Society for Creative Anachronism

From Academic Kids

The Society for Creative Anachronism (or SCA for short) is a non-profit educational organization devoted to studying and re-creating the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Primary focus is on Western European culture, but can also include other regions such as the Middle East and Japan with which Western Europe had contact during 800-1650 CE.



The SCA is an historical reenactment or living history organization. By the standards of authenticity of many living-history groups, this is only in the loosest definition of the term. The SCA does not concentrate on a narrowly-defined period, a specific war, or a singular historic event as do many living history groups. Rather, the SCA’s reenactment approximates the feudal class structure of the European Medieval period that lasted several centuries. An oft-quoted unofficial motto is, "The Middle Ages - not as they were, but as they should have been."

As a rule, the SCA does try to limit itself to only historical facts and techniques, but will often include enough modern elements to simulate history safely (such as the selection of Kings and Queens through tournaments rather than warfare and intrigue, replacing steel swords with rattan during real combat, and substituting hazardous materials in painting) -- hence the phrase "Creative Anachronism."

In its many activities, the SCA practices a less constrained minimum standard of authenticity than during public demonstrations. For instance, some new members make cheap carpet armor to learn sword fighting from members who have historically accurate armor. From this attitude of letting members pick their own level of historical commitment, many activities of the SCA have more to do with "re-creation" (and recreation) than with re-enactment. These lax requirements to participate are also seen as one of the strengths of the SCA. Some SCA participants describe the SCA as a large group of people with interlocking hobbies that are rarely used or needed in a technological society. Because of the diversity of SCA members, most medieval trades or hobbies within the SCA are practiced and valued. (See "Activities" below.)


Unlike some living history groups, where one is assigned to play the role of an historical person, SCA members create their own persona. For some, a persona is simply a costume and a name, an alter-ego for a weekend costume party. Others craft an elaborate personal history of a Medieval person who never lived, but might have, opening the door to years of scholarly research and hands-on re-creation.

At events (see below) members will often attempt to remain "in persona," speaking only of things that their period alter-ego would know about (assuming they have researched these things). They may use code terminology to refer to modern or "mundane" items such as automobiles ("chariots" or "wagons", sometimes "dragons") or telephones ("farspeakers"). A certain amount of cognitive dissonance is accepted, particulary when dealing with 8th-century Norsemen wearing eyeglasses and a wristwatch.


All participants of official SCA events are asked to try to dress in pre-17th century garments, or a reaonable facsimile thereof. (In SCA jargon, this era is called "Period", although some insist that "Period" only legitimately refers to the millennium of A.D. 6001600. According to the founding documents of the SCA, Inc., there is no back date; however, they do state middle ages in one place, and simply pre-17th century in another. As a result, there are a large contingent of Roman Legionaries and smaller groups of such cultures as Ptolemaic Egyptians.) It should be noted that a vast majority of SCA events are not spectator orientated, and as such, anybody on site is considered a participant and expected to follow SCA norms. This is one of the primary differences between SCA events and Ren Faires.

SCA Events fall into several general categories:

Combat Events

These typically involve either tournaments with one-on-one combat or melees where teams compete against each another. Events that host "Wars" can have up to 5,000 armored combatants such as ocurs at the Great Pennsic War held each August at Cooper's Lake Campground North of Pittsburg. While non-combat related activities may (and usually do) occur, the primary draw is the chance to fight.

Arts and Sciences

Other events are set up as a learning experience for the members. Typically classes are given in history or crafts of the period, or in how to better perform activities within the SCA. Topics can range from heraldry, philosophy and history to costuming, calligraphy and metalwork. Some "A & S" events have competitions, with the largest offering overall prizes or championships in the arts.

Coronations and Investitures

These events allow for the changing of the ceremonial leadership of groups from the local Barony up to the Kingdoms. These events typically are great ceremonial affairs (at least compared to the typical events) concentrating more on meetings and organization than combat and such.


Where a typical event may host anywhere from 20-3000 participants over a one to three day weekend, the Wars typically draw thousands from across the Society for upwards to two weeks. The primary concern in most is, as to be expected, Wars between entire Kingdoms and their allies. Combat is likely to involve forces in the 200+ range on each side and can include large siege engines (firing relatively safe projectiles made of duct-taped tennis balls, foam covered golf tubes and the like).

Most events will normally wrap up the last day of the event with a Court to allow for the awarding of honors and a feast. Evening activities can range from bardic circles (formal and informal) to raunchy parties.

As the SCA (and its members) has aged and the second (or third) generations have begun to attend events, some of the more extreme activities that formerly gave the SCA the nickname of The Society for Consenting Adults have generally tapered off to a more family friendly environment.


Textile Arts

The first thing one notices about an SCA event is that everyone is wearing at least an attempt at pre-17th century clothing, often called "garb." Wearing garb to events is one of the basic requirements of the SCA. Garb may range from a polyester-blend T-tunic for a newcomer to a hand-embroidered and beaded Elizabethan gown complete with hoops and ruffled collar. Typically, men usually wear a tunic and pants and women wear a long gown. Members often have "field" garb, simple cotton tunics or gowns that they wear to camping or other outdoor events, and "court" garb made of expensive brocades and silks that are reserved for fancy dress events. Many SCA members make their own costumes, though the needlework-challenged can purchase their garb from merchants or barter with other SCA members. Newcomers to the SCA can usually borrow garb for their first event or two by contacting the local group's Gold Key officer or Chatelaine/Castellan, who is responsible for helping acclimatize new members.

Armed Combat

Two forms of armed combat are re-created in the SCA: Heavy Weapons generally approximating the sword-and-shield, hauberk-and-halberd fighting of the High Middle Ages, and Light Weapons, generally approximating the lightly-armored "swashbuckling" of the Hundred Years War. (One point to note is that the Kindom of Lochac, which is modern day Australia and New Zealand, refers to combat archery, not rapier, as 'light' combat).

The martial arts as practiced in the SCA are notable in that there are no referees. While marshals are on the field to watch for loose or broken equipment and to protect bystanders, it is the fighters themselves who acknowledge the effect of blows. A fighter is on his or her own honor to "call" a "good shot," feigning its effect. For example, a solid blow to the arm renders that arm useless, so the fighter will stop using it for the duration of the fight. Calling a leg shot, the fighter drops to his or her knees, or may comically hop around. (Good "field schtick" is considered an asset.) A blow to the head or body is considered a "killing blow", and the fighter so struck acknowledges the fact that he has lost the fight by falling to the ground. Fighters who refuse to call good blows quickly develop a reputation as "rhino hides." Consistently unchivalrous fighters may find themselves unable to find opponents who are willing to face them.

Real armor varies in its effectiveness, of course. For the purposes of calling blows all heavy-weapons combatants are considered to be armored in a chain mail hauberk, with an open-faced helmet similar to the barbut. For that reason, a draw cut or glancing blow would have no effect, while a solid blow would. (Testing with armored animal carcasses shows that while chain protects well against a slicing blade, it transmits most of the perpendicular force of a blow. A solid shot to an arm or leg would contuse the muscle and perhaps break the bone, rendering the limb useless at least temporarily.)

Light-weapons combatants are considered to be wearing street clothes and leather gloves. In reality they wear fencing masks with hoods and full-body coverings that can be demonstrated to resist four hard thrusts with a broken foil blade.

While the early days of the SCA did allow teens to join in heavy fighting, this was eliminated in favor of safety and liability concerns. Recently, though, a trend has emerged to begin Youth Combat activities. Typically, armor requirements are stricter and the weapons are padded golf tubes (for the youngest children) or PVC pipe (for teenagers) rather than taped rattan. In a case of coming full circle, there is now some consideration of allowing the oldest of the youth fighters, to participate in some adult combat activies. (The SCA has been around long enough - 40 years - that some members now have grandchildren of legal age who have grown up handling swords and shields.)

Heavy Weapons

To prepare for tournament and wars, some groups hold "fighter practices" where a full contact martial sport is practiced. The fighters wear armor (often of their own making — of plastic, leather, carbon steel, stainless steel, spring steel, or any combination thereof, though more historically accurate armor is available and is being used more frequently) and strike each other with weapons primarily made of rattan and made to resemble swords, pikes, spears, axes and other medieval weapons. This 'Heavy Weapons Fighting' is interesting among martial arts for its lack of formalized training. This allows new-comers to learn at their own pace and to add to the game in unpredictable ways.

Typically several years of direct experience in the SCA's Heavy Weapons Fighting are needed to excel in tournaments. SCA Heavy Weapons Fighters also practice many-on-many engagements called melees or wars, and make up the world's largest non-militant army, according to an unofficial FBI source.

Light Weapons

Some groups practice a style of fencing with rules different from Olympic fencing rules. Instead of fencing for points, fencers attempt to "disable" or "kill" their oppenent by striking at target areas. Both thrusts with the point of the blade and cuts with the edge are accepted as attacks. SCA rules do not recognize lanes or right of way, so opponents often circle each other. Body to body contact is prohibited, but hand on blade contact is allowed, so the off hand becomes an important factor.

While many SCA members attempt to "re-create" rapier combat of the 16th and early 17th centuries, in practice it often becomes a blend of Society rules with Olympic style fighting.

It is important to note that fencing in the round is in fact not characteristic of this period of fencing as with the introduction of the rapier and small sword fencing became more akin to the strip based bouts common in modern day. This change was primarily due to the superiority of thrusting attacks as fencing in lanes tends to increases one's speed and strength with regard to these attacks.

Once widely considered the "red-headed stepchild" of SCA combat, light-weapons combat has grown in popularity and prestige over the past three decades. However, Crown Tournaments and martial peerages are still restricted to heavy-weapons fighters.

Combat Archery

Usually seen only in large scale combat events, Combat Archery allows the introduction of bows and crossbows to SCA warfare. Strict limits are in place to limit the poundage of field weapons, and the projectiles are specially built with large blunted tips and special backs to minimize the risk of true injury.

The vulnerability of archers varies from Kingdom to Kingdom (and often within a Kingdom). In some cases, archers are allowed to carry melee weapons and must be physically struck down like any other field combatant. In other cases, if a melee fighter gets within a set range (typically 10 feet), the archer is automatically considered dead. Under either system, archer must still wear the same level of armor protection as the heavy fighters, with the exception of hand protection to allow for the use of their weapons.

Forbidden Weapons

Some weapons, while actively used within the SCA's target period, have been barred from use in SCA combat because it is difficult or impossible to make them safe. These include staves (the typical style involves a large amount of force on impact), punching weapons (Katars, punch daggers and offensive shields such as the targe), and flexible weapons such as the flail or ball and chain, which can wrap around heads, limbs, or shields causing injury. Some flails may be acceptable if the flexible length is very short. (In practice they are used like a mace, albeit a floppy one.)

Firearms are likewise barred. Some Light Weapon combat events do allow some firearm simulation, but that is rare.

Bardic Arts

The "Bardic Arts" are also popular. The bard in pre-Medieval Celtic society held a specific social class and had specific duties. In the SCA context, though, "bard" is a general term that refers to most storytellers, poets, and musicians. Many Early Music performers resist being categorized as "bards", and SCA members who have specific interests may prefer to style themselves as minstrels, troubadors, troveres, minnesangers, etc. SCA bards not only perform period pieces but often compose new works. These may be in the style of ancient forms, such as a new version of a Child Ballad, or a piece recounting (in period style) some aspect of the "Current Middle Ages" such as a history of an SCA kingdom. One of the more perversely popular styles, though, is "filking". A filk is a new lyric set to an existing tune. The practice has ample historical antecedent; ancient musical codices are full of tropes that set new lyrics to existing tunes. A modern example is Carl Orff's Carmina Burana which has several ribald lyrics set to the Gregorian chant tunes used in worship. What sets filks apart is that the tunes are generally modern: Broadway show tunes, top-40 radio hits (going back to the 1960s when the SCA got its start), and so on.


The SCA keeps its own College of Arms to register and protect heraldic devices of its members (at least within the Society). While once, all heraldic device submissions had to be checked against both SCA and historical predecessors, currently only major non-SCA heraldic devices and symbols are checked against. Thus, while a person cannot register the Coat of Arms of Queen Elizabeth II or of France, they no longer check against a 12th century minor noble who managed to impress the King one day.

The same internal organization also registers and maintains SCA names, checking against duplication and ensuring at least minimal period authenticity. In some cases, names that were once acceptable, such as Rhiannon, have been since shown to be of modern origin and are no longer allowed (though current bearers are not required to change their names).

While there is no requirement to register a name and/or device, members are encouraged to do so. Newcomers are often counseled by experienced members on choosing a suitable persona name, and local heralds are usually enthusiastic about helping new members create and register a unique device that represents their personality and interests.


Many SCA events feature a Feast involving everything from simple "fighters fare" or "peasant lunch" of bread, cheese, and "stone soup", to elaborate multicourse feasts served over a period of several hours. While feasts are not always of only period foods and recipes, they rarely include glaringly non-period items as hamburgers and corndogs (though there was at least one group which put on a feast in which they documented 'beans and weenies'). As with period feasts, there is often an elaborate main dish or dessert called a subtlety. (One group has a running gag at their annual feast in which the main dish is a mythical beast. To make a "sea dragon", for example, they assembled a five-foot long meatloaf with a dozen chicken drumsticks arrayed along each side.)

Cooks who strive to stick to period or near-period dishes may still modify the original recipes to allow for modern palates and ingredients. A running joke in the SCA (and at least one song in very deliberate bad taste) concerns the inedibility of feast food. In actuality, most feasts are prepared by staffs of talented and dedicated volunteers who work long hot hours to serve (and clean up after) a repast unequalled by many fine restaurants - and usually for a fee of only a few dollars per person.

Calligraphy and other arts and sciences

Some SCA groups hold regular classes in various medieval arts and sciences are practiced. These might include dance practices where Renaissance Dance and English Country Dance are taught, or calligraphy and illumination workshops where interested people study and create illuminated manuscripts. At large gatherings, such as the annual Pennsic War, many people offer classes on various aspects of medieval life.


The SCA is worldwide in scope. The Known World is divided into Kingdoms. As of October 2004, there are 18 SCA Kingdoms worldwide. Worldwide there are about 32,000[1] ( paid members. (Many people participate without joining as it is not required to join in order to participate. It is usually required to be a paid member to hold office.)

There are active groups all over the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand with scattered groups elsewhere. (At one time there was even a group on the aircraft carrier Nimitz, known as the "Shire of Curragh Mor" (Gaelic for "Big Boat").)


As of April 2005 the SCA Kingdoms are (in order of founding):


This use of the term "peerage" is unique to the Society and should not be misconstrued to have any resemblance, whatsoever to historical peerage as practiced in the United Kingdom or similar countries, although they are inspired by medieval concepts.

SCA Peerages are bestowed as lifetime award to those who receive them, though the recipient may surrender the title if they so wish. It is possible, though usually difficult, to receive again a peerage so surrendered. There has been only one case where the Society revoked a peerage, in this case a Knight who was convicted of being a hitman.

Peerages are bestowed by the Crown (King and Queen) of a Kingdom. In most cases (except for Royal Peers), this is done at the request of the members of a given peerage, but there have been rare instances where the King has bestowed the honor on those not considered by (or even more rarely, against the wishes of) the given peerage. Often this has led to a number of that peerage surrendering their rank in protest.

  • Knights represent the epitome of combat arts and chivalry. Knights are expected be well rounded, and to be working for the good of the Kingdom and Society. Knights are recognized by their white belts and gold chains. They are address as Sir for men, but the women are split between Dame and Sir. Most take under their wing promising younger fighters as their Squires, who are recognizable by their red belts. Some Knights serve as squires first, but this is not a requirement.
    • Because Knights are required to swear fealty to the crown, no matter their personal feeling towards the individuals, some have chose the alternate title of Master of Arms. They wear a white baldric rather than the belt, but enjoy most of the same privileges and honors. Master of Arms (addressed as Master or Mistress) are common in some regions, and almost non-existent in others.
  • Pelicans are so named for the medieval belief/legend that a mother pelican will, in times of need, prick her own breast to feed her lifeblood to her brood. Masters and Mistresses (Dames) of the Pelican have shown such devotion in the service of the SCA in general. Often, these are among the leaders running the day to day business of the Society, holding offices, running events, and assisting with the organizational aspects of their local or regional group, their Kingdom or even the Society as a whole. They are recognized by their medallion, depicting the above mother pelican, and their associates wear yellow belts to announce to the Society that they are working towards the honor.
  • Laurels are the artisans of the Society. They are considered experts in their fields, researching, practicing and teaching their arts and sciences to others in the Society. Laurels vary in art from armor making, to singing, to weaving, to any other art and craft performed within the medieval period. They are expected to use and be knowledgeable about medieval and renaissance materials, techniques for construction and styles in their art. They often have green belted apprentices learning from them.
  • Royal Peers are both the simplest and most difficult peerage to join. One simply must have ruled as monarch of a Principality or Kingdom. For more information on how this is accomplished, see Royalty below. Royal Peers go by a range of titles from Viscount/Viscountess (former principality monarchs), Count/Countess (or Earls, who have served once on a Kingdom throne), and Duke/Duchess (who have served two or more times).


Each SCA kingdom is "ruled" by a king and queen chosen by a Crown Tournament. This is typically held as a double-elimination, one-on-one combat tournament (it should be noted, however, that there is no historic precedent for this method of selecting rulers). The winner of the Crown Tournament and his/her Consort will be styled "Crown Prince and Princess" and serve a short (or not so short, depending on Kingdom custom) training period under the current King and Queen prior to acceding to the throne and ruling in their turn. Most kingdoms have two reigns of about six months per year, though some have three reigns per year. The training period is typically half a reign.

As of 2005, there has only been one 'Queen by her own hand.' Two other Queens have served as Sovereign rather than Consort when their Prince or King died before or during their reign.

While the reigning crowns do have a large amount of power within the Society, it is mostly ceremonial, as the day to day business of running the Society is performed by those behind the thrones serving multi-year terms. The Society Board of Directors reserves the right to strip any crown of its authority (retroactively to the beginning of their reign, even after it has ended) if they abuse their authority.


The SCA traces its origins to a theme party held in a backyard in Berkeley, California on 1 May 1966. The event began with a parade, styled as a "protest against the 20th century" (typical of Berkeley in the mid-60's), concluding with a "Grand Tournament" in which the participants wore motocycle helmets, fencing masks, T-shirts, and whacked away at each other with plywood swords. It was such a success that the participants went on to organize more. The name "Society for Creative Anachronism" was coined by science fiction author Marion Zimmer Bradley, an early participant, when the nascent group needed an official name in order to reserve a park for a tournament.

The SCA continued to be a local organization until 1968, when a tournament was held at the World Science Fiction Convention, which was held in Berkeley that year. The idea spread and soon other local chapters began to form. By the end of 1968, the SCA had been split into two kingdoms (West and East), and by the end of 1970, there were four (with the addition of the Middle and Atenveldt).

The SCA still measures dates within the society from the date of that party, calling the system Anno Societatis (Latin for "Year of the Society"). For example, 1 May 200430 April 2005 is A.S. 39.

See also


  • The Known World Handbook (3rd ed.). Milpitas, CA: Society For Creative Anachronism, Inc.

External links


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