On Criteria for the Pelican

by Cynehild Cynesigesdohtor


My name is Cynehild Cynesigesdohtor, I was elevated to the Order of the Pelican by Their Occidental Majesties Marc and Patricia in July 2011 and to the Order of the Laurel by Their Occidental Majesties Uther and Kara in January 2012. On May 8, 2018, Marisa Herzog posted an excellent question to the Western Unbelts Facebook page that asked about how the members of the list perceive the Laurels from the non-Peer or non-Laurel perspective. One commenter stated that their frustration was that they wanted to be a Laurel, but didn’t know what the Laurels were looking for. This got me thinking about what criteria I, as a Laurel, use to evaluate candidates so I wrote an essay (On Criteria for the Laurel).  However, it seems unfair to tell Laurel candidates what I’m looking for and leave the Pelican candidates out. Therefore, here are my thoughts.

At its most fundamental level, the criteria for becoming a Pelican are as follows:

  1. Patents of Arms
  2. General Requirements Candidates for any order conferring a Patent of Arms must meet the following minimum criteria. Additional requirements may be set by law and custom of the kingdoms as deemed appropriate and necessary by the Crown.
  3. They shall have been obedient to the governing documents of the Society and the laws of the kingdom.
  4. They shall have consistently shown respect for the Crown of the kingdom.
  5. They shall have set an example of courteous and noble behavior suitable to a peer of the realm.
  6. They shall have demonstrated support for the aims and ideals of the Society by being as authentic in dress, equipment and behavior as is within their power.
  7. They shall have shared their knowledge and skills with others.
  8. They shall have practiced hospitality according to their means and as appropriate to the circumstances.
  9. They shall have made every effort to learn and practice those skills desirable at and worthy of a civilized court. To this end they should have some knowledge of a wide range of period forms, including but not limited to literature, dancing, music, heraldry, and chess, and they should have some familiarity with combat as practiced in the Society.
  10. They should participate in Society recreations of several aspects of the culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.



The Order of the Pelican: (i)

The candidate must have attained the standard of service to the Society or any of its branches equal to that of his or her prospective peers, which is above and beyond that normally expected of members of the Society.



Three Pronged Test

In the time I have been a member of the order, I have developed the following three-prong test to use when considering potential additions. Think of the three-prong test like a three-legged stool, each prong is of equal importance and necessary to support the seat. If any one leg is short, the stool is unable to support the kingdom.

Caveat lector: these are my opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my fellow Pelicans or the Crown. Also, my experiences are in the Kingdom of the West and may not reflect experiences in other Kingdoms. Finally, as has been pointed out elsewhere, it is the Crown not the Council that makes peers. The Crown, by Corpora, is required to consult with the Council before making a new peer, however, abiding by the Council’s recommendation isn’t required.

Do it well, do it for others, and teach others to do it for themselves.



First Prong: Mastery

What is Mastery?  I expect any potential member of the Order to do good service.  But what is good service? To me good service is well planned and coordinated, completed in a responsible and timely manner, and, most importantly contributes to the good running of the Society.  Here’s another way to think about it, if the candidate were to move away and their absence was noticed because the work they did is no longer being done and was required for the smooth running of the group not because you miss their face, they should be a Pelican.

Another thing to consider, a Pelican is a servant of the kingdom.  To cite Ms. Wilson, the gift a good servant has that separates them from the others is the gift of anticipation. Someone who is performing Pelican-level service is someone who sees a need and fills it without being directed to, perhaps even before others even identify the need themselves.  Being a Pelican is about being an active and contributory member of the populace and that requires observation and initiative.

An Example, Lord Jean-Luc of Picardy has spent five years coordinating a series of collegia aimed at integrating new members of the society.  He has actively advertised his events and worked to coordinate the collegia with his Principality Chatelaine and other officers. As he got comfortable running the collegia, he added new people to his event team so they could see the process from the inside. Attendees at his events have commented that the events are fun, achieve their goal, are held in good locations, disasters are taken care of quickly, and that he has disseminated lots of information ahead of time.  Lord Jean-Luc’s seneschal has commented that he communicates well with her ahead of time, turns in paperwork in a timely manner, and is quick to complete his event reports. Lord Jean-Luc’s exchequer reports that his events are run on budget. To me, this is Pelican-level service.

Another Example, Lord Q of the Continuum has been his branch marshal for ten years.  He makes sure the branch has space for practice year round. There haven’t been any complaints about his time as marshal, but there hasn’t been any praise either. He doesn’t always send in requested reports and can be spotty in communicating with autocrats, but he does the basics without complaint and the branch needs a marshal.  To me, despite the longevity this is not Pelican-level service, I would council Lord Q to improve his communication, find a deputy, and build towards a skill level that would allow him to take on jobs of greater responsibility.

Finally, something that’s incredibly important to reaching mastery in service is knowledge of your limits.  It is difficult and draining to do good service when you’ve exhausted yourself. Becoming a Pelican is not the conclusion but the beginning of bigger things and you cannot do those things if you’ve completely burned yourself out getting there.

On the Subspecies of Pelicans

Laurels are often broken out by their speciality, that is not often the case for Pelicans. However, I find taxonomic differentiation useful, especially when evaluating individual examples (it’s easier to compare an apple to a pear than to a tire).  Thus, I offer my incomplete taxonomy of the Pelicans I have known.

    • Event Pelicans – Those who specialize in (and live for) running events.  Look for them in the back of the room clutching a schedule and mentally rescheduling things as it goes up in smoke.
    • Bureaucracy Pelicans – A bureaucracy Pelican is the person who holds all kinds of offices, takes on special projects for other officers, streamlines the bureaucratic processes for others, and finds new ways to get things done.  Look for them at business meetings taking notes.
    • People Pelicans – A concept totally stolen from the Kingdom of Lochac, a people Pelican is someone who actively mentors and nurtures others, passing on skills and experiences to build stronger, more effective groups throughout the Kingdom. Look for them teaching classes and leading workshops.
    • Mortar Pelicans – Like mortar holds a brick wall together without being flashy, so to do the mortar Pelicans hold together the kingdom. Mortar Pelicans are also be incredibly good at removing obstacles in their path. Look for these Pelicans cleaning privies, running errands, showing up early, staying late, and doing all the jobs no one else is doing. A caveat, most Pelicans are not of only one type, typically, they combine the attributes of all the subspecies.


How do I Evaluate Mastery

Evaluating mastery is difficult. I don’t want to fall back on Justice Stewart’s “I’ll know it when I see it” threshold but gut is definitely a part of the equation. I also rely on my experience working with the candidate (where applicable), the reports of those who’ve had the opportunity to work with the candidate, and the observable impact of their work. Here’s a good analogue from Mistress Etaine: The Pelican is a job.  In job interviews we ask what benefit a candidate brings to the company. What a Pelican candidate brings to the Order is a worthwhile question to ask ourselves when considering their admittance.

Some of the questions I ask when evaluating a candidate’s work include:

  • Who is the candidate’s work benefitting?
  • Is the candidate’s work causing issues that other people have to resolve?
  • Is the candidate encouraging service in others?
  • What kind of preparation has been done in advance of the project?
  • What did the candidate do to identify a need and respond on their own motion?
  • What has the candidate done to make the work easier or more efficient for the next person to do the job? Are they building a framework for future progress?
  • How is the candidate’s record keeping? For example, if they have to step aside, are their records clear enough to allow someone else to take the job on short notice?
  • How is the candidate’s communication? Are they keeping everyone who needs to know (seneschals, autocrats, & c.) informed about their progress?
  • What is the candidate doing to get other people involved?
  • Is the candidate’s work useful? Does it fill an actual need or invent a need?
  • How is the candidate’s follow-through?  Are projects completed in a timely manner (where appropriate)? Are loose ends tied up? Did they send in that event report?
  • How is the candidate supporting the SCA structurally?  Are they building buttresses or just putting up ladders to maintain the status quo?

Finally, I expect that a candidate who is ready to become a member of the Order will have a journeyman-level knowledge of a wide range of skills. It is said that a Knight should be able to control any field he steps onto and a Laurel should be able to pick up any art and make a good showing of it.  Likewise, a Pelican should be able to walk into any situation and correct such deficiencies as they find.

On The Bar: The bar against which we judge candidates has moved over time. This is because we have grown and changed as a Society. Keep moving forward!

A Brief Digression

In our game, there are many different levels of knight, from the common Knight Errant to the rarefied Superduke. To become a Knight, you must attain mastery of art of the sword but you are *not* required (anymore) to win a Crown Tournament (let alone enough to qualify for Superdukedom [however many that may be]). Likewise there are many level of Pelicans. Some of these might be considered “Superpels”, those Pelicans who are so insanely talented and dedicated to serving the SCA that they have largely surpassed their peers in skill and efficacy. When considering your own work in comparison with Pelicans, I strongly encourage you to remember that you don’t need to be at Superpel level to be admitted to the Order.

The Responsibility of Those Who Wish to Join the Order

So, here’s the thing. I do not believe in “punishing” those candidates who want to become Pelicans. In fact, as it is my STRONGLY held belief that four “bestowed” peerages (Knight, Laurel, Pelican, and Master of Defence) are jobs, not prizes.  Therefore, I believe it is perfectly appropriate for someone who wants to take on the job of Pelican to actively present their work to members of the council. So, if you’re interested in becoming a Pelican and are looking for someone to show your work to (and, if you want it, get some feedback), please, contact me (clairemargery@gmail.com) and we’ll set up a time to meet. Alternatively, if you’re a protege, TELL YOUR PELICAN WHAT YOU’RE DOING, they attend our super secret meetings and can fill the rest of the flock in.

If you communicate better in writing, I strongly encourage you to put together a blog or protege book talking about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and what you’re learning AND THEN SHARE IT WITH PELICANS. This is something that I see more and more from artists on the Laurel path (or who are Laurels now), and I think would translate well to service. Things you could talk about: planning events, special projects, things you’ve learned from being an officer, etc. If you’re not sure where to start, try building an SCA resume, you can find mine here if you need inspiration.



Second Prong: Service

What Do I Mean by Service? Do your service.  Do it for your branch, do it for your principality, do it for your kingdom. Do it until it’s nap time and then practice good self care.  Do your service for others.  Constance de la Rose says, “For what truly makes a peer isn’t talent or tough hide or a piece of paper. It is a willingness to put others’ enjoyment at least equal to, and often ahead of, your own. It is a desire to pass on your knowledge and talents to those who would wish to learn. It is the ability to do this with a smile on your face and a kind word of encouragement on your tongue. It is a caring about the SCA and the people in it.” This is especially true for Pelican candidates as Pelicans are often called on to do the stuff that isn’t particularly enjoyable.  Make sure the work that you’re doing benefits people across your branch/Principality/Kingdom/Society, not just you and your friends.

How do I Evaluate Service

Because the Pelican is a service award, I use the same criteria here as I use to evaluate mastery.  Additionally, I like to see that the candidate has performed steady, active service over a period of at least five years.

The Responsibility of Those Who Wish to Join the Order

As stated previously when discussing mastery, I expect candidates to seek out their own opportunities to serve the Society. Is someone running a major event? Volunteer to help. See a problem? Work on a solution.  BE THE CHANGE!

This is not to say that service a candidate is volunteered for should not be counted, but I believe that initiative on the path of the Pelian is important as it demonstrates a willingness to be proactive in doing the job once they become a Pelican.



Third Prong: Teaching

What do I mean by Teaching? For me, teaching is the most important responsibility of a peer. Let me repeat that for the people in the back, TEACHING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RESPONSIBILITY FOR A PEER. Demonstrating the ability and willingness to teach in both a formal and informal setting is something on which I place a great deal of importance. I believe strongly that the ability to teach in many different formats is critical as peers should be able to adapt to students, rather than expecting students to adapt to peers.

How do I Evaluate Teaching

Mostly by taking classes (classes are great!), reading blogs, following along in discussions online, and asking questions. I am looking for teachers who can articulate their ideas clearly and cogently, who can answer questions, who has the authority to command a classroom, who demonstrates intellectual curiosity and interest in what they are teaching, and who knows what they’re talking about.


The Responsibility of Those Who Wish to Join the Order

Again, it is the candidate who should be seeking opportunities to teach rather than waiting for opportunities to be brought to them.

Peer-Like Qualities

From the Rules of the Lists we read, “Combatants shall behave in a knightly and chivalrous manner and shall fight according to the appropriate Society and Kingdom Conventions of Combat.”

This is rule six, what I like to refer to as the “don’t be a dick rule”. I believe strongly that in it is everything you need to display peer-like qualities. I could pontificate on knightly virtues, behaviour in the hall, and courtly graces, but really, all you need to understand peer-like qualities is rule six. Easy-peasy!


A Brief Word on Getting My Pelican

I believe I accepted elevation to the Order of the Pelican before I was really ready.  I was 27 years old and halfway through my term as Seneschal for the Principality of Oertha.  My biggest contribution to the Society at the time I was elevated was the Oerthan Seneschal Handbook (of which I am still very proud) as well as a year of service as Principality Seneschal and the eight events I had autocratted since moving to Oertha in 2006. If asked now to evaluate myself then as a candidate, I would very likely be a no vote. I would have encouraged baby!Cynehild to relax, say no to things, take a break from autocratting, experiment with new ideas for ways to make the SCA better when the cost of failure was lower, and enjoy fewer meetings. I believe I have grown into a Pelican, but I think in retrospect that when I got my offer I should have asked for time to consider my answer (instead of asking if the Queen was on crack, which is what I did).

I offer my story as a cautionary tale. Becoming a peer is a great honor, but it’s also work. It’s about being the adult in the room when you really just want to be a little crazy, when everyone else is drinking, sometimes it’s your job to stay sober and fix the toilets. Wanting to become a Pelican is a worthy goal, wanting to improve yourself and support the Society is good, but don’t rush into a job you’re not ready to do.


For Further Reading

http://avacal.org/wiki/index.php?title=Becoming_a_Pelican – Mistress Rowenna de Ronçesvalles de Navarre, OL., OP, Becoming a Pelican

https://aethelmearcgazette.com/2015/06/02/on-becoming-a-pelican/ – Aethelmarc Gazette, On Becoming a Pelican


http://www.greydragon.org/library/peerdoc.html – Sir Wiglaf Wilfriding, Some Thoughts on the Qualifications for the Peerage.

http://sandradodd.com/ideas/peerage1.html – Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why: Peerage.

http://www.inlandregion.org/sca/misc/peer_qualities.php – Mistress Isabeau, the Peer-Like Qualities

http://www.modaruniversity.org/Qualities.htm – Odierne Lion, What are “Peer-like” Qualities

https://sites.google.com/site/ianthegreen01/home/peer-like-qualities – Milisent Vibert, Peer-like Qualities

http://nicolaa5.tripod.com/articles/Hector/soc/HPeers8.htm – Hector of the Black Height, How to be a Peer in One Easy Lesson