In Defense of the Hot Sands (Among other things)

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

Newly Initiated Noble Darin Lahners 

I recently joined the Shriners (aka Shriners International formally known as the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.  In all honesty, up until about a month ago, joining the Shrine was the furthest thing from my mind.  This changed when I took a trip with my mentor, friend, and fellow Midnight Freemasons Contributor, Greg Knott to his lake home on the shores of Lake Barkley in Kentucky.  It was at this time I learned that Greg was working on starting a Shrine Club, Salt Fork Shrine Club (named after the Salt Fork River that runs through several of the towns in Eastern Champaign County into Vermillion County).  The club would focus on membership primarily from the lodges located in St. Joseph, Ogden, Homer, and Sidney, however, it would welcome members from other lodges as well.  The idea of the club was twofold: 
1. Support the Shriners Children's Hospitals 
2. Use the club as a vessel to grow Blue Lodge membership in our area (especially in Saint Joseph).  

If you are a long-time reader of my articles, then you can recall my articles about our struggles with getting new membership at St. Joseph #970.  In any case, Greg pleaded his case and I decided that I would become a Shriner.  Initially, I was going to join in December at the Ansar Temple in Springfield, Illinois via the "Hot Sands" ceremony.  However, I was informed by Greg that the "Hot Sands" ceremony was retired, and therefore I would be going: "Cold Sands".    
Editors Note:  I am unable to verify if this is the case or not for all Shrine Temples or only for Ansar. I have heard rumors that it is an edict from the International body regarding retiring the "Hot Sands" ceremony.                                                             

Fellow Nobles of Salt Fork Shrine Club From L to R: Illus. Bro. Greg Knott, WB Mark Catron, WB Darin Lahners,Bro. Brian Clark

On September 25, I joined the Shrine in a quick ceremonial after the Grand Masters Festival in Champaign to become the first "official" new member of Salt Fork Shrine Club.  I was left wanting.  You see, I had gotten my hopes up for something more, and it was just alright.  I want to be clear I am really excited to join The Shrine, and I'm looking forward to uncovering some of the deeper aspects of its ceremonies and ritual, I just wish I would have experienced them first hand.  I wish I would have been given a choice regarding going through the "Hot Sands".

I am the first person to admit that this view is personally somewhat hypocritical regarding some of my other views regarding taboo topics that go against Masonic Tradition that I've written about ad nauseam here.  So what I am about to say will probably surprise you.  There are some traditions that we need to keep in place.   I believe the "Hot Sands" is one of these.  Yes... I'll allow you to pick your jaw up off of the floor, the same guy that is okay with allowing Women to have their own lodges is arguing for keeping tradition. The difference in my mind is that Women having their own lodges and doing their own thing doesn't really impact me personally.  However, if you want to call me a hypocrite, knock yourself out. 

I don't know what was behind the decision to retire the "Hot Sands" ceremony.  Maybe it was concern over potential lawsuits.   If there was a fear of lawsuits, I would have signed a waiver. Maybe it was due to some references to the Islamic faith in the Shrine ritual, and that was a bridge too far for some Freemasons, and it was felt that the ceremony needed to become more "user friendly".  Maybe it just takes too many brethren to put on the ceremony and with dwindling numbers, it just became infeasible to continue them in many areas, so it was easiest just to retire it.  At this point, anything I write here would be hearsay.  What I do know is that I was ready to embrace the Islamic themes of the ritual, walk the "Hot Sands" and encounter whatever else was thrown at me during them knowing that I was in the hands of true and trustworthy brothers.  I wasn't given the choice or the opportunity and I am disappointed to not have that.

Another hypocritical stance I have is this.  As a member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, I have been able to watch and experience many degrees during the pandemic due to the NMJ's documenting many of the degrees on video.  I know that there are a lot of detractors of the NMJ due to this.  However, given the way that AASR degrees are presented, I don't see any difference, and honestly, the production value of the videos is usually greater than anything I see in person.  This isn't meant to besmirch any of my Valley of Danville brethren, as they do fantastic degrees. As I am to understand, there are many Valleys that are smaller and don't have the ability to put on every degree, so the DVD/Video degrees fill an important role for these valleys.   So you'd think that I'd be okay with some rumors I have heard regarding the Grand Lodge of Illinois recording the Blue Lodge Degree Lectures and having the candidates watch a video presentation of them instead of having them recited to them from memory. In fact, the opposite is true.  

The difference to me is that in the case of the NMJ video degrees, the choice is optional.  A Valley can use them, however, they still have the option to present the degrees in a live format.  In the case of the "Hot Sands" or the Blue Lodge Degree Lectures, removing ritual or replacing it with a Video is different in my mind.  First of all, I think that we lose knowledge whenever a ritual is removed from circulation.  As the members that are familiar with how to perform the ritual die off, we are only left with the words.  I'd equate this with a non-Freemason going online and reading our various ritual that has leaked and telling themselves and others that they now know the "Secrets of Freemasonry".  The idea is absurd.  What they are missing is that there is something that happens during the initiation process, a transformation that takes place, and certain mannerisms, cadence, pronunciations given by those performing the degrees are a major part of that process.  When that part of the knowledge of the initiatory process is lost, then we are in effect no better off than the person in my example above.

As for the videos of the Blue Lodge Lectures, I'm sure you will be keen to point out, doesn't your argument hold true for the AASR videos?  Aren't we missing something by not having them done in person?  I would say no.  The nature of those degrees is such that they do not require any candidate participation.  The AASR degrees that do to my understanding will never be shown on Video.  So in watching them, the candidate(s) do not lose anything in their experience.  In my opinion, the lectures serve an important role in the initiatory process.

First and foremost, I think that moving the lectures to a video format completely contradicts everything that has happened up to that point in the degree.  If we look at the above example, if the point of the degree is to be a transformative process, then are we not countering that work by having everything done in a personal matter only to then say... to quote Monty Python: "And now for something completely different!"  Not only are we sending a mixed message to the candidate, but we are also laying the groundwork for more of our ritual to be delivered in this fashion.  In order for the initiatory experience to be transformative, it requires both those that are performing the work and the candidate to be engaged.  Think about the information that the lectures of each degree convey.  Especially in the Fellowcraft degree where there is more participation of the candidate.  Are you telling me that we aren't going to lose some meaning to our degrees if we go to a DVD format for the lectures?  It's preposterous to think that.  Not only that, but one of the beautiful hidden meanings of the lectures is the idea that our knowledge is conveyed mouth to ear in an intimate sacred setting. 

Everything has been in person so far... now you will watch a DVD.

The argument that I have heard for the reasoning for going to this format is that there are just not enough guys to perform the work.  That's absurd.  In Illinois, we have 46,711 Master Masons (according to the Grand Masters Report for 2021) currently.  In the next 10 years, we'll lose more due to attrition.  However, there are enough guys to perform the work.  The problem is that you have in every district a small clique of brothers that are doing the work, and they aren't doing a good job of succession planning.  In my case, there's never been any challenge to me personally to learn the lectures verbatim because, to be honest, I haven't seen the need.  All of the brothers outside of the clique have relied solely on the members of that clique to perform all of the degree work.  I've raised this point to members of the clique, essentially telling them to take others under their wing so they're ready in the case of the Grand Leveler coming to claim them.  Once again, once that knowledge is lost, then it's lost.  But don't give me the... "we don't have the manpower"excuse. Empower your members and hold them accountable, and encourage those in the clique to teach those members outside of the clique.  

The questions we need to ask ourselves are:
What do we want the initiatory experience to be?  Do we want it to be transformative or do we just want to "make" a Mason, Shriner, etc?
Are we willing to settle for less?

In my case, I want the initiatory experience to continue to be transformative. I am not willing to settle for less.  So, I know what I need to do.  First and foremost, I need to learn the lectures and other rituals that I am ignorant of and volunteer to perform them at degrees in my area.  I need to encourage others to do the same.  I also need to learn other rituals (like the Hot Sands) and have others entrusted with it so that if it is needed someday, it can be performed.  If anyone has a copy of the Hot Sands ritual that they'd be willing to share, email me at the address below.  We need to keep our rituals alive for future generations.  


WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at


  1. While this is applicable primarily to the Southern Jurisdiction, it is an important item to note: The AASR degrees were NOT always done as watched morality plays.
    If you talk to some historians of the AASR SJ Ritual, you will learn that Pike rewrote them to be conferred as degree type events - conferred on one candidate at a time, in a Lodge setting - not with a cast of dozens in a theatrical setting. They were also intended to take some time - there are accounts of Brothers sitting at the 14th degree for months!
    The reason that Valleys began to speed things up was because of the Shrine - once that existed, with the requirement to be *either* a KT or a 32nd degree AASR Mason, the Shrine placed pressure on the AASR to cut corners.

    You point out that there's a difference between watching the Craft degrees on video and the AASR degrees that way, but I would argue that is only the case because most AASR Masons, in both the SJ and NMJ, have never had the opportunity to experience them AS degrees.

    The way they are presented now is NOT an initiatic experience - but they USED to be!

    Your argument could be used for men who have gone through the One Day CLasses of the the Craft degrees to argue that there is no need for any other way to conduct the degrees - and there are some jurisdictions in which most of the candidates merely watch one exemplar go through the EA, FC, and MM.

    Making Masonry too easy to get through should NEVER have happened, whether that was in the Craft, the AASR, the YR, or the SHrine degrees.

  2. Thank you Worshipful Brother, Thank you. I couldn't agree with you more on every point you presented. I would add one more. If we are to be Master Masons, who are to teach and mentor apprentices, how can we do that if we do not learn, understand, practice, and present the ritual? What will become of our Masonic course of instruction if we have no instructors? As you pointed out, we will make Masons, and in my opinion, they will never truly become one.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.