MEISTERIN GERA GANGOLFFIN, Order of the Pelican, is wearing the flowery dress and loose trousers of the 16th-century Ottoman Empire when she greets me at the Ursulmas Medieval Faire. She’s showing me around in her role as a media liaison in the local Society for Creative Anachronism.
A few hundred people have converged in Monroe to commune with one another — and with eras gone by, as they do at events throughout the year.
The Evergreen State Fairgrounds’ cavernous, unheated dirt-floor arena feels too modern and yet appropriate for a weekend celebrating all things medieval. People dressed in period garb chat with friends along the banner-flanked main aisle.
Members adopt personas based on any era before about 1700. I see everything from ancient Greeks to Mongolian warriors, though most represent medieval and Renaissance Europe.
Your SCA persona doesn’t need to have anything to do with your everyday self. That’s part of the appeal.
I spot a pair fabulously costumed in late-Tudor regalia. They’re friends Baron Rhodri Longshanks (modern name: Jay Ingram) and Baroness Elena Edgar (Laina Worth). His specialty is creating the kind of bling that today sparkles against the black velvet of his doublet. She made her costume based on a portrait of Elizabeth I, though she’s quick to say she’s not actually SCA royalty.
“I like to dress above my station,” she says with a smile.
Everyone here loves history, but beyond that, their reasons for joining the society differ. Some are into arts and crafts; some love the storytelling and pageantry. Quite a few others are here for the combat.
Baroness Zahra bint al-Rammah (Robyn Beamer) explains that one interest tends to lead to others, especially given how generous practitioners are about sharing their skills and knowledge. “If you don’t know what your bliss is, we will help you find it,” she tells me.
The society is more a way of life than a hobby, and many of the people I meet are second-generation participants. They stress that this isn’t about re-enacting history. It’s about living their own version of it. Gangolffin (also known as Jeri Sisco) calls it “living archaeology.”
The SCA, a global entity these days, was founded in 1967 in Berkeley, California. Soon after, it branched out to the greater Seattle and Portland areas.
Now, the Kingdom of An Tir (meaning “of the land”) covers much of the Pacific Northwest. Within it are regional subbranches with inventive names (my favorite is the Tri-Cities’ area: Wastekeep).
During Ursulmas, much of the arena is roped off for combat. I could watch it all day. There’s rapier, dagger, swordplay and armored combat — these folks would be good to have around in a zombie apocalypse.
I would be squashed like a bug if I tried armored combat. The armor is necessary. The clashes are surprisingly violent, and the bruises are real.
“This is a great stress reliever, when you can pick up a stick and swing it and whack ’em good,” says Baron Yusuf Ja’bar Timbuktuwwi (Vincent Stewart) of Blatha an Oir (what we would call Pierce County). “Of course, they’re also swinging a stick at you.”
Honorable Lady Rotrude Half-blind (Anne-Marie Minnick) sews her and her family’s costumes and has taken to making small leather cases for stowing valuables. When she opens hers, it’s one of the few times I see a cellphone. Folks are too busy creating a make-believe realm that is somehow more real than our half-virtual modern world.
She also fights, with her lower body armor hidden under a skirt. “I get to be a pretty fighting princess, and who doesn’t want that?” she says.