RITUALS OF TRANSITION
How do you prepare yourself for a reenacting session?
I pose this question because I am concerned with the entire reenacting experience. Reenacting is based upon looking at things, experiencing them and teaching them a little bit differently than you might expect . Recognizing what is different, you do not want to speak about modern politics, about modern religion, the science-fiction novel you love so much or about the television show you watched last night.
(Actually, speaking about the first two in contrast to modern day politics and religion is fair, but the third is entirely out of bounds!)
You cannot automatically think the way that someone from the past thought no matter what you think—ad it is probably impossible to do so when making a conscious effort. You have too much modern baggage with you to do this. You cannot logically delude yourself that such a thing is possible. To ignore this is to give a lie to the entire reenacting process. Howev3er, there should always be something in the back of your mind while you are dressed up in your fancy togs that you are not portraying a person of the twenty-first century. That your tastes and knowledge would be different. That what you think is important is going to be different.
It is not important that you see the details of what is going on, at least if you and your fellows have done your bit to make the details accurate during manufacture. At one event, we had a member go without glasses or contact lenses just to prove that it could be done! There has to be a striving for safety. In fact, making our encampments safe for the limited sighted has actually helped us, because we began to clean up the encampment more so that people did not stumble over things so much!
Doctor David Friedman, a Scadian and a proponent of first-person impressions but not of accuracy in the environment, points out that he does wear spex while in his impression notes in his Miscellany that
” Doing without glasses when I am in persona is not merely a matter of being authentic — it is also a striking way of reminding myself that I am in a different world. Fuzzier. As an adult, Cariadoc has never seen the stars clearly, and cannot recognize a friend across the length of a hall. Those are some of the ways in which he is a different person from David.
One might say that this is only important when one is doing a first person—or a second person, as some describe an impression which is mainly first person but which allows the participant to break into third person as needed—impression, however, it is also important for someone doing a third-person impression. It is something that you must always keep in your mind. You must realize that what you pick up, how you sit, how you walk, what you use, affects the way that you are perceived and the illusion that you are attempting to create.
Not only does I help in the selection of clothing and kit, but it helps them to think about what they need to talk about so that they are not talking about modern concerns except in relation to period concerns. Hopefully, it will keep them from thinking about modern concerns in the first place!
It should be pointed out that such a transition is not the exact way that a person of the period would have thought or acted. After all, your knowledge and actions, even for someone doing first-person, are affected to some extent by things that you know that the period person did not, is not a reflection of what the period person thought. There is no way that this is possible. It is a interpretation, and hopefully an interpretation based on facts. However, it is better than coming to an event, putting on fancy dress, shades, sneakers, spending the event texting on your phone about what a grand old time you are having and strutting around like your favorite character from “Braveheart”!
For most reenactors, it is recommended that you have a certain ritual that you perform when you begin a reenacting session. Changing into historical clothing might be good enough for some people, but there is still the natural impulse to move in a modern manner (we shall not mention the desire to emulate what has been seen in popular culture, which often must be avoided as well and requires research more than anything).
The ritual that you follow while converting to, for lack of a better word, a reenactor mindset may vary. Perhaps it is only putting on a certain artifact or making a certain action which helps convert you—at least hopefully—from your modern-day mindset. For some people, it may be just be the act of donning historical clothing. For some, it might be repeating the pater noster in Old English or Old Norse. Or even, for all the fact that it is erroneous, one of the prayers that are being made by a Norse figure from “The Thirteenth Warrior” or similar films.
For example, I have a Fenris (also Fenrir) cross For me, it is a clew to guide my reactions an d thought processes at the time. Just reaching up and touching it reminds me to change my mindset. If I am encouraged to say something political or religious, it provides a reminder that I should not do this and that I should steer the conversation into something that is more period. So at the beginning of an event—actually before the event starts, when I am arranging things and getting them prepared—I give it a kiss, which is a real action which helps me to change the way the way I am thinking. I then hang it around my neck, and I take care not to take it off during public hours. Any time that I do take it off—for example sleeping at overnight events—I make certain that I repeat the process. I again kiss the cross, and I make certain that I do put it on.
At events I use my Fenris cross to enter myself into the proper frame of mind. It is a reproduction of one found in Iceland, in which Norse motifs—the Fenris wolf and Þor’s hammer—is combined with Christian—a cross. I call it my Hedge Your Bets Cross, a dual religious icon for someone who has not settled on a single deity. In the morning, as I say, he might go to Church and pray to Jesus; but in the afternoon, he might embark on a journey and pray to Þor for a safe journey.
This interpretation is controversial, of course. Some people think that it is nothing more than the inclusion of a non-Christian cross in the heathen jewelry (after all, the cross had other pre-Christian meanings and besides, in the thoughts of many heathens, Jesus was just another god, an addition to he Norse pantheon but hardly unique). It seems probable to me that it combines the motifs from two different faiths, but it is not my intent here to debate the matter; for me, it is just different enough that it brings home the fact that things were different in the past!
To me it is a reminder. Just reaching up and touching it reminds me to change my mindset so that if I am tempted to say something inappropriate, it reminds me that I should not do this!
It is suggested then that you come up with your own ritual to usher yourself into the period world. It may not be to your liking—that is why different societies have such different or nonexistent authenticity regs—but you may well find it a very valuable and, indeed, fulfilling!