First let me give some introductory information. This discussion will make little sense unless you know that I am a long time member of the Society for Creative Anachronism – SCA, Inc. We re-create the Middle Ages, have tourneys, do fencing and heavy fighting (with rattan swords), do archery, dance, and recreate items and clothing of the time period. It has been for me a 20 to 30 year, love/hate relationship. As with any organization, there are going to be people involved who make the activity “not so much fun,” and there have been times where I choose to do other things. One of those things was my five year stint playing in a Celtic Band ( I was the drummer- played bodhran for the band Pictou). Eventually I became active again when I remarried and my daughter and a friend convinced us to attend an event. My husband got the fever, and well… off I went again.
Part of being active in the Current Middle ages is creating a personae. This someone who could have lived in the Middle Ages that you are representing. You pick out a name, research their possible history and accumulate items that this person could have owned. It is assumed you are a person of some rank and would have a coat of arms, which everyone is encouraged to have and submit to the College of Heralds. It goes through an approval process and can eventually become yours.
When I first came to the SCA I had an Early period, Celtic personae. I so wanted to get in touch with my wild Tribal Side. I wanted to dance to drums around a fire, and throw a spear. I wanted to cook over open fires, and feel the wind in my hair. I wanted no one to tell me what to do, or how to act, or what god to appeal to. In other words, everything I did not have in my life at that time. I also was interested into herbs and their use, was a decent cook and a wood carver. My mother, bless her soul, had taught me to sew in my youth. So … in my first incarnation in the SCA — I was Sidanen, part Welsh and part Scots, and as wild and wise as the hills as I saw her in. During those years I did have a few occasions where I felt the part. One time in particular was one of the first Fools Wars. A dear friend and I were preparing breakfast for everyone else while the guys in our group were out parading before the War started. We were camped next to a Blacksmith and the smoke was billowing from his forge. I was kneeled down at the fire beside our tent, and I could hear the bagpipes and drums getting closer. The warriors could be heard to march in step, armor rattling as they slammed their swords to their shields in rhythm. That in itself was emotionally moving. But when the Meridian Army marched through the smoke of the Blacksmith…. There was that moment of Déjà vu , of Awe and being there before. I know I stared for several moments, lost in the emotion and memory. It was very stirring and I will never, in this life, forget that. It had little to do with what I had on, but everything to do with what everyone else had on, and was doing, the smoke and the smells. From that point on I did understand that I had a responsibility within our Society to contribute to its environment. That I contributed or took away from those moments like that for everyone else.
There is something that I heard a lot about when I first came to the SCA. It was called the Dream. I was told we were to re-create the Middle Ages “as they should have been, or could be again.” It should be a place of chivalry, honor, friendship, fraternity, holding up the highest ideals of human kind. We were to encourage that environment with clothing of the time period, candlelight, firelight, dance, music, and speaking in a “ for soothly manner”, when possible. We spent time as our ancestors did; eating, drinking, talking and singing by firelight with the comforts of good food and drink to sooth us. When it is all perfect, we are creating the best of times, and the Dream grows. This is something many of us are drawn to…. And the better we create this environment , the better a beacon we are to those who are looking for us or need us to complete some part of their own lives.
When I returned to the SCA – I decided to re-create myself. Late period, something the “mundanes” ( sort of like Muggles 😉 ) would understand. I was doing late period Scots transplanted to London after many adventures in the Middle East and Italy due to a freak pirate raid. So, Gellis McDonald was born. She was an herbalist, Apothecary apprentice and shop owner. I had fun researching the Guild system, pouring over maps of London, and trying to create my personae. But I had to quit fencing ( garb too hot for this post-menopausal woman) Non- Fencing garb too hot, and constraining and just down right uncomfortable. And well… the Mundanes did not understand us any better… we were just still weird to most of them.
I found that most of my SCA household was Early Period, my husband liked the Early Period garb better (he is a simple man in that regard) and one of our Barony member’s turned me on to the City of Chester, with its long history, and multi-cultural location. It was fun, and the garb is easier….. and …
I anticipate hearing groans when I make this announcement… but a few months ago I decided that I was going to move to an early period personae in the SCA. At first I was going to go as early as possible ( just post Roman occupation) but decided I liked some of the clothing in the pre- 1066 time frame. After much review and historical digging I have determined that the very early period tribal life just did not exist within the SCA time from of 500 AD to 1620 AD. So, I found a time and a place I thought would be interesting and set to finding out who my personae should be.
I came up with a mental concept of who would I or could have been one thousand years ago.. It would be pre-1066 and there is now archeological and historical proof that things were not as Dark as the Middle Ages were proposed to be previously. She could still be trained in the skills of an herbalist.. doing midwifery as well. I have place her family on a hilltop overlooking the plains leading down to Chester which would keep her family out of the worst of the upheavals that have made life there risky at times. Since the Danes sacked the town in the 900’s – it is a reasonable distance from town to visit, but not be involved in every circumstance. I have pulled in a little from that distant, tribal past and proposed a druid ancestor that escaped the sacking of the Isle of Anglesey ( Ynys Mon and Ynys Gybi or the Holy Isle) and came to our home place and started an extended family with traditions that were very forward thinking.. One in particular was that when we would come of age we would go and spend some time in Chester and the surround areas, till the time came that we found a spouse. We would then bring them home to the mountain, and had options to live there or in Chester, either way, expanding the families connections and culture. This meant we could always send a member of the “Family” to speak with strangers or invaders and make it appear they were dealing with their own people. This same practice brought in new skills and kept us in touch with the world around us. Some of the old Druidic beliefs and traditions could have been passed down as well, and since I have a special fondness for Bridget/St Bridget, and there is an old Roman Altar right outside the town of Chester, I can connect myself to her in some way as well… without the need for all of the out and out pagan-ness of the Pre-Roman and Roman Cultures. The Historians believe that the Altar to Athena was left due to some folks believed it to be Mary… which would just lend itself to a woman’s Mystery Tradition anyway. There is historical evidence that there were Coptic Christians in Early Britain as well who had many different viewpoints from the main stream church of that time…. Which I can pull on as well and feel comfortable with the concept.
My current research implies that women were always wearing some form of headdress, whether it be a headscarf, wrap or Veil. So I have been very busy finding something that I do not hate to wear…. I have woven a lovely Fillet band for wearing veils and I am working on some trim for a head scarf. I have started what I thought was going to be an under dress – but is too short — so it will be an open fronted coat like the Frankish women wore. I have heard many of the fighters refer to what they wear on the field as their kit. I am working towards developing my personae’s kit and this time complete the whole thing. I am thinking at least three day outfits, and two court, one Meridian and one Heraldic.
My wood carving talents could be taught to me by a relative or even from a wood carver in Chester when I spent my time there in my teens. In my mind’s eye, I can see her watching relatives or a carver outside of a church. I have watched her climb the hills around her home and I know what it looks like because I have Googled it. She has her herb basket with her and a knife to cut them with. Which leads me to my next observation; unless you can get into the head of your personae… it will never be more than a name or device to you.
I really like the name of Gellis… but know that passing McDonald (my mother’s maiden name) would be impossible with going early period . I have found Gillia, a feminine version of Giles, of which Gellis is a variation as well. We have found Wilhelm for Bill since he has finally decided he will just go early period as well. While researching last names I found one we are both happy with and we will just have to see what the Heralds let us get away with. It is in one of the Archived Name Articles in the SCA Heraldry section… Scytta c. 1050 later became Shutt.. meaning…. Shooter, Archer…. from Reaney and Wilson — Misplaced Names…
Update… Currently my personae is 13th Century Scots– the name of Gellis Grimm has been registered and I am sure there will be further updates.