Heraldry: Rolls of Arms

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May 22, 2018 by phicks2012

In the SCA (that’s the Society for Creative Anachronism, for those of you thinking an other directions) we have our own College of Heraldry. We allow, in our organization, members to pick names for themselves (that might have existed in the medieval period) to be called by within the context of the SCA, and to design their own devices (coats of arms) to be used in the SCA. We also allow them to register both.

Registration guarantees that no one else in the SCA can also register the same name or an identical device. Okay, so it doesn’t guarantee that no one else can CALL themselves by the same name, or DISPLAY the same device (we aren’t the thought police), but it does mean that they can’t claim “ownership” of that name and/or device, so in practice it cuts WAY back on duplication and encourages uniqueness and diversity.

To assure this, all names and armory proposed for registration have to pass through a process. They are submitted, and then checked out by commenting heralds (like me) in their respective Kingdoms. If no conflicts or style problems are found at Kingdom they are sent on to Society level where they are checked out again by more commenting heralds (again, like me) from around the world, and if no problems are found at that level they are registered and published in the SCA Ordinary & Armorial, where they remain FOREVER unless released.

I’d estimate that at least two hundred items, on average, pass through this process every month from around the world. Some are returned, either at Kingdom or Society level, for more work, but many are registered, so every month there are more registered names and devices to conflict check against. This calls for the regular participation of a fairly large group of knowledgable heralds — some of them holding heraldic offices that require them to take part in the process, and others simply (masochistically?) enjoying it.

This might not sound like an exciting job or passtime. I mean, here we are going through hundreds of submitted items, deciding whether or not (according to the rules) they meet the style or linguistic requirements and whether or not they conflict with any of the thousands of already registered items. What’s fun about that? But actually, most of the heralds I know tend to be funny, intelligent people with marginally warped sense of humor, and interaction with them tends to be highly entertaining. The research itself is rather like puzzle-solving, if you’re into that — and I am.

Names are fairly simple. As long as they aren’t offensive (and you’d be surprised how many of those are documentably period, because folks back then didn’t have the first notion of political or social correctness) or obtrusivly modern (like Buffy or Butthead), or did not belong to a famous historical person or fictional character (like Charlemayne, Harry Potter or Gandalf the Grey), and qualify as period-style names with the elements dated to compatible times and places, the actual conflict checking is mostly straightforward. Also, improbable fantasy RPG names tend to be fairly obvious, especially if you happen to have PLAYED fantasy RPG games. Me, I even pick period names for my WOW (World of Warcraft) characters, but then I’m a herald. πŸ˜‰

Armory can be simple too, because once you’ve done this for a while the really horrible designs and totally impossible combinations tend to jump right out at you and shout “Not In This Lifetime, Baby!”. However, there’s no rule against “butt-ugly” in and of itself, and it can require a certain degree of artistic and puzzle-solving skill (or maybe an inventive sort of mind and a well-developed sense of humor — oh, and tact) to help some people design devices that will comply with the period style rules, and also will not conflict with an already registered piece of armory — especially considering some of the bizarre things people can come up with.

Most people are very reasonable and easy to work with and don’t actually try to be ridiculous or offensive, but, as stated above, some people can and will come up with some really implausible and convoluted ideas when it comes to designing armory. They’ll try to register everything from smiley faces, to biker tattoos, to tap-dancing unicorns, to Pokemon, to modern abstracts, to copyrighted designs from LOTR and Game of Thrones, to pastel “My Little Ponies”. You have to be able to catch those things and nip them right in the bud — but tactfully, if possible, because the imagery (however un-heraldic and non-period) can be highly meaningful for some people and they can be very much emotionally invested in having it.

People can also change their minds dozens of times when you’re trying to help them with a name or device, and if you’re the one doing the research you pray a LOT that the name they want isn’t, for example, a combination of Mongolian, Aztec and Klingon.

If it’s a device and you’re the one doing the actual drawing that can be interesting, too. Fortunately, this being the digital age, once a black and white line drawing is done you can scan it (or its individual elements) and change the arrangement or the color combination dozens of times using a graphics program, but if you’ve drawn something difficult and complex, and they want to change (for example) the posture, then that’s usually a complete redraw — so better hope you’re a good artist, or know one.

You HAVE to be able to find humor in situations like that — and most SCA Heralds CAN. We laugh, we joke, and we make really bad heraldic puns. We also occasionally act as “agents of chaos” by creatively helping people to get around particular retraints, or by (ourselves) submitting (and even registering) truly silly (or disorienting) names and armory.

Yes we have our own idioms and jargon, and we more or less speak another language (Blazon) that not everyone can understand. As a result, not everyone is going to “get” our jokes, but we tend to find them hilarious so — well, a little misunderstanding doesn’t adversely impact our lives all that much. At least, it doesn’t unless we really want to be seen as “normal”, and then we can try to fool people by chatting knowledgably about things like which Kardashian has the largest ass.

So, if you’re not a herald, and you don’t get the joke in the comic below, don’t beat yourself up about it. We’re just wierd, but that’s the way we like it. πŸ˜‰

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