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Long Stewardship

Hilary of Serendip

©2004, Hilary Powers

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T.I. #105, Winter ’92


TIME, they say, is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.
     In that case, my cousins, what the Society has done is abandon Time. We cover such a span of years that everything does seem to happen at once. At their best, our tournaments and feasts and wars take place in a brilliant timeless world amid the latest fashion and gossip of a millennium.
     This world of ours is vastly enjoyable, evoking visions of the mythic realm where great souls of all eras mix in harmony and merry conflict, and allowing us to imagine ourselves in that brave company. It is also vastly educa­tional, providing an unmatched array of beautiful and clever reconstructions of the skills of our ancestors for us to admire, master, and surpass.
     It takes only a small investment of ego, time and money to enter our world. Unlike the sort of stern historical re-creation group where someone whose boots don’t match the rest of an authentic outfit isn’t allowed to play, the Society specializes in helping people settle in. We frown on the “costume squad” and denounce remarks like “surely you know zippers aren’t period!” Most of us understand that a paper dunce cap with sequins glued all over it and a nylon scarf trailing off the top denotes a newcomer full of joy and energy—someone to welcome, not laugh away.... And our world is as easy to explore as to enter. Whatever country, culture or craft appeals to you, it’s there to play with. You want to be a Pict and your wife loves farthingales? No matter—just use a blue dye that won’t stain her lace, and you can go anywhere together. Too cold to go barefoot? No problem—switch cultures to one that wore boots, or wear boots anyway; no one will challenge you, unless you claim your steel-toed puddle-stompers are period.
     We’ve raised the possible to an art form—we do what we can with our theme, and somehow most of what we come up with blends into a harmonious whole. SCA events are instantly recognizable—if you show a snapshot from thousands of miles away at your local meeting, people will say, “They look just like us!” And so they do: the same variety of time periods, the same mix of artistry and approximation, and the same verve. Everywhere the Society goes, it enriches the lives of its members and their communities in very similar ways.
     Of course, that snapshot probably shows the same warts as well: approximation due to laziness, and “re-creation” far beyond our realm in time and space. We’ve set our standards and borders so wide we tend to forget they exist at all. When Vikings and fops play bouzhkashi together, it barely stretches the imagination if they line up for Hole-in-the-Wall (a post-16th-Century dance) after­wards...and if a few refugees from a science fiction convention wish to join the fun, it’s hard to tell them to go away and get dressed.
     Unless we’re all both watchful and careful, the beauty of our timeless world is drained by the intrusion of modern clothes and comforts, and of modern fantasies without roots in history or courtesy. Life without limits is chaos, not freedom, and I fear the backsliders and bare-bun-ians and midnight drum-pounders bring us far closer to chaos than we can well afford. We owe it to ourselves and to all our potential friends who haven’t found us yet to uphold both the eclectic charm of our events and the quality of our individual and collective endeavors within them.

     Our timeless world is a valid and valuable exercise, but even at its best there are costs as well as advantages to its welcoming ease. Many of us settle for adequate-but-low efforts, and never discover the rewards of higher levels of knowledge and skill. In addition, the sheer diversity of avenues to explore scatters our researches in all directions, so we never see what we could accomplish by working together.
     The broad tolerance and mixed timelines that make it possible for anyone to play also make it almost impossible for anyone to taste the full potential of historical re-creation. Beyond entertainment, beyond the pleasure of learning and building and making and doing, beyond the practical use and economic value of once-lost skills in the modern world, true delight comes when sight and sound and memory coalesce into a perfect sense of connection. “This is real!” we say, feeling drawn into the past and sustained by it, and knowing without words that our own road into the future is broader and more solid as a result. Mixed-timeline events can offer only glimpses of that truth, at dusk or in the rain or when strong shared emotion masks the dissonance of the scene. Clear light and clear sight point up the comic incongruities all around, and put an end to epiphany.
     Conversely, the more all the elements of a scene match each other and the better you fit into it, the closer the door into wonder comes. It is not ever easy to find, but the more care you devote to historical detail—and the more people around you work on the same place and time—the more likely it is to open at your feet. A group of Norse traders from An Tir came down to the West’s 25th Birthday Party, and lived the whole week in a low shelter where every thing was right: no ice chests, no sleeping bags, no levis, directors’ chairs, or flashlights; their only contact with the “modern” world was to talk with people who came to their table about their wares and their research. They made no compromises—but they did what people of their period would have done to live in comfort in friendly territory, so they ate and slept as well as anyone on site, and better than most. And the glow of reality around their camp was strong enough to cancel its sur­roundings, so that I remember only them and nothing near them. What it must have been like to live there....
     The Society must protect its timeless world; it gives too much to too many people to set aside. And yet, I think we could make room for consistent re-creation as well, even though the concepts seem mutually exclusive. A branch can’t specialize in one era without freezing out members who prefer another, but it might still try some time-bound events. (This is already happening on a limited scale; lately I’ve seen a few flyers offering info packets to help people prepare for the day.) The current attitude toward such events is neutral-to-negative: you can hold a Norman banquet, but you can’t exclude someone who wants to be a time-traveller there. No matter how much work you’re willing to do now, you can’t create a unified environment and still call it a Society event. This doesn’t seem right to me, and I’d like to give some thought to ways we could keep the advantages of our open approach and still make it possible to sample the full effect of concentrated effort.
     If you have any ideas to share—either on improving the quality of our timeless world or on opening doors from it into specific days—please write to me, at the address inside the front cover. Somehow, we ought to be able to enjoy perfect timelessness, and still make time for Time, as well....

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The West Kingdom History Website was created by and is maintained by Hirsch von Henford (mka Ken Mayer).