In our continuing series on the peerage, Mistress Arianna interviewed several Companions of the Pelican about their journey to the peerage, what they see as their role in the Society, how they choose and work with protégés, and what they look for in candidates for their order.
Paths to the Pelican
As most Scadians know, the Order of the Pelican is a Society-level peerage given by the Crown for service. There are many types of service in the Society, and while all can lead to a Pelican, some paths may be longer or harder than others.
Mistress Euriol of Lothian, who will soon be finishing a lengthy stint as clerk of the Order of the Pelican, is best known in recent years as a royal retainer and all-around go-to person for getting things done, but when she started in the SCA in the West Kingdom, her primary interest was in cooking. As such, she saw herself on more of a “Laurel Track” and hadn’t considered the service side of her work. “I think that the hardest pursuit of any of the peerages for a person to wrap their head around is the pursuit of being a Pelican,” she said. “With Martial or Artistic endeavors there is a much more tangible result of trying to improve your skills to hopefully achieve a level of mastery. How does one pursue mastery level of service?” She felt that helping out was a natural thing to do. During her career in the West, the principality where she lived needed someone to run their cooking competitions, so she figured “I could do that” and applied for the position. When the Minister of the Cookery Guild stepped down, she once again thought “I could do that” and took on that role as well. When a “scary” Duchess/Pelican/Laurel asked her to take over the Kingdom cooking competition, Euriol says “’Who, me?’ was what I was thinking but what came out of my mouth was ‘OK.’” She was elevated to the Pelican shortly before moving to Æthelmearc in 2004.
Mistress Irene von Schmetterling, currently serving as Kingdom Youth Fencing Marshal, recalls that her path to the Pelican was longer than most because she kept moving when she was on the cusp of being considered for the Order, first from Debatable Lands to Thescorre, then to the Midrealm, then to Meridies before returning home to Æthelmearc. She received her Pelican in 1997 from Meridies for bringing rapier to that Kingdom, though that was actually controversial at the time because there were some who opposed incorporating rapier into the SCA. Fortunately, that has rather obviously changed in the ensuing 18 years.
By contrast, Master William de Montegilt, who is married to Mistress Irene, had perhaps one of the shortest paths to a Pelican of anyone in Æthelmearc, though he was elevated to the order by the East Kingdom while living in what is now Atlantia. William joined the SCA in the mid-1970s, when the SCA was much younger and smaller than it is now. He was a co-worker (and squire) of the King, who ran into a bit of SCA officer trouble. Although William had only been in the SCA for a few months, the King knew William was a good problem-solver and asked his advice. William proposed the creation of regional Deputy Seneschals to reduce the burden on the Kingdom Seneschal. The next thing William knew, the Kingdom Seneschal had offered him the position of Southern Region Deputy. Two years later, William became Kingdom Seneschal, receiving his Pelican when he stepped down from that office in 1979. William recalls that during his term as Kingdom Seneschal, the number of groups almost doubled, from 39 to 69 groups. “While this was generally a high growth period for the SCA, I think I was successful because I was diligent about communicating with local seneschals – making sure that new groups got information and help fast, which in those days meant letters and phone calls.”
Countess Alexandra of Clan Donald took a fairly conventional path to a Pelican by being a Kingdom officer and also serving as a retainer to royalty. What’s a little less usual is that she mostly did these things after her reign as Queen of Æthelmearc. “I became Kingdom Exchequer partly because, as Queen, I enjoyed being at the center of the action and knowing what was going on in the Kingdom at a nuts and bolts level. The only other way to do that was to hold Kingdom level office.” Her Excellency had served as a local exchequer in Atlantia before moving to Æthelmearc, so it was a logical place for her to serve here. She was elevated to the Pelican in 2011.
Mistress Cori Ghora, currently Kingdom Seneschale, was the first Pelican made by the Kingdom of Æthelmearc in 1997, for her service in a variety of venues including head cook for many large events, autocrat, scribe, and holder of numerous offices in the Barony of the Rhydderich Hael and its Canton of Beau Fleuve, including Seneschale and Chronicler.
Like Mistress Irene, Mistress Ysabeau Tiercelin took the long way to get to the Pelican because she moved from Atlantia to Meridies to the Barony of Endless Hills and then to the Barony of the Rhydderich Hael. Also, like Mistress Euriol, she says “I never thought of myself as on a service track, I was more interested in the arts.” Tiercelin served as Chronicler in Endless Hills and then in the Hael (including both simultaneously for a couple of months while she found a successor in Endless Hills). She received her Pelican in 2012 as she was completing her term as Kingdom Chronicler, then went on to hold the position of Society Chronicler. Mistress Tiercelin is currently the managing editor and founder of the Æthelmearc Gazette.
Mistress Phiala O’Ceallaigh received her Pelican in 2012 primarily for service to her Shire of Nithgaard and to the Arts and Sciences. Like Tiercelin and Euriol, she thought of herself more as an artisan than as someone on a service track. Mistress Phiala is currently the Exchequer for Nithgaard as well as Deputy Kingdom Seneschale for Region 3.
Mistress Ekaterina Volkova, known as “Ekat,” who just stepped down as Kingdom Signet, was made a Pelican in 2008 at Pennsic XXXVII for her work over multiple years with Pennsic Security (now called “The Watch”) as well as her service locally and at the Kingdom level, especially as a Minister of the Lists.
The Role of the Pelicans
All of the Pelicans interviewed agreed that their role is not just to continue doing service, but to mentor others wishing to serve. As Countess Alexandra said, “My job as a Pelican is to notice the person sitting in a corner who wants to serve but doesn’t know how, and show them.” Mistress Euriol agrees, saying “I believe that it is my responsibility to show where opportunities are available. On more than one occasion in conversation with someone who was eager to find a way to be more involved, I would say ‘Have you considered… ?’ I am surprised by the number of times that the person didn’t think they would be qualified to fill a position [when they really were].”
Master William puts it this way: “Pelicans are people who see something that needs to be done and either do it themselves or else find someone else to do it. They should be the lubricants who find the people poised to take the next step in their SCA careers and encourage them on to that next step.”
Mistress Phiala thinks older SCA members need to provide opportunities for new blood. “We need to step back and make room for younger people to hold offices and achieve higher levels of service. Our roles should be to mentor, not to keep running the organization ourselves.”
Mistress Ekat feels responsible for “being a representative of the people to the Kingdom and Society, advocating for others to the Crown and Orders.” She feels her need to be a good example has increased since becoming a Jewel of Æthelmearc last fall.
The Pelicans’ role in the SCA is to
mentor others in service.
Mistress Cori commented that, as the Society has aged, some of the old-timers have forgotten just how young they were when they first held positions of authority. “The Pelicans need to get out of the mindset that people in their 20s are too young. When I joined the SCA, people in their 20s were holding kingdom offices and getting peerages. Mistress Irene autocratted Pennsic 7 when she was 20.”
Misconceptions about the Pelicans
Mistress Euriol says one of the most common misconceptions about the Pelicans is that they don’t pay attention to the service being done by others. “This can especially be the mindset of a group that has few, if any, active Pelicans in it. If we as an order are doing our job, then people should not notice that we are watching.” On the flip side of that, she notes, “If you think you are being watched, don’t let that be a distraction. Do what you are going to do because it is what you want to do, not because you think you’ll receive an award for it. People will appreciate your efforts.”
Some people believe that many Pelicans served with the specific goal of receiving awards. Countess Alexandra disagrees, saying, “The Pelicans are the worker drones of the SCA because they *like* doing service.“ It’s certainly the case that many members of the Pelicans have continued to serve long after being elevated to the peerage, when they had few, if any, additional awards to gain.
Mistress Tiercelin said that another common misconception people have is that one can’t be a Society-level officer without being a peer. “You just need to be competent,” she says.
Master William says a lot of people think Pelicans are scary. In reality, he hopes that people consider the Pelicans approachable, and come to them for advice and aid, because mentoring is one of the things Pelicans do.
We all reach a point where we’ve given all we can and need to step back to retain our sense of the fun and joy we found when we first joined the SCA. Mistress Ekat faced this several times over her SCA career. “At one point I had been either a Royal Retainer or on Pennsic Staff for twelve years straight and started to feel burned out. It had reached the point where people assumed I would handle various tasks at events without even asking – they would just hand the tasks to me when I showed up, and I couldn’t say no without feeling guilty.” She took a year off until she could again find her joy in service. She needed to prove to her group and herself that she was not indispensible. Ekat knew it was ok to come back when people started being glad to see her just for her, rather than for what she could do for them.
Mistress Cori says it can be important to take a step back, and try not to be too emotionally invested in a problem. Communication is key. “You have to make careful choices in a dispute. Communicate with everyone and try to understand all sides’ points of view, so you come up with the fairest solution to the problem.” To avoid burnout, she also tends to jump from project to project. She says it also helps to bring other people along with you, so you can train them to take over the job when you’re ready to step down.
As with other peers, not all Pelicans take associates. In this order particularly, though, some feel than one cannot “teach” service – it’s either something that’s in you or it’s not. But many Pelicans do take protégés to teach them the skills they learned in particular offices or roles, or just to help guide their associates in their SCA careers.
It’s not necessary to be a protégé to become a Pelican
Mistress Irene notes that there are a lot of ways for SCA relationships to function, so each person has to choose what works for them. “People sometimes want to know if Pelicans want to ask or be asked to take a protégé. The answer is yes – either is fine. Also, if a Pelican asks you to become their protégé, it’s ok to say ‘no.’ Don’t get into a relationship you’re not comfortable with for fear of offending the other person.” She goes on to note that it’s ok to have more than one mentor. “I have a protégé who’s a squire, another who is a cadet to a White Scarf, and a cadet who is protégé to another Pelican. The mentors just need to make sure they are communicating so the associate doesn’t end up with conflicting expectations.”
Mistress Ekat has several protégés. When choosing them, she looks for people who have a spark of joy when serving, a common theme among other members of the Pelican. “Some [of my protégés] are friends, while others have been people I didn’t know well until after they became my protégé. My job is to teach them how to harness that joy of serving, and to how to fight off the “why am I bothering” that can come if they don’t feel appreciated at times.” Ekat also likes to introduce her protégés to people from around the kingdom. She gives them Quest books with a list of questions and of people who they are to interview, so they can appreciate other people’s perspectives. “In order to be a better person in the SCA, you have to know its people and learn their definitions of “the Dream,” which may be different from yours or mine,” Her Excellency says.
Mistress Tiercelin has an “equerry” for equestrian activities and an “apprentigé” (one who is both apprentice and protégé). She likes to mentor people who are on a good path and remind her of her own attitude when she began. Both of her associates were already friends of hers who were “on their way” but just wanted guidance to find their niche. She commented, “I don’t need to teach them ‘how to serve’ since they already know that, but rather, how to serve with grace, avoid politics, and clarify what they want their path to be.”
Mistress Cori notes, “Not everyone wants to or should be a protégé. It’s not necessary to be a protégé to become a Pelican, but it is important to seek out mentors you’re comfortable with, and to get feedback on how you’re doing, so you can improve.“ Mistress Phiala agreed, saying “You need a mentor to learn how to do things better. Find someone you like whose teaching style suits you.”
Interestingly, of the Pelicans interviewed, only Mistress Irene was a protégé to another Pelican, though several were squires, cadets, or otherwise affiliated with various peers or mentors.
What Pelicans Look for in Candidates
The word used over and over again in discussions about candidates for service orders was joy. Virtually every Pelican said they want to see people who serve because it makes them happy – whose personalities draw them to serve others because doing so gives them joy.
Pelicans look for candidates who find joy in service.
Mistress Tiercelin recounted the saying Peers are recognized, not made. She noted that “Most Pelicans keep on doing what they were doing before the peerage because they enjoy it. This is the key to being a Pelican –the work is joy. Those who do service as a way of ticking off a box on the list of things that they think they need to do to become Pelicans are going to make themselves miserable and probably not be recognized. If it’s not fun and doesn’t bring you joy, don’t do it, whether it’s service, arts, or martial skills.”
Mistress Cori believes that the essence of being a Pelican is simply “doing the work that is in front of you.” She goes on, “Whether it’s putting in a bid to autocrat Pennsic or wielding a plunger when the toilets are clogged at an event, Pelicans are people who get things done that need doing.” More generally, for all peerages, she says, “Kindness is the most important thing. Kindness and PLQs (peer-like qualities) are paramount in Æthelmearc. Our kingdom is really different from many other Kingdoms – in some kingdoms, members of the grant-level orders are considered competitors for the peerage. In Æthelmearc, we’re much more cooperative – we want everyone to succeed and have opportunities to serve at the highest level to which they aspire, so mutual support and kindness are really important here.” She also suggested that candidates should make a point to promote other people. “You don’t have to already be a Pelican to look around you and encourage the people who are on the same path. You can take students even if you’re not a Pelican, just as some fighters who are not knights take men-at-arms.”
Countess Alexandra likes to see candidates taking serious levels of responsibility. “People should be doing a job where their butt is on the line. They need to be someone who can be relied upon. They don’t have to be perfect – everyone makes mistakes – but they have to have to admit their mistakes and make restitution, not pretend the mistake didn’t happen.”
Mistress Ekat agrees, noting that “Service can be washing dishes or pushing a broom; it doesn’t have to be high-level or showy, but the work should be significant enough that others would notice if you weren’t doing it. It needs to have an impact on the Society at some level. Candidates also need to own their mistakes – admit to them and take responsibility for fixing them.”
Similarly, Master William says “I like to see someone who has shaped or molded the Kingdom – who is the linchpin of their local group, who thinks differently to solve problems. I am also very serious about PLQs. Regardless of the main type of service, I want to see people who get their hands dirty. Purely local, lower level service over a long period of time is also sufficient if the person is leading by example and inspiring others to provide similar service.” Mistress Irene chimed in, “People being considered for the Pelicans need to literally get their hands dirty – sweep floors, wash dishes, set up and tear down list fields, etc.”
Mistress Euriol concurs, adding “It is also very important that I feel comfortable in sending a newcomer to a candidate and know that the newcomer will be treated well.”
Cori, Phiala, and Tiercelin all expressed concern regarding the common belief that it’s wrong to want a Pelican or a Laurel. They note that fighters are encouraged to want to be a Knight; it should be the same for the Laurel and Pelican. Mistress Cori commented, “It’s not fair to set up a goal of a service or arts peerage and then imply that people are wrong for wanting it. The SCA is not doing right by newcomers; we need to teach them more clearly what steps they need to take to earn a peerage. We can’t make them guess.” She plans to teach a class called “How to become a Laurel” in which she’ll explain exactly that: how artisans can beef up their research and documentation, learn to give and receive critiques, and get their art seen by others. Eventually she wants to develop a similar class for the Pelican, covering networking, recruiting people to the SCA, developing better management for a barony, region, or kingdom, learning how to build consensus, and handling decision-making. She believes people also need to learn how to self-evaluate, so they can improve the way they handle their roles in the SCA.