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Anachronism Society Offers Its Fealty to Age of Knights and Ladies

June 23, 1986|PETER BAKER | Times Staff Writer

Ed Cathell fondly remembers the day he was knighted as one of the proudest moments in his life.

He had spent long years as a lowly squire in the service of another knight. He had acquired his own set of armor, helmet and sword; he learned the code of chivalry and he practiced fighting religiously. But he had all but given up his hope of ever becoming Sir Edward.

"One day when I came off the practice field, I was told my knight was looking for me and he wants to see me right now, and he's upset. And I think, 'Oh no,' " Cathell remembers with a smile.

He quickly found his knight, who pulled out a dagger and sliced it through Cathell's squire belt, letting it fall to the ground unceremoniously.

"I've talked to the king about this, and you no longer deserve to be my squire," the knight told him.

Edward's heart sank. He wondered what he could possibly have done to displease his master. But as the knight sauntered away, he turned back and tossed Cathell a pillow case. "Here, you might need this," he told the confused ex-squire. Inside the pillow case was a knight's white caftan, the badge of honor for a new peer of the realm. "Congratulations. You made it, boy," the knight said.

Welcome to the medieval world of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Hundreds of people from across Southern California left behind the County of Orange Saturday and entered the Barony of Gyldenholt. For a day, Boysen Park in Anaheim became a world unto itself, with all the romance and gallantry of the Middle Ages as Gyldenholt celebrated its sixth anniversary as a barony.

"What makes the SCA special to me is the dream," said Cathell, a 33-year-old engineer who has since captured the throne and is now Edward, king of Caid. "The dream of chivalry, the dream of courtesy, of being yourself, following your inner-bred ideas--the knightly virtues--to their ultimate conclusion of being a good person."

For the thousands of enthusiasts nationwide, this isn't some children's game where you can simply put a crown on your head and declare yourself a member of the nobility. This is a serious group, where a title and the privilege of being addressed as lord or lady are earned the old-fashioned way--through lots of hard work.

"You spend 20 hours a week, for four, five, six, seven years," King Edward tries to explain to an outsider. "I'd given up even hoping to get it (my knighthood). It was one of those things you work for and work for and work for, and finally convince yourself you don't deserve it. . . . Yes, it means a lot ."

Across the park filled with armored knights clashing with wooden swords is the mistress, the baroness of Gyldenholt.

"For me, the most important part is seeing people come in for a peripheral interest in something, martial arts or Dungeons and Dragons or something of that nature, and begin to associate with us and start to develop a persona," says Baroness Rosemary Willowwood. "And suddenly the interest begins to come up in history and culture and interrelations of societies and how the development of countries fits into modern times."

A former Irvine police officer and medieval English literature major, the baroness (actually Susan Torkelson) stumbled upon an event at UC Irvine almost five years ago and decided to satiate her curiosity. Today she is mistress of the Barony of Gyldenholt (literally "golden groves") and its 85 members.

'We Have an Ideal'

"It's the same as the Kiwanis in that we take people with very diverse backgrounds and give them a common interest where they can interact socially," she says. "It is similar to the Rotary in that we have an ideal. . . . We have the dream of re-creating the chivalry, the pageantry, the courtesy of the Middle Ages."

As she speaks, one knight rubs her shoulders and another her feet as part of the "Please the Baroness contest."

"They always ask permission, even to come into your sunshade. They ask permission to touch personal items. They call you 'my lord' or 'my lady.' It's please and thank you everything . . . and that tends to spill over into our regular lives."

The society was first conceived in 1966 when science-fiction writer Diana Paxton held a successful May Day medieval celebration at UC Berkeley.

Then they were radical, flower-power history students. They were considered hippies, crazy teen-agers, eccentrics. Twenty years later, the society has mushroomed into a huge, multigenerational organization with members across the globe divided into 12 "kingdoms." There are more than 10,000 registered members in fiefs all over the United States, England, France, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Even the Navy aircraft carrier Nimitz is a floating barony.

The Kingdom of Caid (pronounced Ky-EED ) encompasses all of Southern California, with Fresno on the northern border. It also includes the barony of New Zealand because "we wrote them the nicest letter."

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