Operation: Whiter Shade of Pale. The Coronation of Brennan and Caoilfhionn and my journey to become a Vestal Virgin.

There’s a great deal that I could say about what goes on behind the scenes at events. I’m unsure how in-depth other kingdoms go, but here in the East, we like to be rather grandiose with coronations. I’ve autocratted royal progress events before, but I’ve never really been apart of the research and development strike team, so to speak, so this is a summarized post of my experience working on the spring coronation here in the East Kingdom.

Several months ago, I was approached by Master Steffan ap Kennydd about aiding him in designing a unique coronation ordo for the incoming heirs. It was going to be wildly anachronistic, as we were replacing 7th Century Saxons with 1st Century Romano-Hibernians, and I agreed, knowing that this could be a lot of fun.

I’m not too well-versed in early Irish culture, in fact, the Romans did not really interact with the Hibernians that often, and described them as basically crazy, so I knew that this was going to be tricky. Initially, I was brought in to help Steffan with the Latin, and things ballooned from there. We needed a story, we needed a good reason for Kenric II to abdicate, because court schtick is the best schtick. This involved a secret Facebook group, a Google document, and a conference call. Lots of discussion was had to be able to pull this together between about 8 people. @_@

Since Kenric II is the cousin of the martyred Kenric I, who was killed mysteriously by an archer bearing black arrows, visions of this sainted king have been plaguing his cousin. We had the benefit of working with 3 very superstitious cultures, so this was going to work. It would be far-fetched and as anachronistic as we could muster transitioning smoothly between time periods without a TARDIS, but this was going to rock.

Mistress Aife was brought in to help with the Irish, and I focused on the Roman. What else could we do to make this work? Steffan came up with the idea of taking it a dark route, and bringing in seers to proclaim Kenric’s doom during court. Aife wrote up a doom as follows, that we translated into Gaelic and Latin:

“King of the East! I speak your wyrd.
I see it in the flight of birds,
in the rising smoke, in the curling clouds.

King of the East, I speak your wyrd.
The wolf is coming, cloaked in splendor.
The eagles scream above his stride.

King of the East, I speak your wyrd.
The pale horse falls from the high place,
the victorious wolf hard at his heels.

King of the East, I speak your wyrd.
The three pale moons crowned by courage
are swallowed by the shadow of the wolf bearing the eagle.

King of the East, your wyrd is spoken.”

“Wyrd” from what I understand, is a very Anglo-Saxon concept, so is the white horse. The Irish revered wolves, while the Saxons found them to be bad omens. In this case, the wolf is also in Brennan’s arms, so it worked. The Eagle of course, is Rome. So Brennan essentially became, “The wolf bearing the eagle.” The “three pale moons” are Kenric’s arms. It’s vague, it’s spooky, and it was perfect.

Steffan and I translated it into Latin, and this was the result:

“Rex Orientis, fatum tuum dico.
Video in volatum avum, in fumo oriente, in nubibus volventibus.

Rex Orientis, fatum tuum dico.
Lupus venit, palliatus fulgore. Aquilae clangunt super passibus suis.

Rex Orientis, fatum tuum dico.
Equus albus descendit de loco alto, lupo victorioso vincendo.

Rex Orientis, fatum tuum dico.
Tres lunae pallidae virtute coronatae umbra lupi aquilam ferentis voratae sunt.

Rex Orientis, fatum tuum dictum est!”

This was more of a geek-fest for us rather than everyone else, but we enjoyed it.

Next came the performance aspect. Aife and myself were conscripted into duty as the seeresses, and I took on the role of a Vestal Virgin, the most well-known and recognizable Roman priestess. I’m hardly virginal material *cough* but for the day, it would be well worth the project.

Vestal garb is relatively simple, with some twists. I reached out to Maestra Julia Sempronia of An Tir, who had recently received her Laurel while donning the robes of the Vestal, and she was a great source of help, as well as others from the Romans of the SCA Facebook page.

In addition to wearing all white, the most important part of the Vestal was the headwear, the infula (fillet) and suffibulum (veil.) Other than that, I needed white sandals, a white chiton, and a white palla. Those pretty much took care of themselves. However, I need to proudly display my sandals for a bit, because  even though they’re modern, I found a pair that had a trinity knot as part of the design. So not only was I Roman, I was wearing what could be considered a rather Irish symbol, that could easily stand for all three cultures represented in the ceremony: Saxon, Irish, and Roman. Gods, I’m a NERD.

Back to the headwear. The infula was going to be the worst part. I needed to make funky round bands of funkiness in red, long enough to wrap around my head 5 times and have 2 loops over my shoulders. What I did on Maestra Julia’s suggestion was purchase cotton cording used to edge pillows, and dyed it red. It took me two dye baths to get it the right shade, and the dying process did leave the cotton looking a bit weathered and raggy, almost like felted wool. So I got the right look. It even faded just a bit like period red dyes do.

I posted this as-is on Facebook. Imagine the responses.

The final result:



I was still missing pieces to the puzzle. The infula slipped off of my short hair very easily, so I was reminded that I needed a vitta, or a plain white fillet to keep it in place. I simply cut and hemmed a small rectangle of white linen, and that did the job. Next was the suffibulum, or veil. This took a bit more troubleshooting than I thought it would. I needed to get the right shape to have it drape across my shoulders evenly. I tried a few rectangles, and then had a moment of pure “derp” when it was suggested by Domina Vestia on the Romans of the SCA page that it should be semi-circular. That did the trick. I trimmed it in deep reddish-purple bias tape, and made a brooch out of a huge shank button I found at Joann’s, and the headwear problem was solved.

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I put together the whole kit, scared Lord Geoffrey, and made him take pictures:

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Looks about right.

Of course, that was just the beginning, now the fun began. We had the words, we had the garb. I couldn’t memorize the lines entirely, so I cheated and taped them into my wax tablet. It did the job. Let’s spook the Eastern Populace.

Wyrd up.

But wait, there’s more!

You can’t have a victorious emperor of Rome come into court without showing off! It was my idea that Brennan and Caoilfhionn have a Triumph to begin their First Court. And although I couldn’t convince his Imperial Majesty to paint his face red, what resulted was an epic, and I do mean EPIC parade of regalia and pomp into court unlike anything I think the East has ever seen. Brennan paraded in after the kingdom champions, and I stood behind him, holding one of the Eastern crowns over his head, and chanting, “Respice post te, hominem te memento.” This translates to, “Look behind you and remember that you are but a man.” This was done typically by a slave with a laurel wreath, on the triumphator’s quadriga (4 horse chariot.) It reminded the emperor or general that they were still mortal, and not a god, and to control their hubris and pride. I have several reports that I gave members of the populace chills by doing this.
Her Imperial Majesty Caoilfhionn was carried in on a lectica, surrounded by the artifacts and relics of the East Kingdom, as well as amazing displays of heraldry as Roman vexillae. I missed the second half of the show because as soon as I got to the dais, I bolted to the royal room to change into less…conspicuous clothing so that I could enjoy court and be called upon as a member of the Queen’s Guard.

A fantastic gallery of the day can be found here, taken by the talented Baroness Cateline la Broderesse: https://plus.google.com/photos/107530822403255590361/albums/5999165371424216881

In closing, thank you everyone who came to Coronation and enjoyed our little performance. Thank you to their Majesties Brennan and Caoilfhionn, and their Graces Kenric and Avelina for playing along with our crazy idea. I’m looking forward to a nice, Roman summer. 🙂

Addendum: For those interested, here is the doom in Klingon. Generously translated by a poster on the Romans of the SCA Facebook page:

“ta’ chan! mu’qaDlIj pejatlh
vIlegh qaStaHvIS cha’par HIv,
qaStaHvIS Hu’DI’ loD tlhIch, qaStaHvIS chen.

ta’ chan, mu’qaDlIj pejatlh.
paw Qongbogh chalDaq tlha’ Dat, qaStaHvIS ben law’ batlhmey So’.
jopbe’ jach wovbe’ mIw.

ta’ chan, mu’qaDlIj pejatlh.
pum Sargh meqlaHchaj vo’ jenwI’ Daq,
Qap Qongbogh chalDaq tlha’ Dat let yISum.

ta’ chan, mu’qaDlIj pejatlh.
mIv’a’ toDuj maS meqlaHchaj wej
ghup pong Qongbogh chalDaq tlha’ Dat toQDuj SIQ QIb.

jatlh chan, mu’qaDlIj ta'”

3 thoughts on “Operation: Whiter Shade of Pale. The Coronation of Brennan and Caoilfhionn and my journey to become a Vestal Virgin.

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