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In your own backyard: Fire and Brymstonne

ASU club brandishes swords, dances the waltz in medieval reenactments

 by Katie Kelberlau  published on Thursday, February 24, 2005

<em>Courtesy of Jeff Martin</em><br>At the Estrella War of 2004, His Majesty Jonathon von Trotha (Jack Wagner) speaks with a knight. 
Jeff Martin
Courtesy of Jeff Martin
At the Estrella War of 2004, His Majesty Jonathon von Trotha (Jack Wagner) speaks with a knight.


On quiet, misty nights in isolated corners of campus, dozens of students are decked out in head-to-toe armor, brandishing swords and clanging spears.

Other nights, they waltz gaily to old English country songs in the Memorial Union.

The students belong the ASU branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism, otherwise known as the College of Brymstonne (sic).

The Society for Creative Anachronism is a national group that focuses on researching and recreating aspects of life during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period (roughly 600-1600 AD). The ASU chapter has close to 30 members.

"There is so much to be learned from the past, and it is said that if you have no sense of your history, how can you move forward to create a future?" says Kristin Mayo, the group's president.

Mayo, a graduate student and research specialist at the Biodesign Institute, explains that the society teaches students about history, how to dance and fight, make arts and crafts and conduct reenactments. On Monday nights, the group holds fighting practices on campus unless it is raining, in which case the armor can be a bit uncomfortable.

Melissa Widmaier, who graduated from ASU last year with a degree in English literature, says she joined the club because she finds the medieval period fascinating.

"I guess because it has so many different aspects. The medieval period is the breaking point where everything starts to happen: medicine, politics, everything. Then you have the Renaissance, which is such a dynamic period," Widmaier says.

The medieval period was traditionally known as the Dark Ages, but according to Widmaier, this is a misnomer.

"It wasn't dark at all but really quite full of action," she says.

Brymstonne just finished one of its biggest annual events, the Estrella War, held in Estrella Park near Goodyear, Ariz. The event draws society members from all over the country who camp together for five days. This year's war began Feb. 16 and ended Monday.

"We share food and stories around campfires, make new acquaintances and meet old friends, all while immersed in a pseudo-historical setting," Mayo says.

During the Estrella War, students and other members compete in fighting tournaments, equestrian events and dancing. They also can attend classes on arts and sciences in the medieval period, shop from vendors who make medieval wares and compete in craft competitions.

People who attend wear authentic period costume and use period names, which are registered in a national registry.

Mayo is known as Lady Allyne Strangwych, and Widmaier, the club's chronicler, is known as M'lady Viola.

Widmaier explains that the club's herald will help members pick out names, fill out paperwork to register them and make sure they are correct for the period. Her name, Viola, comes from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."

Widmaier is still looking for a Welsh name, though; her ultimate goal is to take on a Welsh persona. She says some people learn the languages of the peoples they find most interesting.

"There is one guy in our group who is impersonating a Viking and is trying to learn the Norse languages," she says. "But if people do try to learn the languages, it is only for fun."

Though she did not go to the Estrella War this year, she has gone before and talks about it with excitement.

"Some people still do eat turkey legs, but it is not as commercial as the Renaissance Festival," she says. "There are merchants selling their wares, but it is all stuff they have actually made, like leatherworkers who have made shoes. It is a little more expensive but higher quality."

Unlike the Renaissance Festival, which is currently taking place in Apache Junction, the Estrella War is primarily for society members. The fighting events include horseback fighting, fencing, sword fighting and archery.

Brymstonne has even built its own trebuchet.

A trebuchet, or giant slingshot, was traditionally made out of wood with a catapult to hurl stones at castle walls.

"We keep debating which club member to stick in there and throw," Widmaier says.

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