Tiny Cars and Funny Hats

When the general public hears you talk about Masonry, they usually have no idea what you are talking about. When the Shrine is brought up however, usually the response is, “Oh, you mean those guys in the funny hats and the tiny cars?” They are Shriners, members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, or A.A.O.N.M.S. The Shrine tends to be the public face of Freemasonry today.

Where did it start?

It all started in 1870, in Manhattan. At the time, more than 3,000 men living in Manhattan were Masons. Some of these men made an effort to have lunch together as often as they could, on the second floor of the Knickerbocker Lodge. Each one of these men who attended this lunch were known as light-hearted jokesters, who talked often about starting a fraternal offshoot of Masonry who’s focus was fun and fellowship, over the emphasis on ritual of Blue Lodge. Two of the men, Walter Fleming and William Florence, decided to take action.

Florence was an actor who traveled the world. During a tour in France, he had been invited to a party thrown by an Arabic diplomat. During this party, a troupe of actors put on a play, in which, the members of the audience became members of a secret society. He felt that this play would make a wonderful basis for their new fraternity. After viewing the play a few more times, he returned with his information to Fleming.

Fleming was a man devoted to fraternalism. He took the ideas laid out by Florence, and created the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Together with the other lunch fellows, they drafted the ritual, created costumes and a greeting, and decided upon the now infamous fez. Florence and Fleming were initiated on August 18, 1870, and 11 other men followed on June 16, 1871

The first 13 Shriners

How can I join?

Despite the name, the Shrine does not have any Arabic connection, other than the origin story. A number of Shrines that used to be referred to as “temple” or “mosque” are now shifting to using “Shrine Center” instead, to help distance themselves. Many people believe incorrectly that it has something to do with Islam. Just like Blue Lodge Masonry, Shriners only require a belief in a higher power. A lot of people are under the impression that you can simply become a Shiner, and skip the first three degrees. This I think is largely due to the marketing campaign that they use. 2B1Ask1 is very popular, and the Shrine is the only branch of Masonry that really advertises at all.

In order to join the Shrine, a man must be a Master Mason in good standing. Before the year 2000, however, a Mason had to also be a member of York or Scottish Rite before he could join the Shrine. This was largely done to not only encourage the idea of work before play, but also to facilitate more membership in these groups. Unfortunately, they saw a lot of members join only to become a Shriner, and never be active in either of the Rites.

There are two women only organizations associated with the Shine, the Daughters of the Nile and the Ladies’ Oriental Shrine. Both are closely tied to the Shiner’s Hospital for Children. You can read more about those organizations here.

What they do

The Shriners do a lot, usually for their local community. While it is not to say that they do not have the plain, regular, boring, business meeting, their main focus is on fun, and you can see that through the work that they do.

Perhaps one of the best known units (which is basically like a club within the Shrine) is the parade unit. These units may include bands, equestrian units, color guard, motorcycle units and more. The most prominent and well-known however, are the mini car units, otherwise known as the motor corps. Usually it is a requirement that a Shriner own his own mini car in order to be a part of the unit, however many Shrine Centers are starting to move away from this, in order to encourage more participation.

Sooo tiny!

Other well-known activities that the Shiners put on are the Shrine Circus, and the East-West Game. 

Something that a lot of people do not seem to connect to the Shriners, for whatever reason, is the Shrine Hospital for Children. This is a network of 22 hospitals across North America (1 in Canada, and 1 in Mexico)  that sees children with orthopedic issues, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate. Here’s the thing that makes it a bit different from the rest of the hospitals out there. EVERYONE that needs their services receives it, whether or not they can pay the bill. There have been some issues with that as of late, and some families have had their insurance billed, but the hospital is always sure that it is well within the families means. Those without insurance are covered 100%. The majority of the operating costs come from donations, many from Freemasons or Shriners themselves. Often a Shrine Center funnel’s its hospital donations to the closest hospital. For instance, all of our hospital donations here in Omaha fund the hospital in Minneapolis.  Patients do not have to be Masons, or related to a Mason in any way. The service is there for anyone who may need it. I feel that this truly helps the Shrine earn the nickname of “The World’s Greatest Philanthropy”.

Some Shrine clowns with a patient

The Shrine has a lot to offer, definitely a “something for everyone” kind of fraternity. There are always plenty of fun activities going on, usually with the focus being on the family, instead of just the Shrine member. Our local Shrine hosts and supports our DeMolay chapter, and it seems like there is something to do there every night of the week. If you are a Mason, or with a Mason, or even just looking to become one, and have a family, or want to attend a lot of social events, I highly recommend you look into joining the Shrine.

Naviagting Masonic Emblems Part II

Since our Master’s Ball is this weekend (more on that next week!), I am in a bit of a time crunch, so, I decided to go ahead with the second part of the Masonic emblem series this week. You can read part one here.

The crescent and scimitar

Probably the second most well-known Masonic emblem, after the square and compass, is that of the Shriners. Luckily for us, the Shriners are much more forthcoming as to the meaning of their emblem than anyone else seems to be.  The crescent and scimitar are most often seen displayed on the fez, the hat that a Shriner wears.  The scimitar (the sword) stands for the backbone of the fraternity, which are its members. The two claws that make up the crescent represent the Shriners fraternity and its philanthropy. The sphinx’s head stands for the governing body of the Shriners, the head of the organization. The five-pointed star inside of the crescent represents the thousands of children that the Shriners help through their philanthropy (most notably their hospitals) each year. Occasionally you will also see the phrase “Robur et Furor” on the emblem, which means “Strength and Fury”.

The Eastern Star

Perhaps the most misunderstood Masonic emblem is that of the Order of the Eastern Star. Each point of the star represents a different star point. The blue point with the sword and veil represent Adah, whose lesson is obedience to duty. The yellow point with the sheaf of wheat is for Ruth, whose lesson is adherence to religious principles. The white, with the crown and scepter represents Esther, whose lesson is the virtue of loyalty. The green point with the broken column is for Martha, who teaches us the virtue of endurance in a trial. Finally the red point with the cup is for Electa, who teaches ous the lesson of endurance of persecution. The altar with the book in the middle is exactly what you think it is, it represents the volume of sacred law that sits in the East. The word FATAL is the secret phrase used in OES. Please note: OES was created in the 1850’s, long before the inverted pentagram was associated with satanic ritual around the 1960’s.

The crest of the Order of DeMolay

DeMolay, the organization for young men, is also straightforward with their emblem. The crown  is symbolic of the Crown of Youth, and reminds a member of his obligations and the seven principles of his order. Each of the ten rubies along the sides of the emblem represent the Founder of the organization, and the nine original members. There used to be a mixture of pearls and rubies, with pearls representing living members, and rubies, deceased ones. The helmet on top represents the concept of chivalry, a reoccurring theme within DeMolay. The crescent in the center serves as a reminder to never reveal the secrets of the Order, nor the secrets of a friend. The five-armed white cross symbolizes the purities of ones intentions, and to always remember the motto, “No DeMolay shall fail as a citizen, as a leader, and as a man.” The crossed swords in the background are symbols of justice, fortitude, and mercy, and also symbolize the warfare DeMolays face against arrogance, despotism, and intolerance. The stars around the crescent serve as a symbol of hope, and  remind members of their obligations and duties that one brother owes to another.

The rainbow

Surprisingly, the International Order of Rainbow for Girl’s emblem is the hardest one to find out any information on, much more than any of the Masonic “secrets”. However, from what I can gather, the red, white, and blue stripe represents the flag of the United States; although Rainbow is an international organization, it was created here in the States. The hands below represent friendship. Each of the colors represent a different lesson taught in the organization. Red, love; orange, religion; yellow, nature; green, immortality; blue, fidelity; indigo, patriotism; violent, service.  BFCL stands for bible, flag, constitution, and lambskin, the four symbols of the order. The R in the middle simply stands for rainbow.

Job’s Daughter’s emblem

The emblem for Job’s Daughters is very quite simple. The three women in the triangle represent the daughter’s of Job, and each one holds a symbol important to the organization. The dove stands for peace and purity, the urn of incense represents prayer, and the horn of plenty represents the hope of reward for a job well done. The words “Iyob Filiae” literally means Job’s Daughters in Greek.

These are only the emblems for the most common Masonic organizations. There are many others out there, so occasionally you may come across an emblem that is unknown to you. A little research goes a long way in this case.

As always, have a wonderful week!