- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Foot soldiers wearing shiny steel helmets, chain-mail vests, heavy leather boots and other medieval armor, foot soldiers in the two opposing lines approach each other, 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, Md.
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 now numbers nearly 30,000 members, up a third in the last 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 non-members 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 living 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."

The SCA began as a swashbuckling theme party thrown by the Literature Department at the University of California, Berkeley, on May 1, 1966. Come wearing whatever costume you like, they said, so long as it suits a gallant era of sword and fabled song.
Everybody enjoyed this novel party but thought little more about it until May Day rolled around again a year later. They threw another bash, bigger this time, and bigger fun. That led to other medieval costume parties. A society soon formed, which incorporated itself as a non-profit, educational group in 1968, officially launching the SCA.
True to its party roots, the SCA takes an expansive look at history. It covers the years 600-1600 A.D., says the charter, 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 like Civil War re-enactors, or regiments re-creating American Revolutionary battles. 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. Others might be only a name to justify a particular costume.
Mr. Traylor began constructing the character of Saeric Scireham midway through college 20 years ago, when he joined the SCA. Getting into the group gave him a new spin on history, not one of his more favorite subjects in school. So wondrous was this new vision of the past that he switched majors and got a bachelor's degree in what else? history.
Soon he won an award of arms, the first honor bestowed by the society on new members. This allowed him to display a coat of arms and to title himself a lord. Most people reach that rank, which they earn for service to their kingdom, but few go any higher.
It took him 13 years to gain the exalted level of knighthood. He got there by showing exemplary courtesy and formidable prowess on the field and by rendering indispensable service in the court.
"Knights are supposed to be an example of everything the society stands for," Mr. Traylor says. "That makes knighthood both a joy and a burden, because you are on display at all times."
Part of this display calls for adding several distinguishing insignia to his costume, which only knights may do. These include a white belt, worn to symbolize chastity "You cleave to your one lady," he says. Around his neck goes a gold chain, signifying the oath of fealty that all knights swear to the crown.
Signaling the horsemanship of his kinsmen long ago, he clamps spurs to his boots, though only for ceremonial occasions. They tend to fall off his favorite pair of boots, made for riding motorcycles rather than horses. But that's OK. Knights don't ride horses in the SCA. And black motorcycle boots look really medieval from 10 feet away.

Last year Mr. Traylor vied in a special tournament held every six months to select new monarchs. Such contests, in a category known as heavy fighting, call for a contestant's stoutest sword and toughest armor. They progress through a series of one-on-one bouts by double elimination.
Winning the tournament, he became prince of Northshield, a principality centered on Milwaukee, Wis., where he then lived. Northshield belongs to the Middle Kingdom, a vast region that includes the north-central United States and sections of Canada.
When he stepped down from his six-month term as prince, he was granted the title of viscount, an honor reserved for ex-princes. His royal obligations over, he wanted to leave the kingdom of Northshield. But moving meant asking the king to release him from his oath of fealty, something that his long allegiance to the land made difficult to do:
"[The king] is someone I've known for 15 years," says Mr. Traylor. "I've known him as John, a captain in the Illinois state troopers. But he is also Sir Bardolf, king of the Middle Kingdom."
He broke the bond, anyway, to join his wife, studying for a Ph.D. in speech therapy at the University of Maryland, College Park. Last month he swore a new oath of fealty, with all due ceremony. To take the vow he knelt before King Galmr Ingolfsson and Queen Aryanna Hawkyns at their coronation as rulers of Atlantia, a kingdom spanning Maryland, Virginia, the District, North and South Carolina and Augusta, Ga.
"The formula for becoming the king and queen is: King by right of arms, queen by right of love and beauty," says the viscount.
The viscount's wife, Ciara ni Mhaille, stands nearby, wearing a long dress and a broad-brimmed black hat. "In one kingdom we had a woman win the Crown Tournament," she says. "She was queen by right of arms."
In the mundane world, which is everything not of the Knowne Worlde, she goes by Virginia Traylor. Mistress Ciara, as she is formally addressed in the SCA, wears a large, amber, tear-drop pendant around her neck on a thin silver chain. It was awarded to her by the king of the Middle Kingdom. An SCA jeweler made it, engraving the back with a laurel wreath.
The award signifies her acceptance into a select society peerage called the Order of the Laurel. Membership in the order honors those who excel at medieval arts and sciences. For example, Mistress Ciara received it for her skills in embroidery. She teaches classes on the subject at SCA workshops, and can tell you about every embroidery style known to exist between 600 and 1600.
The laurel imparts the same rank that knighthood does. So, Mistress Ciara's word carries nearly as much weight as that of her husband, the viscount. They met in the SCA 17 years ago.
Embroidery may be more appealing to most women than wielding a sword, even in these post-20th-century days of parity between the sexes. Certainly, during the Middle Ages, seeing a woman on the battlefield would have raised more than a few eyebrows. Cooking, sewing, spinning, weaving crafts of the hearth, rather than crafts of war were their domain.
The SCA teaches all these crafts and more, free of charge, to any member who wants to learn and enjoy them, regardless of traditional gender stereotypes. This impartiality reflects the Society's emphasis on recreation rather than re-creation.

"You don't have to be an historical weenie to be in the SCA," says Anarra Karlsdottir, who also wears a Laurel pendant around her neck. "You can just come and have fun."
Mistress Anarra won the Laurel, a large hand-crafted medallion of butter amber, as much for her mastery of Viking history as for her devotion to bringing it alive. Her surname reflects a traditional Nordic custom still practiced in Iceland today. Children were given their father's first name, appended by their sex, as a last name. The patronymic identifies her as Karl's "dottir."
Mundanely, she is Terry L. Neill, a business analyst from Baltimore, Md. She joined the SCA at the age of 12, some 20 years ago, after seeing several events it held in Eugene, Ore., where she grew up.
"Everybody loves something different about the SCA," says Ms. Neill. "I promote the research that goes into an as-close-to-historically-accurate Viking living experience as possible."
Indeed she does. She even sails a Viking ship on the Chesapeake Bay, as a member of the Longship Company, Ltd., a medieval re-enactment group, incorporated in Maryland, that operates two replica Viking ships. Though Longship's focus is Dark Age Nordic life, it belongs to the broader medieval group known as the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia.
Similar to the SCA, though sticking pretty much to eras before 1300, Markland takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to its chosen era and to itself. Its anthem, for example, speaks of its home turf, Markland, as a "slimey sod forsook by all the gods," and its men as "noble sons" who "run from the sounds of guns." To add to the fun, the song is sung to the melody of Czarist Russia's national anthem.
Markland began as a battle. Washington-area swordsmen, looking for something with more flair than Olympic-style fencing, gathered on the University of Maryland's College Park campus in 1969. They staged the Battle of Hastings, that epic struggle of Oct. 14, 1066, that saw the defeat of King Harold II of England at the hands of Duke William of Normandy and began the Norman conquest of the Saxon land.
The staged battle became an annual tradition, attracting an ever-growing cadre of medieval enthusiasts. Now, Markland covers an area from Virginia to New York. It shares the field with the SCA as the only other similar living-history group of note in the region. Members of one group often belong to the other.
In fact, the weekend warriors at Marietta Mansion included some Marklanders, who fought on familiar turf. They know it well, because the Battle of Hastings re-enactment, too large anymore for Maryland's quad, takes place there every year.
It will again this weekend, when the Normans attack the Saxons on the Marietta lawn to commemorate the 935th anniversary of the epic conquest. Afterward, there will be revelry a Hastings feast, with music by a very old Norse band named Thrir Venstri Foetr (Three Left Feet) and dancing by all. And there will be a Viking ship.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide