The sights and sounds of people, in costume, out of costume, the revelry, the laughter and the conversation. Over all of this the clash and roar of men in battle. Weapons clang and crash, chainmail rustles and screeches as steel slides away. Men fall to the earth and the victor bellows his triumph.
This is a medieval festival.
This is not some pageantry and magic filled Renaissance faire that is ubiquitous in the USA. No elves, magic or fairies here. This is gritty, this is real. Men in chainmail wearing tunics and breeches with axes and swords drink, laugh and battle. While women in period gowns that are practical and mostly handmade following traditional styles from 900-1300 wander through the rows of shops, drinking, laughing and shopping with their friends.
All these people are embraced by the sounds of the hurdy gurdy, kortholt, bagpipe, viol, various harps, drums and woodwinds. Ladies and Gents this is a Medieval Festival done Scandinavian style.
I first experienced this only two weeks ago when I attended the Oslo Middelalder Festival. The Festival was remarkable. I had never seen such accurate clothing, armor, weapons and crafts. I have attended Renaissance Fairies and while fun, they were staged, rehearsed and carefully planned. At the festival there were entertainment acts, period juggling acts (knife throwing around a volunteer was particularly hair-raising) and beautiful traditional and traditional blend musicians. When you stepped through the gates you stepped back in time. The vendors were dressed in costume, the clothing was hand-sewn (for the most part) and people were eager to share their passion for this part of their history.
The best part for me were the battle demonstrations. These were performed by several groups of re-enactors who engaged in modified (head contact was not allowed) combat. These combats were not staged, they were not rehearsed. These men and women (yes they had very skilled shield maidens) went out there and fought to the “death.” They smashed shields and broke hafts of axes, maces and spears. Their battles cries echoed around the battle ground. It was an amazing sight.
I learned so much about medieval combat from their fights. There were no massive Hollywood swings, no dramatic dances of sword and man. It was gritty, it was close, it was short quick jabs and slices to conserve energy and effect the greatest damage against an opponent. They had researched their accuracy to incredible detail and most of the leaders work in the archaeology or history professions to some degree.
I love these festivals because for the first time in my life I have discovered people who are as passionate and interested in this history as I am. Their eyes do not glaze over when you ask detailed questions about the weight of armor and the length of battle or change the subject when you want to discuss the shifts in armament and what caused them. These people are engaged and interested, I have finally discovered people who share my unique passion for the medieval period.
I love medieval festivals because there I can find people on my level of awesome.