Valdosta Daily Times

January 21, 2013

At Random: Katrina Clifford

Presenting Katrina of Iron Mountain

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

MERIDIES — Once upon a time — 1979 to be exact — there was a woman who discovered a foreign kingdom in Mobile, Ala. called Iron Mountain.

In that kingdom there was a house that had a small, screened- in porch. And on that porch, there was a portal to a time not like our own. There were colorful banners, rugs and even two throne-like chairs meant for the Baron and Baroness.

When Katrina Clifford entered that porch, she was transported

"At that moment, I was no longer on a front porch," said Clifford. "I was in a medieval hall and it was amazing."

Clifford went to her first Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) gathering in 1979 and became an official member in 1980 and was dubbed Katrina of Iron Mountain.

The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe. The "known world" consists of 19 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members residing in countries all around the world.

"It started in Berkeley, Ca. in 1960," said Clifford.

SCA participants dress in "garb" or clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, and attend events that feature tournaments, art exhibits, classes, workshops, dancing, feasts, and so much more.

"People who are in the SCA feel like we don't fit in with modern ideals," said Clifford.

Those ideals of a distant past include honor, chivalry and valor, according to Clifford.

Clifford has lived in various kingdoms over time located in Birmingham, Ala., Mobile, Ala., Ft. Sill, Okla., San Antonio, Texas, Ft. Hood, Texas, Ft. Benning, Ga., and now in South Georgia, known as the kingdom of Meridies, which is comprised of Georgia, Alabama, most of Tennessee and the panhandle of Florida.

"Every place I have ever moved has had a chapter," said Clifford.

Now settled in Meridies since 2005, Clifford has found a comfort and solidarity in finding a kingdom everywhere she goes.

"Every place you go has a medieval name," said Clifford.

Originally of Iron Mountain, as her name suggests, the name is derived from Birmingham's mountains made of iron and ore. Clifford's current kingdom in South Georgia, Meridies, is derived from the Latin word for south.

Not only does every kingdom have a medieval name, but every person does as well.

"You get to pick your own persona," said Clifford.

While you can become whoever you choose, there are a few rules. You can't be a real person or a character from literature, and you have to have existed between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance.

"That's why they call it the Middle Ages," said Clifford.

Also, your persona has to be from either Europe or the Middle East.

Katrina, who did not have to change her name because it is actually Medieval in origin, lives during the Elizabethan period of the late 1500's and 1600's.

Clifford's real and persona ancestors are from Scotland, as her grandmother's middle name was Stewart, a clan of Scotland.

According to Clifford, your persona usually reflects your interests. Clifford's interests are sewing, dancing and singing.

"Ladies of the court would do all of that," said Clifford.

Being an embodiment of her persona, Clifford shares her interests with others.

"One of the things I do in the SCA is I'm a dance instructor," said Clifford. "I research all sorts of dances from the Middle Ages and Renaissance and I teach them to people."

Clifford is also a bard, "which means I like to sing songs, recite poetry, and tell stories."

A natural-born teacher, in her real life, she is an eighth grade English teacher at Lanier County Middle School.

"I've been teaching since 1984," said Clifford.

So how does Clifford separate Mrs. Clifford from Katrina of Iron Mountain? Simple, with her costume.

"When I get my costume on and I'm being my persona . . . I speak forsoothly," said Clifford.

Speaking forsoothly is speaking in an old fashioned way, like people would have in the Middle Ages. While it is not required, it helps build the environment that the SCA has worked so vigorously to achieve and protect.  

The SCA is so much more than dressing in costumes. It's also about creating a realistic, fact based world by putting a creative spin on history.

"In my opinion, the real fun is when you go to an event," said Clifford.

While the local kingdom meets every other week or twice a month, people from all over travel to SCA events that individual kingdom's take turns hosting

According to Clifford, many SCA members drive to the event location the night before, camp out and then eat breakfast served by the host kingdom.

"You bring your own feast gear," said Clifford.

Different SCA members set up booths and pavilions and do everything from host classes to showing off skills or artwork.

"Sometimes there are art and science competitions," said Clifford.

However, the biggest appeal to the events is the armored combat. Fighters use rapiers as swords and have shields.

"It's very similar to fencing," said Clifford.

The smaller tournaments are like practice for the coup de grace of fighting events called the Crown Tournament.

"Every six months we hold a special crown tournament," said Clifford.

These tournaments are a "fight to the death" of sorts and determines the next King and Queen.

"Whoever wins becomes the crown prince and his lady becomes the crown princess,"said Clifford.

Five months later, they are crowned the new King and Queen.

Clifford has been Queen twice and explains that it is a daunting task.

"It is very expensive because you have to travel to events in your entire kingdom," said Clifford.

Aside from determining leaders, the crown tournaments exemplify everything the SCA stands for because in order to properly work, each fighter must be honest.

"We have marshals on the field for safety, but the fighters call their own blows," said Clifford. "This is where the chivalry and honor come in."

While adults in costumes fighting with fake swords may sound silly to some, involvement in the SCA takes a lot of work and dedication.

Aside from making your own costumes, researching your character, and learning the skills of the times, you have to constantly remain conscious of your time period and remain dedicated to its historical accuracy, which is tricky, considering the SCA only bases itself off of history and follows no real actual path in history or script.

"We don't go by a script," said Clifford.

SCA members, like Clifford, must be crafty, intelligent, but most of all, creative.

"The thing that I enjoy about the SCA is the fact that it is a creative anachronism," said Clifford.

We all have our interests. Some play tennis, others paint, while Clifford and 30,000 people around the world transport themselves to a time of chivalry. With all the horrible things that happen every day all around the world, stepping into another time and place, and into another person's handmade shoes can be soothing, therapeutic and down right fun.