Storming the castle

On nearly every weekend of the year, somewhere in the Kingdom of Atlantia, a passionate group of everyday citizens from South Carolina to Maryland recreates the best aspects of the Middle Ages. These are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, who are well-versed in aspects of life from the years 600-1600 and make it their duty to keep those traditions alive.

“We’re just history buffs trying to have fun and looking to relieve stress,” says Rich Coleman, Seneschal (or head officer) of the SCA’s local chapter, The Barony of Hawkwood.

Founded in Milpitas, Calif., in 1966, the SCA began as a single-occasion theme party — but attendees didn’t want the festivities to end. The organization now counts more than 30,000 members and 100,000 participants worldwide, with Hawkwood encompassing North Carolina’s western region.

Members are initially drawn to the organization’s martial activities. Rapier fighting is popular, as is heavy-weapons fighting, thrown-weapons activities, archery and equestrian events. These forms of combat then come together in field battles between armies, sometimes with blunted arrows raining down during combat, and an occasional siege, involving the storming of a castle.

Though the martial activities are among the SCA’s showier features, a wide array of quieter pastimes have their own practitioners. Drawing from the vast array of arts, crafts and court activity from the thousand years in question, members preserve the era’s woodworking, glass blowing, jewelry making, cooking, calligraphy and scribal arts and traditional dances.

“People like to look back and in many ways it was a time when things really were more simple. It allows folks to slow down for a bit,” Coleman says. “If you can think of it, we do it.”

Many people in the SCA have been studying their particular area of expertise for years. Arts and crafts competitions are held by people with decades of experience, some of whom are professors or librarians, who in turn request that entrants bring documentation to show that in-depth research has been done through legitimate sources.

“Everyone likes a goal,” Coleman says. “You don’t have to engage in competitions to have fun, but they are available as a way to be recognized and put yourself in line for an award. The more recognition, the more likely you are to have someone ask how you do it, and a lot of it is about sharing with other people. We’re different from Ren Fairs in that it’s about sharing; not just watching, but participating.”

Hawkwood distinguishes itself with a recognized and respected rapier community, but is also becoming known for its scribal work. Members’ scrolls are becoming noticed at competitions and the group’s dancing, through currently small, is seeing interest increase.

“I would also like to think that we excel at our sense of humor,” Coleman says.

Though the variety of activities may seem daunting, the SCA welcomes newcomers and is eager to help steer them toward their interests. For inquisitive beginners without an era-appropriate wardrobe of their own, members do their best to find workable clothing at events. Loaner gear is always available and as long as an effort is made, even tying towels around one's neck as a makeshift tunic is welcomed.

“We want everyone to have fun and feel like they’re experiencing the best that time period had to offer,” Coleman says.

One isn’t required to pay dues to participate in the SCA, but membership comes with discounts at events, a personalized SCA card that makes check-in at these events easier, access to monthly publications, and the potential to hold an office.

While the fun and camaraderie during events is a prime attraction, the SCA’s benefits extend beyond weekends and into daily life. Everyone has worth and is considered at least minor nobility, so that all are treated with a modicum of respect. Likewise, the focus on romantic chivalry doesn’t end when the work week begins, as members look for opportunities to be of service in the world and act accordingly.

This friendly spirit will next be on display during a recruitment event in downtown Asheville on Saturday, July 20, followed by a garb-making get-together the following day from 1-5 p.m. at the Enka-Candler Library. About two months later, one of Hawkwood’s two major annual events kicks off with Games & Gluttony 2 on Sept. 28 at the Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Candler. Armored and rapier fighting are planned, amid a generous food spread and general good cheer, with a particular focus on handmade dice and card games of the time.

“We want more participation however we can get it, since more people equals more research,” Coleman says. “What drives me is that I’m well aware that lots of people really need what the SCA has to offer but they don’t know about it.”

— Edwin Arnaudin is an Asheville-based freelance writer. Email him at edwinarnaudin@gmail.com.

who: The Barony of Hawkwood, local SCA chapter
what: Recruitment event and garb-making day
when: Recruitment is Saturday, July 20 at City-County Plaza downtown Asheville. Garb-making is Sunday, July 21 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Enka-Candler Library. Find out more at http://hawkwood.atlantia.sca.org

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