Lords, Ladies Revel in the Days of Olde
Longaker, Mark, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: Mark Longaker
Foot soldiers wearing shiny steel helmets, chain-mail vests, heavy leather boots and other medieval armor approach one another in two opposing lines, raise their emblazoned shields and brandish swords and spears of rattan.
"Lay on," roars the warlord, and the lines charge each other across the broad lawn at Marietta Mansion in Glenn Dale.
They collide, swords and spears flashing like lightning, crashing down on wooden shields. Some 15 furious seconds later, the skirmish ends. The "dead" rise from the grass to rejoin the living, and everybody talks it over, amiably.
These are the weekend warriors of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), and the melee is just a warm-up for the all-out war tomorrow through Sunday at Darlington, Md. - the Kingdom Crusades. The "crusades" will pitch two rival SCA kingdoms into a medieval maelstrom, their massed battalions storming across a storied field straight out of Arthurian legend.
Life in the past lane attracts a growing legion of devotees. Thirty-five years after its inception, the SCA numbers nearly 30,000 members, up a third in the past decade. SCAdians, as they dub themselves, dedicate themselves to researching and re-creating pre-17th-century history. They live in a global realm of 16 kingdoms. Christened the Knowne Worlde, this land of lore welcomes members and nonmembers alike into its mythic celebration.
A similar organization, the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia, operates from the Virginias through the New York City area and specializes in the darker ages, those before 1300.
Whatever the era, the return to simpler and even primitive times seems an answer to a 21st-century need.
"There are magic moments," says SCA viscount Sir Saeric Scireham (otherwise known as Steve Traylor, a massage therapist who lives in Silver Spring), "when you're sitting around a campfire. Nothing but torches light you all the way around. You hear a lute and a singer in the distance. You see people tromping by in armor. There is nothing from the modern world, and it seems like you're transported back."
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The SCA began as a swashbuckling theme party thrown by the Literature Department at the University of California at Berkeley on May 1, 1966. Come wearing whatever costume you like, the invitation said, so long as it suits a gallant era of sword and fabled song.
Everybody enjoyed this novel party, but most thought little more about it until May Day rolled around again a year later. Then came another bash, bigger this time, and more fun. That led to other medieval costume parties. A society soon formed, which incorporated itself as a nonprofit educational group in 1968, officially launching the SCA.
True to its party roots, the SCA takes an expansive look at history. The charter says it covers the years 600 to 1600, but no one pushing those limits a little is turned away; some SCA members even study the code of the samurai, the warriors of medieval Japan. This flexibility distinguishes SCAdians from more traditional re-enactors who focus narrowly on specific periods, such as the Civil War or the American Revolution. Members are free to flesh out their favorite time-traveling fantasies how they will.
"It's a chance to play at your archetype," says Sir Saeric. "In the modern world, you don't get to be a hero, you don't get to be a warrior."
As a knight living 800 years ago, he gets to play the hero, both on the valorous field and in the royal court. He wields an agile sword, instructs and mentors fighters and, above all, upholds the honor of his lady. He can tell you all about his parents and grandparents and how the family got its name.
All SCAdians have personas, as they are called. Some, such as the viscount's, mirror the modern world fully in the past, with elaborate personal histories appropriate to the time. …