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

Heralds and Heraldry


Heralds in the Society do many of the same things as "real" heralds do, only under different conditions and the pay is very bad. Following this introduction is a section of actually useful suggestions, but first the shocking philosophical speculations:

About the pay being bad - heralds don't get the appreciation, as a group, that they should. It's hard and constant work. They stand in the sun, they stand through boring courts that others can walk out of, they know secrets that they'd like to comment on but they maintain their neutrality, they meet away from events and patiently process appeals on names and devices they know won't pass, just to be cooperative.

It seems to be difficult for people to be recognized as Pelicans solely for work done as heralds. When heralds come out and also autocrat, or hold another office, or teach embroidery or music, or cook whole feasts, or provide many scrolls they've done themselves, then the pelicans start to take note.

Several factors are probably at work here, one of which has heretofore been said only in secret, usually behind the backs of any heralds.

The position of the herald is more servile in nature than some of the other positions, and this sometimes causes them to be viewed in a more lowly way than other officers. When a herald is haughty and belligerent, it's not seen as good, especially by other heralds, and so the controlling factors are coming from both ends. Heralds do some degree of fetch-and-carry (albeit with top-security clearances), and some errand-running, and they are sent to wait on marshals and lists officers (at tournaments) and they are sent to advise new members (on names and devices). People who see this may not be aware in the same thought that the herald is the officer who ranks right up next to the seneschal at each level, and that in England heralds hold high social positions. Some officers are solidly in the position of telling other people what to do; heralds are not (except when they do it as the voice of the king, in which case it's not coming from them). Telling people what to do equals rank in some ways in modern society, so it colors our perceptions in the Society too.

People who have not been heralds or have not worked closely with them sometimes express the idea that heralds could be totally eliminated. This is far from true, but it's hard to explain in ten words or less, and sometimes when a person's not really bright and the sun's shining and the wind's blowing, a ten-word explanation is all there's time for. The College of Heralds is the only office in the Society that even attempts to be self-supporting, because they have a means of income - device registration fees and the sale of proceedings of symposia, and of other publications. If the Society were to pay for all the publications required for the maintenance of the college of heralds, membership fees would have to be raised immediately, and people wouldn't be keen on that. Being a herald can be a very expensive hobby, and there are many who love heraldry so much they're willing to invest in the books and equipment necessary to do it well. Heraldry may not be necessary for our maintenance of non-profit status, and it's hard to see the surface of the necessity of heraldry in everyday feast-and-tournament life, but in maintaining The Society - the structure and order of our progress through our SCA lives - heralds are indispensable. A duke wouldn't be a duke if there weren't records being kept of when and where he won two tournaments. Corpora says a person who completes two reigns as king is a duke, but the corporation doesn't keep a master list of who has and who hasn't. Only the heralds know for sure. If someone wants to use my device, exactly, and my name, and my titles, it would be just fine - if it weren't for the heralds. I don't want to share my device, but I would have no power to stop a person a thousand miles away from pretending to be me. Heralds do.

Now the social secret: Heralds in the Society are kind of like computer engineers and physicists in non-SCA life. Many heralds in the Society are computer engineers and physicists in non-SCA life. There is a talent, mind-set, genetic pre-disposition or something at work, and there is much about biochemistry and genetics which we don't know but our grandchildren will learn in elementary school. Many heralds are seen as lacking in certain social skills. The sorts of behaviors and appearances associated with physicists which cause some of them to be impolitely referred to as "nerd," "geek," etc. seem more common in the heraldic community than in other parts of the Society. If you're a herald and this rule doesn't apply to you, then it doesn't. If you're a herald and this rule does apply to you, hey - rules are rules. There are nerds who are calligraphers, and seneschals, and nerds have been kings and queens, and some of them have never been heralds, but there are really tall people who have never played basketball, too (at least I think there are). I thank you for reading this entire paragraph which probably doesn't refer to you at all.

The dichotomy between the body-type/mind set associated with heralds and physicists and that associated with stick jocks and general mundane jocks is not something we invented in the Society. There were big, strong priests and wimpy, foofy knights in history, but they were exceptions worthy of comment. When there's a linebacker in the chess club, it's discussed behind his back in both circles. It's like a herald who's a great fighter in the Society. It happens, but he's usually seen as a fighter who's a herald rather than as a herald who fights.

I'm not mentioning this because I think it should be changed. On the contrary, I'm pointing it out because I don't think it can be changed. There are factors at work which changes in Corpora or a total restructuring of the Society wouldn't change. The kind of people who become heralds are the kind of people who become heralds.



Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991
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