When I joined, I spent a frustrating couple of months in trying to figure out where to start. Veteran SCAdians tried to answer my ill-formed questions, but the answers were so often (correctly) “It depends ….” and “Whatever you want …..” that I ended up feeling like I was trying to push water up hill with neither hose nor bucket.
Part of the challenge of becoming a new member of the SCA is that there is a “chicken or the egg” dilemma to be solved right off the bat. As a new member, you need to be able to introduce yourself and wear, as the guidelines specify, a reasonable attempt at medieval clothing when you attend your first SCA events. But both name and clothing (called, in the SCA, “garb”) depend upon when and where your persona* is located, and most newcomers do not yet have a developed persona. You may not even have much beyond a vague idea of a location and historical period that you are interested in learning about (mine was Viking era northern Germany).
That’s ok. Maybe I’m slow, but I finally realized that name, garb, and persona can be (should be?) developed in stages. It is not necessary to walk into your first event with a fully fleshed alternative identity. In fact, you can be perfectly comfortable with not having any ideas at all beyond a desire to learn about Medieval/Renaissance Europe.
That being said, the following is what I think would have been a logical and useful path for the first few months of membership.
Find Your Local Group(s)
If you haven’t identified where in the SCA world you live, this should be your first step. Head over to the SCA’s main website (sca.org), and do a kingdom look up. This will give you the name (and website) of the kingdom where you reside. But keep going.
On the kingdom’s website, you should also find lookup features for smaller geographical divisions so that you can find a local group of people who live relatively nearby. Ideally, these people will become your mentors, friends, and compatriots as you begin to explore the rich world that is the SCA. The SCA Newcomer’s Portal gives advice about who to contact first, but keep in mind that everyone in the SCA lives a double life, and officers are often pretty busy. Gently keep looking for persons who are willing and able to answer questions and give advice. They may not always be the officers!! And no matter what position they occupy, thank people who help you and make note of who they are so that you can write recommendations for awards later.
Once you know what kingdom (and local groups) you inhabit, jump on Facebook and join those groups. Prior to joining the SCA, I didn’t have much use for Facebook, but now, it has become on of the best resources for finding out current information and getting questions answered via crowdsourcing.
Stages of Name Development
I am now old enough to order off the “55 Plus” menu, and my name and title are a big part of my identity. So, when I started, I felt that I needed to have the SCA equivalent, and this caused me no end of frustration with the “chicken and the egg” dilemma. Thankfully, the Facebook crowd was able to share stories of how they developed their names, my anxiety came down a few notches, and I developed this game plan:
- Use <mundane given name> of <SCA location> for initial introductions. It can get you started, is easy to remember, and doesn’t require a lot of initial research. But, as many veteran SCAdians warned me, you don’t want to use this for too long. How long is “too long”? It depends ….. (Yes, I went there.) I decided that I needed to come up with a name for stage two when I was starting to meet up with the same people at events, business meetings, and practices. When these people remember and greet you by your mundane name …. I think it is time to think seriously about your Society name.
- Move on to using <Society given name> of <SCA location> as soon as possible. Generally, you don’t need a full name for most occasions; so that can wait for you to research and develop a persona. But you should pick a SCA given/familiar name fairly soon. Probably after a few events. By then, you should have a better sense of where and when you want to research. But how do you choose??? There are many approaches, and if you really want some interesting reading, ask your kingdom’s Facebook group how they chose their names. You will realize how diverse the SCA really is. I choose Christiana for a few reasons:
- I have used some variation of Christine as a character name for more than 35 years of roleplaying and computer game history. When someone calls “Chris” in a crowded room, I’ll turn around in response. This makes it a good name because I will respond to it!!
- But also, it is one of those names that was used throughout Christian Europe from early Medieval through modern periods. With minor changes in spelling, my persona could be from nearly anywhere and at any time. If you are really stuck, try contacting your local Herald for advice. He or she should have loads of information and advice. But in the end, it really needs to be something you like.
- Eventually, you will settle on a fairly specific location and time period that you will focus upon for your research and creativity in creating your Society persona. Then, you will develop a full Society name that you use. The Known World Handbook has guidelines for creating your Society name, and your location and time period will also influence the format of your name.
- Finally, you may want to have a registered Society name. This is a formal process through which you officially register your Society name with the SCA Heralds so that no one else may claim it. Not everyone does this, and I have met people who have gone for years without registering their name. I think people put it off because it does require documenting that your chosen name (with exact spelling) was used in the time and place that you specify. The heralds will work with you to get the details right; so it is not a pass/fail test.
Stages of Garb
A reasonable attempt at non-modern clothing (i.e. garb) is the only requirement (plus entrance fee) for attending an SCA event. But, as with a name, deciding what to wear can have you chasing your tail because clothing can be very location and era specific. Thankfully, you can tackle this in stages, and you may have quite a lot of support from event organizers as you get started. If you have purchased (or can borrow) the Known World Handbook, there is a lot of information about how to get started with period clothing and how to get ready to dress for your first events.
To take it in stages (see pages 27 – 28 of the Handbook):
- Be not modern!! Hide or leave behind modern watches and gizmos and borrow some clothing for your first few events. If you contact the event organizers a few weeks in advance, they should be able to loan you a simple costume (often called “gold key” garb). I also had a person from my local canton very generously offer to loan me garb so that I could get started. If borrowing clothing doesn’t sound attractive (and I have to admit that I didn’t go that route), you can pull together an outfit from simple materials with very little sewing required. (Note: vision corrective glasses, hearing aids, etc. are acceptable and generally ignored.)
- Be generically medieval. As you attend more events, start to refine your look by adding accessories that were used in many different eras and locations. Just about everyone wore head coverings, cloaks, and pouches and carried knives. In fact, working class clothing didn’t change much from one century to the next. So, channel your inner peasant and dress in comfortable loosely layered clothing.
- Become specifically period. As you get involved in the SCA, you will probably start focusing on a specific location and time period for your persona. And gradually, you will start creating or collecting clothing and accessories that you would have worn and used. How detailed you get all depends upon your preferences. I have seen people wearing jeans and a modern tunic ….. but I’ve also seen some fabulously detailed costumes. Since I am not ready for this stage of the game yet, I’ve created some Pinterest boards for each era & location that I’m interested in researching further. That way, I don’t lose my inspiration, but I am also not totally overwhelmed with the task of creating an authentic outfit either.
Note that SCA “events” do not include business meetings, martial practices, or informal classes. You can wear mundane clothes to all of those meetings. If in doubt, ask the host or organizer if garb is required.
Meet People and Have Fun
Ok, hopefully I’ve convinced you to have a staged game plan for name and period clothing.
The next step is simple, but for many of us, it can be a challenge. You have to give up any notion of being ready to join in ….. and just jump in, ready or not. Once I had decided to finally join the SCA, I went to the local canton’s business meeting. Where I mentioned that I had taken up archery again, and Baron Geoffrey of Warwick invited me to archery practice. And at archery practice, someone mentioned that there would be archery at a local event. So, I went to my first event in purchased and hastily remade garb. I lived through it and wasn’t embarrassed.
You too can do this. Take the step. As a fellow SCAdian said, this is one of the few ways that adults can make new friends!!
*What is a Persona???
If you ask a dozen SCAdians what a persona is, yes, you will get at least a dozen answers.
A persona is your creation ….. detailed or not ……. of a person who might have lived in the Middle Ages (or early Renaissance) at a particular location. In the early stages of SCA membership, you can let this be vague. You don’t have to be prepared to answer questions about who your persona is. Events are not a test!!! And this is not a roleplaying game where you will be expected to act as your “character” for a whole day.
I am taking the viewpoint that my persona development is a way to focus my research on a particular culture, time, and location. It’s like an extended research project, but one where I don’t have to write a paper. Rather, I’ll wear the evidence of my scholarship in my clothing, accessories, and activities.