SPEARFISH — There are a lot of small towns, cities, and communities in the Black Hills, but there’s only one shire, the Shire of Noiregarde. However, there are no hobbits in this shire, no wizards, no dragons — only “SCAdians,” the name applied to members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).
The SCA is a group devoted to recreating the arts and skills of pre-17th century European life. It began in California in 1966 as little more than a themed graduation party. In the 52 years since, the SCA has boomed into a massive network of like-minded medieval enthusiasts, hosting more than a thousand events spanning five continents every year.
“They started building armor out of carpet and using old Freon tanks for helms,” Pat Haley, of Spearfish, said. “And now we’ve got people that make a living manufacturing armor for the SCA.”
In 2002, Haley and a small group of friends founded the Shire of Noiregarde, a local branch of the SCA in the Black Hills.
Members are encouraged to create a persona when joining the SCA; however, the level of thought or backstory one chooses to put into that persona is entirely up to the individual. Members of the SCA are people who find some aspect of medieval times interesting, whether that’s the food and drink of the period, the fashion, the art and culture, or the warfare, which became something of an art in those times, as well.
“We’re trying to recreate history, so we’re a historical reenactment thing,” Haley said.
Haley said that since the SCA was started, its main focus has been medieval history, specifically Europe between the years 800-1600 AD. As the organization has evolved, it has grown to accept a much wider definition of “medieval history” to include cultures that didn’t even have contact with Europe for the majority of the given timeframe.
“There’s a guy that fights, and he dresses Native American,” Haley said as an example. “He’s wearing SCA (safety) minimums… otherwise, it’s skin, which hurts I guarantee you, but that’s how he fights.”
Haley explained that SCA fighting is very different from live action role playing (larping). SCAdians study the fighting techniques and battle tactics of the period, and apply that knowledge to live exhibition tournaments, while wearing actual period appropriate armor.
“We study period manuals,” he said. “For example, in rapier we study Capo Ferro, Giganti, di Grassi, all these guys who wrote manuals in the 1500s about how to fence.”
Larping, on the other hand, is more unstructured.
“I’ve never done larping, so I may get crucified for saying the wrong thing, but larping is something that has nothing to do with reality,” Haley said. “Usually they’re in stuff that looks like armor and hitting each other with padded swords, and they’ll throw a bean bag at you and call it a fire ball.”
Though most “fighting” takes place at demonstrations or crowning tournaments, which are held annually to determine the King and Queen for the upcoming year, several times a year multiple “Kingdoms” will come together for what are affectionately called “wars.”
“It developed into things like we have now such as Pennsic War,” Haley said. “Where you’ve got 10,000 people show up for two weeks, camp out, dress in period, cook in period, and fight in as close to period without people really dying as we can.”
There are 20 kingdoms in the “Knowne World” of the SCA. Each kingdom is divided up into local chapters or “shires.” Unlike the feudal structure of medieval times, each local chapter has a roster of officers that are voted on by its members.
“It’s fun to play,” Haley said. “When you go to an event, and His Majesty comes in and you’re like, ‘Oh, your Majesty; all rise for His Majesty,’ and everybody stands and bows. … It’s just fun to play the game.”
The members of the Shire of Noiregarde have been stepping up their presence in the Black Hills recently, hosting events such as full armor fighting demonstrations at Lead Mountain Nights in September and medieval dance classes in October and November. Haley teaches an SCA Rapier Class every Tuesday night, as well as a Cut and Thrust Class every Thursday night. Both classes are from 6-8 p.m., and take place at Back to Basics Nutrition Education Center, located at 522 W. Jackson Blvd., in Spearfish. All classes are open to the public and are currently offered free of charge. Noiregarde also hosts two major events throughout the year: Their annual yuletide festival will be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Jan. 12 at the Handley Center in Lead. Members will set up stations showcasing their skills in all the medieval arts and sciences. There will also be a lunchtime cooking competition open to the public, and an evening feast. Anyone wishing to attend is encouraged to come dressed in some sort of medieval garb, or loaner garb will be provided. There will be a fee for this event.
The other event put on by the shire will be Northern Realms War, which will be held June 18-24 at Elk Creek Campground in Piedmont.
“It’s about people coming together and having a good time,” Haley added. “To be able to just go up to somebody and say, ‘Hey m’lady, can I help you carry that,’ those kinds of things I think are missing in our society.”
For more information about the SCA, the local chapter, or any of the events or classes they host, contact Haley at Back To Basics by calling 641-8428, by going to www.noiregarde.org, or by looking for SCA Kingdom of Northshield on Facebook.
To read all of today's stories, Click here or call 642-2761 to subscribe to our e-edition or home delivery.