“The Pennsic War” (1996)
by Erika Moriarty
I have always dreamed of traveling back in time to live as the peoples of medieval Europe lived. I would dress in elegant draping garb, create necessities and art by hand, and live more in touch with nature and the world around me. I lived this dream when I ascended the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania and entered a mysterious realm called “The Pennsic War”.
Upon arrival at the campground for this 2 week medieval event, I instantly felt I had entered a new world, a world where things seemed more colorful and inviting. Lords and ladies were gallivanting in brightly colored cloth and ribbon and the fighters were practicing for future battles in full suits of shining armor. I located my shire’s camp site, dressed in period garb, and was off to indulge in the pleasures of this world that had awaited me.
During the days, I frolicked about the many acres of villages filled with over 10,000 people from around the world. Although I choked on the dry dirt from the roads, and was tormented by the rays of the stinging sun, the daytime was nevertheless relaxing and enjoyable. Passing through the villages, the shires and households were decorated with castle fronts and kingdom flags and within the village’s families and friends were socializing and small children were playing contentedly with hand carved wooden toys. I shopped in the village square where over 350 merchants sold their handcrafted wares. Period classes were taught in arts and sciences such as calligraphy, needlework, fencing, and herbal medicines. The daytime was for learning, while the nighttime was for discovery and adventure.
As the evening descends I wander through the now fire-lit pathways, to the sounds of drums in the distance, in my hooded cloaks that blew erratically in the cold night breeze. The moon and stars glowed loudly, twinkled and felt so close that I found myself reaching out to grab them as if they were fireflies. By a lake, pirates performed plays, and down a hill in the muggy swamp gypsies danced around a fire pit wearing noisy jingle belts and playing hand cymbals. There were gatherings with people living their many different chosen personas and cultures through the music, dancing, and stories that existed in that period of time.
On the final day in this world I watched the field battle, the war fought by 2 kingdoms, and for which this 2 week event was named. I watched in awe as 4,000 fighters, in full armor, charged across a mile long field, crashing, screaming, and fighting until the last participant was down. In my wildest imagination, nothing could have prepared me for these sights and sounds. This was my idea of a “smashing” end to a vacation.
After becoming so enveloped in the way of life, returning to the mundane world created a culture shock. The idea behind this event was not as I had preconceived, to reenact the middle ages, but rather to live the middle ages. Although I possess tangible trinkets and baubles stored away in a keepsake box that were collected from this place, I still cannot help but ponder whether the existence of this fantasy world was a figment of my imagination.