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


Fæder, forgive me, for I have sinned.

I did not start out as an anal progressive. One could say that it is a state into which I regrettably slid…or evolved. I of course prefer the latter. When I started in what I might laughingly refer to as living history—though that term did not attain any type of popularity for another decade or so—or perhaps medievaloid fantasy. I was as a member of a fancy-dress group. For many years I knew that I knew more than anyone else who was not in the group (and who did not have more grandiose titles than I did). Knowledge was just an injection into my brain from that membership card in my pocket! Looking back on it, I have to laugh only because I do not want to cry.

However, the knowledge of those days—spawned by the association with popular culture such as films, teevee, historical novels and comic books—was minimal, and the personal perception of the knowledge immensely wrong. The first glimmer of a consciousness emerged when I designed costumes based on Arabian Nights films and King Kull costumes, and it emerged suddenly as a kind of epiphany that this was not. That fact because evident within a decade. It started with historical cultures in college and then grew with leaps and bounds as I became familiar with folks who did real living history and did not merely say that they did. I realized that I did not know as much as I thought that I did. It became absolutely repulsive within twenty years as I became involved in other societies and I realized how ignorant I actually was. And the more that I knew, as the common folk wisdom goes, the more that I realized I did not know! Many times, it took a while even to consider what I did not know

Gradually, as I looked more intently into matters of everyday life—which is not altogether easy in a culture that attempts to define history as only what happens to the great men—I came to see that so many things that I took for granted, that I never even thought about, were among the things that were most important for defining the culture of a previous time. I came to see that I knew very little if anything. I was forced to do additional research into period sources, period artifacts and contemporary interpretations in order to figure out what was the proper way to do things! I wish to thank the authenticity officers, the historical inspectors, the other folk who are eager to share what they have discovered and especially those people who keep you honest! They have provided—and continue to provide—me with a direction toward which my researches should travel.

Here are, for example, a few areas with which I thought I was very familiar, but which, upon closer look…

Spectacles: The knowledge that Norse warriors did not wear spex was pretty ubiquitous even early on/; the trouble was that I did not realize how much of a burlesque it created. That happened later, in American Revolution reenacting. Until I bought some nineteenth-century frames, I successfully went without spex (the frames were accepted for use in eighteenth-century reenacting because we did not know better; all living history is an evolution!). For a time, I used these frames in medievaloid acting; but I eventually set them aside while in costume and even found a set of more period spex (I was doing fourteenth-century impression then) that I could use for close-up vision. Eventually, when we started doing early medieval impresions, my wife and I both discarded spex at all times. It was easier for me; I had cataracts surgery and the insertion of permanent contact lenses. For her, it was more radical; and when she puts her spex back on at the end of an event, her first line is usually, “Ah, the green blobs have leaves…” The use of contact lenses—permanent or temporary—is a compromise that is not easily discerned by the public.

Hats: Slouch felt hats are dashing, and I eagerly wore them in my early days. In fact, even when I stopped wearing the cowboy hats and other modern incarnations, I still wore the hats. After all, I was doing a fourteenth century impression, and these are examples of their use. When I began to do an early medieval impression, I eventually stopped. Broad-rimmed hats were still in the future. Caps might have been worn by the Norse, though there is no indication that they were worn by the Englisc (see the laborers in the Julius and Tiberius work calendars, working bare headed in the sun), though there is controversy over how these caps were constructed. What I term “baby bonnets” were not yet used, and the most frequently used head covering for some genders was the hood. There is no real evidence for straw and wide-brimmed hats during this era in England and Scandinavia. http://www.vikingage.org/wiki/index.php?title=Sun_hats notes that there is a description of Oðinn wearing a wide-brimmed hat that might be straw, but the saga was actually written down in a later periods! I decided that going about bare headed—for males; wimples and caps were used by females, at least married and older females—is the most common act!

Belts: If I ever thought about belt widths, I’d have assumed that they were as big and bold as the medieval warrior. As time ent on, I learned that wide WWF-style belts were not known during this period. Going from the sizes of buckles and other belt furniture, belts were usually between ½ and ¾ inch (6.35 and 12.7 mm) wide and never more than one inch (25.4 mm ); merely by purchasing thenty buckles (assuredly not buckles from someone who made them bigger and bad because members of their client base knew that belts were all big and bad). In addition, dangling ends were apparently a later development, and belts were tucked into slides like modern belts // http://regia.org/members/basclot3.htm // . The so-called ring belts,_ in which there is merely a brass or other circle at the end of the leather—are totally spurious and perpetuated just by vendors and sellers catering to the lowest denominator, The only buckles which had no tongues merely lost the tongues, so the ring belt is, above all, fantasy!

Names: The idea of regularized spelling is a relatively new concept. It certainly post-dates the invention of the printing press; and even in Colonial America, one finds examples of what Mary Dohan terms “phonetic spellings remarkable even in that relatively freewheeling orthographic age.” Different spellings might refer to the same person, not only different translations and interpretations according to contemporary popularity (Eric, Erik, Eirik, Eirkr) but absolutely bonker spellings can be seen, and writers apparently did not even notice the difference. For example in The Origin of English Surnames, P. H. Reaney writes, “On April 23, 1470, Elizabeth Blynkkynesoppe, of Blynkkynsoppe, widow of Thomas Blynkensope, of Blynkkensope received a general pardon,” and notes that “Here are four variations within two lines written by the same hand. This will give the casual reader an idea of the vagaries in spelling.”

–To Be Continued

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