AK: The Middle Ages

A fighter prepares for battle. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI - Homer)
A fighter prepares for battle. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Feasts, jousting, and medieval dress are just your average afternoon for members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Participants are dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and culture of pre-17th century Europe.

KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver joined the Alaska contingent for its annual Bi-Baronial Collegium in Wasilla and reports it’s about values, family, and finding a place to fit in.

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Once upon a time in the Kingdom of the West there was a great leatherworker named Gregor Hawke.

He was known across the land for making the strongest and most beautiful leather armor. One day, he decided to teach others his craft. In March of the 49th year of the Society for Creative Anachronism, he led a belt making workshop.

Belt made by Gregor Hawke. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI - Homer)
Belt made by Gregor Hawke. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Gregor is showing his students how to attach the buckle.

Gregor is from the Principality of Oertha, or Alaska, as it’s known in the mundane or modern world, where he also goes by the name Michael Snyder. He’s a member of the SCA. It’s a reenactment society, with thousands of members worldwide. Local groups like this one meet as often as they can to celebrate medieval times.

Gregor’s hands deftly work the leather. The passion that shows in his work also comes out when he talks about the SCA.

He first joined 25 years ago after going to a Renaissance Faire.

“My best friend, his high school coach in wrestling was out there fighting, dressed up in armor and everything,” he said. “We’d known the guy for years and we had no idea he was into this and it was hook, line and sinker. As soon as we saw them hit each other with a sword, the very first time, we were like, this is what we want to do.”

A fighter suits up in armor. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI - Homer)
A fighter suits up in armor. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Lilla aet Sceaphylle is helping the fighters suit up in full armor.

“I’m from the Barony of Wintersgate, the Principality of Oertha, the Kingdom of the West. My mundane name is Michelle Webb. I live in Fairbanks, Alaska.”

She’s been in the SCA for more than a decade.

“Originally the attraction was all the things you imagine, princesses and swordfights and all of that kind of great stuff that you really want to do when you’re eight years old and finally there were grownups doing it and it was so exciting,” she said. “And it’s still that exciting.”

Cemper O'Breoniann, baroness of Winters Gate. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI - Homer)
Cemper O’Breoniann, baroness of Winters Gate. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

The SCA is based on the feudal system of medieval Europe. The “Known World” is broken up into kingdoms, like the West which includes California, Alaska, parts of east Asia and more, then principalities, like Alaska, baronies, like Fairbanks, and so on. Each has its own nobles, knights, and craftspeople.

“In the society, instead of creating a character, like you would in a game, you create a persona, which I think would be best described as a medieval version of yourself,” Lilla said.

“We are the Society for Creative Anachronism and anachronism is something out of its place in time. I think everybody here would say that explains who they are,” Marjorie de Ffeyrefeld, or Tina Smith, is a baronial chronicler.

She’s also an accomplished calligrapher who handwrites and illuminates most of the official documents for the Alaskan SCA. She says the society doesn’t try to exactly recreate the past, but reimagines it. They keep the exciting parts of medieval life, chivalry and dancing, and leave out the bad parts like the Plague.

“Doesn’t everybody want to escape from their life and live in a better place?” Marjorie said. “I mean, they talk about heaven being a better place but we can’t get there until we’re done with this life. I’m not done with this life yet.”

That seems to be the heart of SCA. It’s where people go to find their place. Gregor Hawke says his life before the SCA was very different.

“It’s kind of a sad story. My dad was really abusive, beat up on my mom and everyone a lot. I didn’t really know how to trust anybody. I didn’t know how to love and things like that,” Gregor said. “All’s I knew was fear, fear and hate and hopelessness. I probably wouldn’t be here right now without the society.”

Through the society Gregor found a new family and a creative outlet. Stories like his are common among SCA members. Many credit the society with getting their lives back on track and using the past to get to a better future.

“Everything is about everybody else. We try to elevate each other and in that, we get our gratification, knowing you’re a part of a bigger story and helping somebody achieve goals and something like that,” Marjorie said. “If you’re supporting everybody and they’re supporting everybody, you’ve got hundreds of people on your side helping you and that’s what I like about the SCA and I wish I could see that more in the real world.”

SCA members watch a sword fight. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI - Homer)
SCA members watch a sword fight. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Gregor says that’s why he’ll continue on as a leatherworker, as a fighter, and why he hopes to someday be King of the West- to help lead others down the same path.

“Oh yeah, I’ll die of old age,” he said. “I’ll be here ‘til the bitter end.”

And then, he’ll be able to say he did live happily ever after.