INTERNATIONAL SHRINE HILLBILLIES
Jim Harris on Hillbilly Degree Creation
Jim Harris, First Imperial Raban, Clan 1
Many years ago, shortly after I became a Shriner, I was exposed to the world of side-line degrees. Now to reach this point in life, a man must first become a Mason. That is a member of the Masonic Lodge. This is a very great organization, so like my father and brothers, I was very proud to become a member.
Now that I was a Mason; I was promptly informed that I must go on up.” Some urged me to take the York Rites, and some said take the Scottish Rites; some even said to take both. This some of the best advice that I have ever had that I followed. Now I was able to petition and join the Shrine. Shrine Temples are in all areas of North America and apparently these fellows have fun.
So I became a Shriner. A Shriner is permitted to wear the red fez and join in the many social and charitable activities. He can join the Clown Unit, the Marching Patrol, Oriental Band, or other groups and participate in the colorful parades and be seen in many public places. The social activities are many and always proud to be helping support the Shriners Hospitals. What could be finer than to have fun and help the crippled and burned children at the same time?
At this point I was beginning to acquire a billfold full of cards. Each of the Masonic organizations issues their own annual card, and they soon add up. Then the Temple issues a card; and each of the Units also issues their own annual cards. Now a Shriner becomes exposed to the world of side-line degrees. Many Shriners loved to join as many as possible in order to be able to display the membership cards-sometimes dozens and dozens, and he is always proudest if he has more than the other Shriner. It is quite common to see Shriners have special card cases; which they will flip out at the faintest hint to unfold a strip of cards a yard or two long. This is the world of the side-line degree.
Side-line Degrees came under many names: the Horse Traders, Swords of Timbuktu, Yellow Dog, Mandarin, Mad Dogs of Lebanon and many, many others. Often I would wonder where the money that myself and others paid out for these small pieces of cardboard [the valuable membership card] was going to. Why I even joined the Old Bastards. The money went and the number of membership cards grew.
Slowly into my world of awareness came the realization that all of this money paid out for the side-line degrees was going to Shrine clubs, groups of individuals and sometimes to single individuals. The money paid for fine banquets and parties, material objects, and sometimes went into an individuals pocket. Furthermore, some of the Rituals left me rather cold or in disgust. This could not be right.
What the Shriners needed was a new side-line degree, one that had a new and interesting ritual, and above all a purpose—namely that all profits would go for a worthy cause, to help the children who were admitted to the Shriners Hospitals. The members of this new side-line degree must have some fun and enjoy the activities so that he wanted his friends to also participate, and help spread the word of the new Degree. Rules must be drawn up to assure that all profits went to help those crippled and burned children of the Shriners Hospitals and for no other purpose.
After discussing side-line degrees with a friend one day back in 1969, 1 decided to see if I could put something down in writing to establish such a new degree. I could only draw upon my own experiences–born and raised in the Hills of West Virginia and now living in the hills of Kentucky. I could recall the outhouse moon; which closely resembled the Crescent, a symbol held in the highest esteem by all Shriners. This somehow reminded me of corn cobs, moonshine, etc. So I sat down and wrote. Slowly the new Degree took substance and form
Now the Hillbilly Degree did not take form in a few days; it really took several months and several rewrites. The truth is, if I had it to do over, there are a few other changes I would make. However, it finally looked pretty good. Much better than most of the other side-line degrees that I had taken.
Then I wrote a Constitution to assure that no one made any money from this Hillbilly Degree–all profits must go to help those crippled and burned children of the Shriners Hospitals. Now we are ready to go, and a couple of friends agreed to help me try out the new Degree.
With the help of a couple of friends, it takes three to put on the Degree work, we initiated a few of the Shriners of El Hasa Temple in Ashland, Kentucky and everyone seemed to enjoy it. So we realized that the new Hillbilly Degree would be accepted at least as well as the many other side-line degrees.
The next step was to obtain a copyright, so that no group could come along later and put on this degree and not abide by the rules that the profits must go to help the crippled and burned children. This was what it was all about. Thus copyright No. 23370 was obtained in 1970 which can and will be renewed after it expires. Now all that these first Hillbillies received upon initiation was the membership cards. Now we found a source for Hillbilly Hats, and everyone started to wear their ‘Hillbilly Tuxedos,” the overalls to all meetings. The more worn and patched, the better they were accepted. The Hillbilly Degree was on the way, but we still thought of this as only a local side-line degree for the El Hasa Temple area.
At the Imperial Shrine Convention in Miami, Florida in 1970 we decided to put the Hillbilly Degree work on. Over a hundred joined from other Temples, and the Shriners from Hejaz Temple in South Carolina wanted to be authorized to put on this Hillbilly Degree and put on the work in the name of their own Clan. This called for some quick action.
Since it was apparent that The Grand and Glorious Order of the Hillbilly Degree was a success, it was important to tie up all the loose ends. A Trust agreement was drawn up between the three officers accepting the responsibility of control of any money coming into their hands to be for the charitable benefit of the crippled and burned children. Agreement was certified and duly registered. An application was filed with the Internal Revenue Service for exemption from Federal income tax and was approved. Finally approval was granted by the Board of Trustees of the Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children to raise money for the Shriners Hospitals.
Now, do you know of any other side-line degree in Shrinedom that has received all of these approvals? If you do, let me know so that I can apply for membership.
An Application for Chapter was drawn up and the people of South Carolina from Hejaz Temple were granted Clan No. 2. Slowly the word went out and Kosair received Clan No. 3. Beni Kedem in W. Va. asked for Clan No. 4 in 1971; and Syrian of Cincinnati received Clan No. 5 in 1972. Clan No. 6 at Nemesis of W. Va. was not set up until 1974, Aladdin of Columbus, Ohio became Clan No. 7.
No. 8 also went to Aladdin, the only Temple to have two Clans. Then came Rajah, Bektash, Yaarab, Lulu, Oasis, Murat, Kena, Al Koran, Acca and Morocco. Others followed in Al Chymia, Crescent, Moslem, etc. to the current total of 60 Clans as of Sept. 1981. Two are in Canada.