The Shriners

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The Shriners are actually rarely called by their full name, which is the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.). This attendant body to Freemasonry was established in 1870 and is quite popular in the United States. The Shriners are perhaps most known among Masons and the general public for the bright fezzes that they wear and for their charity work. Shriners hospitals for children are known throughout North America.

History of the Shriners

In Manhattan’s Knickerbocker Cottage during 1870, there was a specific table on the second floor where many Masons met. At the time, there were many thousands of Masons in Manhattan and once while some were gathered at the Knickerbocker Cottage, they began discussing the possibility of a new fraternity for the Masons. Some of the Masons wanted a fraternity that would focus even more on fraternity and fun. Some of the Masons present, led by Dr. Walter M. Fleming and William J. Florence actually took the steps to make the new fraternity a reality.

William J. Florence got the inspiration for some Shriner’s rituals while visiting Marseilles, Cairo and Algiers. While in Marseilles, Florence visited an Arabian diplomat and saw as musical comedy put on for the diplomat’s guests. At the end of the play, the guests became part of a secret society. Florence saw the ritual repeated in Cairo and Algiers and when he returned to the United States he shared his observations of the rituals with Fleming. Fleming took some of these ideas and developed them into the costumes, emblem, and rituals of the Shriners. Fleming and Florence became Shriners on August 13, 1870, and had initiated 11 other men into the Shriners by June 16, 1871.

The Shriners, right from the start, developed a Middle Eastern theme, most likely because of the way the Shriners had developed. The early Shriners held “Temple” meetings in “mosques.” Only later did the group replace the term “Mosques” with "Shrine Auditoriums" or "Shrine Centers."

By 1875, there were still only 43 men who had been initiated as Shriners. To boost membership, the Shriners created the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America in 1876. The Shriners also began actively looking for new members, so that by 1878 the Shriners could boast 425 members and 13 temples. By1888, membership had swelled to 7,210.

Today’s Shriners

The Shriners are not connected with Islam in any way and are not even a religious group. Today’s Shriners are known for their participation in local parades, where they often create elaborate units out of themed miniature cards. Some Shriner parade units also include bands dressed in exaggerated Middle Eastern dress.

Although traditionally Shriners had to have completed the Scottish Rite or York Rite degrees of Masonry to be eligible for membership in the Shriners, after 2000 any Master Mason can join the Shriners.

Shriners Hospitals for Children

The Shriners, like most Masons, believe in community good works. The Shriners are best known for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, which is a network of twenty-two hospitals across North America. These hospitals are the major contribution that Shriners make to the community. Originally, the hospitals were created to help treat children with polio. However, as better treatment made that disease less common, the hospitals began treating an array of childhood illnesses. Today, the Shriners Hospitals for Children offer all forms of pediatric treatment, although they specialize in burns and orthopedic treatments. Treatment at the Shriners Hospitals for Children is always completely free of charge and any family can take their children for treatment to the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Parents do not need to be Masons or Shriners to have their children admitted. However, patients need to be under eighteen years of age and must be deemed to be treatable to be admitted to the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

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