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Potrero War: Traveling Back in Time

If you had told me a year ago that I would have ended up wearing a toga, shouting “Huzzah” with a bunch of strangers this year, I would have laughed at you.

And yet, I found myself on the fields of a medieval battle recently and was happy as could be.

How I Got There

I’d heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Back in college, a handful of Dungeons and Dragons-playing socially awkward boys would dash about the courtyard outside my friend’s dorm smacking each other with cardboard swords. I was not impressed.

But at a party at a friend’s house recently, a few of his friends started talking about this War, where their war band would be using Roman battle tactics. Since I’ve had a growing interest in the Roman Empire, I perked up. Every year, they said, they met an hour outside of San Diego, dressed in medieval garb. They fought battles, made authentic crafts from the era, and, most importantly, drank a lot.

Now I was impressed.

My new friends, Aimee and Teleri, warmly invited me to camp at the War and see what it was like. I’d know a few people, but just for good measure, I invited my good friend, Sandra, who says yes to just about anything I put in front of her. She was on board. We were heading to back in time!

Prepping for Time Travel

society for creative anachronism

“It’s too short, Sandra. And it’s Spandex. The rules clearly state you can’t wear Spandex.” All the rules on the event’s website were freaking me out a bit. You were required to dress in authentic garb, which was proving a challenge unless we were willing to spend $100+ on Etsy and wait weeks for the delivery.

Eventually, we found dresses (thanks Amazon!) and leather sandals, and Teleri invited us over to check out her enormous collection of costumes she wore to these events. Many of the outfits she or other members had sewn, and I wished I had it in me to give such attention to detail and sew my own.

Now for a name. In SCA, everyone has an era-appropriate name. I chose Diana, in tribute to the Goddess, and Sandra chose Serena because, well, Teleri suggested it. We’d end up spending the entire weekend trying to remember our “other” names!

This is Sparta! Er…Rome

roman soldier

When we arrived in Potrero, close to the Mexican border outside San Diego, the War had been going on for three days (the entire event was referred to as “War,” including activities other than battle). We quickly dumped our camping gear with Jason (now Jarvis) and headed with Aimee to the battlefield.


soldiers after battle

Men and women (including Teleri, known now as Furia) were clashing (nonsharp) swords, shooting crossbows and otherwise attacking one another in a wide range of medieval garb. Some wore the traditional Praetorian helmet (with the red mohawk). Others looked like knights from the Round Table. I even saw a few pirates.

But it was all in sport. Like a rugby match. Certainly, there were bruises and sprains after the event, but the purpose of the battle was to win, not maim. Soldiers were expected to accede when they were “fatally” wounded.

The battles went on for days, and while I don’t know the details of how the competitions work, I do know that next year’s king is chosen by him (or her) winning a battle.

Checking Out the Craft Guild

cuttlebone pewter

Much more lovers than fighters, Sandra Serena, Jason Jarvis, and I sauntered over to the arts and crafts area, where artisans were teaching others how to do things like weave, use a Dutch oven, and braid rope. We elected to create pewter jewelry. It was fascinating.

You start with a cuttlebone (from a cuttlefish, of course). If you’ve ever had a parakeet, you know the white thing in their cage that they peck on. That’s cuttlebone. It’s used because of its high tolerance to heat and its ability to easily be carved. Then you carve your design into it.

I chose the Tree of Life. Sandra carved a leaf.

pewter pouring

The instructor bound the bone to a piece of wood, then poured liquid pewter into the relief. A few minutes later, he popped it out, and like magic, we had cool imprints. A bit of filing down to make things smooth, and I had a new necklace! I felt so crafty.

pewter jewelry

There really wasn’t time enough to do another craft, though the next day we got henna tattoos, a first for both of us. I even bought a kit to try them at home.

henna tattoo

Celebrating 30 Years

The warband (or camp) we were invited to stay with was Corvus, which was celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. That meant there was more merriment than usual happening at night. Teleri/Furia had warned us that people would be partying until 4 am, so I came prepared with earplugs.

But before we headed to bed at 1 am, we had a fantastic time. As the sun set, fires sprouted up around the camp. Many campers had decorated their tents with fairy lights, adding to the magic.  Before long, the drums began their cadence, which would last long into the night. With music came the belly dancers. Women of every age and body type sensuously turned their hips and bent their elbows, as if in a trance. It was mesmerizing and beautiful.

belly dancers

Because this was the camp’s anniversary, others were invited to the party. Beer (homebrewed, naturally) and alcohol flowed generously. Everyone — and I mean everyone — was warm and welcoming to us. We never once felt like outsiders.

I may not have been able to predict that I’d end up dusty, sharing a tent with friends, and pretending, if only for 24 hours, to be a Roman lady, but I’m already ready for next year.

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