Mistress Rosalind Jehanne’s Anglo-Saxon Persona Challenge

The Oak (TO): How did you get started in the SCA?

Mistress Rosalind (MR): I was a Tolkien fan, and always loved the language of the Rohirrim. I also was involved in our local community theater, as a backstage and makeup assistant. One of our leading men saw a Festival in the Park demo in Danville, Virginia, and told me about it, remarking “you like that history stuff, don’t you?” I met the Shire of Drakken Leira at a Thursday library meeting, and that Sunday went to my first event, a spear and axe school in Sacred Stone. I wore my elvish princess scarlet caftan and a silver belt, the only non-mundane things in my closet. Despite my astoundingly non-period garb, I was welcomed nonetheless, and have remained ever since. Found my tribe.

TO: Why did you want to further develop a persona in general?

MR: I have been dabbling in various generic outfits and times, but at the beginning of the plague, I joined a Facebook group called “Anglo Saxon History and Literature,” deciding to reactivate my interest in reading and writing Old English.

TO: How did the Persona Challenge fit into that?

MR: Her Grace, Duchess Adelheit, had issued this challenge, and I became inspired. I also had recently taken two apprentices, Lord Simon and Lady Elizabeth de Spaldyng, and was casting about for a focus to start all of us into some more academic pursuits. He chose a Swiss-German area, and she decided to do Anglo-Saxon with me. We all kept each other on track, and motivated, and all of us finished the challenge.

TO: What was it like doing the Persona Challenge with your apprentices?

            MR: It was a pile of fun. We discussed our entries, our embroideries, and what research we found. Elizabeth and I both love to cook, so we found literature examples, and ideas for cooking. Mistress Annora Hall directed us to several books, and for our entry we divvied up an entire meal worth of recipes, each cooked some at her house, and served them forth to our guinea pigs (a.k.a. our friends and family). Mistress Annora videoed the process, and Her Excellency Nezhka filmed the meal. Seemed a more amusing way to document our combined entry. And there’s nothing like working together towards a goal to make you closer to someone else. We had a blast!

TO: Why did you choose an Anglo-Saxon persona in particular?

MR: I have always loved English literature – both Old and Middle English. I loved the cadence of the language, the evolution of the words and pronunciations, and the commonality of experience from 1400 years ago and today. As a kid, I devoured the stories of King Arthur and Ivanhoe. I have a batch of Anglo-Saxon garb (thanks Hooded Hare), and wanted to delve deeper into the mindset and literature. In my Old English classes we were reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and King Alfred, the Voyage of Ohthere, Beowulf. I hadn’t revisited it since I wrote my song, the Battle of Maldon, years ago.

In addition, I have traveled to England and Ireland, and have seen first-hand exhibits in the museums, the Book of Kells, the castles, York, Caernavon. I wanted to imagine myself truly living in that time.

TO: Tell me a bit about how you planned your Persona Challenge entry. Did you have a strategy or vision that connects all four items you chose?

MR: I wanted to make it a real challenge, to do things I hadn’t done at all, try my hand at new skills, even poorly. Embroidery was my only previous skill. I have cooked, but not early period dishes on hearth; never learned weaving, never played a stringed instrument. So I had my work cut out for me.

TO: Let’s talk about your specific entries. Can you tell me a little about the sources/inspirations for the pieces?

MR: This piece was based upon the image of Saint John in the Book of Kells – his symbol is the eagle. I read up on the Book of Kells, the symbolism of the four evangelists, but decided to SCA-ify it by replacing the halo with a Laurel wreath. I have actually seen the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin – it was awe-inspiring.

MR: I have read, in Old English, many of the descriptions in Beowulf and other literature of the various feasts. I did an extensive word search of several hundred Old English words for foods, hunting, fishing, cooking methods, etc. – figuring if they had a word for it, they did it. There are no extant cookbooks, but there are similar methods of cooking still practiced in Scandinavian countries. Some sources – Anglo-Saxon Food & Drink by Ann Hagen, An Early Meal – A Viking Age Cookbook & Culinary Odyssey by Daniel Serra and Hanna Tunberg, Old English Words & Anglo-Saxon Worldviews by Thijs Porck – online, Bosworth-Toller.com Anglo-Saxon Dictionary-online, several articles on Mistress Annora Hall’s website, Stephen Pollington’s translation of Lǣcedōmas, the Nine Herbs Charm, Aelfric’s Colloquy of the Occupations, among others.

Video of the cooking process can be found here.

MR: Thanks are due to Mistress Finnech for her practical help in learning the actual weaving and getting the Weaver’s Inkle Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon. Internet surfing shows examples of tablet weaving and I actually saw some bronze tablets in the Museum of Dublin. I am still a beginner weaver, but Baltic and tablet weaving are next on my learning agenda.

MR: I wanted to translate directly and then do a modern performance piece of something Old English and picked Wulf and Eadwacer because it was “only” 19 lines. Oh my goodness. Turns out these are the most enigmatic 19 lines in the history of literature, I swear. A few words are only found in this text. One word only, reotugu, indicates the speaker is a woman, but her name, the relationship of the three speakers, and who is doing what to whom, is unknown. Every translation I read was different, including my own. I eventually had to make some executive decisions as to which I picked, so I could then craft some lyrics. I had to add a few things not in the text, so as to round out the lyrics. I’ve never played a lyre before, so that was interesting to try, and many thanks to my apprentice Simon for help with tuning and playing the actual instrument, as well as videoing the performance.

TO: What do you think was your biggest take-away from this challenge?

MR: Disciplining myself for a months-long focus on a particular area took time-management skills, but having all three of us encouraging each other made it enjoyable and really deepened my appreciation of this time and place.

TO: What’s next on your list for persona development projects?

MR: I am continuing my Old English reading and writing skills, and working my way through learning weaving in systematic increments of difficulty. I want to make some handsewn garb that I can adorn with my trim.

TO: For someone interested in exploring this persona, what resources would you recommend they explore?

MR: I would start with the literature in translation – Beowulf, Battle of Maldon, Battle of Brunanburh, Anglo Saxon Riddles. And lots of fictional renditions (accurate or not) to spark the imagination – I loved The Last Kingdom, Vikings, Alfred the Great, and the Saxons in Ivanhoe. Check out The Thegns of Mercia, Regia Anglorum, and Ða Engliscan Gesiðas (The English Companions, all reenactment groups in the UK who specialize in this time period). Have fun!

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