Wednesday, August 3, 2016

2016 Ansteorran Heraldic and Scribal Symposium.

There were a lot of unusual circumstances for me this year as I loaded up my bags and slipped out of the house mid Friday. My wife and normal traveling companion, as well as my son would not be at my side this weekend, mundane obligations having pulled them away for the time being. But I certainly wouldn't be traveling alone by any means. On my way out of town, I stopped and collected Bridget of Mooneschadowe, one of our newest members, to join me on our trip south.

Bridget, both new and unique in her position, had come to us at the same event, one year before. Not a week later, Kerra, the Kingdom Sign Herald, had effectively gobbled up our new member calling on her mundane training in sigh-language in service to the newly called-for role of sign heralds within the Kingdom. Bridget looked to revel in the role, quickly finding a place in the society unlike any other. But now, a year later, I wanted to make sure she got to see the inner working of the kingdom before spending too much time working for them. The week before, she, as well as my wife and I had traveled south to King's Round Table, a chance to introduce her to the administrative workings of the kingdom. Now, I was leading her even further south, and showing her the inner workings of the kingdom's own College of Heralds.

The First leg of our trek took us west and south into the borderlands between Namron and Wiesenfuer. There, we meet up with friends old and new. Castellana and Meadhbh were two long-time friends from the heraldic community, both having earned their stripes on the lystfield, and having later taken on roles with book heraldry to one extent or another.  Meadhbh was a regular player when I first joined the SCA, and Castellana was a later recruit whom I 'guided' into heraldry. The last addition to our party of five was Donnan, a hard working husband and father who's whole family had joined the society much more recently, and fell in with the good company of house "Patrin Or", a now long-standing band of close friends to my own family.

From there, Donnan took over for us, and the five of us made our way south across the Red River and through the heart of Elfsea and down to Raven's fort, who was hosting this year's symposium.

We arrived late at our lodgings, and I, at least, relished in the chance to catch up on lost sleep from the day's travels.

The next day we all rose early and set out for the short last leg of our trip.

Heraldic and Scribal Symposium has long been a center for both heraldic education and interaction within the kingdom. A chance for the newest and the oldest, the most experienced and the most inquisitive minds within the college to join and interact in a day both free of distractions, and full of too many of them all at the same time.

Upon arrival, I noted something most familiar and wondering all in the same time. The stewards for the event had named each room by way of a heraldic color. Now, as to if this was in any way a response to, or inspired by my work the year before, naming rooms after influential heralds and their devices, I don't know, but I was none the less very glad to see the concept carried over for another year.

Somewhat by design, (and somewhat by happenstance), the majority of my day was scheduled teaching, though I would get to sit in on a few classes as well. I had quipped with the first person in the door for my morning class, "List heraldry 101", that if I had two more people come in I would have officially exceeded my expected attendance. As it happened, not only did I double it, but my protected number of two became six, as no less than the Landed Baron of Raven's Fort walked in and rounded out the last of my students.

List heraldry is something that I don't do enough of anymore, but its a skill-set close to my heart, and as I tell my students, it is one of the rolls in the SCA that helps anchor us more firmly in the past. I often quip that it is the second most marketable skill set in the SCA. To his credit, at the end of class the Baron challenged me as to what the first was. "Dish washing, actually," I replied, and all in attendance laughed in agreement.

The previous weekend, at King's Round-Table (colloquially known as Red Tape), a longtime friend and career herald, HE Tostig Logiosophia (whom I got to know first at 30th year) as asked me if I would teach the voice heraldry portion of the Herald's warranting class. This is not a new request, and Tostig is well known for working to bring the best possible people in on any project. In my case, he knew I would be attending and had quickly worked to secure my teaching time.

As it happened, I wasn't the only subject of Tostig's networking. Newly Back from mundane travels overseas, Lady Ekaterina (whom I've known as "Kitty" since she was twelve year old at her first event) was now the newly minted Actuarius Pursuivant (warranting herald) and teaching the warranting class. The chemistry of the class was a good one, with a small size and friendly feel. Kitty and I had years of banter between us, and I felt that the working dynamic between us made for a good trade-off from her administrative lessons and my overview of voice heraldry.

Lunch followed, and the Barony was gracious enough to host a sideboard for us, letting the students and teacher stay and mingle. One of the event's major benefits for the college and its freelance members is the ability to network and make connections that otherwise would not likely happen. It was good to see friends, old and new as well as trade contact information with some of the people younger heralds there.

I also chanced a salutation with Sir Modius, a newly made master of Defence, making him the Kingdom's only quadruple peer. While only a handshake and a greeting at the moment, I was reminded of our more turbulent introduction and early interactions, personalities and dignities butting up against each other like two suborn rams arguing over a tuft of grass. Where others would probably have sought victory, time taught me to respect the man's demonstrated skills, and I have come since then to admire his accomplishments, even if we disagree with each other on the details as often as not. That insight, as much as anything else, is what heraldry has given me that I doubt fighting ever would have.

The afternoon classes for me were twofold, the first was my two hour Site Heraldry class (link to textbook). The attendance was understandably light, and I had expected it to be, not a lot of people what to sit in on a class that long. But I very clearly market the session as "Here is decade and a half of the mistakes I have made so that you can go of and make plenty of your own." This tongue-in-cheek summary aside, I take my instruction on site heraldry very seriously, and my students almost always walk out of the class glad for the time spent.

I moved next to Castellana's rotatable discussion of how to promote local heraldic activity. This class, such as it was, is really the latest evolution in an ongoing conversation had by heralds across the kingdom. With over half of all the groups opting to not field a herald in their local officer corps, and some of the college of herald's administrative missteps not always showing the best face for our customers, heraldry as a field in the kingdom seems to vacillate between "neat" and "why bother" for the general public. For every person we welcome newly into the fold, there is another we seem to have put off with a ill-advised statement, or a poorly worded comment on a submission. As much most things, the idea of expanding information and education if the college's best tool against the naturally shifting tides of interest and indifference.

It is worth pointing out that the ideas shared there were diverse, and fascinating. Heraldry is far from the dead art that many seem to think it is today. I grant you, as the foundation of the United States broke the very tenants of the English aristocracy and the social system that make heraldry so relevant its not hard to understand why so many Americans have no concept of why arms and devices and their display is so important. When we talk about badges, most will think first and foremost of the gold shields carried by police officers today, and this is not an unfair comparison, as the badge carried there has some striking parallels to royal or noble retainers who carriers their lord's badge in ages past. But the example is too narrow, and it really is up to heralds and local leadership to help promote education and use of the arms within the society today.

The final class of the the day is a new entity entirely to my classes. One of the byproducts of my new officer of "submitter relations" is that I was able to really hone my skills at 'bird-dogging' lost submissions. My current record is 12 years lost, with only a fragmentary blazon for a starting point, and I turned that into a full submissions. By the time the last heraldic a scribal symposium arrived, I had jokingly codified my trade-craft into a discipline jokingly called "forensic heraldry". While I don't have any of the tools or gizmos that make CSI so fun to watch, the basic detective type work I do, starting with fragmentary information and building out from there, is uniquely rewarding. The "forensic" part is no joke, however. There is a lot of  "if x happened then Y had to happen" and "I don't' see A, so there is a really good chance B didn't go down either."  Complete with interviews, paperwork, and even a money trail. (I'm not kidding, "follow the money" will take you places in this world).

So, anyway, I have soft of taken it upon myself to make a class out of this new skill I seem to have created, and that was the last hour class of the day for me. The one thing about the class that I made sure to impress upon everyone was this, however.

"At the end of the day, when you're done tracking down the submission, there is one thing you are going to know without any question, and that is the name of the person who lost it."

This is very true, in every case I've work on so far, the name of the person who lost the submission became self-evident early on.

"What I advise you to do is this, jot it down for the sake of posterity, and then promptly forget it. We are here to fix submissions, not rake other heralds over the coals. If you happen to see the same name show up several times, send a letter to star with your factual findings, and then again, forget you ever found that name. This is a customer service mission, not an inquisition."

So, ending on that note, the event itself concluded with a royal court thanks to their majesties attendance, and two grant level awards being handed out, amongst others. The one drawback to the day was the air conditioning took that moment to shut down, so the call was a little warmer than I might call comfortable, but all told it wasn't unbearable.

Following that, we made a mass exodus for dinner, and as I shortly found out, there was local steakhouse that was a favorite amongst the SCAers there.Fully a third of the event must have descended on the  place. Our group were some of the the first, and we got a take near the back. As we all sat down, instinctively clustering together as we waited for others to join us, I said "we should spread out, that way when everyone else shows up we have new people to talk to. The plan, such as it were, worked wonderfully, as we were joined by, amongst others, Her Excellency Elisaveta Af Isafjord, pelican and newly made baroness of Northkeep. Elisaveta and I have known each other for ages, and it was good to speak socially, something we don't always get to do at events. Another longtime friend of mine who joined us was Annais, who I also have known for years. Annais is a Namron ex-patriot moved to Northkeep, and like me, one of the people who will probably grow old and gray burried in projects we only just barely have the time and energy to tackle. A kindred spirit through and through she was someone else I was glad to see again.

After dinner, we all said out farewells and departed, my traveling companions loading up for the trek back to our lodgings for the night.

As something of a side adventure, I well it worth talking about a endeavor undertaken by Bridget. As we're all want to do, the five of us talked about heraldry in its many forms through the trip home. One of the branches of that conversation was a part where I pointed out that while I support the office of Sign herald, and its duties, there was limited historical justification for translation type services like this in courts. Bridget seemed to take some measure of (good-natured) umbridge  to this suggestion, and set to work then and there (courtesy of her her Iphone) to see how far back she could document sign language in a royal court setting. To my sock, (and with largely preliminary information in the moment), she was able to document the practice of finger-spelling for deaf courtiers as early as the 1620s, practically at the doorstep of the 1600 line that we generally accepts for a workable cutoff. I am hoping she manages to firm up her findings and publish them some day, as I fell that the office of sigh herald could use the historical bolstering, at least in the kingdom.

And not long after, we came to the front door of our shelter for the night. I think there was an even blend of excitement for the event and fatigue from a long day by then, most of us were just glad to have beds waiting for us to sleep in, even if they weren't our own.

Like so many events, Heraldic and Scribal symposium was only partially about the classes, thought those were, and will always been on of the cornerstones of its purpose. The real advantage of the event is its ability to bring people together in unique ways and to build new relationships and spark interests within the college of heralds of Ansteora. And in that I feel that the event was an outstanding success this year what what I could see.

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

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