This is the story of an organization that is as “American” as apple pie, despite its name, so don’t let that name mislead you, for after all, what’s in a name? Certainly not what’s implied in the case of the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.
The major resemblance, if any, of the Mystic Shrine of North America to any possible connection to organizations existing in Middle Eastern Europe back in the 6th Century is in its selection of names for its Temples; in its glamorous pageantry; in its colorful ceremonial and parade costumes and trappings, and in its return to early history for its ritualistic lessons.
Mystery and uncertainty shroud the formation of virtually all secret societies and the Mystic Shrine of North America is no exception.
We know why, how and where the Mystic Shrine of North America was actually founded but what we don’t know is where to place the dividing line between fact and fiction as regards to a possible early-day namesake organization in the Middle East. We know considerable showmanship is necessary in the establishment of any secret order because it lends importance and attractiveness that cause people to desire and seek membership. We know that the co-founders of the Mystic Shrine of North America were good showmen. Actor William Florence was reared to regard the world as a stage and all the people as actors. Dr. Walter M. Fleming could have earned a good livelihood as a juggler and magician.
The fact about the founding of the Mystic Shrine of North America is that these two men did most of the preliminary work. Dr. Fleming concocted the idea of a new fraternal Order, plugged away at it day and night for many years, and finally saw it bear fruit. Actor Florence’s name was well known and he added a touch of glamour to the project and actually came up with the dramatic idea for the Order and its ritual.
As in the cases of many other famous men, the paths of the co-founders of the Mystic Shrine of North America crossed long before they met and became fast friends and fraternal Brothers.
Dr. Fleming was completing his higher degree work in Masonry at the time, and in his quest for complete relaxation, he had an urge to establish a playground for Masons – an organization to which only Masons who had completed their Scottish Rite or York Rite would be eligible. He discussed the idea with Florence, hoping to obtain from that master showman some tips relative to a name and possibly a ritual. What Dr. Fleming desired was something that would be both impressive and amusing – something in which good fellowship would abound.
The talks with Florence came on the eve of his departure with his wife for their tour of the British Isles and Europe. Florence promised to keep an eye open for an idea. A few months later, in Marseilles, France, actor Florence was invited by a banker to attend a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The entertainment apparently was something in the nature of an elaborately staged musical comedy, at the conclusion of which, the guests became members of a secret society.
The first actual development following the return of Florence was the completion of a rough draft of the Ritual that was finished in August 1870.
An early publicity release relative to the Mystic Shrine was that it was exceedingly difficult to pass the initiation tests. The word was that they were tough both mentally and physically.
Finally, the word got around that members of the Mystic Shrine were permitted to wear an emblem that set them apart from all others and a red fez head covering that really attracted attention. Quite naturally the build-up stirred widespread interest, which was exactly what the promoters desired.
The road ahead was no path of roses for the infant Mystic Shrine of North America but Nobles can be thankful not only for the perseverance of Dr. Fleming and for his bulldog tenacity in pushing through to his goals, but also for the fact that he found time to give fullest possible attention to even the most minute details. He planned and achieved a complete organization even to emblems and costumes when he built the Mystic Shrine of North America.
The Crescent was adopted as the Jewel of the Order. In forming the Crescent the most valuable and sought after materials were the claws of a Royal Bengal Tiger. They were united at their bases in gold setting. In the center was the head of a sphinx, on the back of which was a pyramid, urn and star. The Jewel bore the motto in Arabic, “Kuwat Wa Ghadab,” the English translation of which is “Strength and Fury”.
Dr. Fleming and his co-workers also provided a salutation that has stood the test of time. The salutation among the Faithful is “Es Selamu Aleikum!” This means “Peace be with You!” In returning the salutation, the gracious wish is “Aleikum es Selamu” “With you be peace.”
The fez, which Nobles of the Mystic Shrine of North America have the privilege and honor of wearing, has been handed down through the ages as one of the most significant of all headdresses. The fez derives its name from the place where it first was manufactured commercially, the holy city of Fez, in Morocco.
What We Are Today
The Shrine as a great Fraternal Order, with an even greater charitable program which has earned the title of “The World’s Greatest Philanthropy”, is certainly a Shrine on the forward march. The organization which started as a fun order in 1872 and found its soul in 1921 is on the way to bigger and better things. The organization has proven that it has the power to survive and the spirit to flourish and grow.
No one man could write all of the story of this strange, dynamic, powerful, yet kindly Order, known as the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Contrary to the supposition of many who have not been “correctly” informed, Shriners have always acknowledged allegiance to Craft Masonry and no violation of either Masonic law or Shrine law is permitted by members of the organization. In order to be eligible for Shrine membership you must be a Master Mason in good standing and an active member of an acceptable Masonic Lodge before he can petition for membership in the Shrine. As individuals, of course, Shriners must all comply with the accepted and established principles of Masonic conduct and practices. Gross failure to do so subjects them to suspension or expulsion from the lodge which carries with it ultimate suspension in the Shrine. But even this is a law established by the Shrine itself, not one imposed by any Grand Lodge.
It is a well known psychological fact that most men never lose their boyhood faculty of dreaming, or projecting themselves into strange and mysterious lands of performing mighty feats and doing wonders with ease and facility. And of all the lands of mystery, magic, glamour, charm and delight, none excels that of ancient Arabia. Beautiful, strange, colorful, a land of mystery, peculiar customs, yet one of pomp, ceremony, majesty and glory, the ancient courts and civilization of Arabia have stirred the imagination and haunted the dreams of millions. However, as this “history” unfolds, it’s obvious that the Shrine does not dwell exclusively in the past or that its interests are confined to the customs and traditions of the Far East. Aside from its excursions into those historic lands and customs of the past, the Order is as modern as today. To its ranks come many of the foremost leaders of business, the professions and government. These men all have found something of value in the work of the Temples. They enjoy the association of their fellows, men whose loyalty, worth and dependability were proven by the fact they are members. Its loyalty to the countries in which it functions is outstanding. No organization in North America better understands the value of liberty, what it costs and what must be done to maintain it. While as an organization it does not project itself upon the national political scene, its convictions and faith are expressed through the six hundred thousand Nobles of 195 Temples, who include many prominent, able and important men whose voices are heard in the councils of nations.
The Shriners have earned the reputation of being among the best citizens of their several countries. This is exemplified in the fact that the history of our various wars reflect the information that Shriners promoted War Bond sales programs and did an outstanding job in the respect. They also took the lead in Civil Defense work in their communities. The Shriners who were of proper age gave their services to the Armed Forces of their countries and the history states that many of the glorious list include MacArthur, Wainwright, King and Doolittle.
The list of great statesmen of our country includes names of Harding, Roosevelt, Truman, Ford and many others of our country’s leaders. Canada has enjoyed distinction in this way through former Prime Minister Diefenbaker as a Noble.
Many of those who did not serve in the Armed Forces were called to serve their country in key positions as dollar-a-year men. In fields other than military will be found the great leaders of business, financial, professional, scientific, arts and, in fact, all fields of endeavor find the names of many members of the Shrine well at the top of the list. The Shrine has truly been a great force in the lives of many great men.
The story of the Shrine is that of hundreds of thousands of men, Freemasons all, who join together to mix fellowship, pleasure, entertainment, good will and vast charity in a grand scale program of fraternal good works that truly earns for them the title of…. NOBLE