The History of the Shriners

Learn about the history of El Katif Shriners.

El Katif Shriners

The History of the Shriners

Learn about the history of El Katif Shriners.

The History of the Shriners


The Shriners, or Shrine Masons, were originally called “The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” (A.A.O.N.M.S.). This was changed a few years ago, when we branched out to other countries beyond North America, and we are now know as “Shriners International”.

It all started in Manhattan in 1870 when some members of what’s considered the world’s oldest fraternity – Masonry – were hanging out at their favorite tavern. They felt that while they loved Masonry, which traces its roots to stonemasons and craftsmen of the Middle Ages, was a tad too focused on ritual. These men wanted a fraternity that stressed fun and fellowship.

Two of those gentlemen – Walter M Fleming, M.D., and Billy Florence, an actor – took that idea and ran with it. Florence came up with the idea for a Near Eastern-themed party after attending a party thrown by an Arabian diplomat. Fleming added the structure, drafting the fraternity’s name, initiation rites, rituals and rules. Together, Fleming and Florence designed the fraternity’s emblem, devised a salutation and determined that the red fez with the black tassel would be the group’s official headgear.

The first chapter, Mecca Shriners, met in New York City in 1872. As word got out about the fledgling organization, membership grew rapidly, spreading across the U.S. In the early 1900s, membership spread into Canada, Mexico and Panama. Today there are approximately 340,000 Shriners belonging to over 190 Shrine Centers and many Shrine Clubs throughout the world.

The Shrine is best known for its colorful parades, its distinctive red fez, and its official philanthropy, Shriners Hospitals for Children, which is often called “the heart and soul of the Shrine.

Why do Shriners wear a Fez

The red fez with a black tassel, the Shrine’s most distinctive symbol, has been handed down through the ages. It derives its name from the place where it was first manufactured – the holy city of Fez, Morocco. The fez was chosen as part of the Shrine’s Arabic (Near-Eastern) theme, around which the color and pageantry of the Shrine are developed.

Freemasonry and its ties to the Shrine

In order to become a Shriner, a man must first be a Freemason, or Mason as it is most commonly referred as. The fraternity of Freemasonry is the oldest, largest and most widely known Fraternity in the world. It dates back hundreds of years to when stonemasons and other craftsmen on building projects gathered in shelter houses, or lodges. Over the years, formal Masonic lodges emerged, with members bound together not by trade, but by their own desire to be Fraternal Brothers.

The basic unit of Masonry is the Blue Lodge, where members earn the first three Masonic Degrees. There is no higher degree than that of Master Mason (the Third Degree), but if a man wishes to further explore the allegory and symbolism learned in the Blue Lodge, he can join the Scottish Rite and/or the York Rite, both of which elaborate on the basic tenets of Freemasonry.

The steps to becoming a Shrine Mason

Every Shriner is first a Mason: however, in many parts of North America, Masonry does not solicit members. In these areas, no one is asked to join. A man must seek admission of his own free will. A man is a fully accepted “Blue Lodge” Mason after he has received and proved proficiency in the first three degrees, known as Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason.

After that, he can belong to many other organizations which have their roots in Masonry and which have Blue Lodge Masonry as a prerequisite. Only when a Master Mason has proven proficiency in the Third Degree can he petition to become a Noble of the Mystic Shrine.

Where to get a Petition for Membership

To become a Shriner you must first be a Master Mason. Click on the path that applies to you.

If you are not a member in the Masonic Order, please click here: http://www.beashrinernow.com/Roadmap/MasonPath.aspx

If you are a member in the Masonic Order, and want to know how to join the Shrine, please click here: http://www.beashrinernow.com/Roadmap/ShrinePath.aspx

If you are a Master Mason in good standing in our jurisdiction, and wish to obtain a Petition for membership, contact the El Katif Shrine Office at: adminassist@elkatif.org

The Shrine’s Middle Eastern Theme

The Shrine is as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. It was tied to an Arabic theme by its founders, Billy Florence, an actor, and Walter Fleming, a physician. Fleming and Florence realized the fledging fraternity needed a colorful, exciting backdrop. It is believed that Florence conceived the Shrine’s Near Eastern setting while on tour in Europe.

As the legend goes, Florence attended a party in Marseilles, France, hosted by an Arabian diplomat. At the end of the party, the guests became members of a secret society. Florence realized this might be the ideal vehicle for the new fraternity, and he made copious notes and drawings of the ceremony.

When Florence returned to the States, Fleming agreed, and together they created elaborate rituals, designed the emblem and costumes, and formulated the salutation.
Though the Shrine is not itself a secret society, it still retains much of the mysticism and secrecy of its origins.

The Shrine supported various charities almost from its inception. In 1920, however, the organization voted to adopt its own official philanthropy, dedicated to providing orthopedic medical care to children in need, regardless of a families ability to pay, and the first Shriners Hospital was built in Shreveport, LA., in 1922. The Shrine’s philanthropy eventually expanded to 22 “Centers of Excellence.”

Membership a top priority for the Shrine

The membership of the Shrine of North America continues to decline at an alarming rate. In fact, every 24 hours, the Shrine loses 46 Nobles.  While this statistic is shocking, with a cooperative effort throughout Shrinedom, it is not irreversible.

A Message from Jeffrey L. Sowder, Imperial Potentate, Shriner’s International

Dear Fellow Nobles,

First – I would like to say THANK YOU for the privilege of serving as YOUR Imperial Potentate. Cheryl and I are extremely honored to be temporarily elevated to this position and we promise that we will work each day to try to make our fraternity and philanthropy a little better than the day before. Throughout my life, I have always believed that EVERYONE should belong to something bigger than they are so they can join with others to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. EVERY person can be that JUST ONE person who makes a positive difference in the lives of other people. I am honored to be working with each of you this year as we strive to MAKE A DIFFERENCE each and every day.

As we start this Imperial year, we need to make membership our #1 PRIORITY. We MUST rebuild our fraternity and our temple membership and we MUST take responsibility to get this important task done. I have only one simple request – that we ALL – every one of us – get JUST ONE new member during this next 12 months. If ALL of us – working together – focus on getting JUST ONE new member, either by creation or by restoration, we will see an IMMEDIATE impact on our declining membership. 

We MUST look at everyone we come in contact with differently – those we work with – those we go to church with – the fathers and grandfathers of the children who attend the school that our children and grandchildren attend. We must ask ourselves “would these men make good Masons and Shriners?” We then need to not be afraid to ASK them about becoming a member of the world’s oldest, largest, most widely known and most widely respected fraternal organization in the world – FREEMASONRY – and then to become a Shriner and join us as an owner of 22 health care facilities that make up the world’s greatest philanthropy – SHRINERS HOSPITALS FOR CHILDREN. 

I challenge each of you to always have your two-minute elevator speech on WHY you are a Shrine-Mason ready – we MUST be able to be articulate the PRIDE we each have in our membership with each person we encounter. We MUST be able to tell them about the miracles that happen every day in our hospitals and outpatient centers, and that we have made a positive difference in the lives of over 1.4 MILLION children and their families, all regardless of their ability to pay.

The Shriner’s Creed

Shriners believe in God and that He created man to serve His purposes, among which is service to others in His name.

We believe that care for the less fortunate, especially children who suffer from burns and crippling diseases, is our institutional calling. We are patriots, each willing to serve his country with fidelity and courage. We cherish independence under law and freedom with responsibility.

We honor family. We respect out parents, wives and children. We should instill in our children the tenets of this creed and the heritage from which it emanates.

As individuals we pledge ourselves to integrity, virtue and nobility of character. Our intentions will be honorable. Our relations will be trustworthy and our spirits forgiving of each other.

As brothers we offer each other fraternal affection and respect. Together we will support each other in adherence to this creed so that we and our communities will be the better because of our fraternity and its principals.

As Shriners we look beyond ourselves to serve the needs of others, especially children who cannot help themselves. We believe Shriners Hospitals to be the world’s greatest philanthropy, and we covenant with each other to support its “temples of mercy” with spirit, time, talent and means.