At Monroe medieval fair, they have a good olde time

MONROE — When Sean McMillan was 15, he witnessed a medieval-style fighting demonstration at his school, Snohomish High.

Though the combatants used safe weapons made of rattan, plastic, foam and leather, they hit each other hard.

McMillan remembers saying, “I want to fight like that.”

Now 35 and living in Marysville, McMillan has been fighting like that for nearly two decades as a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

McMillan and hundreds of other SCA members, many of whom are focused on calmer interests such as medieval clothing, cooking and crafts, gathered at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds over the weekend for their annual Ursulmas Medieval Faire.

The two-day event, open to the public for a fee, included fighting, archery, weapons throwing, craft demonstrations, vendors, singing and storytelling.

The SCA focuses on the period from 600 to 1600 A.D.

“I’m such a huge history geek, I really love it,” said member Rebekah Ross of Shoreline, 31, whose medieval name is Aenor de Pessac. “I would say I was made to do this.”

The Ursulmas fair is a local version of similar events around the region and the world. The Society for Creative Anachronism was started in the 1960s in Berkeley, Calif., by history buffs hosting theme parties and grew from there, Ross said.

Now there are up to 60,000 members worldwide, she said. About 3,500 of them live in the Kingdom of An Tir, otherwise known as Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and part of Idaho, Ross said.

The Snohomish County SCA chapter, known as the Barony of Aquaterra, hosts the Ursulmas event. The chapter numbers close to 300 people, said business manager Geraldine Terhune of Marysville.

In addition to local SCA members, the fair typically draws people from King, Skagit, Pierce and Whatcom counties and farther, according to the group.

This year, the count was about 2,600 for the two days, counting visitors, Ross said — about twice last year’s total.

The event is divided up into two parts. The fighting takes place in the fairgrounds arena and the crafts and other pursuits are located in the main building.

Fighting is split into two types, including “heavy” fighting, with weapons resembling maces, hammers and large swords. Participants wear medieval-style armor.

“It’s like European kendo,” said McMillan, who is also known as Styrr.

The other type is “rapier” fighting, akin to fencing.

Bouts are officiated and conducted tournament style. Women participate as well as men. Awards are given both for fighting and for chivalry.

“‘It’s better to die with honor than to live without it,’” Mc- Millan said, reciting a popular SCA saying.

Most of the battles are one-on-one, but larger events are held in which one group battles another. These are called “wars.”

Fighters in the officiated bouts are 18 or older, while areas are set aside for children to give it a try with PVC pipe wrapped in foam. The kids are instructed in fighting chivalry, McMillan said.

“They learn honor and manners and protocol,” he said.

The SCA is a stickler for historical accuracy and guidelines are many.

The society has a complex heirarchy similar to that of the Middle Ages. Regions have kings, queens, princes and princesses, all determined by the outcome of fighting contests. Numerous other titles are bestowed according to protocol.

The emphasis on accuracy contributes to the high quality of goods made by artisans. Extensive research goes into designs for clothing, or “garb,” as well as shoes, weapons, armor, wooden boxes, utensils, jewelry, calligraphy and more, members said. Some members wear real swords or knives for decoration.

“Anything you can think of that existed in the Middle Ages, somebody makes it,” Ross said.

Interests among SCA members often are highly specialized. Some only do archery, some only fighting, some only clothing or other crafts.

Terhune, 31 — also known as Sabina di Zorzi — said she was already making Middle Ages-style clothing before joining the SCA. The group has provided a new outlet for her love of sewing and allowed her creativity to blossom, she said.

Ross also made medieval clothing before she heard about the SCA in college.

At her first event, “I was absolutely blown away,” she said. “I have been addicted ever since.”

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