Ciarrai Eaton walked alone into the basement of a church, nervous about making friends in a room of people she had never met before.
Fast forward 20 years, and she’s an integral member of that same group, the Society for Creative Anachronism.
SCA is dedicated to the research and practice of pre-17th century life and culture. Formed in 1966 after a University of California, Berkeley medieval-themed party got out of hand, the SCA has kingdoms, baronies, shires and all variety of subdivisions across the globe 51 years later. Syracuse is part of the Barony of Delftwood, located in the kingdom of Aethelmearc, which encompasses Western Virginia, Western Pennsylvania and Central and Western New York.
The SCA creates an intellectually and socially rewarding environment for so-called “history nerds” to mingle.
“History is awesome,” Eaton said.
SCA started as a group of fun-loving college kids, so it only makes sense that college kids are still vital members today. The Barony of Delftwood currently has some Le Moyne College students participating in their events, and will expect a new State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry student to join when he begins college in the fall.
Renaissance fairs, tabletop games and majoring in history are the “gateway drugs” to the SCA — but once you take it, you don’t go back. That’s what happened to Barbara Nostrand, who’s been in the organization for 40 years.
Nostrand has jumped from group to group as she’s moved cities, but has been in the Barony of Delftwood for 10 years now. Though her career interests lie in STEM fields, Nostrand’s other passion is pre-modern Japanese cooking. She’s translated a multi-edition cookbook on the subject, “Samurai Chef: Food and Culture in Pre-Modern Japan.” Last year, she recruited people to cook meals based on her work.
“I’ve got some people scattered around,” she said. “I’m getting feedback from them so I can improve my translations.”
Nostrand spends hours poring over documents about her passion project, and she’s not the only one who does extensive amounts of research for fun. It’s actually quite common among SCA members.
Eaton’s passion project is making medieval clothing. In fact, her family and designs are among the first images to populate a Pinterest search for “renaissance German clothes.” Her favorite thing to make is “tiny garb” – garb for kids – but she’s made garb for people as important as the king and queen of Aethelmearc.
One king and queen decided to go with ancient Roman garb for their six-month tenure. Excited by the prospect of researching a time period she didn’t know much about, Eaton did six months of research to make 12 outfits for the king, queen and their two kids.
As part of their royal duties, the king and queen travel the kingdom and give awards in the form of scrolls to SCA members whose research is particularly apt. Eaton got to go with them, which was loads of fun.
“In 20 years I’ve never run out something to go and learn. And I still have a bucket list of things I want to go and learn. And you do too,” she said, laughing and gesturing at one of her best friends, Keirin Lazauskas-Ralff.
Lazauskas-Ralff’s area of expertise is medieval cooking. Also a longtime SCA member, she’s spent three to four years and counting, researching French history to stage a specific day in Burgundian history.
“When Charles the Bold, who was Duke of Burgundy at the time, got married to his wife Margaret of York,” she said. “I want to recreate it down to soup and nuts.”
She and the Eatons are excited for it to happen one day, but the Burgundian Feast is just one event of many.
The Barony of Delftwood has events multiple days of the week. Archery practices are Sunday afternoons. Fighting practices are Wednesday evenings. Business meetings are Thursdays. Their Facebook group buzzes with “who’s going tonight?” posts.
As a whole, the SCA hosts events just as often. One of the big events is bearpit fighting, where one person is in the middle and everyone lines up — sometimes 50 people deep. Two people fight, and whoever wins stays in the middle as the next person in line takes their turn, making it a never ending battle.
There’s a fighter from Buffalo who uses his spear like a hockey stick, a technique that’s rendered him practically unbeatable. Dennis Ralff, Keirin’s husband, fought him, lost and went to the back of the line. He waited all the way through, and when it was his turn to fight again, the same guy was still in the middle.
Ralff first got involved with The SCA while they were still dating.
“Her fault,” he pointed at her jokingly, as she and Eaton burst out into unreserved and lively guffaws.
He might joke that it’s his wife’s fault, but the SCA, even if it doesn’t necessarily say so on official documentation, is about family and human connection.
“I walked in, we became friends like that,” Eaton snapped her fingers, gesturing at Lazauskas-Ralff and Ralff. “They asked me to come to their wedding, 10 years later we’re still great friends, they come to my house once a week.”
It’s evident just watching the three of them chit-chat that SCA friends are for life.
One of their SCA friends lives in Utica, and his house caught fire, burning all the awards he’d earned as a historical brewer and cook. The king and queen of Aethelmearc drove to Utica specifically to re-present him with all the scrolls he’d lost to the fire.
Friends are like family in the SCA, but blood family is equally as important. Membership in the SCA can often times be generational — many people have been in the SCA their whole life because their parents were members. Eaton’s own children fit that description.
She and her SCA-member husband Fred have a daughter and a son, Moira and Quint, who come to plenty of weekend events.
“The whole family is welcome, they have friends they only get to see when we do medieval stuff,” Eaton said.
When they go camping, the Eatons bring a specific toy chest full of “SCA, mom-approved” toys. When her family’s socks get holes in them – Fred, Moira and Quint rip through socks – Eaton darns them as they would have been darned in the medieval period.
Kids can get involved just like the grown-ups do.
“She’s always the first one to say, ‘can I help?’” Lazauskas-Ralff said when Moira helps her cook. “She’s my number one onion-cutter and carrot-peeler.”
Moira is excited to start fighting, as she is now old enough to participate according to the SCA’s strict and meticulously maintained safety standards.
In the end, that community of friendship is what keeps Eaton, the once shy 20-something walking into the basement of that church for her first SCA meeting, coming back. What happened that night quite possibly changed her life.
“I walked in and it was like, ‘we don’t know you, hi, come on and sit,” she said. “We had two hours of history conversation, I got sucked into doing a play, I got signed up for an event, they were so welcoming and that was why I stayed.”
Banner Photo by Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor
Published on April 27, 2017 at 12:06 am