Swords slash through the air as knights in suits of armor clash in a fierce battle.
It may sound like something out of a fairy tale, but in Winston-Salem it’s a revitalization of history.
Members of the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism re-create the Middle Ages through regular gatherings, jousting tournaments and feasts — all in full costume.
In preparation for a coming medieval event, a handful of local SCA members sat at spinning wheels last week, stitching clothes at the Southside Library.
“Think of it as a chance to dress up in costume for an unscripted play,” said Leroy Sonntag, known in the society as Wolfgang Von Trier. “We don’t do fantasy and we don’t re-enact. Basically, we take the fun things that happened back between 500 and 1700 A.D. and we re-create.”
The members practice various arts and skills, like sewing their own clothing styled after those worn in the Middle Ages, cooking over an open fire, archery and sword-fighting.
The swords are forged out of rattan — as a safety precaution — instead of steel, and are made by members of the organization.
“We have basket-weaving, scroll illumination, jousting, dancing, brewing, songs from medieval times,” member Randall Jessup said. “There’s really something for everyone.”
Some members specialize in trades, like metalworking or carpentry, and they have implemented a trade system, exchanging goods and services, as many people would have in the Middle Ages, Jessup said, as he hand-sewed a pink “gates of hell” dress for his daughter.
With last weekend’s impending Twelfth Night celebration in Greensboro, Jessup was tasked with making clothing for himself, his three college-aged daughters, his wife and his son-in-law. Each outfit takes him three to four weeks to make.
“My hobby usually cuts into my sleep time,” said Jessup, who also works 60 to 80 hours a week as a nurse. “You do what you love for the people you love.”
The inspiration for the clothing is drawn from paintings, museum replicas and documents to ensure authenticity, he said. Most members have several outfits, ranging from formal to common garb.
The time periods for the outfits vary, so it’s not like a Civil War re-enactment where everyone is from the same day and age, member Jenna “Fairhaven” Dutrow.
“The ‘A’ in ‘SCA’ is for anachronism, meaning ‘out of place and time,’” she said. “So you could see a Viking from 900 A.D. and someone in Tudor garb from the 1500s standing side by side.”
Dutrow said the society’s events have become a fun family activity for her and her kids.
Her son James, 13, has only been actively involved with the group for the past year, but has participated in several events, including some of the group’s annual classes, like “Hand-kissing 101” and “The Art of Flirting,” she said.
“It’s really grown to be a family-friendly, multi-generational living history society,” said Dutrow, who joined the organization in the 1980s.
The organization began in 1966 in California as a gathering of a group of Medieval Age-enthusiasts, Sonntag said. It has grown to encompass 30,000 members worldwide in 21 kingdoms, each of which is ruled over by a king and queen.
The Winston-Salem group hails from the Atlantia Kingdom, which stretches from Maryland to Georgia.
Each kingdom is broken down into local chapters known as baronies and cantons. The local group, the Canton of Crois Brigte, encompasses about 50 members in the Winston-Salem area, although 1,300 area members turned up for the big War of the Wings festival in Elkin last October, Sonntag said.
“There’s various types of competitions and displays with events nearly every weekend of the year,” Sonntag said. “It’s a good time.”
Upon joining, members typically adopt a persona with a back story, reflective of a fictional person living between 500 to 1700 A.D.
Sonntag’s persona is a 15th-century German merchant named Wolfgang who traverses the trade routes to bring spices back to Europe. His fiancée, Donna Williams, is an Irish 16th-century maiden named Rois McAden.
“We celebrate all different cultures from the Vikings to the fall of the Roman Empire to high renaissance Italy,” Williams said, as she spun her own yarn from sheep’s wool — a skill most learned at age 3 in the Middle Ages.
Her green dress, half-finished, will be that of a German merchant’s wife, this time to match her fiancé’s persona, said Williams, an elementary school art teacher.
It will also likely double as her wedding dress when she marries Sonntag next summer in a medieval-themed wedding at a castle in Booneville. The ceremony will lean on ancient traditions like hand-binding and exchanging rings on the tips of swords.
“I don’t think I ever grew out of dress-up,” she said. “I love this whole era and these people. It just feels like home.”