Whose Dream Are We Creating?

The SCA is different things to different people. For a lot of people, it’s about fighting, but not for me. Even before I was in a wheelchair, I was not a fighter. And while I enjoy watching a round or two on the field of combat, that’s not usually enough to get me out of bed in the morning.  So what does motivate me? I get a lot of things out of the SCA — friendships, intellectual stimulation, a sense of community — but when it comes right down to it, I play for the arts.

I teach. I take classes. I compete. I perform. Sometimes, I spend an entire event deep in conversation with a single artisan, discussing the finer points of Arabic vocal ornamentation, or the challenges posed by bad or biased translations of period sources.

This is my Dream. The open exchange of ideas, and the endless opportunities to learn and grow as an artist — those things will get me out of bed just about any day. The knowledge base held by our Society is profound. Any decent sized local SCA group in the world could probably re-form a functional society after a zombie apocalypse. It’s pretty incredible.

In my eyes, the arts are the thing about the SCA that makes us truly exceptional. By the skill of their hands, a small group of scadians can start with a sheep and end with a full Tudor gown. We construct furniture, forge blades, brew mead. We, as a Society, have dramatically increased the world’s knowledge about the medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe. We are an exceptional arts organization. But there are a lot of occasions when artists and artisans in the SCA feel as though they’re playing second fiddle.

The truth is, fighting — particularly rattan fighting — is frequently privileged in the SCA, at the expense of other types of martial art, service, and arts & sciences. While there are many kinds of Peerage, the Knighthood stands apart. Only a rattan fighter can win Crown. That alone separates that activity and raises it up as more important and more significant to the Society.

There has been a lot of dissent and distress in the ranks since that Peerage survey was administered and then quickly withdrawn last week. I think it’s important that we all, as a Society, take the time to take stock of what went wrong here. The survey is done and gone, and it’s not worth arguing over, but it IS worth giving serious consideration to the very real problems that this survey brought to the forefront.

People don’t like to be told that what they do will never be as important as what someone else does. That’s not hard to understand. And the BoD has repeatedly made it extremely clear that artists, organizers, and non-rattan fighters will never be as important as rattan fighters. This isn’t the way to grow our Society. It isn’t the way to keep our populace happy. It isn’t the way to build our Dream.

I heard an argument this week that the BoD (of which 4 out of 7 are members of the Chivalry) keeps the Order of Defense as a separate Peerage rather than allowing all martial activities to be covered by the Knighthood because they’re afraid if they loosen the grip even a little, they will lose their monopoly on the Crown. The obvious follow-up question was: “…and that would be a bad thing why??” Here’s the response I received: “There’s some dissent, but in general the Chiv I know feel that it would change the game up to something they wouldn’t find as fun.” Well, that’s not good enough — because fighters aren’t the only ones playing, and their Dream isn’t the only Dream. The Chivalry who hold that view are prioritizing their status and enjoyment over everyone else’s ability to participate in the Dream.

I know this is a contentious issue and I’m kind of stirring the pot, but the truth is, I love the SCA, and I just want to make the Society better for all of us. All I’m really doing is asking the question: Whyshould rattan fighters be raised above all others in the SCA? Might there be another way?

In Service to the Dream,

Sayyida Laila al-Sanna’ al-Andalusiyya