Volunteer Development in the SCA

This article is a companion article to my Volunteer Management in the SCA article, and is a step beyond the items covered within it. If you have not read that one, please do before going forward with this one.

The difference between volunteer management and volunteer development is best explained as such: volunteer management is the day-to-day work of ensuring that volunteers are content in their work, and volunteer development is the long-term, overarching look at the programs and areas in which volunteers give of their time. Volunteer development also requires a critical look at the environments in which the volunteer does their work, and assists volunteers in making the next big step.

How can we accomplish this sort of volunteer development within the Society? Given that the SCA is a wholly volunteer organization, how do we make the changes to assisting people to volunteer their time and energy?

To be frank, we need to look critically at the work we do, but also at the things we say to our volunteers.

The SCA is a volunteer organization. Full-stop. Everyone, from the members of the Board of Directors, to the royals of the twenty kingdoms, to the gentle with their bare AoA, is a volunteer. What we do within our local groups, kingdoms, and Society itself depends wholly on the work that we do as a society.

Let’s start with this: we often hear horror stories of people being told that they were made an officer of their group because they were not there to say no or that they were “voluntold” to do a job. We often tell people that “real life comes first” or “GPA before SCA,” but then get upset when a person goes off to deal with things outside the SCA (seriously, when I took a year off, I got a “well, it’s about time you came back!”). I can’t count how many times a person walking into a new volunteer position with apologies or condolences rather than a genuine congratulations or offers of help.

What does this above example tell us about what it means to volunteer within the confines of the Society?

  • Well, for one, it tells potential volunteers that no matter what they do, the work is going to suck for them, no matter the job they take on.
  • It tells people that they are not valued past what they can give to a group.
  • It also tells that person that the most they are worth is what they can contribute.
  • It also indicates that a person’s agency isn’t important, or that the Society should be the most important thing in a person’s life and that time spent out of the Society is a lower priority.
  • Voluntelling people also disregards any knowledge a person might have that was gained outside of the Society, as well as any effort, love, delight, and inclinations in their own acts of service.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, however, the Society for Creative Anachronism is not the most important thing in my spare time. It may not be in yours, either. It might be for some, and while that’s fine, I also think that it may be a recipe for burnout. It is, however, not okay to make a person’s priority the Society when they may not have the abilities to take on more than they already have.

So, how can we reframe what is a pretty toxic frame of mind and use it to improve the Society? The list below is a great jumping off point.

Value our volunteers. Bluntly, volunteers are not a dime a dozen, nor are they infinite resources. Within geek culture, there are a number of places a volunteer can go, from conventions, to other groups – and some folks manage to do multiple groups! We need to realize that as much as the Society fills the majority of our lives, it’s not that way for everyone, and that’s okay. Think of it this way: you are spending your time in working with other people to make magic happen for others – so doing things like writing down what is necessary and store it in a place where it can be easily reached by future volunteers can be eminently easier and faster for someone to run an activity once you have. Experience is not replaceable.

Play to people’s strengths. We all come to the Society with our own knowledge base and available skills, and there are some volunteer things that we’re going to excel at. (I’m a decent herald, but don’t ask me to be a marshal and definitely don’t give me the books to balance – but I have a friend who doesn’t understand the complex heraldic rules, but is amazing at the math involved with being exchequer.) The point is, if we see that people have skills in something, let’s encourage them to take positions in our local areas.

Provide meaningful work. Busywork, too many people doing the exact same thing at the same time, or by not providing enough opportunities to grow can kill off a volunteer corps, as can not preparing a volunteer to take on a role. The beautiful thing about the Society is that there are many places a new player can help out alongside a more experienced player, and both get something out of it. Find someone to mentor and to teach and to work with. (And before you tell me that’s the reason we have peer-associate relationships, I’m going to tell you that you can mentor and work with people even if you’re not a peer. There is no reason why people can’t do the thing and learn from one another in a group that is dedicated to information transfer.)

Get feedback. You might need a good set of Teflon braies for this – because sometimes, this is the worst part, but it’s also a great opportunity for the organization to grow (but it also means that we need to be critical about where and when we apply those changes, too). Feedback is how we grow as an organization (and groups within the Society need it, so definitely send your letters to the Board!). If someone is saying that something is a problem, there might actually be a reason for that, so take it seriously! If things are going well, it never hurts to ask questions about how to possibly change the process to make it work better.

Thank people. I somewhat covered this above, but seriously, don’t hesitate to thank people for doing the work. By consistently acknowledging the unpaid work and emotional labour that our volunteers do, as well as the time that they use (and don’t get back!), we run a much higher chance of retaining them within the Society. Volunteers don’t do their part because they expect something in return, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t thank them for their contributions. A thank-you note or public acknowledgement can remind volunteers that they’re valued and appreciated. Do not wait for the Crown/Coronet to recognize them in a court situation. Public recognition is usually better done outside of courts. (source)

It is everyone’s job in the Society to continue to find ways to improve not only ourselves, but also the greater Society for Creative Anachronism in which we spend our time. It behooves us to act on the actual chivalric ideals and to give people the franchise to accomplish their own goals that they have set before them and to do so with a sense of actual courtesy and honour our volunteers. You can read more about it within my handout from my KWHSS class on Volunteer Management, with my friend Wu daren.

Posted in burnout, SCA, SCA Philosophy, service, Society for Creative Anachronism, volunteer management | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Omphaloskepsis: Anachronistic Learning in the Information Age

The Society for Creative Anachronism is by large a society based on information transfer, whether it be our own customs and law to how to create medieval items or even learning our method of martial art. Even with this, though, how critical is it exactly that our learning and information transfer happen only at events, especially in the age of blogs, Twitch, Instagram, Discord, That Other Social Network, and the like – and more importantly, how do we use these tools in educating others in the ways of the SCA?

First off, I want to say that I think it’s important to show up to events and SCA activities. After all, what we do is done in community, and without that community, we’re just a bunch of weirdos who play dress-up in medieval clothes. If you can, go to events. Meet people. Do the things that make your little medieval geeky heart happy.

But, let’s say your schedule doesn’t allow you to go to regular fighter practices or A&S nights. You’ve learned things, and you want to share them – how important is it to share what you’ve learned? And more importantly, how do you find ways of sharing them? This post will go through the pros and cons of sharing your work through the Information Superhighway.

It’s incredibly important to share information. We’re an organization based on learning things, and while many of us do well in formalized classroom settings within the SCA, many of us don’t. (Seriously, check out Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. It’s fascinating!) And, with the birth of some amazing sites, there are great ways to pass on our knowledge.

Courtesy of my friend Marie.
(http://www.ninthcircle.net/2016/the-teal-deer/)

We’ll start off with a classic: Blogs. Great for showing off long-form pieces like dress diaries or essays, blogs are wonderful for linking to websites, museum pieces, and in some cases, a great repository for an individual’s body of work. Downsides with blogs, though, are the dreaded TL;DR or even lack of traffic to a blog. Other issues also include lack of citations (seriously, cite your stuff), or learning blogging applications like WordPress or Blogger. (I’ve had decent luck with both, but, your mileage may vary.) On the whole, though, blogs are, in my opinion, one of the best ways to share information with others, especially with regards to the SCA and our shared medieval life.

That Other Social Network also has a way of transferring information through their concept of Pages. The downside with Pages is that That Other Social Network has a habit of changing their algorithms frequently, and Pages frequently get hosed. Is it possible to have a successful Page? Absolutely, but much of the labour goes to those seeking the information. Pages are great for sharing information in pictures, and it’s definitely easy for posts to go viral across the Social Network. The downside, though, is that unless your information is properly cited or poorly represented, that information from Pages can easily be used in misinformation. (really, anything can be used in misinformation, but some methods are easier.) On the other hand, Pages can also be used in conversations (though, others using trollish behaviour can be a thing as well.

From my own Instagram account!

Instagram is great for showing off processes, or documenting what you’re doing. It is, however, terrible for citing items. (But hey, if you want inspiration, Instagram is wonderful. And I find that medieval Instagram is delightfully supportive and I love learning from them!) Medieval Twitter is similar, and with organizations like the British Museum and the Walters actively sharing what’s in their collections (with enthusiastic curators often answering questions!), it’s a great place to learn. Downsides include word counts and clunky searches with tags for the exact item you might want. (and, if you’re particularly tied to something, yes, you can cite Tweets using Chicago/Turabian manuals of style.

Something I’ve been using is Twitch and YouTube to stream video of things I’ve been working on, and there are a few instances of SCA folk (Hi Morgan Donner!) who use YouTube in their explorations of history and their chosen crafts. Twitch is great for people who need to watch how something is done, or even feeling part of something – watch any YouTube Live session, and you can see the number of people attempting to interact with the person they’re watching. I often use Twitch when doing live paints. One, it allows people to see what I’m working on from the comfort of my own home, and two, I can answer questions in real time. Downsides, though, are often citation-related. I have a harder time posting links, or I often answer the same question on multiple broadcasts. Technology fails can also be a massive issue, especially when it comes to multiple points of failure (anything from your speed of your internet to the type of camera that you use).

Image may contain: 1 person
Courtesy of Anna. Tell me, how obvious in her display are the modern elements?

Lastly, let’s say you make it to an event, and you’re displaying items. As anachronistic as they are, sometimes, having technology is great. My friend Anna over at Anna’s Rome entered a competition, and used a tablet to not only display her documentation, but also to show people the process. She had a QR code, labeled as leading to video of her timelapses of working on her icons. Talk about harnessing multimedia within an anachronistic setting – and yet, having it being done without it being obtrusive. (It can be done!) Direct from Anna below are her reasons why the multimedia display.

Disclaimer: I have a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies, so this is sort of my jam, and I’m about to get a wee wordy: Displays are supposed to be educational in nature, and people learn in different ways. I myself am a visual learner, so I need video or images to help make sense of words or lectures. I also put the pigments and egg tempera medium down to assist tactile learners with getting a feel for the materials. This is important, especially in an age when we’re learning more and more each day about how we learn, and how to make the arts accessible. A binder of dry words on the table, in my opinion, is not accessible. Non-artists can sometimes have a hard time grasping the amount of work that goes into what we do, so a complete demonstration can paint a more holistic approach.

I filmed myself doing the timelapse before Pennsic as a joke to build a montage ala “Eye of the Tiger”, which is actually the song on the first timelapse video I made. After seven days of painting, I condensed them all into 10 minutes of playtime, and included the link to Youtube in my documentation since it had to be sent ahead of time to the judges. I don’t think they watched it, as no comments were made about it to me. So I decided that a QR code would be an excellent, quickly visible way to access the video online during the display here in Trimaris. We’re all so tethered to our tech, especially phones, for varying reasons. I love taking pictures at A&S displays and competitions, so why NOT video? My husband, THLord Gieffrei, who was out front making coins that day, made the suggesting to use his small tablet for repetitive play. I was apprehensive, because some people can get super squeamish about intrusive modernity, but, hey, we have binders of printed paper on a table, and displays aren’t exactly an immersive medieval event, so I went for it, and it worked, insanely well. The average museum visitor spends less than seven seconds on an object unless there is something that pulls them in unless there is a “hook”. The video was the hook. People were mesmerized by the video, and then found themselves playing with the paint, referring to my documentation, and then snapping the QR code as a “take home” copy of the video.

In fact, The East Kingdom just had their “Artifacts of a Life” event again, and some of my friends up north used these techniques to the same level of positive reception. So I feel that the integration of technology is the next step we need to take as an organization if we want to maintain relevance. Just because we recreate the world prior to the 17th Century, doesn’t mean our educational approaches need to stay there, as well.

Like hammers, chisels, paintbrushes, sewing machines, and the like, the internet is a tool, and through efficacious use of it, the transfer of information can be done cheaply and elegantly.

Posted in how-to, influences, philosophy, SCA, SCA Philosophy, Society for Creative Anachronism, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pomp and Splendor: what to do with your heraldic device once registered

Once you’ve registered your arms, there are a multitude of ways to display them, all which add to our game. While I’ll be using my arms as an example, keep in mind that different shapes may work better (or worse) with your arms. When you work on your own ideas, sketch out your own arms and see what works best for you.

If you are registering a heraldic design for a fieldless badge, please remember that by longstanding precedent, we do not register fieldless badges that appear to be independent forms of armorial display. Charges such as roundels, cartouches, escutcheons, billets, hearts, lozenges, and so forth are all both standard heraldic charges and “shield shapes” for armorial display. Lozenges ployés do not escape this rule and are considered to be a shield shape for the purposes of this precedent.

The traditional way that many of us see our devices displayed is on an escutcheon shape or a heater-type shield. Of course, there are a multitude of escutcheon shapes, but the basic shield shape works well for a lot of heraldic designs. It covers a lot of space, leaving room for charges without things getting too squished, and it fits many time periods within the pre-1600 cut-off that the Society covers.

Associated with unmarried women, especially in Anglo-Norman heraldic practice, the lozenge as display is an option available to all in the Society. It has similar perks to the escutcheon shape, though charged chiefs, flaunches, and bases may run into some issues with squished shapes. It is geometric, however, so designs with bends, bordures, fesses, and pales look particularly striking. One would see the lozenge used by women in heraldic display practice starting circa 1262, though as the linked article does state that, “[m]oreover, the oldest lozenge used by a man is contemporaneous with the oldest lozenge used by a woman. Clearly, then, the lozenge was one of various possible shapes, used by both sexes without significant distinction,” the lozenge was also used by men as well.

Also associated with unmarried women in Anglo-Norman heraldic practice, the cartouche or oval shape has some similar perks to the lozenge. Unlike the lozenge, though, the round shape of the cartouche lends itself nicely to charged chiefs and bases. Flaunches and gores may create some problems given the overall skinny of the design, and as usual, bends, bordures, fesses, and pales look particularly striking with the cartouche.

Think of the billet as a great shape for banners, especially Imperial Roman and Byzantine-era banners (my own banner is somewhat in this shape). Like the escutcheon, there’s a lot of real estate in using the billet shape, without the funky curved edges at the bottom. Within my example, you can see that there is plenty of room for my seraph to. . . ahem. . . spread its wings, and nothing in particular feels crowded. It does, however, have the same problems of the cartouche in that it’s a fairly skinny shape, so fitting charges may take a bit of practice.

Delfs are just squares, and we see this shape a lot for badges (the main badge form for the Society is in this shape). There’s plenty of real estate for charges and ordinaries and is compact enough to save space in blocky designs. It’s geometric, so this works particularly well on scrolls, in weaving designs (depending on the charges), and shows up in 12th century square pennons and some late period square exemplars, too. If you’re feeling particularly extra and late period, you could use a square shape and add a tail (called a “schwenkel“) to the top.

Roundels are as their name calls them – rounds. Great for rotella, targa, bucklers, or any number of round shields, this shape also works great for badges and patches. There’s a lot of space for ordinaries and charges, and if you have peripheral ordinaries (which are on the edges of the field), there’s room for those, too. This is a great all around (ha!) for many applications.

It’s time to start getting weird with displays. Until now, we’ve seen pretty standard shapes, mostly squares, rectangles, circles, and ovals. Heart-shaped shields show up in some cultures (Berber, for one, where it’s pretty prominent in use), but it also works well for some other applications, including the Heraldic Love project, started by Cormac Mór. The downside with the heart shape is that charged chiefs do not have much room, thanks to the dip in the middle, but there’s room for flaunches, bases, gores, etc. This as a token with use of a badge could be absolutely adorable.

Hello inverted triangles. I told you we’d be getting weird here. Like the escutcheon, triangles function pretty close to that shape and there are several examples of banners and even shield shapes in this manner. The downsides to having triangles mean that some peripheral ordinaries like flaunches may make the rest of the design look bizarre. My own barony uses this shape (we’re the Barony of Forgotten Sea. It’s nautical.) in our roll of arms. Some divisions (like per saltire) just look bizarre. If, however, your heraldry uses things on a fess or in cross, it might work really well with this shape.

Banners like the gonfalon mean that filling the space might be interesting. (I did this digitally, and I probably would have not made some of the choices that I did with this.) Perfect for the late period Roman persona (I’m looking at you 16th c Rome) or ecclesiastic personae, the gonfalon evolved from the Imperial Roman vexillium. The gonfalon’s main point is that it hangs from a crossbeam downwards. A similar type of banner called the gonfanon features the same shape, but hangs from the hoist of a flagpole.

Used by confraternities (lay groups), gonfalons could also be used by households in the SCA as a good carryover. Several period examples (including this one from a tapestry!) place the arms or subject in the middle and leave the surrounding area pretty open. It’s a great way to mark your campsite, or even to show off your household’s badge. The gonfalon doesn’t always have to have the three tails. Sometimes they’re swallow-tailed, and sometimes, they’re like the billet above.

Lastly, the tabard. Used as a representation of the person a herald represented, the tabard was worn. (and is a prime example of a coat of arms being used to represent a person!) The nice thing about tabards is that there’s a lot of space for varying charges, ordinaries, peripheral ordinaries, or other shapes. The downside with tabards is that for early period personae, they come pretty late to the party, with most tabards being worn in the 14th and 15th centuries. On the other hand, the tabard is still being worn by heralds (have an 18th c example right here!), so you can see how this garment has evolved from its initial use.

Everybody’s heralding for the weekend?

Perfect for tournaments or court situations, tabards showcase that you represent the voice of your employer. As a herald in the Society, that could be a combatant in Crown, or it could actually be the Crown. If you wear the tabard, your actions directly impact the person you represent. For more on the tabard as worn by a herald, please check out this article.

There are, of course, other shapes (like the Norse crescent banner) that you can use for display, though, unlike the rest of the shapes in this article, the Norse banner is not restricted for use as a badge. Again, check out what works best for you and your persona, and sketch out a couple of ideas. More heraldic display adds to the beauty of our game, and the more we can use our heraldry to beautify our game, the more we look more like the nobles we represent.

Posted in banner, court, herald, heraldry, history, persona, persona development, Renaissance, SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Straight Outta SLC: Quick and Easy SCA Names Using FamilySearch

Documenting names for the SCA doesn’t always require large tomes or some sort of wizard with super-linguistic skills to interpret a source. One of the best sources we have at our disposal is FamilySearch, a genealogical tool that has compiled not only International Genealogical Index records, but other records (such as parish and birth) as well. This article will show you how to use FamilySearch to document names for SCA registration and use.

First off, FamilySearch is a repository of two different types of records. The first type is that of User Submitted Genealogies, which consist of family information contributed by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormons). The contributions may be fantastic. . . or not so, because it is genealogical research. You may run into modernized spelling, duplicate information, or even inconsistent information. As a result, these types of records are not permitted for use in documenting names for the SCA.

The second type of record is that of Historical Records, which two members from the community have transcribed information from an extant source (usually a scan or a photograph, though sometimes they’re Victorian transcriptions of an older source). If the transcribed information does not agree, an expert then looks at it and determines what is correct. That means that they’re at least as dependable as the other sources we use, and the SCA College of Arms considers those transcriptions reasonable documentation for the spelling and dating of a name element.

Let’s get started in learning to search for a name.

When starting your search, start at familysearch.org, and make sure that you’ve selected the Records tab. This should show a few search bars, with options to search by life event, relationships, or can even restrict your search by location, type, batch number, or even a microfilm number. Much like a search engine like Google, the information that you put into the prompts will give you the best results based on input. So, if you misspell part of the name, don’t limit the time frame, or limit the location to one spot, it is possible that you may not get the results you want or are even useable.

The name I was given to research was David Moffatt.

So, my first thing is to break apart the name into individual chunks: first name and last name, and search both independently of one another. I could search both parts, but this could result in no results found, or a result found out of period. I started with the last name, which I chose because it’s probably a bit more difficult to find than David. I entered this into the last name section, then selected “Any” from the “Search with a life event.” By selecting “Any,” this allows the user to look at all records: parish, death, burial, marriage, birth, and christening records, instead of a very specific record. This keeps the search fairly broad. I then selected the range of time as 1000 CE to 1650 CE, which does limit the search to those 650 years, and as the College of Arms will not register anything later than 1650 and FamilySeach will not look for anything prior to 1000, it is best to limit your search to these dates. I left the place blank, again, keeping the search just broad enough. There is a ticky-box for “Match All Terms Exactly,” though I recommend not using that unless you are looking for an exact match of a spelling. Be aware that this may result in no search results, so use this ticky-box responsibly.

I then clicked search and then I ended up with a page of results! Unfortunately, some of the results were marked as “Find A Grave” records, which are not acceptable records. Another thing to watch out for is that modern American records can and will sneak into your results. While both of the birth records on the Find A Grave records have a date from an acceptable “grey-area” time (post-1600 but pre-1650), the record doesn’t have a batch number, which means it can’t be used. (It does have a photo, but not with a gravestone indicating that the name was normalized, making these records less than helpful. Modern American records, like the record of Duane Moffatt, may indicate a false positive. These, likewise, are not acceptable for research for SCA names. (These are usually the case of a volunteer transcribing the date incorrectly. It is easier to ignore these and keep digging.)

I was, however, successful in finding a Moffatt from an acceptable batch and year. What’s interesting about this particular record is the spelling variations offered. It is reasonable to assume that the name could have had a few spelling variants, and that the person’s name wasn’t “Moffett Or Moffatt.” A few things of note from this historical record: one, the christening date is that of pre-1600, and two, the batch number (next to the indexing project) is a P batch.

When using the Historical Records to document the particular name element (which, yes, you may use in combination with other sources, such as books on the No Photocopy list), you must provide a summary of the FamilySearch result including the batch letter and number on the name form is sufficient documentation and additional printouts are not required. The batch letter and number is important! Batches B, C, J, K, M (except M17 and M18), or P are all acceptable, whereas batches that are all digits, begin with M17 or M18, D, F, H, L, or T are not acceptable, with all other batches allowed on a case by case review. The main reason why certain batches are allowed over ones that are not is due to earlier indexes may actually reflect out of date scholarship, and therefore are not acceptable to the College.

Now that we have a last name, let’s use the same process for the first name, only this time, let us put a few more limitations on the search. The record above shows that Thomas Moffett/Moffatt is from England, so by restricting the records to England only means that we can gain a higher chance of extreme temporal and cultural compatibility. I’ve kept all of the information the same – I want any record from 1000-1650, and by putting in “England” in any place, I’ve successfully locked the search to any English sources in that timeframe. As you can see, I ended up with a lot of Davids. The hard part now is sifting through the records until one finds an acceptable batch. In this case, David Marten, is from an acceptable batch (a B-batch), and is within 10 years of our Moffatt record.

So, how do we combine all of this information and summarize it for submission? The key is to use the most important information: Name, Gender, Date, Type of Record, Place, and Batch Number.

Let’s take our two records here. When I document for submission, I follow a very similar path to researching the names – I break apart the individual parts of the name, this time starting with the first name. I always include the element that I’ve documented separate from the full name of the record, so in documenting David, my summary would look like this, making sure to also include the link where the individual record is held.

David: David Marten, male, buried 04 Apr 1589, England, Batch B03579-4. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JC1D-GTT)

Moffatt: Thomas Moffett Or Moffatt, male, christened 30 Oct 1590, SAINT JOHN,NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE,NORTHUMBERLAND,ENGLAND, Batch P00418-1. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NBCL-R41)

That’s it! Once all elements are documented, double check your work (maybe against the names checklist and definitely against the O&A), and take your work to your local herald or, if you are the local herald, submit using your kingdom’s processes.

And, if you ever want a bit of fun, consider trying to find names that you didn’t think were documentable, like Kathleen, Ian, or even Jade. You might surprise yourself (and the College)!

Posted in herald, heraldry, how-to, SCA, service, Society for Creative Anachronism, tutorial | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stretching Scribal Boundaries

So, over the Christmas holiday, I had the opportunity to go to an event in Meridies (hi Thor’s Mountain!), and I seized the opportunity to sit and do some art while I was there. I wasn’t sure what kind of art that I wanted to do, and I was kind of flying on what I had, and not what I should have used (because literally flying and limited space blah blah blah). But, with a bit of thinking and a few moments on my phone at my event (sorry!), I started working on a challenge piece for me.

Thanks, Santa Jeff, for capturing this photo of me at work on this piece. You can see that I’m working out of a wire-bound sketchbook, and not my normal pergamenata for scrolls. It’s a practice piece, after all.

So, carrying in my already filled palettes and a bit of paint that I was able to put in my luggage to the event, I started working on a piece that I thought would stretch my abilities – squashed bugs. Squashed bugs, of course, isn’t the period name, but it’s one that we as reenactors and recreationists have saddled with this overly realistic, trompe l’oeil style, featuring botanicals and insects, with most exemplars coming from France and Flanders around the early 16th century. The pieces seem realistic, complete with shadows and highlights, usually with a shell gold background, with a fantastic example being Les Grande Heures d’Anne de Bretagne, which the Bibliothèque nationale de France has digitized and put online for research purposes. Of note, there are several botanicals in this particular exemplar. Some of those botanicals, I joke, might put you on a watchlist because, well, whee cannabis. (Also, as I was telling my coworkers at my modern job: “15th CENTURY GET LIT!” I am a bad person.)

Les Grande Heures was painted by a miniaturist named Jean Bourdichon, and it took him about five years to complete the book. There are numerous portraits (my current favourite game on That Other Social Media site is to take a part from one of these miniatures without context, and ask people to caption it. My friend Anna at Anna’s Rome and I have really gotten into this. It’s bad, y’all), and these numerous portraits are finely detailed.

So, I started, using this particular exemplar, which had violets and a dragonfly. One of the reasons I went with this one, was because of the transparency of the wings, the delicate gradients of colour, but also because the extant wasn’t that large. This particular book of hours is a decent size, being about 300 mm x 190 mm (11″ x 7.4″) on each leaf. I could isolate the botanicals and use the rest of my small page (I had a 5.5″ x 8.5″ Strathmore mixed media sketchbook with me) for calligraphy. So, I also got out my FineTec palette, got it ready, and started work.

Now, admittedly, a lot of the work got done at Holly and Ivy. I have a bit of a heavy hand when it comes to filling in my large swathes of colour, and when the FineTec palette is hydrated nicely, you get these really creamy paints that deal well with a lot of coverage. But also, I was left to my own devices at the event and that’s also good. Before long, I’d gotten quite a bit of work done on it, and all that I needed to do was detail work, which I used my beloved 20/0 brushes (and a new 30/0 brush) to do.

I’m going to take a break from the how I did this to add something about how I don’t know how to teach people how to do this. I’ve been doing art since I was a young kid, and the best thing I can say is practice. I assure you, I still make stuff that’s terrible and that I’m not happy with. I have mountains of sketchbooks filled with failed drawings and paintings. In fact, I can name an SCA scroll in recent memory that I went through at least three failures before I finally got it to a point where I liked it. This particular piece was done to stretch my abilities and to practice techniques. Am I particularly chuffed that it turned out well? Absolutely. Am I afraid that I won’t be able to catch lightning in a bottle a second time? You bet.

Back to the project.

Once my layer of gold paint was down, I started working on transparency portions. The wings of the dragonfly, especially, were a bit difficult, but by watering down some Daniel Smith Amethyst Genuine watercolour where it was barely picking up pigment, I could paint the wings to look like there was diffused light turning into shadow, much like in the extant. Now, because this is a traditional transparent watercolour, it has the ability to take on these nearly transparent washes, whereas gouache would have a more difficult time given the finer grind of the pigment. (It’s possible to have no problems with watering down gouache, and I’ve had decent luck with my M. Graham gouache, but if you’re trying this out for yourself, experiment first.) I also found that using the Daniel Smith also made doing the shadows on gold easier, as the purple and gold would cancel each other out enough (yay complementary colours!) and would create this lovely dark brown. Of course, these shadows were not as dark as I wanted, and I had to break one of my cardinal rules with using black (black often overpowers, which is why I use it so very sparingly), but when watered down, it covered exactly the way I wanted.

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Closeup of my 30/0 brush. It’s tiny, yo. Also, you can see how the gold isn’t shiny from this angle. It’s very shiny when the light is right.

The biggest breakthrough I had was when I got my 30/0 brush. Not everyone feels like they need a tiny tiny brush, but I find that they’re helpful. With a light enough touch, I was able to mimic the fine lines in the extant. Like I said, not everyone feels like they need them, but I like mine. If you’re curious, it’s a Royal and Langnickel Monogram brush, and when it isn’t in use, it gets cleaned, dipped in gum arabic, and the plastic protective tube put back on to preserve the point of the brush, because 30/0s are pricy, even for inexpensive ones like this one. (And also, I don’t want to wear down this one as quickly as I do my 20/0s.)

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So shiny! Also, the finished product.

Once all of this was done, and any remaining lining was finished, I photographed it and put it online. (and then the SCA Social Media picked that up and it went sort of viral, so. uh. Hi.) Now, of course, it’s a practice piece, and as the artist recreating it, I am much harder on myself than perhaps everyone else is, but even with my mistakes, I’m proud of this. I have an idea of what to do next time, and I’m already planning for next time, with this adorable border of cherries from the same text (it’s on page 85r).

One of the biggest issues I think a lot of artists have is knowing when to stop. Self-editing can be difficult, but it’s such an important skill to learn to look at a project critically and stopping one’s self before it ends up getting ruined. There are still things I wish I could change, or wish that I had stopped myself on, but this piece is also a learning process. There’s so much more to learn, which is why I’m working on the border. I also discovered a few other things about this text that I’m excited to try out for next time.

So, while I was working on this one, I also was working on another one, but this was more or less a reminder to myself that just because I can, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Picture it, Sicil. . . I mean, the night before the event a blank border competition is held. No time to paint, but just enough time to try out another method that might have been another stretch of skills. I stumbled upon the concept of canivet, or paper cut to look like

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My finished piece.

lace by using either knives or die cuts, and a particularly spectacular example from the 1310s in a rather tiny book. While I was limited by size (I had to size up to make sure there was room for any text), I was able to cut my 11″x17″ pergamenata piece with the same general design as the extant in about 4.5 hours with my only injury being my slightly sore thumb from pressing too hard on my xacto knife. I did make a few modifications to my piece, with making room for a badge of one of our GoA orders, but on the whole, closely resembles the extant. Do I recommend doing stuff like trying to recreate a scroll the night before a competition in the future? No. Will I probably do dumb stuff like this in the future? Probably. Am I proud of my work? Yes. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.

Lessons learned from my scribal scribbles from the past few weeks:

  • Do things because you want to do things, but also, challenging yourself is a good thing. It’s quite easy to hit the Easy Button and do things over and over. And there’s plenty of practice in that, but expanding views is also a way to do that.
  • Inspiration comes in some odd, but fun places. I am truly loving Les Grande Heures.
  • Using Tweets as documentation is fine under Chicago/Turabian citation, so go get your citations from your favourite museum (also, thank you, Walters Art Museum Rare Books and Manuscripts)
  • I stretched a lot of abilities on this piece, and I can’t wait to try it again.
  • Practice is absolutely a good thing (and I can hear my sainted mother laughing from beyond the grave over me saying this).

Go out there and show me your practice pieces! I can’t wait to see what you learn from your own practice!

Posted in blank border, calontir, french, illumination, musings, paint, philosophy, practice, project management, Retrospective, SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Choices; or why Konstantia wore one outfit over another

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Seriously. This is pretty close to what we had. I live just north of the green circle.

Calontir Coronation was this weekend, and as is often the risk with midwestern kingdoms in January, we had the prediction of some pretty heinous weather. So not kidding – we had a winter storm warning issued that morning for potential awfulness.

So, with that, meant that I had duties to take over due to people not being able to travel. You might be aware that I’m a former Principal Herald of my kingdom (I was the 19th Gold Falcon Principal Herald of Calontir), which meant that I was pretty heavily involved in the tradition of attesting that the victor of Crown Tournament actually was who he says he was. It is a tradition, not a law, so there were a couple of Coronations where I didn’t have this duty. This time, though, our current Gold Falcon and our just past Gold Falcon were both not able to travel, so I became the next one in line. Conveniently, I lived not far from site, so getting there wasn’t as difficult as it could have been for others. Anyway, this is about my clothing choices for an event, not heraldic duties, so let’s keep going here.

My thanks to Catrijn for this photo.

Vestal virgins held a lot of power within Roman society. They could own property, vote (!), and could own property. They also had the best seats at the public games, and could release slaves and prisoners who were condemned. Also, a Vestal’s word was far beyond reproach – her testimony was accepted without her needing to be under oath. Ordinary women, well, couldn’t, unless they had three children, were freedwomen with four children, or were the aforementioned Vestal Virgins. Women could inherit property, but they could not control it, and perhaps while it’s true that some high-ranking women could have influenced their husbands, this is limited to some really rare examples. Most Imperial Roman women were ornaments who also bore children, and were keepers of virtue and morality at home. There would be no reason for anyone but a Vestal or an Empress/her ladies to be present within ceremonies with the equivalent of a Society coronation, let alone to speak at one (I also read part of our lineage of kings and queens).

Since I was the Stunt Gold Falcon, I had to attest that His Highness was indeed the victor of Crown Tournament. An ordinary patrician wife couldn’t do that, but a Vestal could. The Roman state entrusted this select group of women with important documents, such as public treaties and the wills of powerful citizens – so, this public ceremony could have had Vestals as part of it.

About the only thing I didn’t have was a guard to protect me (a Vestal traveled with a personal escort), but, as we are surrounded by friends, it is unlikely that I would have been murderfied by anyone at the event.

My patrician wife kit. And yes, I’m reading the lineage. I think I chose this because of the camping aspect of this particular event.

Now, I’m still probably going to wear my Byzantine as often as I can, but this side of the Bosphoros is still comfy and airy and I still love wallering around in all of the linen. And as I am chronologically approaching Vestal retirement age (anywhere from a woman’s mid-thirties to her early forties), my time in this kit is fast approaching the end. And yes, I know, I could easily still wear the kit well into older ages, but for historical accuracy, I know my time in this kit is not long for this world. (Then again, there are other things about me that my period counterpart would not have been or done, so, there’s that, too.)

I do want to upgrade the linen to white wool, but that comes with time and a little bit of money (I’m gonna need at least 10 yards of the white wool and about half a yard of red). While linen works, especially for long wear, it is not exactly fireproof, and well, the work of the Vestal Virgin was working around fire. It would probably be best to wear a material where the risk of the fabric getting caught on fire would be at a minimum.

I have already upgraded the infula to be made of wool, so I’m a step closer to upgrading the entire kit, but there are other things that have to also be done, including sandals. One step at a time.

The point to this is, sometimes the clothes we wear are more than just clothes. Sometimes looking at what roles we do, and wearing the clothes as best befitting the roles we do take on within the Society help create a better magic moment for everyone else. And this little bit of authenticity makes my heart sing. It may not for you, and that’s fine. I had my magic moment, and I hope others had one too. I am deeply grateful to Their Majesties, both incoming and outgoing, to our Gold Falcon, and our Kingdom Seneschal for this opportunity to do this again. It was wonderful to be able to serve in this manner.

Posted in calontir, ceremonies, ceremony, clothing, early period, herald, heraldry, history, influences, musings, persona, persona development, Project Flammen, Roman, SCA, service, Society for Creative Anachronism, Vestal Virgin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making the Odds Ever Be in Your Favour: surviving the heraldic submissions process

You’ve gotten your Society name figured out. You know what you want for your heraldic device. You’re about ready to send in your heraldic submission – and then it hits! How do you make sure that you increase your chances for your submission getting registered and less like you’re trying to get your submission to survive the heraldic Hunger Games?

This blog post will help answer some of those burning questions, though I would like to point out that the process will still take about nine months, and yes, the waiting is difficult. That being said, by looking at your submission critically and by using these techniques before it goes to your submissions herald, it might make your wait a little easier.

I also want to use this post to humanize the heraldic volunteers that make this process happen. We process about 1200 names and devices a year (on average), and spend easily as much time doing heraldry in our free time as we do in our modern jobs, and as much as the trope of Picky Detail Herald seems to be a thing (and in the early days, not unfairly earned), we do want to people to register their names and devices and we want to make the process easier on you, the submitter.

I’m breaking this out by use for heraldic devices and by names – the techniques listed are similar, but not entirely the same, by virtue of the fact that the submissions process is a tiny bit different between the two.

The big over-arching rule: ASK A HERALD. Seriously, we’re here to help, and we want to make the submissions process easy for you. Come talk to us. It’s good. Really.

And the other? Well, if a change has to be made, please be responsive to emails from your consulting or submissions herald – it will help move that process along much faster than if the email languishes in your inbox.


Names

1. Document your name from a good period source.

One of the biggest hangups I’ve seen when names are discussed are if the name comes from a period source. Your best bet when submitting a name is making sure that the name comes from a good non-photocopy source (that is, the College of Arms does not need you to further document the name and send in additional photocopies from your resources). This is not a time to use a source like a baby names website – a lot of the information on those sites is poorly researched (if it is researched at all) or flat-out wrong.

If your name isn’t period, but it uses an element of your modern names, you may use part of it, but that documentation (like state/provincial ID, etc.) must be attested by at least two heralds.

2. Make sure all parts of your name elements come from the same general time period and region.

Within SCA period, names were not a mish-mash of different cultures and time periods. For example, the name AEthelstan Yamaguchi the Traveller would not be able to be registered within an SCA context because each element of the name not only needs to be documented from a period source (as both names are from period sources), but it also needs to come from cultures that had contact with one another.

Within the SCA, we also limit those combinations to 300 years between elements that are not from the same culture, and for those within the same culture, there’s a bit more leeway (allowing for family traditional naming practices). So, if you’re tied to AEthelstan, consider looking for a name that better matches the culture that it’s originally from or one that had close contact with it.

Besides, as a voice from behind the curtain, we love extreme temporal/cultural compatibility when we see it on the submission form!

3. Conflict check your name at least three times.

We check for conflict to make sure that every name in the SCA is not exactly the same as anyone else. Yes, every registered name is unique, and it has to be, as that remains the record for which all further registrations of devices and alternate names go under in our filing system. A name like John Doe would be in conflict with the name Jeuan Dough – even though they look nothing alike, by sound they’re identical. There are a few other rules regarding conflict with names, but that’s one of the big ones.

I conflict check names three times – once when at the consultation table, once before I send in paperwork, and once again within a commentary session. That way, it is ensured that the name is open in our system.

If you’re not sure how to conflict check for names, definitely reach out to your friendly local herald, who will be glad to help you out.

4. Don’t select the Ticky-Boxes of Doom.

Okay, so let’s say that you don’t have immediate access to a herald immediately, and you want to fill out your name submission form to help the process move along.

These are the Ticky-Boxes of Doom.

You’ve got all of your information in, and you’re moving down to the middle section, with a lot of ticky-boxes.

While we love it when submitters help us out, especially when having their information filled in at the top, selection of the ticky-boxes can be confusing. My recommendation: don’t select them. For one, if we can’t divine what a submitter wants (for example, selecting the “I will not accept changes” and then filling out the “please change my name to be authentic” makes it hard for the College to go through with what you, the submitter, want. It is much easier to accept changes, though keep in mind that we will not make changes without your permission.

Additionally, the very last ticky-box on the Ticky-Boxes of Doom goes into details about if you’ve also submitted a heraldic device with your name. If your name has a problem with it (like what I’ve talked about above or it conflicts with someone else) but your device is fine and can be registered, the College will create what’s called a holding name, generally based on your modern first name or your submitted first name and your local group, provided there are no conflicts within our system. This holding name can be changed at any time to one of your preference, but must go through the registration process like all other names in the Society.

If you must select a Ticky-Box of Doom, I do make the suggestion that if it has to be changed, select the one about sound/meaning/spelling, etc., including desired gender (and yes, you can go with a non-binary option – I can’t guarantee that we’ll find a unisex name, but you can absolutely put that in). Alternatively, I would also suggest “please change my name to be more period” with a small range of time and a general location, like Norway or Byzantium.

5. Don’t make trendy or pop culture references.

Okay, okay, at the risk of being called Baroness Funkiller here, there’s a good reason for this. Obtrusive modernity. After all, as much as we are modern people playing a creative game, there are some things that can easily shake people out of that idea of the medieval world. Names like Captain Kyrke (which is a period name from a singular record!), Cookie Monster, or John Bon Jovey have too many modern contexts that would jolt fellow SCAdians out of a medieval mindset.

Additionally, while heralds are often seen as the nerds of the SCA, we are oftentimes just as caught up (or often on the bleeding edge) of pop culture references. Sure, some names have passed through, but again from behind the curtain – not without a lot of commentary going in either direction. If you want to make Pelican Sovereign’s life easier, opt for a period name that doesn’t refer to a popular character.


Devices

1. Use obscure but documentable charges in simple designs.

We know, you want to use swords, roses, arrows, needles, lions, or wolves in your heraldic device. They’re cool. Dare I say it – they’re badass. And unfortunately, they’re used a lot within SCA heraldry, because everyone else thinks they’re cool, which means that you could run into conflict issues.

And again, before you start calling me Baroness Funkiller again, I’d like to point out that there are some cool obscure charges out there that there are few instances of. And the best part? Because they’re so underutilized, the chances of them being returned due to conflict is pretty low. Examples of underutilized charges are sieves, furisons, cornices, merfolk, and pantheons.

The other thing is using simple arrangements and devices. How often have you heard this from the heralds’ table?

“I want [tincture] a [thing] [tincture].”
“I’m sorry, there appears to be a conflict with [insert name here]”
“Damn. Well . . . let’s add. . . .”

Azure, three four-lobed quadrate cornices two and one argent.

STOP. Seriously. Stop now.

Check “[tincture] [multiple] [things] [tincture]” first. Sometimes, a period design of a single type of item with a few multiples is clear. For example, “azure, three four-lobed quadrate cornices two and one argent” is, at least of this writing, clear. It is an incredibly simple design (two colours, one charge that is only used in fifteen registrations), and it falls within a known heraldic motif. (Though, seriously, if you want this, send me a message and we can get this on paperwork for you!)

In general, aim for simple – try to not put your entire SCA history or all your activity in your heraldic device. Plus, it’s just much easier to draw. (There’s even a concept of “ruler heraldry”, where the only tool you need to draw your device is a ruler. Super easy, super period, and while tricky to conflict check at times, is a great way to increase your chances of registration.

2. Draw and colour your forms as correctly as you can.

This is by far one of the most common ways for submitters’ items to get held up. Either an item was hand-drawn and a heraldic posture isn’t clear, or the colour is halfway between two colours (blurple is one of the best examples of this). This either leads to a decision where we have to pend for redraw, adding a few months to the submission cycle, or if the submission is really not clear or we can’t get a hold of the submitter, it could lead to the submission being outright rejected.

So, to review: the best colours to use for your submission, whether they be coloured electronically or with markers, are basic colours. Think back to the colours you used when learning your colours – those are the ones you want to use. Don’t use teal or orange (unless it’s actually an orange). When drawing, consider tracing your charges or using a computer to manipulate the charges so that they fit. Additionally, make sure that your charges fill the space appropriately, but also can be identified easily.

3. Conflict check your proposed device.

Like your name, I suggest conflict checking your device at least three times. Once when at the consultation table, once before I send in paperwork, and once again within a commentary session. That way, it is ensured that the device is open in our system.

Storytime! I submitted a badge, and was not as thorough in my conflict check as I normally am. It was discovered at the kingdom commenting level that it was too similar to another badge and definitely conflicted (oh no!). Now, thankfully, I was able to catch it early enough to withdraw and submit another badge (that I liked much better), but I learned a lesson to definitely be thorough in checking for conflict.

4. Lessen your use of Steps From Period Practice.

I’m sure you’re reading this and wondering what the hell a “step from period practice” or SFPP is. A SFPP is an item that is not documented to period, as a charge or anything else. Items like non-European heraldic items (sorry, Japanese personae), pawprints, or hexagons are all considered examples of SFPP. And yes, while I know and appreciate that Japanese heraldry is quite robust, the Society does use a traditionally Anglo-Norman blazoning system within our Core Rules, meaning that many of the charges within Japanese heraldry, while being perfectly period, cannot be described using the system that we use. It’s a bummer.

That being said, if you must have a charge that is an SFPP, make sure you only have one kind. Any more than that, and your submission will get sent back for more work. Per SENA, any more than two separate kinds of SFPP (like a valknut on a pawprint) is just not permitted.

5. Have all documenting paperwork ready to go.

So, let’s say you’re a baron or a countess, and you’ve read that you can have a coronet on your device (it’s true!), and you want to create a badge that has a coronet on it. You’re clear of conflict, you’ve made sure that you really like it, and you send it in . . . but you forgot to put when you were given the right to bear the coronet on your arms on your forms.

Or, let’s say you’ve been doing some heraldic research, and you found a new charge or a new Individually Attested Pattern (IAP), but you’ve misplaced your documentation.

In registering devices, we do have a certain burden of proof required for allowing new charges or colour combinations. We do need examples of use within pre-1600s Europe, and it’s even better if it was used in heraldic context. If you have found something cool, I can guarantee that we want to see it so that we can encourage others who might want an unusual device, and it makes their process for registering much easier because we can use that documentation.


It’s five simple rules (ten, if you count names and devices) to make your submissions process easier. Is it entirely fool-proof? Nope. Sometimes things happen. Like my example of just not catching the conflict on my proposed badge, mistakes happen. That being said, by looking at these tips, it is my hope that your submissions process goes a lot easier for you.

Posted in herald, heraldry, SCA, service, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

2019 Year in Review

2018 was a rough year for me in a lot of ways, especially within the SCA. Let’s just say that I dealt with a lot of interpersonal relationship issues in the latter part of 2018, and due to this and feeling very crispy around the edges, I took a bit of a break from the SCA. It still didn’t stop me from doing SCA things, but I wasn’t as “MUST DO ALL THE THINGS” that I had done in the year prior. In fact, I went to a grand total of six events this year, with two of them being out of my own kingdom. Six. That’s it. It felt good in a lot of ways to not hurry and go to events every single weekend.

What I did do this year was write. There’s a lot of blog posts from the past year that are omphaloskepsis posts – posts that covered points that I think the populace of the Society needs to look at. I wrote posts on consent, research (here and here), philosophy (here and here), heraldry, and things that were Byzantine in nature (here and here).

I also posted a few of the projects that I took on this year, mostly scroll text writing (Adelaide’s Calon Cross and Zaneta’s Silver Hammer), and Andrixos’ Herald Extraordinary scroll. My big ongoing project, the Memorial Shield Project, proceeds on a “as I can” schedule, and that has helped keep my connection going.

I taught a few classes, too. One was on Byzantine clothing, and the other was on volunteer management, a subject I am truly passionate about and want members of the Society to look at with a more critical eye, especially with how we manage our own volunteers within our own circles and activities.

Did I do a lot of work this year for the Society and my kingdom? Not really. Do I feel good about my break? Yes.

Would I recommend taking a break? Wholeheartedly.

Did I feel like I missed out on things in the Society? Of course. Did I miss people? Definitely. Do I regret my break? No. I needed this, and I needed to not be in the middens of everything. And that has made all of the difference.

Katharina von Bora FileLucas Cranach d Bildnis der Katharina von Bora
Heeeeere’s Katie! See her dress? I want one!

So, what am I planning for 2020?

Well, I’m hoping to show up to a few more events. I have hopes of creating a signet ring based on the research I’ve done on Byzantine monograms, and perhaps creating a full Persian outfit to go with a coat I purchased this year from a friend of mine. I’d also like to attempt working with some fabric (understatement of the year. It’s 15 yards of tropical-weight black wool) I purchased last year to create a German outfit based on the one worn by Katharina von Bora, Martin Luther’s wife. Of course, I’d also have to figure out underpinnings and the brustfleck, but those are problems to figure out when it comes to pricing this bad boy out. I figure I’d have a really comfortable super-late period garment to wear when the weather gets chilly again.

That’s my 2019, within the SCA. I’m hoping to make more of it this year, and just be more gentle with not only myself, but also giving myself room to help on my own terms and not because I feel guilty about not serving. Same with my art. I want to be able to create because I want to create, not because there’s an expectation for it. I think it’ll add to being more healthy with art and creating.

Posted in musings, Retrospective, SCA, service, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Byzantine Monograms: a heraldic practice

As an early-period Byzantine within the Society, I have come to grips that my arms and badges as registered with the College of Arms are perhaps not the most period for my persona, and so, this concept of trying to find a way of marking things that were mine or even blinging out things further with a mark of some kind had sent me down a rabbit hole of research – monograms.

Found on rings, clay, wax and lead seals (the lead seals called “plombs”), and coinage within the early Byzantine period, square or box monograms marked official documents in both secular and sacred contexts or as maker’s marks, and were used by rulers, magistrates, die makers, and moneyers. As far as a heraldic practice, it’s a form of identification, much like someone’s shield on the battlefield or banner in a hall is. The only difference is that within Byzantine practices, western-style pictorial heraldry was done rarely, and usually by someone with later-period western contact (check out the late period examples of Anna Notaras Palaiologina and Andronikos II Palaiologos for western-style heraldry used by eastern personages), though note that both were from the 13th and 14th centuries, about the time where heraldry was in heavy use in both on the European continent and in the British Isles, though still late to the medieval heraldry game.

As an artisan, I wanted one, too (and it’s been a while, too. I’ve been poking at this for at least a decade). And as a noble in the game that we play, I could easily justify one as well. After reading The Use of Monograms on Byzantine Seals in the Early Middle-Ages (6th to 9th Centuries) by Werner Seibt, and poking around at an article with PNGs of monograms from ancient coins at The Collaborative Numismatics Project, I started work on my own. (And half-jokingly, I suppose my southern US roots kicked in and I needed to monogram all the things, so . . .)

The first thing I did was to take my Society name (Konstantia) and change it into Greek letters. Conveniently, the Prosopography of the Byzantine World (part 1 and part 2) had a citation for a Konstantia (located here) in Greek and I ran with it. Now, sure, I have a pretty late period name (it’s good for 11th c), but in this particular case, the Greek still works for this per Seibt’s article, which noted the use of Greek letters in early period Byzantine seals, so, I’m sticking with it.

Sticky notes: almost a researcher’s best friend.

Anyhow, I now had Κωνσταντίας (or Konstantias), which I then capitalized all the letters and knocked out all duplicates. This left me with the Greek letters kappa, omega, nu, sigma, tau, alpha, and iota to play with letter-wise. You can see what I started noodling with on a sticky note, as well as the capitalization. One of the things I noted was the shape of the alpha in other monograms, which had a little sharp point in the crossbeam that I really liked, so I worked with that.

Many, but not all, of the monograms from the 6th-8th centuries also were cruciform shaped, calling to mind the state religion, and also made integrating straight lined letters like iota and tau great, as they were present in the crossbeams. The concept of a ligature, which, of course, is not new to a scribe, was used heavily. Letters were connected together with other beams, or sometimes with other straight lines. My first attempt was perhaps not my favourite, though it did have most of the letters of my name within it and the funky crossbeam on the alpha. And yet, it just didn’t sing to me, so I went and attempted again. One of the cool things is that there were multiple monograms used by the same person at the same time (and in the case of coinage, on different valued coins), so even if I didn’t like this one, I still had a monogram that was useful for something.

Anna’s trial run monogram, consisting of the letters alpha and nu.

So, I tried again, and doodled something I loved. It had the cruciform elements, the alpha with the funky crossbeam, and instead of using a capital omega, I used a lower case one (of which there is precedence with Emperors Zeno, Justinian, Heraclius, and Constantine VII), and I liked how it looked, though my Byzanbestie Anna mentioned that it looked like an anime “uwu” face and as per my usual, I may not have helped in that situation. I even made a proof of concept monogram for Anna (who has a palindrome of two different letters for a name) and I’m rather pleased with how that turned out.

At any rate, my next step is to make a signet ring featuring this design, possibly out of a not-period gold metal clay. I also may do some research in lead (or to make it safe, pewter) casting and try and make my own plombs as period-style tokens for attafolks.

Also, if at any time I get sick of the current design, I have groundwork to make a new one, following the same design rules and concepts.

Key takeaways for making your own Roman/Byzantine-style monograms:

  • If you’ve got a Christianized persona, it’s pretty safe to go with a cross-shaped or cruciform design.
  • Ligatures and connections are the way to go! There are a few examples of seals with letters that don’t connect, but on the whole most connect with other letters with a line or a cross.
  • It’s hip to be a square – most designs are blocky and compact.
  • If they look like something that could be drawn on a floor in chalk to summon a demon, you’re on the right track. (I mostly kid, but Anna and I did discuss that if one did summon a Byzantine demon, they’d probably turn all the silk to sackcloth, so don’t tell me if you actually did.)
  • If you don’t like it, draw another – there are multiple examples of seals and coins with different monograms for the same person on them.

One more thing before I go: the chances of having a monogram registered by the Society College of Arms is pretty close to nil. Part of heraldic language (or blazon) is the need to be able to identify what an item is and two, where it is on a field. Byzantine monograms, while striking, aren’t easy to blazon according to Anglo-Norman heraldic practice (what the College of Arms uses to describe heraldry), so again, the chances of doing that are pretty close to nil. Don’t anger the heraldry gods. Trust me.

Posted in Byzantine, carving, early period, herald, heraldry, history, how-to, influences, persona, persona development, rings, Roman, SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Zaneta’s Silver Hammer

When an opportunity drops in your lap to write a text for a fellow herald, sometimes, you drop everything and do it. Zaneta (our current Eyas herald) has been doing some fantastic glasswork, and her ability and patience to teach people how to do things with a rather finicky artform has not gone unnoticed.

So, when the opportunity came, I started researching guild texts and laws from Northern Italy. Zaneta’s persona is late 15th century Venetian, a region well known for glassmakers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any laws (that weren’t behind a paywall!) that I could crib from in writing the text, so, I went a little earlier and a little further west, and stumbled onto the statutes from the town of Biella, in the Piedmont region, dating back to the 1400s.

Italian city-states do mean some differing cultures in ways such as clothing and food, and in some extreme cases polity and other political structures, but law-wise, many of the guild frameworks appear to be similar, so I felt a bit more justified in using the translated (from Latin) text (found here and here).

Zaneta’s text is below. Congrats, lady! I’m so proud of you!

Among the first things, it is decreed and ordained that, at this feast of All Souls the Credentia of the Silver Hammer, or a major portion thereof, or a portion thereof specially selected for this purpose shall be called to the Shire of Axed Root.  These artisans will welcome to their Order one Zaneta Baseggio, who is charged with the following to the extent possible, to create, learn, and maintain her standing within said order and all of its principles, rights, and honors.

In the same way, it has been decreed that the selfsame Zaneta is obliged to, should be, and can be compelled to be a member of the Credentia of the Silver Hammer for the sciences which she practices and to pay attention to the by-laws, which have been made for her by the Credentia in a rational manner.  Saving that the honor and advantage of the Order and saving that the statute placed under the rubric of the Credentia are not compromised.

Done by our hands on this 2nd day of November.

Of note: Credentia refers to a Cabinet of people, or in this case, the Order. The original text refers to a Credentia of Consuls frequently, and referring to the Order of the Silver Hammer as such really helped with the general feel of the region. I also wanted to make sure we could have a good solid date, and as many documents from this period use the Church calendar of feasts and fasts to render dates, I did so here, too.

Posted in Italian, later period, SCA, scroll text, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment