The Society for Creative Anachronism is a medieval reenactment organization that spans several continents. Unlike Renaissance Faires, its events are put on by and for members, not for profit or for entertaining the general public. The SCA is a living community and culture based on ideals such as chivalry, honor, courage, wonder, creativity, and scholarship. Hands-on activities include many forms of combat; traditional arts and crafts like weaving, illuminated manuscripts, smithying, woodworking, and so on; there are musicians and storytellers, dances and feasts and battles. Kings, queens, and local rulers administrate the various geographical areas with the assistance of officers and many willing hands. The SCA is a nation of the imagination with a 39-year history, legends and customs that knit members together from all over the world through common convictions about how to care for one another and how to live the dream.
The Pennsic War has grown into the greatest SCA gathering, a two-week-long camping event drawing 12,000-14,000 members from all over the known World. According to legend, it began after King Cariadoc of the East decided to liven things up by declaring war on his neighbor the Middle Kingdom. Messengers being what they are, the war arrow did not in fact arrive until Cariadoc had stepped down from the throne, moved to the Midrealm, won Crown Tourney, and there received the Arrow from his tardy messenger, where he declared that the Midrealm must of course defend its honor from the Eastern aggressors! Hostilities have been renewed each year, although the loser no longer gets Pittsburg, since the "Debatable Lands" rebelled some years back and established themselves as the independent Kingdom of Aelthelmearc.
"Annual enemies, eternal friends" is Pennsic's unofficial motto. Combat is conducted a bit like fencing: the armor is completely real, but the weapons are wrapped and padded wood or fibreglass, designed to simulate the weight and length and feel of period weapons so that fighters can wield them full force without hurting each other (much). Chivalry is vital, since warriors are honor-bound to acknowledge a "killing" blow. Siege weapons and combat archery add to the ambiance, and Pennsic has its own castle for siege battles, plus a woods battle and a number of scenarios to simulate combat in narrow ravines, on bridges, and on the open field. When I first saw The Two Towers, I had a strong feeling of deja vu: the familiar sound of raindrops tapping on helms and armor brought back to me the distinctive smell of wet grass and pungent Pennsic mud!
Combat, however, is only one small part of SCA life, and Pennsic includes everything from plays and masquerade balls to a large University with volunteer-run classes on everything from "armor extrication" (cutting fighters out of plate mail for health emergencies) to "zills" (finger cymbals used in Middle-eastern dance). My own role in the society is mostly as a junior bard-- a storyteller and singer-- although I also have been a drummer, an archer, a scribe, and do occasional waterbearing at the battles. I now hail from the Kingdom of Caid (southern California and Hawaii) but have attended Pennsic since Pennsic XXII. Returning each year to my camp on "Hill Road" is like going home. As Cullan the Chieftain of Bards' Haven says, there is really only one Pennsic; the other 50 weeks of the year are just a "town run".
The original Pennsic war arrow and war horn. Click picture for close-up.
The cannon (!) goes off, and armies of many kingdoms and households allied with the East Kingdom or Midrealm charge together with a clash of weapons against armor. At the edge of the battlefield, Taiko drummers from the medieval Japanese household Yama Kaminari add to the sound of thunder.
At the castle battle, ballistas shoot golf tubes tipped with rubber that pack quite a punch. There are also a few trebuchets, to my delight.
After a solid week's worth of fighting in ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity, the last battle's over, yet a few warriors want to spar with friends or valiant foes. Huzzah, that's my king and the king of Lochac having a friendly duel in the distance!
Throughout the week there's also many tournaments and informal pickup duels and challenges, some of them raising money for charity causes.
Video clips: duel1 ~ duel2 ~ melee
Lady Elanor Fairchild and her lord...
Master, ahem, Olagh Garraed Gailbraith, tireless organizer of bardic activities with massive singing talent, well-researched scholar of the original Celtic bards who teaches classes on the topic
I'm afraid that I always remember him best for his vocal performance in Morgana's Norse saga parody "I've got a splinter in my rowing bench". (Web page of cool Garraed stuff)
Mistress Marian of Heatherdale (as kind as she is beautiful)
You can browse clips of her songs on Amazon -- here's a few of my favorites! Mistress Morgana bro Morganwg, skald extraordinaire and keeper of the flame, beloved and revered by any bard who knows her. Quote: "Never piss off a bard." (Go here for sound clips.) Donno these folks, but they were good. His Grace Frederick of Holland, "loyal subject of the Crown" since day one. Here's his song "Thirty-Nine Years and Counting" recalling how it all began, with more songs, poems, and recordings on his website!
Mistress Morgana bro Morganwg, skald extraordinaire and keeper of the flame, beloved and revered by any bard who knows her.
Quote: "Never piss off a bard." (Go here for sound clips.)
Donno these folks, but they were good.
His Grace Frederick of Holland, "loyal subject of the Crown" since day one. Here's his song "Thirty-Nine Years and Counting" recalling how it all began, with more songs, poems, and recordings on his website!
Several thousand miles from home, the court of Caid is down to the basics, without thrones or feast gear, but His Majesty Dietrich von V÷gelsang has not left behind his eloquence. He spoke movingly of the honor and valour of those who fought with him and the selfless hours put in by members of the court. I wish I could have gotten a picture of their Majesties processing out of the Closing Ceremonies in their finery, but I was on one knee and concentrating on trying not to let my voice crack as we sang Non Nobis Domine. I could hear Her Majesty Adriana's voice soaring over almost everyone's, for she is an accomplished singer herself. If only the reigns of wonderful monarchs weren't so short! Ever since I first met them nine years ago and was overwhelmed by their chivalry and generosity, I have yearned to come to Pennsic with them as my King and Queen. They have been precious role models for me.
Barony of Threescore
Blood Moon Clan
Midrealm Royal Encampment
Barony of Bhakhail (Philadelphia area)
Kingdom of Meridies
Caidan royals walking past Kingdom of Ălthelmearc
my own camp on Hill Road...
and our neighbors in the woods behind us, Blue Rose, who have stone paths, statues, and stone circles and light the forest at night with torches. I used to call them Rivendell.
Below, some pieces from one of my favorite merchants: Todd Alan
"And when the battle's over
We'll go back to the stars
And back into our mundane lives
And dream of future wars
One hundred million warriors
Can't wait to pick up sticks
And practice for the Grand Melee
Of Pennsic 206..."
~ Andrew McRob, "Pennsic 205",
to the tune of "Ghost Riders in the Sky"
~ Natterings and photos by Helena Lyristes, the Bard Formerly Known As Kithyra.
My smaller albums for past Pennsics: Pennsic 33 ~ Pennsic 25 or so