Author Honorable Lady Beatrice de Winter talks to the Gazette about her Compleat Anachronist #191: Transforming the Living and the Dead: Evolving Thoughts of the Afterlife:
Tell us about you. Name, title, persona, etc.
THL Beatrice de Winter – my persona is a medieval coroner (which, as well as determining cause of death, was a tax collector). I have a passion for educating the populace about death and the dead to provide context for many of the artifacts of the period being recreated by artisans of the Known World.
Death is such a unique subject to study, especially in the SCA. What got you interested?
I have been interested in the topics of death and death culture since childhood. My bus stop was next to a cemetery, which I think may have kickstarted my thoughts about it. I’ve always thought it was odd that people didn’t think of death as a part of life. Looking back, there have been a number of death-related topics I’ve gravitated towards: the Titanic, the Civil War, Harry Houdini and his fight against spiritualism, just to name a few. My first masters thesis is on fatal fire investigation. It’s not too surprising, then, that I’d gravitate towards the topic in the SCA as well.
At my first Pennsic (2005), I took a class on death practices that I just loved and never forgot. That was “Death Becomes Us,” taught by Elianora Mathewes. Another early influence was Baron Hamish MacLeod, who shared my love for the unusual. He was well known for his classes on hangmen and headsmen, which naturally also lead to my first class on capital punishment: “Hangmen, Headsmen, and Other Fun Ways to Die”. I’ll add that my Laurel, Master Cerian Cantwr of the Mid, was extremely supportive of my change in focus from bardic to death. 🙂
What’s your favorite tidbit that you learned in your research?
That’s hard! I think my favorite tidbit has to do with the idea that during the Middle Ages, bodily resurrection was reassured even if one’s body was eaten by a fish or cannibals, because apparently human beings are “non-natural” food. Thus, they cannot be absorbed by another human being.
It’s complicated, but essentially for resurrection, both the body and the soul had to be available. The guy who wrote the initial work on bodily resurrection was very concerned with making sure there were no inconsistencies in his theory. So, that’s how he explains it.
It makes me chuckle.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned?
I think the most surprising thing I learned is that while indulgences really are all about the money in some ways, it wasn’t the church who typically reaped the core of those benefits, but a third party such as a hospital or other charity.
Is there anything in your research that we can apply in the SCA (persona, rituals, etc.?)
I think basically most things we do in the SCA can benefit from the context in which it would have happened and there’s no exception here. So, if you’re a scribe, you should know what something like a Book of Hours was actually used for and why it was so important – beyond the (often) stunning visuals. It wasn’t just used for prayers like how we’d think of in a contemporary Church. It was used specifically to mimic the monastic lifestyle at home, to a certain degree, in an attempt to limit the soul’s time in Purgatory. It was a BIG deal.
No matter what your persona is, prior to the reformation, what I discuss would have impacted both how they lived and how they died. (Caveat: assuming your persona is during the typical SCA time period in Western Europe. There are some exceptions, but generally speaking it’s pretty far reaching.)
Death is one of the esoteric areas of research, which can be hard to display/talk about in traditional SCA A&S formats. Do you have any advice for those interested in researching esoterica?
I would encourage people to research esoterica, frankly. We need more of it out there to help provide additional context and details about what it was like to live during that time. We know a ton about clothing, armor, and art works, which is fantastic! But what about, you know, everything else?
I think the key is just to find something that intrigues you, regardless of what that might be, and start digging. Let other folks know what you’re researching so that if they come across something related, they can pass it along.
You have to think outside the box in terms of displays or other presentations of materials. I created science fair type boards to show off how death culture was connected to many things in the SCA. Mistress Luceta created these amazing little models out of skeletons and clay representing apotropaic (deviant) burials.
It seems like the way we do A&S competitions in the SCA doesn’t lend itself well to the type of research/art you and others do. Any thoughts or suggestions on that front?
There’s no way to easily “compete” with non-traditional ideas. Research papers are of course a possibility, given the right circumstances, although often they’re not a good option. However, I encourage displays! That’s what I did several times: non-competitive opportunities to display my stuff.
I think it would be wonderful if we could find a way to focus on the context for “things” rather than just on the “things” themselves. One suggestion for more of a context competition (that I haven’t seen in practice) would be perhaps giving a presentation on an esoteric non/physical object topic as a way to “compete” rather than offering up a “thing” and it could be judged on how well you impart your knowledge to the audience, how deeply you understand the material, handle questions, etc. We always say that a huge part of A&S is teaching and giving back, so it seems like that might be a more fair way to judge that kind of thing.
I’m actually taking this idea to this summer’s Queen Prize Tourney, one of our Kingdom’s premiere A&S showcases. I’ll be entering by presenting a topic essentially as a proposal for how we might be able to incorporate this sort of thing into our competitive structures.
I became interested in writing a CA when I wrote an article about Richard III and his two interments for Tournaments Illuminated, though I’d had several people suggest it to me over time. The TI editor encouraged me to take my ideas further.
What would someone have to do to submit to the Compleat Anachronist?
Really it’s just a matter of reaching out to the Editor and telling her that you have an idea for a CA. All of that info can be found here: https://www.sca.org/publications-officer/ca/
Thank you so much!
You’re welcome! Delighted to be involved!
If you don’t have a subscription to the Compleat Anachronist, you can buy THL Beatrice’s issue, “Transforming the Living and the Dead: Evolving Thoughts of the Afterlife,” from the SCA Marketplace for $7.50 here (search the title or 191).