, the following article appeared. It was written by Master Giovanni di Sienna, an Outlander and former principality treasurer and kingdom seneschal, and is reprinted with his permission.

Being that it is December, I decided to pass on an analogy that I first heard from Mistress Monika von Zell. I was told this story when I became a local seneschal a number of years back. Well, here goes.

Once upon a time ... oops, wrong story. The SCA is sort of like Christmas. When you first join, all the presents are sitting under the tree wrapped in gaily decorated packages. You get to pick which package you want to open first. You also have fun deciding which presents you want to keep for yourself, give to another, or share with a friend. Everything is there waiting for you. You are continually approached with new surprises, thoughts and attitudes. Learning all of the social skills necessary for proper interaction in this club encompasses a large amount of your time. All in all, these are the good old days.

As you grow older in this organization, the SCA doesn't provide all of the packages pre-wrapped. You are now expected to help in wrapping the packages. You still have plenty of presents given to you, but now you get to help out. You're trusted by others to pick out the box and the paper and to do a competent job in the wrapping. Much of the joy that you receive in the SCA is now focused on the learning of new skills.

Older now, you are starting to furnish the presents. No longer are you content or expected to sit back and let everything come to you. You pick with care and concern those presents that you can make with your own hands or help direct others to create. You help create the atmosphere in which to give the presents to the young folks. You ensure that the others are now allowed to help wrap the presents and start learning how to make them. Sure, you still receive presents, but making them is much more fun now. The transition to this "paternal" role is an interesting one. The learning and doing is still a great part of your enjoyment, but now people are asking you to do some teaching as well.

Finally, in the bloom of your old age, you sit back and help where needed. All those folks that you helped teach wrapping skills and making skills to are now working at it full force. You still make things and help wrap them, although the major role seems to be in guiding others towards these pursuits. You have become "Father Christmas" to a new and vibrant group of folks. The teaching element is first and foremost now (for better or worse). One day you finally look around at all the new faces and the realization strikes that these people think that you're the old timer or part of the "old guard" now.

That's the SCA "Christmas" story, long version. All of us are different ages playing middle ages.

I love hearing things come back through. Giovanni was embarrassed when Mistress Monika pointed out to him that it was my "story" in the first place, but there was no need for embarrassment. I was flattered, and Giovanni's version had an interesting focus mine had not, as his was aimed not just at seneschals and autocrats, but at everyone at every level.

A similar analogy I've used is a theatrical production. As a newcomer you are in the audience, and after seeing a few plays you might make a visit backstage. If it seems interesting, you might go from apprenticing with the techs and costumers to taking tickets, or you may become one of the best actors, and might eventually end up being director or theater manager. The play will never seem the same to you, but there's an audience out there, and they don't know about production details or the realities of getting it all presented.

We owe it to the Society to return the favor that was done for us. What I want for the services I've provided newer members is not so much to be thanked or repaid in any way by them, but that they will pass it on to other, newer members.

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