Min benennan Æthestan of Wortham. I come from from Turmstadt in Knight’s Crossing. Sometimes people call me Prior Æthestan or even Prior Adam. (In fact, I might change my name one day, as it’s easier to spell).
I first encountered the SCA at a gaming convention in Germany. There were some odd folks fighting outside – with sticks! – while I was running a historical TT-RPG inside. Of course, I chatted to them. They were very polite, and phoned me a few times before I finally crumbled and agreed to attend a meeting. So Solveig (later Mistress Solveig) and I and went to an event at the US barracks in our home town. I was dressed in a blanket and a wide belt like an Old Testament prophet, and she was in some hippy/fairy dress, but people were incredibly warm and generous and we both felt drawn to the hospitality and kindness.
In the quarter century since, I have done pretty much everything in the SCA, from cooking feasts to cleaning bathrooms to building armour to being in the royal entourage. I have even won a war point for taking my clothes off. I have been Knight Marshal and Earl Marshal, and fighting is often at the core of my interests; but I primarily want to help people have fun.
I see no contradiction between “having fun” and “being authentic” (though I don’t like that word and prefer to say “medieval” or “ historical”). I try to find the overlap, not the argument. For example, I understand why the SCA fights with wooden weapons, but when I was Earl Marshal I pushed through a simple rule that they had to look like “a weapon that a medieval person would recognise”, and not just a stick. Fun, and medieval…
For me, the SCA is all about atmosphere. I work in showbusiness, and of course this influences my SCA activities which include court heraldry, performance art, and organising flashy tournaments with the Company of the Swan and Cross. In any situation I am thinking about the “show”. Can everyone see? Can everyone hear? What is distracting? What spoils the moment? I am often “that guy” who is annoying everyone by fiddling with the lighting or moving tables and chairs to get a “better atmosphere”. Once, I even nagged everyone into moving the location of an entire feast from outdoors to an upstairs (!) room. There was lots of eye-rolling and groaning at the time, but this specific act was mentioned at my Pelican ceremony, so I suppose it worked out in the end.
I really love it when the whole picture comes together. One of my best ever SCA memories is stepping out of the barn at the old Double Wars site and looking down the camp ground on a beautiful Skåne spring day. There were elegant pavilions, pennants snapping in the breeze, the sun was glittering on the armour of two fighters practicing in the distance, arrows were thumping into straw targets, and in the hedge a harpist was practicing. Perfect.
In my work inside and outside the SCA, I use humour. Some people like this, and others hate it – so I apologise if you belong to the latter group. One example is my constant joking around the theme “It’s not service if the Queen doesn’t see it”. It sounds like a throwaway line, but I mean it as satire – and I think it’s worth some hard thinking. In fact, I made “REGINA NOS VIDET” (the Queen sees us) the motto of my household Wortham Priory. Besides being a link to the satire, those words serve me as an inspiration to remember why we play this game, as well as a warning to not focus on doing things for merit points, but do them because they matter. In the words of Sir Vitus von Atzinger, “What we do is not a sport, but a celebration of art and culture.” And a celebration of each other’s dreams and passions, I feel.
My main bugbear in the SCA is any form of work which does not contribute to the game. I see myself as a lazy pelican and am very happy when some “super important” thing does NOT get done, but we enjoy ourselves anyway. I intensely dislike the SCA’s obsession with reports – very few of which seem to serve any useful purpose. In my experience they just become a burden and source of bad conscience for good people who would rather be playing. In my mundane life I have started a global community which now has tens of thousands of players, has run thousands of events in dozens of countries – and has no officers, reports or membership fees. Now I understand the SCA is not like that, but it shows it can be done – so I always invite us to ask ourselves carefully “WHY are we doing this task?”
I was elevated in 2002, after about 9 years of playing SCA. My SCA “family” was already widely spread, so I was lucky enough to have three vigils. First, I was given a (verbal) writ and had a walking vigil at Double Wars. Then, the huge generosity of my knight Sir Matthew Blackleaf, my first SCA inspiration Sir Mathieu LeCroix, and the (later) Sirs George and Maximillian took me to Calontir, where the local folks kindly set up a beautiful vigil for me. I saw dear old friends, but also was able to talk to many strangers. It was a wonderful and humbling experience. Finally, I had a hilarious “advocatus diaboli” ceremony and vigil at Nibelungen War. I am very happy that I let my friends do all the planning, and just let it happen. I am still not even sure who did everything, but I know that Agilmar von Sevelingen (the devil’s advocate), Hagen von Scharfeneck and Elenore von Ratzeburg – soon to become my protégée – were quite busy on that day. I will always be grateful.
I have been very lucky in my protégés and protégées. Ele was my first, and soon became a shining light in the Kingdom and a Pelican herself. I can confidently say that this was all her own work – I don’t remember being helpful in any way except smiling and nodding. My next protégée was Anna Syveken. We agreed to work together although we were not then close friends – in fact we were and are very different personalities. But we decided that “although we do not match, we might fit”, and decided to give it a try. We worked mostly through a form of Socratic dialog, discussing three simple questions over a period of several years. Our collaboration has been a wonderful experience, and I have certainly learned hugely from her. On the way, we have become most excellent friends, and I was extremely proud when she was elevated this year, despite a frustrating corona delay between writ and ceremony.
While Anna was still my student, I also asked Richart von Brandenburg to do me the honour of accompanying me. Although I did not know him well, I had admired his work as half of our local baronial pair, his hospitality, his friends, his knowledge, and his wicked humour. Richart does not find online SCA rewarding – which I fully understand – and has chosen to take a step back during the pandemic. I am looking forward to seeing him again!
My latest protégée is Bryndis, who (like Anna) plays with my local group. She is relatively new to the society, but is an absolute dynamo and wonderful to be around. To my joy, her husband Benjamin has also joined Wortham Priory as a lay brother.
If you have read this far, thank you! May we meet on the field as friends.
PS In case you are interested; in real life I am an author, teacher and consultant on innovation and design. I am also an actor, singer, and comedian. The global design community I referred to is at www.globaljams.org.