By MATTHEW ASTLE
By day he is a software analyst. But by night he takes on a new persona. Ask Dave Foster what he’s doing this Monday evening and he won’t hesitate with an answer.
“I’m getting together with a bunch of my best friends and we’re beating the crap out of each other.”
An arrow’s flight away from University Mall sits a small park. It is usually quiet, but once a week it rings with the sounds of swords and shields as a handful of enthusiasts practices medieval combat. Foster is one of those enthusiasts.
The Society for Creative Anachronism was founded in May 1965 at Berkeley University as more of a theme party than a way of life. Since then, it has grown to an international society with over 30,000 members, said Foster, the seneschal of the Canton of Arrows’ Flight, the Utah County chapter of the society.
The local Utah Valley group is a tiny subdivision of the SCA’s 16 multi-state and multi-national kingdoms worldwide. The Arrows’ Flight group meets every Monday evening, dressed in individual armor and garb. With steel shields, masked helmets, and metal and leather body armor, they beat on each other with wooden swords.
“You don’t have to come into the Society knowing what you’re doing yet,” said Becki Child, another local leader. “You just have to say, `Wow, this looks fun and its historical and I want to dress up in pretty things too and go fight and beat on people.’ We do this.”
Battles against opposing groups and kingdoms happen regularly, so training is a necessity, said Child. But it’s not just fighting, she said. SCA members also participate in jewelry making, calligraphy, illumination, embroidery, music, armor, chain mail making, feasting and alchemy.
“It’s anything that was done then that you can recreate now,” she said.
A former leader of the group, Robert “Silverbow” Handley said, “It’s kind of like I missed my time period, and I fit so natural and it just feels like maybe I should have been there but I just wasn’t lucky enough to be born. But in a sense I’m glad I wasn’t, because I wouldn’t want to live through the Black Plague and hunger and starvation. I mean they had a horrible life. We reenact it without all the bad.”
Bruce Young, a BYU professor of Shakespeare, said many people are fascinated by medieval culture because of a feeling of superiority. Young said C.S. Lewis used the term “chronological snobbery” to describe our disdain for the superstitious, filthy and degraded society of the Middle Ages.
“We’re also attracted by a glamorized version that maybe isn’t all that faithful to reality. There’s all the colorful stuff, the pageantry, the chivalry, the adventure, the magic, the fantasy,” he said.
BYU students are also involved in the study and reenactment of the Middle Ages. The Quill and the Sword is a BYU club that draws nearly 60 participants all year.
Michael Rhodes, a professor of ancient scripture who is the faculty advisor of the Quill and Sword, said the club draws those who have an interest in the era and those who like to “hammer on each other with shields and swords.”
“There are well-versed people on the Middle Ages; people have devoted a lot of time. It gives people the opportunity to center their interests in a time period. It gives very realistic experiences,” Rhodes said.