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    Sunday, March 25, 2007

    Advice: How to attract Laurels and avoid embarrassing them

    Occasionally I'll get emails from gentles seeking information about the SCA. Usually, it's just "where's fighter practice in my area?" and I'll be a helpful internet junkie and provide their Kingdom and local SCA websites with a missive to seek out the Hospitaller for loaner garb, ask lots of questions and have fun.

    Sometimes, someone will ask something that requires more actual thought, which I appreciate deeply. Greet, of Greet's Middle Ages, commented on one of my posts, which sent us into an email discussion about Laurels:

    Can you tell me where to find out more about the laurel/apprentice system, and how it works? I'm not really concerned with earning rank in the SCA - in fact I think I'll embody the 'jack of all trades, master of none' apellation, and I have no idea how I'd choose one of my interests above the rest anyway- but I am curious as to how it works. Most especially to avoid embarrassing anyone - particularly me!


    I'm in exactly the same boat - I'd rather know a little about a lot of different things, instead of mastering one craft. Which is why I'll likely never reach Laurel status. Not that that is what I'm in the SCA for, but there are plenty of people for whom the achievements/awards are the reason they play.

    A newbie to the SCA is afforded much latitude in respect to embarrassing statements or moments. We were ALL new once, and we learned what was and was not acceptable...eventually. I would advise anyone in the SCA less than a year against taking on the huge responsibility it can be to be a student, just in case you haven't figured out the social norms of your local group or household yet. Get comfy with the SCA first, then look for a teacher.

    It is my understanding of the Laurel system that if you have talent(s), they will seek you out for apprenticeship. I think they use some sort of 'talent radar', but I cannot confirm this, as I am not a Laurel myself. I do know they have a secret decoder ring, which I suspect enables them to communicate without the knowledge of the populace or Crown. Maybe they are just discussing the latest blackwork embroidery techniques, but I haven't managed to find anyone to break the code as of yet....

    If you've found the Laurel of your dreams, it is NOT considered gauche to ask if you can apprentice to them. However, just like a Knight/Squire relationship, they do NOT have to say yes to anyone who comes along and asks to be their student. So you may get rejection, and that's OK. Move on.

    Here's the secret: you can learn from any Laurel you wish! If there is one with a particular skill you'd like to learn, go up to him/her and start asking questions. Laurels can't resist answering questions about their chosen field of study. They will talk your ear off, so bring a notepad or recording device. Just in case, have an escape route planned, or you may find yourself in a five hour conversation about medieval glue-making.

    Get to know your local Laurels. Then you can ask about an apprenticeship if you deem one of them is worthy enough to teach YOU. By worthy I mean 'compatible'. Don't ever accept a student (or Squire) status from someone you've never hung out with in the mundane world. Make sure that you are both socially on the same page - if one of you is a heavy drinker and the other abstains at events, well, that can make for some really interesting entertainment for the rest of the group you camp with. Not to mention possibly dissolve your student/Laurel or Squire/Knight relationship into ugly screaming chaos.

    In the Outlands, the making of a student is usually informal, but sometimes it can happen in court. It usually consists of the Laurel presenting the new student to the populace (and/or Crown), and saying nice things about him/her and why they want to take them as a student. Then the student reaffirms his/her desire to be student to the Laurel, and the Laurel will attach a belt to the student (which depending on the Kingdom can be a number of colors) to signify the students' status as a ward of the Laurel. The student may also make a 'favor' for the Laurel to wear as well. Everybody cheers - huzzah!

    At this point the student becomes an extension of the Laurel, so it is important to know just what perception the Laurel would like to student to 'give off' in public at events. Embarrassing behavior will surely upset the Laurel, so it is key to act according to the Laurel's wishes. Communication with the Laurel is most important! If yours is the type of Laurel who sits in the shade needleworking while everyone else goes to watch the tourney, you should know that. If you'll be called upon to mend the royal regalia with your Laurel on the friday night preceding an event, you should know that. If your garb needs to be the same period or quality as your Laurel, you should know that too. Nothing funnier than a late period Elizabethan Laurel showing up to a grand court processional with her questionably period pirate lass of a student. Ahoy!

    Being a student to a Laurel is very much like being a Squire to a Knight, but without all the physical requirements. A Squire has no guarantee that he/she will eventually become a Knight, just as a student has no guarantee of becoming a Laurel. On the flip side, it is not required that one be a Squire to become a Knight, or a student to become Laurel, as I have seen many cases where such awards were given without the 'normal' hierarchy being followed.

    My advice to you would be to enter into any 'Laurel's Prize' A&S events in your Kingdom. This is the natural habitat for Laurels, as it is a prime hunting spot for new students. In these types of competitions, Laurels are not allowed to enter any of their crafts, only judge entries. This makes for a great learning environment, plus you can pretty much tell if a Laurel has their eye on you. He/she may leave a mound of tokens next to your entry or even bring other Laurels over to your entry to show you off. There may be a 'winner' of the day, who has the most tokens, but truly you are all winners from the critique, creative direction, and ego-boosting experience that comes from having people drool over your work. Laurels are usually good about awarding effort vs technical skill in the newbies, as they want to encourage the artist to flourish.

    Let me tell you though, never let a Laurel judge your work who has just endured a 16 hour road trip complete with flat tire and screaming baby. You could have a completely period model of the Sistine Chapel and you might still get snarky comments on your judging sheet. As I've said before, take it all in stride, it's just a game!

    Wow, can I get wordy at times. Since the real purpose of this post is to educate, I feel I should make an addition to the 'advice' I've given to Greet, an SCA newbie from Meridies, recently returned from Gulf War (yes, I'm still jealous). Here's a couple links I've found on the subject of Laurels, elusive creatures that they are...

    Did you know that the 'Order of the Laurel' is a peerage level award? Well, I did. But lots of people don't!

    The Kingdom of Atlantia has a wonderful FAQ page about Laurels. Man. I should have read that before answering Greet....

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