Vigil Planning for Students and Dependents

by Magistra Beatriz Aluares de la Oya

One of the major responsibilities of a Peer in any discipline is preparing their students for eventual elevation. The real substance of this preparation is the mentorship we provide on their journey to becoming a Peer of the Society, but the final gift that we as Peers are able to give them is a vigil to mark their passage from student to  master. 

As a Laurel of the Society, it has been my very great privilege to coordinate vigils and elevations for three vigilants in the last three years – two of my own belted apprentices, and one beloved foster apprentice whose Peer stepped up as Princess shortly before her student’s writ was issued. In each case, I have learned a slew of lessons both difficult and joyful, and I hope what I have learned can be useful to anyone else planning this special event.

Pre-elevation notice planning

Before you even get to the stage of vigil planning, there are some things you can do to help prepare for the big day. I highly recommend asking your students to fill out an ICOP (In Case of Peerage); this can be as thorough as a spreadsheet that details everything down to the last slice of bread on the vigil table, or as simple as a note that reads “I just want everything to fit for 15th century England.” 

The purpose of the ICOP is to give your students some input into the process. It lets them tell you who and what are most important to them, and what will help make their day special. However, it’s important to be clear that an ICOP is a wishlist, not an order form. Due to circumstances that are often beyond our control, some aspects may have to change or be dropped altogether. For example, while planning the vigil for Mistress Marguerite Honoree d’Cheneau, a sudden emergency meant the site of the entire event had to move several hours south of us. This meant that food plans had to be simplified to items that could be safely transported and held over, Worthies had to be contacted in case they couldn’t make it, some preferences for decorations had to be stripped down to what could fit in a single vehicle, etc. 

My personal preference for an ICOP, and the one that I have all my students fill out during our relationship, is the ICOP spreadsheet created by Ollamh Lanea Inghean Uí Chiaragáin. Her several stints as vigil coordinator for various royal reigns has given her some excellent insight into the planning process.

ICOP Checklist

Note:  Please make a copy of the original and save it to your own device before making changes. 

Another bit of administrative preparation is to make sure that any entries for your students in the ESP include a point of contact and the name of their Peer. Don’t hesitate to ask friends to assist with this – a simple “Hey, if my student’s name should come up, please make sure [Magister X] is listed as their point of contact.” This is the first person Their Majesties will contact with information about a potential elevation.

After the notice

Their Majesties or Their representative will contact the person listed on a candidate’s order watchlist entry with information about Their plans to elevate a candidate. Don’t worry too much if all the information isn’t available immediately, especially at the very beginning of a reign. You do, however, want to obtain the following information as soon as possible:

  1. Will there be a writ?
  2. What date/event is planned for the elevation?
  3. Will the candidate be set to vigil in morning or evening court?
  4. Is the vigil space indoors or outdoors?
  5. Does the planner need to provide infrastructure (tents, furniture, etc.)?

Next, you will want to sit down with your student’s ICOP and read over it carefully. I do this in conjunction with the next step, which is setting up a planning spreadsheet. As part of this process, I list out:

  • All tasks that need doing – food preparation, clothing preparation, Worthy contacts, etc.
  • All items that will be needed – furniture, decorations, traditional vigil items, etc.
  • List worthies and any requested family/friends
  • Who is in charge of what areas

This is a screenshot of one sheet in the planning workbook for Tala al-Zahra’s elevation at Pennsic 2023:

Each task or item has been assigned to an individual or team who is responsible for that task. My own style of management is to find people I know are excited about making the candidate’s day as memorable as possible, and who are able to take ideas and run with them without minute by minute supervision. I also tend to err on the side of choosing “unit leads” who are comfortable managing others, so if someone wants to volunteer to help within a certain unit, I refer that person over to the “unit lead” instead of trying to manage them myself. I combine this with regular check-ins to make sure everything is running to schedule and find out if the units need anything from me to carry out their tasks.

I also make a list of things that will be needed for the elevation – these are mostly items of regalia and heraldic pageantry:

  • Peerage regalia
    • Knight: belt, chain, spurs, sword
    • Laurel: cloak, medallion, wreath (this is becoming popular in Atlantia)
    • Pelican: Medallion, cloak, cap of maintenance
    • MoD: collar, sword
  • Heraldic decoration:
    • Banner
    • Flags or pennants
    • Decorative items – tablecloths, seat cushions, etc.

Contact The Worthies

I try to do this as early in the process as possible. As part of their ICOP, I ask my students to list not just their first choice of Worthies, but at least one backup just in case. In the case of Worthies who cannot attend, you could consider asking them to send a letter to be read by another representative. For Tala’s elevation, one Worthy wasn’t able to attend, so another Peer volunteered to read a letter from that Worthy during the vigil.

It can be helpful to have a short script to use when contacting the Worthies; I use the following:

“Greetings! My name is Magistra Beatriz Aluares de la Oya, and I am contacting you on behalf of [candidate’s name]. I have been notified that Their Majesties intend to elevate [candidate] to [Order] at [event name] on [date]. It is [candidate]’s wish that you speak for them as their [Peerage] Worthy at their vigil. We would love for you to be part of this day – please let me know how I can help facilitate this.”

I usually check in with each Worthy again within a week or two of the event, and especially if circumstances change, to make sure they’re aware of the time and place they’ll be speaking and ask if they need anything from me.

Aspects to Include

Atlantian vigils have some traditional aspects that tend to be seen at most elevations, with some latitude for personalization. These include:

  • The Worthies: These are representatives of the major bestowed and royal peerages (and the populace) who speak to the candidate’s excellence in aspects of the virtues that are often associated with those positions. Traditionally, these Worthies have spoken for the candidate in court; however, it has become more common to have the Worthies speak at the vigil, which frees up court time and allows for a more intimate setting to hear the words spoken.
    • Knight – prowess
    • Rose – courtesy
    • Pelican – service
    • MoD – defense
    • Laurel – artistry
    • Populace – teaching/leadership

Although these 6 are traditional, your vigilant may want to have fewer, or they may want a different combination of Worthy types – all Laurels or three Pelicans and one MoD, etc. This is entirely up to the preferences of the person being elevated.

  • The Release from Fealty: A candidate cannot be elevated while still in fealty to another, so there is usually a symbolic release from that relationship before the handwashing. This can include the Peer removing the student’s dependent belt, the destruction of a written contract (if one exists), or even a simple “I release you from my service.”
  • The Handwashing: A ceremony that symbolizes the passage from one stage of life to another, or the process of purification that is historically associated with that passage. There will usually be two Peers involved with this ceremony: one to hold a basin to catch the water, and another to pour the water from a pitcher for the handwashing itself. 

Each of these activities requires some amount of planning (and some amount of item gathering), so I add these to my planning spreadsheet.

On the Day

The packing process is critical to success on the day of the vigil. I use my planning spreadsheet to populate a packing list I can print out and check off as I go. However, Magistra Adelaide Half-Pint has developed a comprehensive vigil packing spreadsheet that can be adapted to any size and type of vigil. 

Vigil Packing List

Note:  Please make a copy of the original and save it to your own device before making changes. 

Remember to include things like ice for coolers, a lighter or matches for any warmers or candles, serving utensils, disposable dishes (our household is fond of compostable dinnerware sets – our favorites are available on Amazon for less than $30 for a full service of  plates/utensils, and often include a roll of biodegradable garbage bags), ziploc bags, trash bags, cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer, and anything else you might need to both prep and clean up afterwards.

I always count Vigil Day as an all-hands-on-deck day. I try to make sure as many people can be involved in the setup of the vigil space as possible (and feasible) so that setup takes less time and everyone can have more time to enjoy their day.

Some details that can make a vigil space feel special include:

  • A comfortable chair with cushions, blankets, furs, etc for the candidate to sit in during the day
  • A pair of chairs for visitors
  • A small table to hold a plate of snacks and a drink for the candidate
  • Their heraldic banners or other hangings
  • A table or hanging display of their works, their dependent’s belt, their contract with their Peer, etc. 
  • Music, either live or recorded
  • A notebook and pen – this is separate from the vigil book, and is intended for the vigilant to write down advice they are given during the day, thoughts and reflections they have, planning their elevation oath, notes, etc.

It’s a good idea to ask someone to help you with vigilant minding. It’s easy to forget that 6-8 hours is a long time to be effectively trapped in a small space undergoing some intense one-on-one conversations. Check in on your vigilant every hour or so to make sure they have eaten, have enough water, are warm/cool enough, and if they need to visit the restroom or just get some fresh air. At my own vigil, I was lucky enough to sit in a tent next to a small lake, so during down times I could step out the back door of the tent for some fresh air and a relaxing view, but sometimes you need to smuggle the vigilant outside for ten minutes and let them recharge. It’s also okay to close the vigil to visitors for a short stretch of time to let the vigilant have some quiet time.

I’ve mentioned food and drink several times. It’s a kind touch to make sure there is a plate of food from the vigil board that is reserved for the vigilant – too often, vigilants don’t get to sample the tasty treats folks have provided! I like to go through before the vigil board is opened to the populace and fix a plate of anything I know my person likes or particularly wants. If they aren’t hungry right away, you can stash the whole plate in a large Ziploc and store it in a cooler until they’re ready.

What To Do When It All Goes Wrong

Sometimes, despite all the planning and preparation, you arrive at the event and everything goes wrong. It’s supposed to be an outdoor vigil, but it’s pouring cold rain. It’s supposed to be an indoor vigil, but the designated room flooded before the weekend. The food manager came down with Covid and cannot attend, someone forgot the Laurel cloak, one of the Worthies had a death in the family.

First, take a deep breath. During the planning process, you have surrounded yourself with a capable team who are there to support you and the candidate. These are the folks you will lean on when nothing seems to be going right. Check in with them and make them aware of the problem, and brainstorm solutions with them. If the food didn’t get to the event, take up a fast collection and send someone out for deli trays and drinks. If a Worthy is out, send someone to tap another.

Remember to check in with Their Majesties or Their representative. These folks are also experts at recovering from sudden problems, and they can often suggest solutions that may not be obvious to someone not privy to behind-the-scenes information.

And finally, remember that at the end of the day, your person will walk away from this experience with memories they will cherish. Whether or not it rained, whether or not the vigil board ran out of food, whether or not someone flubbed their speech – these are stumbles that feel enormous at the time but that will fade in comparison to the love and support your person will remember when they think of their vigil.

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