17 January 2008
2. The concept of a "coat of arms" is one which is vastly misunderstood in today's world, especially by residents of countries such as the United States of America which does not have a heraldic tradition (we almost had one, but it was stillborn – which will be the subject of a future discourse). As currently understood, a person's arms is what the American public thinks of when they tend to talk of a "family crest" (a crest is merely a part of the complete achievement of arms, a term which will also be defined soon). However understood or misunderstood, the heart of the armorial achievement is the arms, also called a device. Here's mine: There are two ways to refer to any armorial device. The above, the graphical display, has a certain name – technically we call this the emblazon. There is a precise verbal description of the above, and that is called the blazon. The blazon for mine reads as follows: Azure, a bend sinister and in canton a compass star argent pierced azure Perhaps there are some familiar words used in unfamiliar ways here. To an armorial expert trained in unpacking it and equipped with the proper references, the description is a little like a computer program – it will inerrantly produce the above result every time when correctly followed. At the risk of venturing into territory uncharted to the reader, we'll define a few terms here and now. The term azure refers to the background; in Heraldese the word means blue. A bend refers to the fat diagonal stripe and sinister refers to the way that that stripe runs (relative to the viewer) from upper right to lower left. And in canton positions the star; particularly the verbiage and in indicates we are moving on from describing the bend shape, with the atom canton describing the region it occupies; a compass star is what the shape is (as the bend is the name of the diagonal stripe), the word argent is the color of the bend and the compass star (depicted in color illustrations as paper-white) and pierced azure provides us the hole in the compass star. I will admit that while I (and some others) consider myself quite adept at unpacking blazons and creating emblazons, the same cannot always be said for my skills at encoding and explaining blazons. The SCA heraldic community very much distills along right brain/left brain lines; my lady Teceangl Bach specializes is the verbal, or what we call book heraldry which concerns itself with research of names and comparisons of blazons to prevent similar designs from being registered with the SCA College of Heralds. A great many of us prefer to draw, and leave the research to the book heralds. At any rate, the reader is encouraged not to fret (which is an inside heraldic joke whose funny will become apparent in time) too much. We will take many trips around the heraldic shield on our journey, and all will become clear eventually (my intent is sooner rather than later). The point I'm working for here is to indicate that heraldry is a system of technical precision that, like any other technical pursuit, has its cant and jargon, and that standards are important.