Many newcomers to the SCA are confused about households, and are not sure what to do about invitations to join one. This article, originally posted to the SCA Newcomers' list, explains the basics of households from a newcomer's perspective.
In the Society for Creative Anachronism, you are automatically a resident of a Kingdom (the largest organizational branch), as well as one or more sub-branches such as a Principality, a Barony, or a Shire, College, Canton or similar local group. All of these are official branches of the SCA, Inc., and your residency is based simply on where you live, unless you have made other specific arrangements with the SCA.
Households, by contrast, are completely unofficial and not recognized as branches by the SCA corporate office. They may play a part in Court or other in-game activities, such as being recognized for service by Their Majesties, but they are still not officially part of the SCA, Inc. Because of this, households can be created or changed by their members without any SCA paperwork, and they can establish any internal officers, rules, policies, and customs they wish. If you are at an SCA event, you still have to play by SCA rules regardless of your household membership(s), but beyond that, the household is governed only by modern-world laws and its own internal rules.
Because there is no official recognition of households, there are many different kinds. At its simplest, a household is any two or more people who say they are a household -- literally. But households can also take many other forms, and in some cases they have many members and complex internal hierarchies.
Some households are basically large pyramids (I call them "peer-amids") founded by one Peer (a Knight, Laurel or Pelican). That person takes on students (squires, apprentices, or proteges, respectively) who become members of his/her "household" through that relationship. Eventually some of these students attain peerage, and they in turn take students. So there is a "greater household" containing smaller households, and this can repeat to several levels. Many of the big fighting households are of this model.
Other households are formed of people with a common interest or historical period. For example, the Great Dark Horde is a household made of people who are interested in Mongolian culture and history. Another example would be some of the pirate households, Celtic clans, or performing arts households.
Still others are simply groups of friends who form a household as a social group. The household serves as a way to co-register for camping events and is usually less formally organized and typically smaller than the others. My own household, Erevnite Asteron, is an example of this type. We have no officers and no formal leadership structure at all, because we are small enough not to need it.
Your modern-world family can also be a "household" in the SCA, if you want it to be. That's actually how ours (Erevnite Asteron) got started, since it was myself and my lady, Milica. We invited friends in and it grew over time. This is a fairly common situation.
Your persona can have an SCA family -- and thereby, if you wish, a household -- that has nothing to do with your modern family. For instance, an SCA friend whose persona is from the same time and place as yours may be your SCA brother, sister, father, etc., if the two of you agree that it is so. The Current Middle Ages are an imaginary world, so you can have an imaginary family!
In at least some kingdoms, the King and Queen, Prince and Princess, and their retainers become a sort of de-facto "royal household" during Their reign.
In period, the household could mean anything from "all those who live in the same cottage or mansion" to "a large political organization centered around a powerful family" (such as the Medici family). And of course the notion of royal household is very period, though it may not have used that particular terminology.
Some households are very loosely organized, with the line between "member" and "nonmember" being rather blurry. There may be people who regularly associate with the household and camp with them at events, but who aren't really part of the "core" of the household. People may drift in and out of the household from time to time, without much of a fuss being made.
For other households, the process of becoming a member may be a very formal series of steps, beginning (typically) with being a guest and then being "watched" for a while while you and the household check one another out and see if it's a good fit. Membership may involve some sort of ceremonial welcoming by the household's members or leaders, and in some cases it may involve swearing an oath of allegiance. (Think of the oath one might take in order to become a squire, apprentice, or protege to a peer.)
Your membership in one or more households doesn't affect your membership in the SCA in any way; the two are totally independent of one another.
Some households actively and vigorously recruit new members (again, think of the fighting units that want and need more warriors). Others recruit very selectively or not at all. Still others may not actually recruit, but may be willing to consider you if you ask to join. Some are so informally organized that their own members have never even considered the question of whether and how they recruit at all. There are lots of households where the only "organizing" they have done is to pick a name so they have a way to register for events together.
There are also complex interactions *between* households. For instance, in the "peer-amid" households I describe above, becoming a member of one of the lesser households may automatically bind you to the greater household, or it may not. Or it may automatically make you a welcome guest of the greater household but not a full member. Joining some households requires that you resign from any other households of which you are a member, while other households may say that multiple membership is no problem.
And there are peerage relationships (again, the squire/apprentice/protege) that are just between the two individuals (peer and student) and have no household connotations at all. But if the peer or the student is a member of a household, the addition of this relationship may bear on the household relationships.
None of this is unique to SCA households except for the terminology. Think of your modern-world social relationships. If you are a member of the local model airplane club, you may find that there is overlap between that and the local social group of amateur pilots of private aircraft, or overlap with the local ham radio community. Maybe your neighborhood association overlaps with a couple of local civic groups such as the Lions or the Rotary Club. Your modern-world political affiliations (MoveOn.org, or Right to Life, or the Sierra Club) may impact your choice of social group, or may interact with your relationship to a religious group.
As with the modern-world counterparts, the important thing about SCA households is to take the time to understand the relationships involved before you enter into them. Any household that is really interested in *you*, and not just in adding another tally mark to their numbers, will be patient enough to wait for you to get to know them. Remember that household boundaries are not boundaries on friendship! You can be friends -- very close friends -- with someone and still not be a member of their household.
I hope this proves informative. Households are a wonderful thing, but as others have said, this kind of relationship is something to be considered carefully and not rushed into.