Omphaloskepsis: that pesky C

Before we get started: I will be watching commentary and IP addresses on this post.  Any use of the terms “Nazi,” or related terms will result in being blocked.  I will not tolerate it, nor will I also tolerate bashing of individuals.  Any conversation that is not constructive will be removed.  Commentary is okay, but at any point that it becomes toxic, I am turning off comments.

Ah, the SCA.  Society for Creative Anachronism.  Never has a name been more problematic for the mission statement of a group.  Now, I say this as a member of the Society, but perhaps we need to really evaluate what the C, or “Creative,” really means to us as a group.

A bit of history: when the SCA was formed, a name for it didn’t exist.  Given that the SCA was originally a party in held in protest of the modern ages in Berkeley, California, it’s perhaps unsurprising.  By the time the second gathering rolled around, albeit in a city park where, to reserve the space a name on the form was required.  Enter Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Yes, the authour.  (I won’t get into the other issues surrounding her, as it’s not particularly salient to this post, but I’m aware of them.)  Being a wordsmithing type, Ms. Bradley came up with “The Society for Creative Anachronism,” being a group creatively exploring things set out of their 20th century native timeframe.

So, we have an origin for the name.  Let’s look at a bit more history into the Society.  At the 1966 Berkeley party, humans, elves, dwarves, and the like were acceptable concepts.  After all, it was a protest against the modern age, with the even the College of Arms registering a few Elven names in the early years of the Society.  As time progressed though, the Society moved further away from Tolkien-inspired, with the exodus of elves beginning in AS XVI (1982 CE).  It was decided in AS XXVI (1991 CE) that the College of Arms would not register elven names any longer.  Effectively, this marked the beginning of a more historically-oriented organization.

What does this mean?  Well, for one, it meant focusing our organization into a more thoughtful, historical view.  Sure, the focus is still quite broad (literally to the beginning of recorded time to 1600 CE), however, we still have that pesky C.  Many of us have heard the phrase “It’s not the Society for Compulsive Accuracy!” or “but Creative is in the name!” and while those people are correct that the SCA is not that, on the other hand, the SCA allows room for people to grow and explore that history in hands-on ways, which, yes, involve some creative uses of materials and odd justifications for why a Roman legionary might be sitting next to an English Elizabethan courtier.

As an organization dedicated to pre-1600s history, perhaps we need to look at what makes us tick.  On one hand, being a live-action history club is a lot of fun.  On the other, though, due to our somewhat abstract view (on the whole) of medieval history, it gives us less tooth when we meet up with some of our other reenacting brethren.

The big tent approach to medieval and Renaissance culture (and outliers) has led to some interesting issues.  How far do we carry the concept of authenticity within the Society?  For some, they are content to wear tennis shoes, sit in bag chairs, and enjoy camping and archery. . . and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that desire to do so.  Others may be content to sew by hand an entire outfit from the skin out using natural fibres or creating a scroll using animal vellum and period pigments.  Guess what?  That’s quite all right too.  Within the Society, we make countless choices for the non-period item, whether it be for expense, safety, skill, or even health.  (And we’re not the only historically oriented group that does this, either!  American Civil War groups don’t use real bullets, Revolutionary War groups may have individuals using plastic fifes, and wise reenactors involved with early 19th century events aren’t going to intentionally wear garments dyed with Scheele’s Green.)

And yet, these two camps between authenticity and having fun seem to be at odds.  We are all aware of that One Guy who counted all of the stitches outside of an arts and sciences competition and complained loudly that “they weren’t period” and made someone feel terrible.  (For the record, I think that One Guy is not a nice nor cool guy.  Authenticity is a flog for yourself, not others.)  I’m here to say that people in the Authenticity Camp and the Having Fun Camp can get along.  But like many things in life, it’s going to have to come with some rules for getting along.  Below are Konstantia’s Rules for Getting Along with the People in your SCA-hood.  Of course, use these rules as a guide, not a dogmatic “it must always be this way” sort of situation.

  1. Realize that your goals may be different than others have for themselves.  It’s perfectly okay to have goals and desires and things to do in the Society.  It’s also perfectly okay for your goals and desires to be different from someone else.  It is not okay to belittle someone for wanting goals and desires that are different than yours.  If someone has a goal of attempting something more period, don’t try to dissuade them by screaming “but the SCA is CREATIVE!”  It’s okay to like different things, y’all.
  2. The rules of the SCA exist for a reason. Every subcategory in the SCA has rules.  Corpora even states that “provided [people wear] and attempt at pre-17th century clothing, [conform] to the provisions in Corpora, and [comply] with any other requirements (including, but not limited to site fees or waivers),” anyone may attend an event.  That being said, the attempt at pre-17th century clothing can be as elaborate as a tee-tunic over a pair of jeans, or a fully-realised 12th century Byzantine ensemble.  It just has to be an attempt, and provided everyone is following the rules, let that person be.
  3. Live and let live.  The Society is about history, yes.  But the Society is also a group of people; a group that comes together to celebrate pre-1600s history as much as our own history.  Our history is just as important as the history we study.
  4. Be kind.  Look, I get that we are not going to get along with everyone.  It hurts nothing to be kind.  And if the Society is predicated on the concepts of knightly virtues (courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak), then we ourselves should ready ourselves to think and act with these concepts.  Grace goes an awfully long way.
  5. Learn when to give advice/critique.  I seriously wrote a blog post about this earlier this year.  There is a time and a place for advice and critique, and how to broach that subject with others.
  6. Encourage each other.  The Society can only be better if we truly encourage each other.  So, your scrubs-wearing friend did well at archery?  Tell them they did a great job.  Your period-minded scribe friend knocked a scroll out of the park?  Let them know what you think.  We could really be a hell of a mutual admiration society if we encouraged each other more, were more thoughtful with our speech, and listened more often.
  7. If someone wants to go more period, let them!  All too often, I’ll see a post where someone wants to up their game, and there’s at least one comment where someone insists on the “but it’s CREATIVE.”  Look, a lot of things are creative.  How we research, how we determine how to make something, and even the justification of having a Japanese and a Byzantine in the same space is creative.  If people want to up their game, let them!

Look, our origins are a little bizarre.  And yet with our approach to historical practice, the Society has lasted over fifty years.  If we are to last at least fifty more years, we must consider that there may be reasons for people to play at the multitude of levels that we have.  For me, I’d like to be more period in my research and portrayal of someone who could have existed.  You may not, and that’s fine.  But please, don’t yuck my yum.  And I will remember to do the same to you.

8 thoughts on “Omphaloskepsis: that pesky C

  1. “Authenticity is a flag for yourself, not others” Brilliant. But I know of no other hobby where someone making an effort to up their game is discouraged by so many people. My husband loves to play World Tavern Poker. He spent a year playing everywhere he could, in an effort to up his game. No one told him he was “harshing their mellow”, they gave him tips and encouraged him. At the end of that year, he had won a seat in the semi finals in Las Vegas, and a plaque for most improved player. THIS is what we should be striving for–to improve our own game, and to encourage others to do the same.


  2. I’ve been in the SCA since 1975 and I’ve never seen or heard of anyone being given grief for trying to up their authenticity game. Quite the opposite, actually.


    • I am given grief on a regular basis from people who have been around “forever”, who dislike my research because it “changes what they know”, since they’ve been wearing “This style” since the 80s when they “got their Laurel”. I have been berated for buying Sartor silk and told I am “trying too hard”.

      I write a single post on how the idea of the headroll in the context of Byzantine dress is incorrect, and I’m sent hate mail telling me that it was worn in the Renaissance in Spain and Italy, and therefore I am wrong and rude.

      This is how academics get driven out of the SCA. This is why the game is a laughing stock in my professional circles. If participants won’t accept new research because their memories of the days of yore are so old they’re in black and white, perhaps they’re the ones that need to take a look in the mirror, not me.

      Liked by 3 people

    • It is part of the horrible side on the eSCA. I have seen it happen a number of times in SCA Facebook groups. Someone asks questions about improving their OWN portrayal of their persona and not far into the comments someone goes off about how you don’t have to be authentic and don’t let people make you.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Hell, I’ve even gotten it in my tiny little corner of weird rapier authenticity. “It looks funny” or “why would you care what they wrote down” or “epee techniques work just fine” and “why are you rocking the boat.”

      Super weird. Super frustrating.


  3. As someone who was there way back when (AS IX to AS XVI mostly), and occasionally turns up today, I’ve faced a variant on this problem. I’m criticized because my general presentation isn’t up to expectations, and been told that my awards and honors are laughable because they were given “before we had standards.” I’ve even had feedback on a talk I gave that said “I can’t take her seriously because of the dress she is wearing.”

    I no longer feel welcome in person, although I do participate in on-line discussions. At least on the ‘net no one can see your machine-sewn seams and silver-painted leather coronet.


  4. I was Laurelled in 2018 for Persona Development, which requires one to be very authentic in a number of different subjects. I took this as the ultimate award for being as authentic as possible achieving a level of mastery in this and in research worthy of a Peerage. It is therefore a ongoing matter of stupefaction to me that I am told on a more or less regular basis that I am somehow “doing it wrong”, that I see and hear comments about how standards don’t matter (they do, even within the relatively relaxed context of Corpora). Being as authentic as possible with each of my three personae is how I choose to play in the SCA, and I also recognize that some others just want to do the bare minimum. That’s just fine. I do draw the line at vampire fangs and fairy wings for anyone over the age of eighteen, however, since the SCA no longer embraces its Tolkein-esque/fantasy origins.

    I also think that there is a point at which you don’t join the chess club to play tennis, if you take my meaning. Just paying the site fee and showing up does not entitle attendees to set up a Harry Potter themed encampment or whatever the flavour du jour is. We are, at our most basic level, a historically based recreation group, so at least a tentative nod towards that historicity is required (in my humble opinion). So, continuing the chess club analogy, whether you choose to join as a casual, recreational player or you end up being a grand master, let people follow their bliss.


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