Because getting ready for the Big Trip isn’t enough chaos for us, we went to a two-week Mideival Reenactment Festival out near Pittsburgh. Mr. Fantastic had taken the kids to Pennsic 43, and this year I went for about a week of Pennsic 44. It was awesome!
I had heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism, also called the SCA, back in college. It appeared to be a lot of fighting and role playing and I just wasn’t very interested. But then three years ago, Mr. Fantastic was driving through rural PA and noticed an encampment of some kind. Maybe a religious event, he thought, or a Lollapalooza- type concert. Back at home on the Internet, he read about Pennsic War and began planning our participation.
The SCA is way bigger, more sophisticated, and more organized than I had imagined. It encompasses a highly complicated network of participants who not only practice European fighting techniques of roughly the 600’s to the 1600’s, but those who study and craft objects from that time period such as illuminated texts, fiber art, and musical instruments. And it is not just Europe, but the Known World, which extends to China, Japan, and parts of Africa. Even the fighting is more interesting than I had realized, since there are archery, fencing, and atlatl-throwing as well as the combat with full body armor. Several people told me that the armor combat draws in a lot of people, then they stay for the friendships and often get involved in other aspects. Check out this project:
Mastering 15th and 16th Century Pleatwork Techniques
I hadn’t realized the scope of the “Arts and Sciences” part of the SCA until hearing about it from Mr Fantastic after his first Pennsic. I saw some of it for myself last week. These projects were very high quality, deserving of academic recognition in my opinion. Maybe some artists were doing this as part of a PhD, but it seemed to be more of a love of the time period. Also, the artists could gain points for their Kingdom through recognition of their work at Pennsic, and individually, SCA members can become “Laurels” for their achievements in Arts and Sciences. Here are two more projects, one on Safavid Woman’s Sock Boots, and one on Viking Age Wool Production:
I was stunned; these could be displayed in a museum and must have taken copious amounts of time and energy. Oh, and I looked it up: Safavid refers to an empire that once controlled what is now Iran, and apparently did so with Sock Boot-wearing women!
So it’s not just knights in armor, though there are thousands of those and they are very impressive. There were theater productions such as an amazing one of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (Fiercely and Poppa auditioned and had small roles in this and worked on it online during the year) several commedia del arte (16th century Italian theater involving masks and improvisation) performances, wandering musicians individually and in groups, and choirs (children, adults, and a smaller audition-selected adult choir) singing period songs.
Then there were classes! Hundreds of classes! The kids made painted silk banners, leather pouches, and beadwork. I myself attended Insults in Old Norse-Iclandic Literature, Women and Medicine Before 1650: An Introduction, and one about a typical merchant from historical records of the age. Here is the list of classes from Pennsic 44. Unbelievable!
I could go on and on. There were beautiful canvas tents and yurts, some with pennants waving gracefully in the wind. There were around 300 merchants. The site is a 100 acre park and the event, with its over ten thousand participants, seems to cover every nook. People were friendly and interactive, almost all have period names and many have a backstory they will happily share with you. Cleverly had won a raffle at another SCA event and so we picked up her prize at Pennsic. We now have a gorgeous handmade banner with… A Burning Chicken! Here’s Fiercely with the banner on our “mundane” (SCA for modern) tent: