InCOSnito: The Society for Creative Anachronism

By Jackie Chaisson on

About Jackie Chaisson

I do controversial things like spell the name Cass, instead of Cas. When it comes to invasion movies, I almost always root for the aliens.

 

In this series of articles, Jackie will delve into the world of cosplay, historical re-enactments, and live action role-play. Though she was a theater kid in her youth, Jackie does not actively participate in fandoms or organizations that involve costumes, and this experience is completely outside of her comfort zone.


The Society for Creative Anachronism

A Market Day at Birka XXVIII

Court

Step one in attending a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) event is your costume, but don’t let that you deter you if, like me, you don’t have any pre-17th century garb just hanging out in your closet. Just pop into The Golden Key room once you’re at the event, and they’ll hook you up with an outfit you can wear for the day. [1.Note: Birka offers a good amount of options, and event organizers do try to have period clothing available to borrow. However, it is run by volunteers and there can be multiple events in a day, which means it is possible to go to a SCA event and costumes may not be available or there won’t be as many options as at larger events like Birka.] I may be a newbie, but my friend Josh is a seasoned member and, between him and his husband Nate, they dressed me up as a samurai.

My mutant superpower? Excellent posture.

My mutant superpower? Excellent posture.

Other than my initial self-consciousness at being a grown ass woman playing dress up with a group of strangers and the overwhelming urge to apologize for my cultural appropriation to the first Asians I saw regardless of whether they were actually Japanese or not (oh yeah, my white guilt had me doubling down on the racism), I quickly became comfortable in the outfit. And that was a surprising observation of the Birka event: the fact that my costume did not match my ethnicity didn’t matter. So yeah, I was a white lady walking around as a Japanese military noble, and I passed an Asian woman dressed in the attire of medieval European nobility (and yet, we didn’t windmill high-five as we walked by each other??). That is an important distinction of SCA events. While there are some adherence to historical accuracy, it is also a fantasy world interpreting the Middle Ages not entirely as it was, but perhaps as how it could (or should) have been, and what seemed odd at first quickly became the new normal.

Josh carrying a period accurate plastic bag.

Josh carrying a period accurate plastic bag.

Just how comfortable did I get in my costume and with my surroundings? Let’s just say when I shared an elevator at Ye Olde Radisson Hotel with someone not in costume I immediately thought to myself, “Who the fuck is this weirdo?”

The Market

During the Viking Age, Birka was an important trading center in the Nordic world and was the inspiration for the SCA’s Market Day, which was held in the “glorious lands of Stonemarche” (aka Manchester, New Hampshire). It is one of the few indoor events that the SCA hosts, which pleased me since I’m a HUGE fan of modern conveniences like heating systems and plumbing.

Poppin’ tags, but without the fear of rat fleas!

Poppin’ tags, but without the fear of rat fleas!

There was a mix of goods to be found: there were common items that you could find online or in a New Age shop but also more unique wares that were handcrafted by the sellers. And, oh daddy! The artisanship! It reminded me of how foolish I was to never have learned a craft. There were woodworks, metal crafts, and fiber goods present (and yes, there were people in their booths who were literally spinning fleece into yarn using wool they’d shorn from the flock they tended.) If you are like me and have no sewing skills, there were booths where you could purchase ready made outfits, but if you are a skilled seamstress or tailor, there were a few merchants selling fabrics, thread, and embroidered trim. You could buy armor to wear, leather that you could finish into whatever your heart desired, and furs. It was enough to make PETA weep.

Angela of Egill Workshop. Not pictured: Her partner, Chuck, a giant of man whose handshake engulfed mine so completely that I felt like a tiny, baby person in comparison.

Angela of Egill Workshop. Not pictured: her partner, Chuck, a giant of man whose handshake engulfed mine so completely that I felt like a tiny, baby person in comparison.

Workshops

Here’s where I messed up. There were several workshops held throughout the day which included classes like “Middle Eastern Line Dancing” and “Drunken, Foolish & Witless Women” (tagline: Ladies of the 14th Century, learn how to dress properly, improperly, and positively “skanky”. I completely spaced on this aspect of Birka and missed out on ALL OF THE CLASSES. *Sigh* I cannot speak on the quality of the workshops because I’m a dum-dum, but you should know that the SCA does schedule these types of things at their events, so Birka is not simply an open market where you can shop ‘til you drop. There are also fun activities you can participate in, even several family friendly events too. Yes! SCA events are for the whole family so, if you’re tired of watching Frozen for the umphteenth time, an event like this could be a breath of fresh air. Not only do your kids get to dress up, but they can learn about board games from the period or Viking ships and shields or attend an audience participation story time.

Armory

Perhaps, shopping and pageantry aren’t really your thing. Maybe you’re someone who sits at a desk all day long with your headset on, troubleshooting some poor sap’s software problems, plastering a smile on your face, and giving an insincere thumbs up to your boss as they waddle by chanting the “One Team, One Dream” slogan that management is force feeding their employees to promote teamwork, and for the briefest moment, as you watch the khaki pants and rumpled button-down shirt walk away, you’re certain you feel something deep down inside of you die. Retail therapy isn’t what you need. No, you need something more—something that tests your strength and endurance—something that reminds you that you’re still alive. Well, the SCA may just have that little something that you’re looking for: the Armory.

Welcome to the Armory or, as I call it, Fight Club for History Nerds.

Welcome to the Armory or, as I call it, Fight Club for History Nerds.

These particular history nerds participate in medieval combat (both heavy and light), which requires them to wear armor over the vital parts of the body. Granted, real swords aren’t used—rattan replaces steel in the arena—so while you can’t slice and dice your opponents, you do get to bludgeon them. Seriously. I’m pretty sure one guy broke his hand while I watched on in fascinated horror. The whole thing was violent, brutal, and strangely erotic (like the tingly feels I get when watching Braveheart). It was the only other time since I’d first arrived at Birka that I became overly self-conscious and a little embarrassed that I was carrying around a sword since I had no idea how to effectively use it. However, at no point did anyone attempt to make me feel weird or out of place.

The line of people waiting for their turn to get pummeled.

The line of people waiting for their turn to get pummeled.

Conclusion

After Birka, Nate asked me if I would attend another SCA event, and the answer is: yes, yes I would because where else am I going to be able to dress up as a badass Viking and not have people give me a sideways look? But also because people were so kind, and it was amazing to see the artistry and talent of the people involved in the SCA. They are experts in their disciplines, who are eager to share their works and knowledge with you. If you have even an inkling of a desire to try out cosplay, then you should definitely look into the SCA. They make it easy for newbies to test the waters.

8 comments

    • I think Raiya Corsiglia’s videos do a much better job of capturing the spirit of SCA events, as well as the amazing clothing and armor that people wear, than my “point and shoot” pictures ever could. Thank you for sharing her video, Mandi!

  1. Nice article! Just a couple of notes – Stonemarche is actually the entire state of New Hampshire, rather than just Manchester. I live an hour west and I’m still in Stonemarche. *grin* Second, it’s “Gold Key” rather than “Golden Key”, which might sound nitpicky but if you’re looking for it, asking for “Gold Key” will get you taken directly to the right spot.

    There were many aspects that I’m sure you didn’t have time to visit (because Birka is, really, rather huge and time is short). We had court (you have a picture up top of our Royals sitting), where awards are given for those gentles who have excelled in their chosen field. I believe there were three Knightings done at Birka this year, which is very special and can take years to achieve. We elevated people to Laurel (a title equal to Knights), people who are experts in a specific field of Arts and Science (so weaving, sewing, costuming, embroidery, cooking, baking, and heraldry, for instance). There are also Pelicans, who give their time in service to the Barony (Stonemarche is a Barony) or to the Kingdom we belong to (which is the East Kingdom).

    In the SCA, these awards are only given for excellence. Oftentimes, people dedicate years of their lives to practicing, honing their skills, and then presenting those skills to others. They teach, too, and we don’t charge for that. So if you want to learn weaving, we’ve got groups that teach that! Same with fighting (both rapier and heavy), and calligraphy, delicate hand illumination, cooking, etc etc. 🙂

    • Hello RevAllyson! Thank you for the clarifications. I’d considered including details of the court within this article, but I felt I wasn’t doing justice to the Arts & Sciences portion of the SCA since I was writing from a first impressions point of view and I wasn’t interviewing any of the dedicated members. Perhaps that could be a future article…

  2. That was a really great article. Thank you. However, it is not one of the few indoor events. Here in Canada, the majority of our events are indoors because of the weather. 🙂 Same is true in the northern parts of the US.

    I do hope you get to more events.

    • Lisbeth, you reminded me that I didn’t point out that the SCA is an international organization. Argh! I should have clarified that I was attending an event from a specific region within the SCA (MA/NH) and I may have misunderstood when it was mentioned to me that Birka was one of the few indoor events. Thank you for taking the time to comment, as the readers should know that wherever they are in the world, they may be able to find a local SCA group near them (and that there is a good mix of indoor and outdoor events!).

  3. For a person walking in ‘cold’, you did an great job of introducing the SCA to your readers. The ethic of the SCA is chivalry (as we define it). Thus we expect our members to be pleasant, gracious, courteous, and well mannered. Loving one’s neighbour may sometimes be challenging, but one one should at least be polite. I am especially pleased about your handling of the way we view race/ethnicity; the SCA lets you pick! To us it would be utterly unchivalrous to mention that somebody’s skin wasn’t yellow, red, white, brown, black, green enough to match the costume. If you are dressed as a Scandinavian, then you are a Scandinavian. If you dress Chinese, then you are Chinese. We are not interested in details like the colour of your skin, your birth certificate gender, your heredity, the texture of your hair, or the shape of your eyes. Your costume tells us what you are supposed to be, and for us that is what you are. I regret that the rest of the World is not as sane as the SCA.

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