Elizabeth Marsh's hobby allows her to slip into flowing dresses with draping sleeves and four-foot trains. When she dines, she uses only a knife and spoon. And all her cohorts address her as "Your Excellency." In the so-called mundane world (reality), Marsh is a broadcast coordinator at Florida International University. In the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), she's a countess who wears a fancy coronet.
Founded in Berkeley, California, in 1966, the SCA is an international organization that enables ordinary people to study and re-create various facets of pre-seventeenth-century Europe. Police officers, teachers, librarians, and computer experts are among the 24,000 who adopt the persona of a fictional character. Putting aside their Palm Pilots and pagers, they enjoy the olden lifestyle during camping trips, workshops, and tournaments. The degree of involvement and authenticity depends on the individual, but some members go for the gusto -- sewing their own garb, brewing their own ale, and pursuing various pastimes such as medieval dancing and singing, and the art of weaponry.
The latter activities are of interest to Marsh, whose SCA persona is Elena de Neuham, a twelfth-century Englishwoman. She teaches a circle dance, in which the women hop and the men hop after them, and Italian Renaissance styles for couples. "Dancing was one of the few times men and women touched each other outside of being married," she notes. "The dance was one place you could do that."
Marsh also is among the women who suit up in armor for full-contact weaponry matches. While the art of using swords and shields is authentic, the weapons are generally made of rattan wrapped in duct tape. Even so, the armaments can pack a wallop.
Brandishing weaponry and its myriad cardiovascular benefits also attracts Milan Novak, a Miami-Dade County firefighter and paramedic. As Lord Stanislav Whitemountain he wears steel armor and whacks at his opponents with two-handed swords, spears, lances, and axes. "You get quite a bit of exercise running around with 60 pounds of armor," he says.
Sciences, music, performing, weaving, and arts and crafts are among the more gentle subjects that appeal to SCA members. But what really intrigues plenty of folks is the etiquette prevalent at the time, mainly courtesy and gallantry. Needless to say, SCA members engage in lots of bowing and hand-kissing. When Marsh served as queen of Trimaris (the SCA name for a region that includes much of Florida), fellow hobbyists would rise and bow when she entered a room. With such obvious displays of loyalty, it's no wonder the humble subjects endeared themselves to their former ruler. "I really enjoy the people," Marsh says. "They like the same thing I like, and they take the honor and chivalry thing seriously."