Is this your first Ildhafn feast? Confused? Read on...

What's Ildhafn?

Ildhafn, or 'the shire of Ildhafn' is the name of the Auckland chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. SCA for short. Anachronism means an item which does not belong in its time - an example would be Mona Lisa wearing a wrist watch. The name of our organisation means very little, so don't worry about it - it was come up with on the spot some 30-odd years ago when a council clerk needed a name to book a park for an event. Yes, that long ago; the SCA was founded after a very successful costume party in Berkeley in 1966. It's now a worldwide organisation with up to 100,000 members all around the world!

The SCA re-creates aspects of medieval and renaissance life. We study life as it was for real people, and try to learn about different aspects that interest us. The level of study differs from person to person, and there is no minimum requirement except that one may not spoil the fun for others. We've formulated that rule to say that you have to 'make an attempt at pre-1600 clothing and behave like a gentleman/lady'. That's it.

There is a whole internal structure to the SCA which is based on medieval and renaissance examples. We are organised into geographical units called kingdoms, for example. There are thirteen kingdoms; most are based in the US but Europe is a separate one. New Zealand belongs to the kingdom of Caid, which also includes Hawaii, southern California, and a chunk of Nevada. Australia is part of the Kingdom of the West, Caid's neighbour, and is known as the Principality of Lochac. NZ is unofficially known as 'the southern reaches of Caid'.

There are two independent local groups in NZ; the Shire of Ildhafn who claim Northland and Auckland with the Hauraki islands, and the Barony of Southron Gaard which claims the South Island and is based in Christchurch. There are other groups as well - the Household of Narthwold in Hamilton, which are independent but are nominally within Ildhafn's sphere; the Household of the Windy Plains in Palmerston North (independent but has close ties with the Barony); the Household of the Burnished Sun in Nelson (part of the Barony) and the College of Reannag Fhara at Christchurch University.

What do all those terms mean? Well, they categorise a branch into size, really. A kingdom is the biggest organisational group in the SCA. Inside the kingdom you can have other groups which answer to each other in various lines of reporting. In descending order by size, they are principality, barony, shire/canton, college/stronghold, household. A kingdom has a king and queen who are selected by combat every six months (usually). A principality has the same arrangement with a prince and princess. A barony has a baron and baroness, who are appointed by the king or prince, but the appointment is done after asking the people in the group who they want. Unlike the kings and princes, they are not limited to the time they serve. Below a barony there is no presiding noble, only a formal structure of officers (the officials of the club). A household is a separate thing altogether; it doesn't have to have any officers, but it has no official status as a branch either. Ildhafn does not answer to the barony of Southron Gaard, but directly to the kingdom. This is unusual in other kingdoms, but in Caid we sometimes do things a little differently.

How does a feast like this fit into what the SCA does?

It's the chance for people to show off what they've done; music, research, clothes making, fighting, cooking.... the list goes on. What you need to remember is that many people here do all these things, and the feast is only a part of what the SCA is for them. In other words, there is a continuity which can seem confusing if you've never been to an event before.

Why do people use funny names and titles? And can anyone use what they want?

That's part of the continuity, and a part of how we 'play the game'. To give us something to focus on when we research history, we all have a 'persona', a role we play. This is a person who might have existed at some given time in some given place (that you pick yourself). The names we use are consistent with that time/place, and the clothes too. Lady Lucretzia Isabella di Frecciata is from Venice, around the turn of the 16/17th century. Lady Nataliya L'vovic is from Novgorod. Ozbeg Mangudai is a Mongol. Thyra Haraldsdottir is a Norwegian from the 11th century. And yes, we ignore the time differences - as far as our persons are concerned, we're all from somewhere else.

The titles are a part of the SCA structure just like the shire/kingdom and stuff. There are several people here who have been given awards by the king and queen, for different things. Look closely and see if there's a blue medallion hanging around their necks. If there is, then they have the title 'Lord' or 'Lady'. If the medallion has a funny looking fish on it, that means the owner is a member of the Order of the Dolphin of Caid, which is given for service to the kingdom. If there's a harp, then the order is called 'the Harp Argent', and is an award given for skills in an art. The Order of the Crescent Sword is awarded for fighting skills. There are other awards and titles, but odds are you're not going to meet anyone at an Ildhafn feast who has them, so don't worry about those right now. Anyone who doesn't have an award is just known by their name, but for politeness we usually address each other as "m'lord" or "m'lady" when we need to call to someone.

What's with the food anyway?

The food is presented in a medieval manner. Often it's arranged to a theme, like the four seasons, or the four humours, or something similar. This is not the every-day kind of meal of mediaeval times - think of it as a banquet. What tends to happen is that there are three or four courses, each consisting of several dishes. Don't eat too much at the start! Each course is served separately, all through the evening, and stuff will happen in between courses. You don't have to stay seated all night, though. As soon as you've finished with a course, you can get up and circulate if you like. We don't eat with a knife and fork, either. Unless your persona came from late period, forks were only known as an implement to fish meat out of the cooking pot with. You'd eat using a knife, a spoon, and your fingers. This does not mean that there is no etiquette, though. Eat tidily, and don't throw food on the floor. That would be wasting perfectly good leftovers. Instead we have 'voiders', vessels that are sent round at the end of a course, where we put the food scraps. These are then given to the poor gathered outside the hall. (Possibly literally - we often donate leftovers to the soup kitchen that the church supports).

What else will happen?

The first thing that will happen is the Toast. At every SCA feast the first toast is always to the King and Queen. It is called by the highest ranking person at the feast. It is customary to stand when the toast to the Crown is called. There will very likely be a second toast to the Shire as well.

There will also be some ceremony. At the bloth the officers of the shire step up, and that is usually done with a fair amount of ceremonial involving swearing oaths of loyalty to the Crown. (It's not that serious really, it's part of the game of medieval feudalism).

Between courses there will be entertainment, which can be anything from music to singing to reading to dancing to fighting to.... whatever. As a general rule, whenever things are about to happen, a herald will very loudly tell everyone so. You don't have to go back to your seat if you're in the middle of something, but it's polite to pay attention.

After the last course, there is almost always dancing. Social dancing that is. And yes, it's medieval. But don't fret, it's easy and someone will explain how to do it.

What should I do and what should I not do?

You should always behave politely. Try not to leave plastic bottles or beer cans on the table. Try to act as you imagine a medieval gentleman or lady would have behaved. We don't tend to applaud when someone has done something. Loud shouts of 'huzza!', stamping of feet and so on is encouraged, but please don't bang the table. (This would actually be a really good thing to do, but unfortunately the tabletops in this particular hall are softwood and won't stand the beating!) The main thing is to help preserve the feeling of a medieval event. Always use peoples' persona names, not their every day names. Don't talk about computers or the latest role playing game. Feel free to talk about things that seem strange to you, ask about where people are from. You should most definitely have fun!