SCA Life

I swear . . .

I think about oaths a lot.  I take oaths very seriously.  I am often surprised how not seriously some people take oaths.  Here are some thoughts.

In the SCA, we are attempting to recreating the Middle Ages as the should have been, or could have been.  So we give oaths and we value chivalry.  Or at least give lip service to that.  I am sure there are many people who actually also treat their oaths seriously but there are visible few who don’t.

In our modern society, there really is only one oath that has consequence.  If you are called to testify in a judical proceeding, you will be asked to take an oath to tell the truth.  If it is then discovered that you lied, you can then be tried for perjury.   Just about all other oaths have no real consequence.  The oaths of marriage are easily dissolved.  The oath of office for public service or the military are often overlooked.  Again, as long as the people vote for you again or your superiors don’t care, the oath is hollow.

And there is a reason our modern society went this way.  If there was honor in the real Middle Ages, it quickly was used for nefarious purpose.  Old Anglo-Saxon laws allowed those of high station to swear an oath as proof they didn’t do something.  I am sure originally it was felt that honor would rule the day but it probably didn’t take long for someone to simply swear they didn’t do something and suffer no consequence.  As society evolved, it was clear that most oaths didn’t mean anything.

Back to the SCA then.  I talked to a few friends about this.  Advice I got ranged from “some people just don’t think they are in the wrong and therefore believe they are true to their oath.” to “for some, taking oaths is just part of the game.”  And of course, there are many who believe the oaths they take.

Back when Sir Seto was on vigil, I made a replica of Oathbinder in stained glass for him.  I gave Oathbinder a motto (maybe it already had one).  I felt all good swords should have a motto.  I put on the stained glass, “No one may speak falsely within my reach.”  I intended a double meaning.  One, that the magic of the sword would not allow you to speak falsely.  Two, the fact that a naked blade was presented to you, you would be unwilling to speak falsely under threat of beheading.  It may be foolish to hope for a magical blade that made it impossible to say that which is not true.  Oaths would be binding then.  You literally could not say words that you didn’t believe.

In some way, the modern business culture of mission statements and values is like oaths.  We are encouraged at my company at least to reflect on that mission statement and corporate values daily.  How will I engage in teamwork today?  That kind of thing.  We should do the same with our oaths.  We should mediate on those words.  For me, since I am only a member of the populace, I would think “to serve where I might according to my knowledge and ability.”  How will I do that today?  For those of you who do reflect on your oaths, I applaud you.  We need more who will “champion the good”, “protect the innocent”, “work for the common good”, and “promote the diverse arts.”

For those of you who don’t really reflect on your oaths, maybe you should.  Your word should have meaning.  When you take an action, you should reflect back, did I act in accordance to my oath?  If not, what will you do about it?  I really wish there was a good mechanism for enforcing or giving consequence for violating one’s oath.

Just some thoughts about oaths.


Froderick does Baroness Wars VI and Quad Day


Stationery v Stationary

One of the things I love about English is the amount of wordplay that is possible with it.  I don’t know how true that is with other languages as I am universally bad at languages.  I can barely speak English well enough.  But I love puns and rhyming and the multiple meanings that arise in English and love learning why our language is the way it is.

These two words are connected, believe it or not.   For those who don’t remember, stationery is paper or more generically writing supplies and stationary is to not move.  The former got its name from the later.  During the 1300’s through the 1500’s, most sellers sold from carts.  You moved your store around as you needed to or as markets allowed you to. Some days you had product to sell and some days you didn’t.

But the paper sellers eventually always had supply and always had demand.  They would set up outside of the universities, etc.  With the demand for paper high, they never needed to move their carts.  They remained stationary and in time, became known as stationers, those who didn’t move, and thus, their products were stationery, things a stationer sold.

I have started looking down the rabbit hole at paper making.  I have looked at it before.  I will take a class on it soon.  And like everything, when I start looking at something, I develop grand plans on what I will do with it.  Let’s look at a bit of the research I had done so far.

Paper gets it start in the 100’s BC in China.  Needing a cheap medium to write on, they develop a method of turning bamboo or mulberry bark into paper.   From what I can see, the method for handmade paper hasn’t changed much in China.  The plant fibers are mashed, originally with a mortar and pestle, but later with a drop hammer.  The fibers are then layered and dried.  Then cut.  Then soaked in large vats.  The slurry is caught on wire mats and then transferred to couches (often bamboo).  In the Chinese method, these sheets are then quickly put on hot stone walls to dry.   Depending on the need, chalk can be added to the slurry to whiten the sheets.  I didn’t see evidence of sizing being used yet.

Paper then moved to the Muslim world with the siege of Samarkand.  Not having either bamboo or mulberry trees, the Muslims use cotton or linen.  These fibers need more processing to soften so there are now multiple soaks with some fermentation to help break the fibers down.  The overall process was about the same though.  The Muslims did use sizing, in this case starch.  The sizing helps develop a water resistance so ink doesn’t just get absorbed.  The Muslims also found they had to burnish their paper with smooth stones to make sure it was flat enough for clean writing.

Finally, paper comes to Europe with the Muslims.  Rags of cotton and linen are still the main source but more industrialization is used.  Water wheels with trip hammers help break the fibers down.  Couching is done on felt sheets with presses to expel the excess water.  Sheets are hung in warm rafters to totally dry.  Gelatin is used to size the paper.  Watermarks appear.

Finally in the 1800’s more machines enter the process and wood pulp is used for the paper and the modern method is not that dissimilar to the 1800’s method.

We will see if I take this up.  I can see watermarking my paper as a tag to myself.  I can see adding watermarks for Royal and Baronial use.  I can see scrolls and cards made on handmade, medieval paper. I can see something like the Great Machine in Calontir used to drive the beating hammers.

Too often, I can’t be stationary but perhaps I can be in stationery.


Philosophy by JRR Tolkien

I think I have talked before about our house fire several years ago and the outpouring of support by good friends we had and good friends we didn’t know we had yet.  It was literally a transformative experience for me.  Recently, a good friend related some experiences they had at Pennsic and of course there are other crazy experiences in the world.  What once seemed like a world getting safer has become a world that seems to be getting more dangerous.

Aside:  I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings every summer for probably close to 11 years.  It is surprising what phrases of hope can be found in these books.  Recall, the world is one on the brink.  A great evil that was thought gone has resurfaced.  Also recall, JRR Tolkien had recently (when he started writing the LotR at least) come from WWI where some of the worst atrocities man has done to man had occurred.

I find some interesting insights in these books. In particular, these two quotes stick with me.

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. ” Gandalf to Galadriel.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Gandalf to Bilbo.

Aside:  Outside of the craziness of Pennsic and the SCA, another good friend who recently had a heart attack just told us that she will be fighting breast cancer now.

So what are we do with this world?  One where hate is not afraid to show its face?  One where friends thinking they are safe become another crime statistic?  One where the vagueries of fate and genetics can strike good people?

Again Tolkien gives us an example.  Frodo and Sam are at one of their lowest points.  They must get to the heart of evil to do their quest. They must get into Mordor but the way is barred.  They produce a vial of water that has captured the image of starlight.  Special water and special starlight to be sure but at its real essence just water and light.  It is their faith that this is enough.  That is, if they can believe it is enough then it is enough.

The other main example is Frodo and Sam themselves.  They are hobbits.  They are not particularly strong.  They are not particularly wise or skilled.  To some extent, they are not particularly brave.  Gandalf tells them as much.  I can’t find the exact quote but it was to the effect, “if you knew what you were getting into, you wouldn’t volunteer.” Yet they volunteer anyway and it is Sam’s devotion in pure friendship that ultimately saves the day.

We are small.  We might be afraid.  We might lack wealth or power.  But we can have faith.  We can have friendship.  We can give each other those small acts of kindness and love.  Be the light you wish to see in other.


Home is where the flatland is

I was going to title this “Home is at 37 ft above sea level” but then I learned that home is on average 764 ft above sea level and that doesn’t convey what I want to talk about.

This weekend I went to visit my oldest son in Roanoke VA.  It was good to be on the road which is something I miss.  It was good to travel with my wife which is something I love.  It was good to see my son and his fiancee.

The trip however, oy vey.

Going to Roanoke, we went through Dayton and down through southwest Ohio through West Virginia.  It was an okay drive.  I can’t say that the landscape of southwest Ohio was inspiring.  It was along a US highway instead of the interstate.  But West Virginia terrified me.

The road twists and turns.  How people take though turns at 70+ mph is beyond me.  At home, if went off the road, the worst that would happen is plowing into some guys corn field.  Here?  It is 100’s of feet or more down a cliff.  Not only does it twist and turn, it goes up and down to dizzying heights.  Going through Charleston WV, there are houses and apartments on higher mountains yet.  Are these people part goat?  I am sure the view is good but how do you not fall off?  As we remarked, the sky was too small and the land was too big.  There was a neat little artisan/craftsperson’s shop along the interstate though.

I did spend some time growing up in Virginia but it is a different place than Roanoke.  On the whole, I wasn’t impressed.  Supposedly, the area is about the same population as home. Geography makes it hard to go places.  I felt like we had to go around and around to get anywhere.  Services were smaller too.  For instance, their farmer’s market felt way smaller than ours.  The restaurants were similar.  I also felt that the people were not as friendly.  Maybe it is a midwest thing.  We went to Star City Games, the biggest Magic the Gathering store in North America.  I was not sure what I was expecting but it wasn’t what I was expecting.

We stayed one night and then left for home.  We decided to go home through Kentucky this time.  Again the terrifying mountains but they quickly leveled somewhat into rolling hills. Then for some pure beauty.  Jaime and Eleanor, and the rest of the Flame, you guys have a really pretty barony.  There was still some up and down but the roads were mostly straight.  That bluegrass is very pretty to look at.  And the people were friendlier.  We stopped for the night in Louisville.  Unknown to us, there was a classic car show so we were lucky to find a hotel room but we did.  People were lined up on the streets to see the cars.  A truck was urged to revv and spin out.   I doubt the crowd wanted to see my mini van do the same 🙂  On the advice of friends we went to Ramsi’s Cafe on the World.  Parking was difficult but on the residential street behind it, there was some good spots and very pretty old brick houses.  We should have been warned that there was a bookstore next to it 🙂  It was there that we found the Midwesterner we know and love.  We chatted with the clerk at the bookstore.  He dated someone from Champaign and loved the area.  We asked about breakfast.  Several people in the store insisted that the only answer is Con Huevos.  They were right.  The food was good at Cafe and Con Huevos.  Definitely going back to Louisville again some time.

All of this is to say that after spending the first 20 some years of my life moving every four years then spending the next 20 some years of my life in one spot, I am definitely a flatlander Midwesterner now.