I never did accept my Award of Arms in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Doing so would have been out of keeping with my persona as an eleventh century Icelandic farmer. In the end, Cathal Sean, the seneschal of Seagirt, had to print it as the back cover of a newsletter so he could report that it had been delivered. My one regret about my sacrifice for dramatic consistency is that I would have liked to see if I could register a personal motto. (I suspect not)
Mottoes seem to have originated as war cries for families. Some sound like declarations of faith or loyalty, but the more interesting ones sound vaguely ominous. For example, the Gaelic motto of Macdonald of Clanranald translates into English as, “Gainsay who dare.” Others are hallowed, but obscure. For example, the MacAlpine’s motto urges its speakers to “Remember the death of Alpine,” although exactly why anyone should became obscure centuries ago – probably it referred to some treachery that was the stuff of blood feuds extending for generations.
Personal mottoes, though, are another matter. My partner Trish, for example, thought long and hard about hers, and came up with “Loyalty to honor.” To her, the meaning was perfectly clear: the loyalty of her persona was honorable people and causes, so long as they stayed that way. Those who didn’t understand it, she used to say, were unlikely to be people to whom she ever gave any loyalty.
My own motto was based on my personal myth of triumphing via persistence, and on the fact that my boyhood martial fantasies were more about heroic defenses than wild charges. Since my character was supposed to be living in the England of Athelraed Unraed, it was in Old English: “Ich dreoge” – “I endure.” It, too, said something about the sort of loyalty I offered.
Unfortunately, I never really got much of a chance to use it. Shortly after the Awards of Arms, we left the Society for Creative Anachronism for the White Tower Medieval Society. The White Tower was far more fun, and I once immortalized its triumph over the SCA in a song called, “The Twenty Second War,” but somehow mottoes were not a large part of its activities.
For a while, I used to sign letters with “Ich dreoge.” However, that stopped when Avram Davidson (whose own letters tended to end with, “Yoursly,”) asked me what I meant by “I drag,” and asked if I was confessing to an urge to transvestism. Utterly outclassed in wit, I quietly dropped the habit.
Still, I can’t help thinking still that a personal motto is more useful than a personal mantra. If nothing else, it gives its owner something dramatic to live up to.