(or, the not-yet-a-new-member’s Guide)
So, you’re coming to your first Revel, and you’re not quite sure what to expect. You probably got invited by a friend, who’s told you just enough to confuse you. (If their explanation didn’t confuse you, please give them our congratulations!). Let’s see if we can’t answer some of your questions. To start with, there should have been a booking form, which either you filled in yourself or your friend filled in for you. It will have had lots of information on it: where, when, who to contact, that sort of thing. In particular, it will give the name and contact details for the Autocrat: that’s a fancy name for the person running the event. If in doubt, talk to them. What it won’t tell you are the things that are the same for every revel, that most of us already know. So we’ll try to explain those here.
What’s a Revel?
An event where various members of the Far Isles, and their guests, get together to eat, drink, and be merry. We catch up with old friends and look forward to making new friends (yes, that’s you!). Quite what else happens varies depending on the event, but a typical revel starts about lunchtime (lunch may or may not be provided: check), goes on with general chatting and other activities through the afternoon, and ends with a great Feast in the evening (for which the hall will have to be cleared and tables set up, so expect people to ask you to move your kit around 5:30-ish). At about 10-ish we will stop eating and start clearing up, and you’d expect to leave the hall by 11 at the latest.
Some events last for several days: some (like the Picnic) are shorter and simpler than this. But that’s the general idea.
This is not a spectator sport: we are not putting on a public display or trying to educate anyone (except possibly ourselves). It is not primarily a combat event: no-one will hit you unless you ask them to, and possibly not even then.
What do I need to bring?
Don’t worry: almost all of this can be borrowed.
You need something to wear. If you’re in almost any other re-enactment society, your kit from there will be fine. If not, we’d suggest that you borrow something for your first event. Ask the friend who invited you, ask the autocrat. It’s usually easier to provide your own footwear so as to be sure that it fits: plain leather sandals or boots are fine, or sheepskin/leather slippers.
You’ll need something to drink. Food is provided as part of the event: drinks are not. Bring whatever you want, but no spirits.
You’ll need something to eat off and drink out of. A bowl (wooden or plain pottery), a spoon (as plain as you can) and a sharp knife (wooden handled steak knives are good) are the important bits. A plate may also be useful: again, wood or plain pottery. One of those round wooden bread boards is the easy answer. Something to drink out of: got a pewter tankard, or a metal goblet? If you can’t find all of this, ask to borrow something: most of us have spares. Oh, and bring an old plastic bag in which to take it home again: washing up facilities vary and it may well be easier just to take things home to wash there.
If the feast is to be candle-lit, then plain white or beeswax candles, and something to hold them in, are a good idea.
If it’s an over-night event, you’ll need the obvious toothbrush, spare clothes and so on. Bedding is usually provided, towels are not; check details with the autocrat.
Cameras and other modern devices
Safety comes first. If you need a modern device for medical or safety reasons, then keep it. Disguised if possible, but we can overlook things that are really necessary (like glasses, crutches, asthma inhalers and wheelchairs).
Other than that, if it’s obviously modern, please keep it out of sight. Watches, car keys: hide them in a belt pouch or something. Modern bottles for drinks stay under the table.
Cameras may only be used with the autocrat’s permission: small discreet cameras may well be allowed, but flash will almost certainly be refused.
Mobile phones are heavily discouraged, although you may well spot the autocrat using one during the event to organise lifts from the station or emergency shopping. Switch yours off if you possibly can, and don’t use it anywhere obvious.
What do I do on arrival?
You find the Autocrat, and tell them you’re here. They can tick you off on their list, collect any cash you owe them, check that you’ve parked in the right place, hand you all the kit you arranged to borrow, and tell you where to change into your medieval finery. (Changing facilities vary: one big mixed gender changing room where mundane bags are left, plus squeezing into the toilets for shy people, is about average).
So who are these people?
Everyone present is pretending to be someone from the period 500AD to 1603 AD, who has left their home and come to the Far Isles. Don’t worry too much about where and when that is: it’s in medieval Europe, somewhere, though has visitors from further afield.
The person they’re pretending to be is known as their “persona”, and will have a medieval name (and history). Their real name is known as their mundane name. So when someone’s introduced to you, you’ll probably be given two names to remember, not one. We don’t expect you to manage this: addressing everyone as “My Lord” or “My Lady” is quite acceptable.
If you want to join in the pretence with a persona of your own, that’s great: if not, just stick to your real first name and forget or replace the surname.
In theory, we will all be talking “in persona”: that is, as if we really were medieval people, and about medieval things. In practise, these are our friends in the mundane as well as the medieval, and we haven’t seen them for a while. So, you may find people dressing in a medieval way, but talking about very mundane things, like cars, computers and phones. Sorry about that. Feel free to look puzzled and ask what strange demon this “M25” may be: they should look embarrassed and start explaining it in medieval terms, which is rather fun. In fact, since no doubt you will need to ask about mundane things at the event, here’s a quick translation table.
Chariot and/or horse
Machine of any type
Demon (e.g. sewing demon, mixing demon)
Speaking rune or telling bone.
Brown bean juice
Going outside for a smoke
Worshipping St. Nicotinus
Quite often in late afternoon some noble will hold Court. All you have to know about this is that it’s a formal occasion: stand at the back, watch, listen, enjoy and probably feel puzzled. Don’t worry. Not many of us will understand all that’s going on, either. Your neighbours will explain the in-jokes as and when they can. There are lots of rules of Protocol about what one can do and wear at Court: don’t worry about them. We know you’re new, and will carefully ignore any mistakes. Just stick to the normal rules of polite behaviour and you’ll be fine.
Traders often set up stalls in the main hall during the afternoon. These are not professionals trying to make a profit: they’re ordinary members who have some spare kit or are good at making things. Make the most of it. If you want to trade yourself, speak to the autocrat, and be prepared to clear up your stall before Court, and certainly before the Feast.
And so on….
No doubt there will be lots of other things going on: games, crafts, dancing. We tend to be rather bad at announcing these things. If you spot something that looks like fun, wander over and watch, or ask to join in. Any display of interest will almost always be welcomed with cries of joy. In fact, ask about anything you don’t understand: this has been going on for fourty years, most people have been with the Society less than dozen years, so there are bits that don’t always make sense.
This is a big meal. No, I mean BIG. It will as a rule be served in three courses of roughly equal size, each containing (at least) a meat dish, a vegetable dish and a dessert. There are gaps in between, but that’s still a lot of food. Quite often there are seconds (and thirds). Try anything you fancy, including the stuff you’ve never heard of, skip the bits you don’t like, and leave room for the rest. (Important note here: if you have any allergies or other food restrictions, let the autocrat know as early as possible. We can cope with almost anything: gluten free, dairy free, vegan, whatever: but we do need notice.)
Between food, there will be entertainment. Songs, stories, plays, games. The quality will vary from professional level to a toddler’s first try at a nursery rhyme. We try to make a point of respecting anyone with the nerve to get up and make the attempt, so all of these should be greeted with a general hush in the conversation so they can make themselves heard. If you’d like a go yourself, it’s a good idea to check with the autocrat or whoever they have acting as Master of Ceremonies. Things may look impromptu, but they’ve usually been staged and had timing arranged with the cooks.
After the feast, we will have to clear up and get the place clean. Help with this is very much appreciated. We don’t expect much from you on your first event, but after that, everyone mucks in unless they’ve got a very good reason not to (like, they’ve just cooked the Feast, or are disabled or ill).
Even at one-day events, if you’ve got a long journey home, we can usually find you somewhere to stay for the night if you ask in advance. This may mean bringing a sleeping bag and putting it on some-one’s floor, but it’s always worth asking.
If all else fails…
If you can't find the Autocrat, the friend who invited you has vanished, or you've got problems for any other reason, then you need the General Society Problem-Solver, otherwise known as the High Alderman.