Phred Jenkins and Julia Kessler catapult into the Middle Ages
By Mary Jo Harrod
Close your eyes and picture this scene:
Medieval ladies clothed in hand-sewn, beaded dresses; men bowing to, nodding to, or kissing the hand of a passing lady; fighters in handmade armor competing in tournaments; men, women, and children feasting and dancing; with a royal court presiding over all events.
If you think chivalry and medieval culture are dead, think again. This scene is a modern-day happening in the world of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a non-profit, educational organization with 40,000 members worldwide who research European history prior to the seventeenth century. Members re-create the culture of the Middle Ages by learning crafts, traditions, arts and sciences that were common during that period.
Phred Jenkins, an SCA member from Boise, Idaho, is a project management assistant and graphic artist during the workday. But in her free time, she is known as Mistress Eleanore MacCarthaigh, Order of the Laurel, from the Barony of Arn Hold, Kingdom of Artemisia.
Jenkins, who holds a number of awards in the society, creates period-style paintings and teaches her craft at various SCA events. "I teach and encourage other artists, which is part of my persona. I'll go to an event for a vacation and teach art or take apprentices."
SCA chapters hold weekly meetings for its guilds, which include sewing, embroidery, archery, fighting and equestrian events. Members can go to the guilds to get help, to teach, or to work on their projects with other people. Says Jenkins with a laugh, "A lot of guys are in the sewing guilds making their garb. They say you're a sissy if you don't make your own clothes!"
Jenkins first learned about the Society for Creative Anachronism when she lived in Florida, although she was mainly a "fun maven." But when she moved to Idaho, the SCA became an avocation for Jenkins.
"The Society becomes a part of your life and you decide how involved you want to be. It can take up your life if you let it," admits Jenkins, who has been a member of SCA since 1991.
Some of SCA's larger events feature a feast, games, and armor-clad fighters - male and female - on the battleground. (In the Middle Ages, women fought beside the men.)
There is a system for fighting to ensure that no one is injured. "Live" fighters go down on their knees while the people who claim they have been "killed" walk off the field. "Loyalty and chivalry are demanded," emphasizes Jenkins. "Chivalry gains more respect than just winning. You learn to be a decent person whether you want to or not!"
Julia Kessler, an executive assistant in oncology chemistry for a pharmaceutical company in Roebling, NJ, became interested in SCA after seeing the society do a demonstration for a public school. Kessler, whose persona is a Spanish lady named Dona Estrella de los Confinof, plays the role of Minister of the List and has been an SCA member for ten years.
"In the local Barony of Carillion (Central New Jersey), I keep score at the tournaments and make sure that everyone is qualified to participate." At their events, which Kessler says are held almost every weekend, "We put on our medieval clothing, go out and dance, flirt, eat, talk and generally have a good time. There are many different kinds of events, and the pattern varies from place to place and season to season."
Jenkins, 38, and Kessler, 36, are by no means the oldest or youngest members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Members range in age from newborns to those in their nineties. "There are people who have met, married, and raised their families in the Society," says Kessler. "Some of them have grandchildren who are members."
Likewise, members of SCA engage in a myriad of occupations, and the Society includes engineers, nurses, paralegals, computer programmers, machinists, cooks, and stockbrokers. According to Jenkins, "The engineers especially love to build the trebuchet, which is a miniature catapult used to break down castle walls."
Both Jenkins and Kessler are attracted to the educational aspects of SCA. "The focus of the society is learning," Jenkins explains. "You can't join and not learn as you go along. It can be so joyous!" Adds Kessler, "Since joining, I've learned more about what people wore (back then), dancing, spinning, needlework, cooking, and calligraphy." Plus, she concludes, "It's one of the few places I have found that accepts people for their actions, not what they look like!"
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