***EDIT January 5th, 2015: I’ve been forced to disable comments because of threats received against me, and other posters on the blog. I’d like to thank everyone who engaged in the conversation in a civil fashion. You have all been respectful and gracious, even if you disagreed. You are the types of individuals I expect from the SCA and I look forward to sharing a drink with all of you at an event soon. However, this blog post was not about “hate” or “persecution.” It had nothing to do with Nazism, the KKK, or Christian supremacy (I’ve just been made aware that this is a “thing.” People suck.) Unfortunately, over the last day I’ve received some rather horrible comments that I filtered from being posted. Including attacks on other comments. This is not what I want. This is not what ANY of us want. I’ve received almost 10,000 hits and 75 comments over the last week on this post ALONE, so I suppose that the hate groups would eventually rear their ugly heads courtesy of Godwin’s Law. I wish that medievalism wouldn’t be such an attraction for folks that feel that they are superior to others because of race and religion. I guess it’s my fault for trying to imagine folks attempting a more medieval appearance. The post is staying up, and the comments have been tracked via IP address and will be dealt with accordingly. Once again, thank all of you who participated in a respectful fashion, but I refuse to tolerate hate speech on my blog.***
***EDIT January 1, 2015: I see that this post is getting A LOT of attention, primarily in the Middle Kingdom on Facebook. Thank you all for keeping your conversations polite and engaging, both on social media, and here on this page. However, please do NOT be rude, or post inflammatory remarks on my blog. It is rude and unnecessary when so many folks who have disagreed have been so nice in sharing their opinions. Remember, I am but a delicate flower of the East Kingdom, and I will gladly remind you why it’s not nice to egg my front lawn. In the meantime, please feel free to enjoy the other posts I have on the blog with my explorations into Byzantine clothing and personae. Or really, you all should be reading about Roman penises.***
I was unsure how I should approach this, because people can be quite sensitive about such subjects, but I feel like this is something that NEEDS to be addressed. My opinion is just that: my own. What I am about to write may offend some people, but I’m prepared to deal with the impending flame war. Here goes.
Religion is period.
It is, it’s very period. You had the Big Three in Europe through most of the Middle Ages (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam,) plus the wonderful eastern and African faiths of the same time. I understand that our society is secular, and it should be. This is the best way to stop any possible confrontations in their tracks, because we cannot trust everybody to be an open-minded adult about the diversity of the modern world, let alone the time periods we try to emulate. With that said, I need to really REALLY push a hard button, here goes. This is going to possibly be ranty and disorganized, so I apologize in advance.
Why is that paganism is rampant in the SCA? Wicca is not period. Modern forms of pentacle-wearing paganism are NOT PERIOD. Yes, paganism, in the broad use of the word, is. The Asatru, or Norse faith, is period until the 11th Century when Christianity started coming in. Ancient Rome: duh. I tend to view these differently than the New Age earth faiths of today. Do these modern faiths have ancient roots? Sure, but, I don’t like the idea of a pagan handfasting overriding the re-creation of an Eastern Orthodox marriage at an event. If one can happen, why can’t the other? All or none. The United States, where I live, is pretty hard-assed about our First Amendment, sometimes interpreted differently than I really want it to be, but the bottom line is that we have the freedom to worship as we please, and we are insanely lucky to have this right that I enjoy fully. This freedom isn’t period. Witches would have been killed. Even to the Romans, strange deviants to their recognized religions (pagan, Judaism and eventually Christianity) were frowned upon. They did not like druidic faiths. I don’t know why, but they didn’t. Earth religions weirded them out.
Now I need to cover my ass, before the torches come for me and the “YOU’RE PERSECUTING PAGANS!” crap starts.
First of all, in real life, really real for real life, I’m a pagan, or gnostic really, or whatever is the new hip label today. I believe in the Old Gods, but I don’t follow any belief structure. Now, in persona, I’m an Orthodox Christian. I wear crosses, I often pray, “Kyrie Eleison!” if the time suits. My lord and I are getting married, and we wish to have it at an event. Details withstanding, the marriage will be in the form of a written treaty between The Byzantine Empire and the Duchy of Normandy, and the ceremony will be as period Orthodox as I can make it without pissing off people. Now, I KNOW that people will read this, and go, “Then just get married in an Orthodox church if that’s what you want and keep your Christian ceremony out of my SCA,” but you’re missing my point. In real life, I am pagan, in my SCA life, I am Christian. I want to create my Middle Ages the way that they were to the limits of my comfort. (I like toilets, okay?) And in my opinion, my wedding needs to be period. I love handfastings and non-denominational SCA weddings, I really do. They are usually very well done and lovely, but, that’s not me, that’s not who I am. I want to be dripping in crosses and silk and pearls, sign the treaty, and experience a medieval ceremony. The Byzantine Empire was Orthodox Christian. The Duchy of Normandy was Catholic. There were no handfastings, there was mass with priests and communion, and a whole lotta Jesus. There was no paganism to be found during this period that wasn’t being quashed.
Another argument: Two Pennsics ago, my camp and I witnessed a rather strange druidic ritual walk down our road. It seemed pretty neat, but I didn’t want to interrupt them to ask what it was about. They have that freedom, after all. Then a friend of mine spoke, “You know, I may be a Viking, and we may not have been Christian in the early period, but if this was the real Middle Ages, they’d be killed for doing this…even by Vikings.” He had a point. Why are New Age pagans allowed to hold these rituals, yet they eliminated the Catholic mass once held at war? That, in my opinion as a historian, and a pagan, and a medieval reenactor, seems gravely unfair.
There’s a whole lot of crap in the world today about religious persecution, but nothing, NOTHING holds a candle to actual, honest nasty persecutions of the periods we represent. Though contrary to popular belief, Christians were not thrown to the lions in the Coliseum, and if it did happen, it happened ONCE, because Nero was a sick man, but usually martyrdom occurred because a Christian deliberately did it by running in front of a wagon or drawing attention to themselves negatively in order to get the attention to be killed. They were not always hunted and killed as we are lead to believe, but when it DID happen, it was bad, as the persecutions of Nero, Domitian, and Diocletian are evident of. The same with Jews, who were usually very well tolerated until the revolts that resulted in the destruction of the Temple. Twice. (Note: Christians were views as Jews in their early years and did refer to themselves as such, being that Christ was a Jewish prophet.) The Romans just really didn’t like being messed with.
Medieval Christians were not innocent, either. They had more strife within their own faith than outside. They slaughtered Jews enroute to the First Crusade, the Albigensian Crusade was an absolute nightmare for what could be considered early Protestant reformers, and the Fourth Crusade, which pinned the Latin Catholics against the Greek Orthodox at Constantinople wasn’t exactly a party. Let’s not even mention any Monty Pythonesque witch hunting, either.
Islam…ohhh boy. Extremely period religion, but it opens a whole new can of worms because of ignorant modern viewpoints. The Mediterranean was EXTREMELY influenced by Islamic culture during the Middle Ages. This is inescapable and incontestable in my opinion, sorry. I happen to own sets of Ottoman Turkish clothing, and it is gorgeous and comfortable. I have been told several times, at SCA events, that my clothing is offensive. First at a fencing tourney, where a duelist I was fighting with was growing mad that he could not successfully leg me because of the low crotch on my salwar (hammer pants), and another time when, during the battle of La Rochelle at Pennsic, I ran into the castle screaming, “ALLAHU AKBAH!” Which, you know, was probably a bad idea anyway, but, I got yelled at that I was offending people.
Well, first off: Good. A sassy French musketeer WOULD have been offended by an Ottoman Janissary in period, so I’m glad we got that straight. Second of all, shut up. Would it have been okay for me to run in screaming, “Remember the Alamo!” Or was it simply because I said something in Arabic, something akin to me saying, “Kyrie Eleison!” in Greek, and because it’s a phrase associated with “the enemy” it offends people? Get a grip. Muslims and Christians have been going at it for the last 900 years (except in Spain for a bit, I’ll get there.) I’m not going to be offended if you point your rubber band gun at me and go, “DIE INFIDEL!” Because that’s accurate. Bring it on!
Another time, I covered my face, as a woman should in public when portraying an Islamic culture, and I got called a terrorist. Unacceptable. REALLY unacceptable, SCAdians. If you’re going to play this game, you need to get over it. Because we can’t “fix” this by telling people it’s not okay to have personae from the Near East because it offends your modern views on Islam today.
In contrast, there was also a wonderful period in Spain known as the “Golden Age of Tolerance” when the Iberian peninsula was dominated by Islam. Although Jews and Christians were restricted under Muslim rule, they were not forced to convert, they were not persecuted or forced to live on the wrong side of town. They were integrated with society and were allowed to retain their own faiths and be productive members of society, especially since they were able to perform jobs that were forbidden by the Koran, including butchering of meat and banking. Yes, there were some issues and contempt, but what resulted was a unique culture. Historians have contrasting views on this period, but it seemed to be much more stable than relations in, say the modern Levant today.
Yes, religious intolerance is, well, period. In fact, it was pretty bad. That doesn’t mean we should echo this by being intolerant of period faiths in our game, in fact, we should embrace them, and NOT exclude or persecute the pagans (Bonus points if some want to be the targets of a witch hunt! Erm…kidding.) I’ve started painting Byzantine icons, and iconography is a religious form of artwork. And even though I have received great feedback on my work, I’m always afraid of offending someone by doing it. I shouldn’t even have this stigma, and we should do what we can to eliminate it, not just for me, but for others who wish to explore the period religions of our personae. I’d actually like the modern pagan folks like myself to explore and embrace the faith of their persona if it’s not similar to their modern faith. An Italian Renaissance woman would not have been practicing Wicca. Sorry. She would have been a devout Catholic, much as my persona is devout Orthodox. I take my persona to the level of ripping on the Catholic Church for being a bunch of whiny Latin speakers who kiss the butt of the Bishop of Rome. The Eastern and Western Churches excommunicated each other in what was probably the biggest historical pissing match of the 11th Century. They did not get along. Lady Lorelei and I ran with this at the last 12th Night in the Barony of Smoking Rocks when we were playing parts in our persona for the event’s plot, and it went over wonderfully!
The bottom line is this: Check your privilege, and nix your modern paganism in the Current Middle Ages. If you’re persona is Christian, be CHRISTIAN, if you’re persona is Muslim, BE MUSLIM. If you’re Roman, I want to see your household shrine of Lares and Penates. If you’re persona is from Bronze Age Hallstatt region because you absolutely have to be Celtic and druidic, then do it, but do it RIGHT (and teach classes please, because that could be awesome.) If your persona is an Italian who went to China and became a Buddhist and came back by boat that was overtaken by Gypsy Muslim Pirates and you ended up in Mexico where you found coffee and chocolate and became an Aztec god, well, then we need to talk about your persona ADHD. We had a former queen in the East who held vigil at a modern church before she was crowned the next day, simply because she was thinking with her persona! It will not hurt you to wear the cross, or embroider Tariz bands on your caftans with prayers of peace to Allah. I’m not asking you to convert, I’m asking you to play a role and live a life as it would have been lived.