I spent this long weekend live role-playing in a new game system called Empire run by Profound Decisions (www.profounddecisions.co.uk). It was a very good event, in very challenging conditions, and unexpectedly for a fantasy-based game, brought me more in touch with my Druidry and the ancestors than I would have expected.
The weekend was cold. Not just an uncomfortable cold, but a bone-chilling cold especially when temperatures dipped below freezing. This was the coldest event that I had ever been to in my 15 years of LRPing. I knew it was going to be cold beforehand and so, like I usually do for the first event of the year, booked a B&B so that I could get some rest at night, and not drive home exhausted from the event once I was sat in a nice, warm car. Others toughed it out, sleeping for three to four nights in below freezing temperatures.
There were no buildings to warm up in. The first few days had no hot water in the shower and loo blocks, due to pipes being frozen and generators malfunctioning. It was achingly cold to be out in the elements for four long days without our modern conventions of central heating, hot water on demand and above all, a cup of tea only minutes away. I was thankful for the battles that came that weekend, for moving around was the only way to keep warm, and kept you warm for at least a half hour afterwards.
I was camped in the woods with a large nation that can loosely be described as a cross between the ancient Celts and the Rangers from Lord of the Rings. We had no buildings, and no big tents in which large numbers of people could gather (and share body heat) – we were outside the entire time, with only fires to keep us warm. The fires were hard to keep lit – the cold and damp just seemed to seep into the firewood no matter how dry it was, and required constant attention. Take a step away from the fire, and the cold hit you once again.
I was hugely thankful for returning to the warmth after midnight in the hotel room, and even more so upon arriving at home. I felt that the experience of being out in that drew me closer to the ancestors, giving me a real sense of what they had to go through every winter and every spring. The constant work of keeping warm, and of keeping fed, was challenging to say the least. The mud – oh THE MUD was everywhere, well above the ankles and sucking you into its cold embrace wherever you went on the field or on the roads through the wood.
Sitting beneath the trees after the first battle in an almost empty camp, with some bread and very cold water, the snow falling softly around me, I felt a connection with the ancestors – this is what it could have been like for them. A muddy rath in the winter and springtime, food especially scarce in the spring, and the longing for the warm days of summer flowed through my mind as I listened the blackbird singing above me. Hearing the cold wind pass over the little hollow with the last rallying cry of winter. Praying for warmth. Honouring the cold and the dark. Honouring the mud.
I was blessed with a brief glimpse of what the ancestors had to put up with – never being clean, never being warm, the ease of summer living months away – it was a real eye-opener, to say the least. I usually go on holiday for a couple of weeks in the year to get away from it all, to reconnect with nature – but as a Canadian, I’ve always done it in the summer. We know better.
With the cold and the mud and the wind came an acceptance of life as it is – complaining about the cold did absolutely no good. I noticed the first couple of days people’s conversations were rife with comments about the weather, and then as the weekend wore on, less and less comments were made as people either tired of the topic, or came to accept it, as I did – it was as it was, and there was nothing that could be done about it. We were all in the same boat, so to speak. We were all cold, and tired, and hungry. It brought us together – I have never been to an event where people were so open and so kind. I do think the weather had a lot to do with that – when the stakes are high, people pull together to ensure that the community survives. This community did just that, with my eternal gratitude for being able to be a part of it.
Spring was the hardest season for our ancestors. The cold, the wet, the lack of food and waiting for the crops to be planted and harvested was always on their minds, death always at their door. I was honoured to really experience that, and will remember this event always for that reason.