I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

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WITHOUT A WORD I: DISH

Monastic sign language has been used in Europe from at least the tenth century by monks of the Benedictine Order because “silence is a virtue.” It was a method using a hand lexicon to name certain commonplace things without speaking aloud. It is not a language, per sé, like ASL, though very useful. This article was inspired by Debby Banham’s The Anglo-Saxon Monastic Sign Language.

If you need a dish, raise up one hand and spread your fingers.

A SOUND OF PLUNDER

If you were transported back in time for a month or more, what would you bring from the present?

It is not here our need nor our intent to comment on the technology involved in such an action, and so we must take the notion of time travel as a done deal that we do not have to think about. There are certain conventions we should probably note that are so well planned and conventional that you never have to even consider them. We shall therefore make it a convention that any method you use for traveling back in time is accompanied by a mechanism for returning you to the present.

We have to make the leap of faith that there is no language difficulties, though the accents might be amusing. We assume that there is a space about the person of the time traveler which can include material goods and convey them into the past. Let us further assume that you have done enough research to know an appropriate time to visit, appropriate clothing and an appropriate area for your appearance so that you are not appearing as some kind of angelic apparition in the middle of a crowded London street. Appropriate health immunizations (no non-vaxers need apply). Can you have tattoos or other body mods? Let us err on the side of caution for the most part, but even if tattoos were discovered to be common, certain tattoos—such as that of the Tasmanian Devil—should be avoided!

You obviously do not want to bring back any watches—digital or mechanical, large or small—with you, as well as no spectacles. No garments made with modern fabrics, especially artificial, or made with modern mechanical devices, should be brought. Even modern colors, dyes or anything that might alter the progress of time and technology. In fact, there are certain drawbacks to almost anything that could be brought back in time.

If you have a list of historical events: Scores of games, victors of wars and battles, economic trends and the such, intending to make a fortune by betting on things, there is always the possibility that these accounts could fall into other people’s hands and so possibly change the future in a number of different ways, not merely because of the knowledge of future events but because someone might want to change something and so the course of time and construction of the future. (Do you really want to cause a Biff?) Any information about future events would need to be committed to memory.

If you brought back a modern firearm, and it fell into the hands of an inventive and resourceful person, it might engender the appearance of such firearms centuries before they were invented. Even its sheer appearance with bullets could change things even if it were not duplicated.
Bringing back edged weapona in the style of the time but made of modern metals is more innocent, but the quality of the metal might inspire smiths to try to duplicate the technology. While it is romantic, perhaps, to assume that this was the source of the Uhtred swords, it is a dangerous interference with the technology of the time!

For the most part, recording devices—such as cameras, camcorders and even audio recorders and certainly a computer—would be valuable; a person commented that five minutes of video footage from the battle of Hastings would be invaluable, but electric charges and batteries must be planned for and included. Realize that there will probably be no way to recharge an electrical device in the past. In addition, there is the matter that any such device must be disguised in some manner. Having a DVD player or a CD player or any similar device to play footage from the future or from the current time might be seen simply as magic…though that would no doubt create certain liabilities by itself!

In the end, perhaps the best thing you could bring would be a first-aid kit. Not only wold this be protective for the traveller, but many of the innovations would be accepted. If you look at, for example, Bald’s Leechbook. There were many healing devices that were used but not fully understood, so that you would not be changing things from altering the technology, though the use of such medicines might save someone who was supposed to die, so that time itself was changed.

Modern electrical or combustion vehicles would arouse too much interest and no doubt change history. Therefore, you would not want to bring automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles or plans, even if they were painted as or otherwise disguised as dragons. Hoof it or ride on a beast or in a wagon drawn by a beast!

It might be most pertinent to ask what you might bring back to the present. Certain any video, photography or audio recordings you might have made. Perhaps pieces of artwork, jewelry and other artifacts of various types. Complete garments would be invaluable for a number of reasons. These would be a great boon to archaeologists. However, if you have a more materialist and pecuniary motive, it might be just as simple and more certain to return to the summer of 1938 and to buy a few mint copies of Action Comics Number One!

PROJECTS FOR THE PANDEMIC I: HNEFATAFL

I was able to order two hnefatafl sets, from the Jelling Dragon and one from Tillerman Beads. Although all the taflmenn had holes so they could be turned into pegged pieces, the reason I purchased two sets was that one was pegged and the other not. I bought a set based on Lindisfarne finds from Tillerman, including the rather elegant king that has been recently discovered.

Storage was a big question. The earlier, less accurate pieces were kept in bags, but that frustrated me a bit. Finally, I devised a pegged and a non-pegged storage device, and I felt like a complete prat for not thinking of it. I had two oak squares. One had holes drilled so that the pegged pieces could be set into (onto) the square. The other had pegs rising up from the board, so that the pieces could settle on them (their holes could at least). The results were very pleasing, though I can only assume that this was not done in period. It took up a lot of space! I presume that bags or pouches were used to carry and store the pieces.

The gaming boards are all hand made. I had no foldable leather “boards.” First of all, there is no existing evidence that they were used. All that remain were made of wood or stone; few are whole, since most seems to have rotted away. Second of all, I preferred a wooden board aesthetically. So I made boards.

I made four types, flat and pegged (what I called travel tafl since I can imagine the game being played on ships, and the pieces not skittering around) and straight edges and framed edges (with a raised edge around each side, like the Ballinderry and other board boards). There is still a question about whether the inside was routed out or the edges were added, and both sides can cite good reasons. I did both, and I ended with separate frames attached. The decision was made for mercenary reasons. It was faster, easier and did not result in so much wasted wood!

The squares were carved out, and because it helped communicate to others, certain squares were painted in with milk paint. I put a layer of linseed oil over the board, just to protected the colored squares.

The hnefatafl games are popular among the public as well as people buying them to personally play (I use aquarium stones as the playing pieces, since they are inexpensive and close to accurate pieces, as well as simple wooden pegs for the pegged games). A variety of rules exist, and I have modified the rules I play by. I encourage buyers to feel free to invent their own versions!

FIFTEEN THINGS I WOULD LIKE NEVER TO SEE, HEAR OR SMELL AGAIN!

People who say, “Ahm too bizzy too do resurch or use goggles, so tell me…”

People using the term “Viking” to describe anything Norse.

People mixing something that is definitely post period with their period impression (mixing pre-period goods with period goods is fine and justifiable as long as it is not too often).

People who say they are not racists, just white pridists, because they have Viking blood!

People using the term “authentic” when they mean “historically accurate.”

People who use the Term “Garb” to refer to historical dress, historic costume or soft kit. In fact, I love the good hon est term “costume” and can only think of a person who wears garb as having a shuck of wheat in front of the privates!

People wearing spectacles or sunglasses, whining that it is not safe for them not to do so. Especially people who have never tried to see what they would have had to do visually in period and who try to do things in public that require them to wear magnifying lenses. For that matter, people smoking on the line…whether cigarettes, cigars or pipes.

People who brag about their authentic fantasy LARP and blithely use the term “reenacting” when they mean “fancy dress ball.”

People who justify what they are wearing by saying “If Theyda Haddit, Theyda Usedit.” These are the sorts of halfwits who have the skiffy blasters with their garb.

People who tell me that their polyester costume looks just like linen. Uncertain whether they need to see an optometrist or a psychologist.

People who rationalize their inaccuracies by drawling, “Ah doan speak Old Norse anyway, so why should Ah try to look authentic…?”

People wandering around in historical dress with their telephones pressed to their ears, or watching the screens of their Ipods or carrying their teevee sets on their backs…

People who unthinkingly just try to incorporate current taste into their clothing—such as a big embroidered patch on their dresses—usually without even recognizing it.

People wearing their Air Jordans or other tennis shoes in their historical costume because, as they plaintively whine, “Mah foots are tender lahk, so I gotta baby them. Besides, no one looks at yer shoes…”

People discussing their fervent current political or religious convictions without even trying to anchor these thoughts to anything history. Or people discussing what they saw on teevee last week. Or discussing any teevee show, film, sporting event, comic book or anything like that without even making any effort to associate it with anything historical or to disguise it as something historical. For that matter, people singing or humming the latest pop song on the line.

LOOK! UP IN THE SKY!

There has been a connection between mythology and comic books since comic books were first invented. The super heroes created by comics were from the beginning colorful representatives of comics, but many had a much closer relationship. Captain Marvel’s SHAZAM (Solomon’s wisdom, Hercules’ strength, Atlas’ stamina, Zeus’s power, Achilles’ courage and Mercury’s speed) made it obvious and incorporated many different mythologies. Wonder Woman was affiliated with Greek (or Roman) mythology. Kid Eternity was created by Jude-Christian beliefs. And Þorr was rooted in a wide variety of stories, ultimately culminating in the Jack Kirby super hero.

When Mighty Þorr became more popular, he became much closer to Norse mythology. The strip not only eventually incorporated more and more Norse mythological characters, but Kirby illustrated Eddic stories adapted by Stan Lee in a series known as Tales of Asgard. Norse mythology became very closely associated with comics!

Neil Gaiman, originally a comic-book author, composed his own prose adaptations of Norse Mythology. They were fresh and original version of traditional tales. It was little wonder that they were adopted into a series of modern versions of Tales of Asgard. The stories were adopted by P. Craig Russell, a formidable comics creator himself, and illustrated by Russell and many other top-flight illustrators. The series was published by Dark Horse Comics and is still being published but the first six comics books have been collected into a hardcover edition, and more collections are promised.

The collection features stories illustrated by Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, Piotr Kawalski, David Rubin and Jill Thompson. The stories related in the collection include the creation of the Nine Worlds, the loss of Odin’s eye and the crafting of Mjollnir, plus other tales. The stories are all relatively faithful to the Eddas, but people wanting faithful to the Eddas would do better off reading one of the translations. The greatest feature of this adaptation is the art!

They incorporate a variety of styles, and they are classic comic-book versions of the fantasy. There is no reality as you see the gods running around bare chested with loin cloths and fitted sleeveless mail shirts. These are modern fantasy and not scrupulous adaptations of the Norse mythology or religion. And they are recommended for their skill in portraying that fantasy and not because of any accuracy!

So buy a copy of the Poetic Edda translated by W. H. Auden, Lee Hollander or Jackson Crawford and do your studying from them. Then, relaxing at night, open this volume and read it it just for sheer enjoyment!

ALWAYS LOOK AT THE SILVER SIDE OF REENACTING

The last year has been a mixed bag. Most reenactors do it for the chance to talk with and demonstrate to the public. However, they also do it for the chance to share information with fellow reenactors and to get more goodies.

I have been fortunate. I have gotten to events that I never have because they did Zoom meetings (Virtual TORM and Jorvik Virtual Viking Thing for example) and have been able to Zoom with fellow reenactors socially. I’ve met many folks who have just ben names on a page!

And because I have not had to py for travel, for hotel costs and the such, I have had plenty of money to spend on reenacting goodies that I had always wanted to buy (or to make) and been unable to afford! Including an aestrel, a mail shirt, a seal, a set of glass tafl men, a remarlable set of replicas of the Lewis chessmen and all sorts of smaller objects made and sold by smaller distributors (amazing hw I did not buy many things from any corporate sources). Did you? I havealso been incredibly more productive on woodworking projects (durig the warm weather). Have you?

I hope to do show-and-tell the next few years. Please feel free to join in!

TEN GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS OF EARLY MIDDLE AGES

These are why I refuse to call the time the “Dark Ages.”

The stirrup

The yoke

Increase in agricultural production

The discovery of a new continent

The creation of the viking ship

The heavy plough

Horse shoes

Juries

Books (codexes)

ENGLISC MONTHS

The Englisc calendar had twelve months and the year started with the winter solstice. This festival was known as Geola from which we get the modern word Yule. The summer solstice was known as Litha whose meaning is unclear.

January–Æfterra Geola (After Yule)

February–Solmonad (Sun Month)

March–Hrethmonad (Named after the divinity Hrepe)

April–Eastermonad (Named after the divinity Eostre)

May–Drimilcemonad (Cow Milking Month when cows were milked three times daily)

June– Ærra Litha (Before Litha)

July– Æfterra Litha (after Litha)

August–Weodmonad (Weed month)

September–Haligmonad (Holy month)

October–Winterfylled (Winter month)

November–Blotmonad (Slaughter month, when animals who could not survive the winter would be slaughtered)

December–Ærra Geola (Before Yule)

A NOTE ON RESEARCH

Obviously, speaking with more experienced members can give you much information, though you must be certain that their advice is backed by provenance (the member should not be offended by a request for documentation and should, in fact, have provided it before you asked). Obviously a preference should be made for advice from the AO, though hopefully any other information given you will not be contradicted!

Bibliographies and lists of recommended books can be helpful, but a list of books that should be avoided or not believed is often just as vital! Do not trust everything that anyone tells you or that reenforces your beliefs. Do not trust anyone who make a a statement and provides no provenance, and do not trust anyone who uses a discredited person as provenance.

Personal research is essential. Just remember that what you find may be with odds with old and cherished myths. Never be reluctant or hesitant to discard old beliefs when you uncovered documentation that contracts them! Please note that sagas were historical fiction that was written down several centuries later. They probably contain true parts, but using them as unassailable fact is similar to using “Prince Valiant” as unassailable fact. Stay away from Pinterest, Reddit, Wikipedia and similar sites unless you intend to do further research elsewhere!

Attending events is helpful. This will tell you whether reenacting is for you. You can talk with fellow members, observe interactions with MoPs and perhaps even have your own. Have fun and be friendly to both fellow participants and to MoPs, laugh a lot and offer to help where needed. Thank people who help you, and talk to MoPs. If you do not know the answer to a question, admit it and don’t feel bad about it. Refer the questioner to someone who does know the answer, and learn the answer yourself! And above all, remember that as a reenactor, you represent all reenactors!

The experience at an event may be very enlightening and, hopefully, enjoyable. And perhaps, after this experience, we may embrace you as another experienced fellow reenactor!

ELEVATED LAP PLUTEUS DESK

After a discussion with Gary Golding on racks for holding scrivening tools, I made a triangular desk. It was relatively small and attractive. Then Gary told me about the elevated lap desk and shared several illustrations. And suddenly, I wanted to make one!

Desk1

Gary helped me considerably, answering question s and making suggestions.I decided that I wanted to make a rounded-end desk but, to make it interesting, I had the top rounded and the bottom straight edged. Was this done? I do not know, but it does not seem impossible!Looking at the illustrations, the desk were probably about yard long. I made mine of oak and, to keep the weight down, made it 20 x 11 inches. I wanted to make the desks ½ inch, but I ended up making it one inch thick.

Desk2

While uncertain whether the originals were able to be disassembled for transport or not, I made the desk able to be disassembled. The pins were wood and to make it more stable, they were rather thicker than the illustrations show.Here is how the desk is disassembled.

Desk3

Desk4