Universal compliance with certain rules regarding weapons use at historical re-creation events would benefit us all. But how does one obtain even a majority of compliance from individuals without resorting to our State Legislatures, (with the accompanying "security force" to assure that we all follow the rules)? For that matter, how do we, on a societal level, disseminate information regarding any rules of conduct which may be of benefit to all involved? It seems to me, (and here is where those of you out there who disagree may jump in with a barrage of letters to the contrary), that the best way is the old fashioned way: Social pressure. Individuals, such as the good Robert Chapin, may make valiant efforts to educate the public regarding weapons safety, but I believe even more can be accomplished through the adoption of certain codes of behavior by larger social groups, and the desired behavior enforced by those groups through the use of social tools. Which brings me to the subject of this column: Guilds.
It has come to my attention recently that there are very few Renaissance guilds outside of California. (For an explanation of guilds and their functions, please see the sidebar). If I am mistaken in this, I urge my readers who have information to the contrary to write to me regarding the guilds outside of California with which they are familiar. I will include any additional information I receive in a future column. Until then, I write upon the premise that the larger portion of guilds in the United States exist in California, and that, in most other parts of the country, Renaissance re-creationists are unfamiliar with or outright eschew the guild system.
The guild system certainly has its pros and cons. What I think is most positive about the guild system here in California is what pertains most directly to Mr. Chapin's concerns regarding weapons use at faire. Here in California there are quite a large number of Renaissance guilds. A majority of these guilds are united under the auspices of CIRGA, (California Independent Renaissance Guilds Association). These independent guilds bring their, if you will, "societal concerns" to the CIRGA meetings.
CIRGA serves, among other things, as a conduit for information from faire promoters to performing guilds, and vice - versa. For instance, faire promoters know to contact CIRGA to disseminate information regarding upcoming events, and CIRGA contacts promoters regarding the needs of its many performing guilds, (i.e., more water or ice, or more frequent cleaning of privies at certain events.) CIRGA circulates a questionnaire / evaluation sheet to each guild at the end of each event and then sends these responses to the event sponsors, thereby providing these sponsors with a goodly collection of information to use to improve their event for the next year. Through these and other efforts, CIRGA has benefited both guilds and event sponsors in ways that would probably not have been possible through individuals or even individual guild efforts.
A couple of years ago, the subject of weapons use at Renaissance events was brought up at a CIRGA meeting, (precipitated by a most dangerous incident involving gunpowder at a faire, caused by an individual who acted, in our societal view, "irresponsibly"). The members of CIRGA agreed to use their power as a group to keep these kinds of incidents to a minimum, if not eliminate them altogether.
Over the next few meetings, a policy statement regarding weapons use was drafted, and CIRGA members agreed to abide by this policy. Furthermore, they agreed to discipline or expel members of their respective guilds who did not abide by this policy. Copies of the policy were sent to the sponsors of all the events which CIRGA guilds attend, with the advisory that the sponsors adopt the rules stated in the policy, disseminate this information to all event participants, and, further, agree to expel any guild from a faire which does not actively enforce this policy with its members, and to refrain from inviting such guilds back the following year.
In other words, CIRGA members agreed on a policy to benefit all, and then used social pressure to insure compliance. And, to a very large extent, it has worked. Now, news of the unsanctioned use of a weapon at an event spreads like wildfire. Often the offending action is stopped immediately by other nearby guild members who are "in the know", backed by the power of the societal agreement, (the CIRGA weapons policy urges all those who see improper weapons use to do what they can to put a stop to it immediately). The guildmaster or guildmistress of the offending participant(s) is informed right away and swift disciplinary action is taken, according to each guild's disciplinary policy. Guilds have been expelled from faire sights for failing to take proper action. However, this happens very rarely because most guilds in CIRGA are very enthusiastic when it comes to the safety of its members and of the public.
Additionally, several guilds in CIRGA who specialize in staged swordplay and other weapons use have offered to teach other guilds how to use weapons safely and have also offered to be involved in any staged weapons use in other guild's gigs and presentations, to assure that it is done safely.
CIRGA's weapons policy has been very successful in reducing the incidence of dangerous weapons use at Renaissance events throughout California. Event sponsors may adopt weapons policies, but sponsors cannot be everywhere on site at all times. If they invite to their event a number of guilds which are coordinated in an association such as CIRGA, they will have guild members virtually throughout the faire site watching out for the interests of all concerned.
Ah, yes, but the guild system is not all butterflies and rainbows and harp music. It certainly has its negative aspects. Guilds often recreate a caste system in their organizational structure by virtue of the fact that they portray a caste system to the public. Even if the person playing the monarch is not the guildmaster or guildmistress, he or she may, by force of personality, be the top dog in the guild, or at least be looked to as an authority figure by other guild members. This and other factors lead the guild system to be especially prone to the ravages of egotistical guildmasters or guildmistresses, or even small groups of people who receive certain emotional benefits from telling others what to do and how to do it. (Think I could pack another euphemism into that sentence?)
The guilds here in California are often organized to support a monarch, (see the sidebar). These monarches are often chosen by event sponsors to be a center piece to an event. Monarch guilds, upon occasion, compete so vigorously for these choice positions that "politics" run rampant, feelings are hurt, and dysfunctional games are played to the hilt, creating unpleasantness for all, and perhaps an unhealthy emotional involvement for some. (There she goes with those euphemisms, again!)
Some guilds seem to be organized simply to provide a way for under-aged persons to party in unlawful ways apart from parental supervision. It may well be society's judgement that this type of guild is not only dangerous to the health and well-being of its members, but to society at large. To the credit of some guilds here in California, however, some guildmasters and guildmistresses do not allow their under-aged members to go unguided, or do not allow membership to those who lack sufficient self - discipline.
In the best of all possible worlds, the most socially positive and useful aspects of the guild system would be adopted and the worst most destructive aspects be discarded as impeding the progress of our society. (After all, there are some things about history many of us choose not to recreate). To this end, I encourage my readers to consider the possibility of forming the kinds of guilds and associations that would benefit our efforts to make historical re-creation fun, safe, educational for all. The current president of CIRGA has agreed to make available upon request, a copy CIRGA's weapons policy statement. Send a SASE to Renaissance Dancewear, P.O. Box 313, Rising Sun, IN 47040
If you are reading this and saying, "Why doesn't she just stick to her original premise, instead of flying off in all manner of directions?", then write to me with that burning historical garb question so I have something to stick to. Thanks.
Copyright © 1996 Renaissance Dancewear
Definition of a Re-creation Guild
Historical re-creation guilds are groups of people organized around a common interest and/or ability or talent. Here in California we have guilds not only dedicated to representing certain nationalities, (English, French, German, Scottish, Irish, Spanish, etc.), but each of these guilds is usually dedicated to one class of that nationality, (i.e., the Spanish court, English peasants, German military). We also have guilds that re-create certain aspects of Medieval or Renaissance life. St. Gregory's, for instance, has a great deal of fun and good sport arresting people, "trying" them, putting them in stocks, and drubbing them with copious buckets of water, all for the paltry price of two dollars per drubbing. ("The King's justice for sale here!") They also provide appropriately attired and beweaponed guards for the Court of King Henry VIII. This court is portrayed by another guild, whose members play all parts of the court, from King and Queen down to serving maid.
These types of theatrical performances are welcomed here at California events. Guilds are often given free admission to faires and ample space to set up their elaborate pavilions, and occasionally a small monetary remuneration. And some of these encampments are very elaborate. It takes a lot of props to support a royal court or even a dispensary for the KIng's Justice such as St. Gregory's sets up at each event. These guilds are willing to donate the time and money and personal energy it takes to purchase, make, and transport all the trappings for these performances, (which often include large canvas and wood pavilions, period furniture, rugs, tapestries and serving crockery, flags, banners, and more), and to write scripts, rehearse bits, and coordinate often large numbers of people in "set up" and "take down". Faires occur nearly year round in California, and many guilds attend nearly all of them.
Event sponsors are often eager to make use of the wonderful "color" provided by these guilds. It can mean a great deal of savings to them in the cost of providing "atmosphere" because, for the price of encampment space and, sometimes, a fee to reimburse the guilds for the cost of transport and wear and tear, (I am not privy to what all guilds charge for this, but the prices I have heard range from $250 to $500 per guild), the sponsors receive large groups of appropriately attired people roaming the faire, performing in organized gigs several times a day, with their own props and buildings.
I note "appropriately attired" because guilds have the power to teach correct information to their members regarding period garb, and to require their members to wear such garb while resisting the more glaring modern touches. Also note that I wrote "organized gigs". As mentioned in the main article, some guilds seem to be formed just to party at faire. They try to get by doing, (and sometimes wearing), as little as possible. The more successful guilds, however, are ones whose goal it is to entertain and educate the public through organized public performance, or, as in the case of an archers' guild, to instruct as well as to entertain fairgoers.
Guilds are usually organized by a charter, and are run by a Guildmaster or Mistress, and/or by some sort of board of directors. The successful ones meet regularly, teach their members regarding many facets of historical re-enactment, collect dues, vote on organizational and fiscal policies, etc., and whose members are hardworking, dedicated, self-disciplined people who check their egos at the door, and who have a sense of humor and a love for historical re-enactment .