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What Is Cryptic Masonry
CRYPTIC RITE: No rite of Freemasonry has come into its own so much as the series of degrees known as the Cryptic Rite, also known as the Cryptic Masons. Its popularity is well deserved for there are no more beautiful or meaningful degrees in all Freemasonry that those conferred in a Council of Cryptic Masons.

One reason for its popularity is that it completes a story, a Masonic allegory. Freemasonry is very philosophical and teaches its ideals by allegory or story. This philosophy is moralistic and religious however Freemasonry is not a religion., nor a substitute for one. A requirement for membership in Freemasonry is a professed belief in God and eternal life. It is mandatory that a man profess a personal faith in a Supreme Being prior to becoming a Freemason. Fremasonry never attempts to alter any one's beliefs. Freemasonry offers no theology or plan of salvation. However, it does offer a moral plan to use in this world. Leaving the Mason to look to his religion for salvation into the next world.

Ancient Cryptic Masonry centers around the story of the preservation, loss and recovery of the Word. The Word represents man's search for life's purpose and the nature of GOD. Symbolic Freemasonry, as in the Lodge, teaches of the loss of the Word and hope for its recovery. Royal Arch Masonry, as in the Chapter, teaches its recovery. Cryptic Masonry, as in the Council, completes this story by teaching of the Word's initial preservation.

The Council degrees are referred to as the Cryptic degrees. The Cryptic degrees of Masonry are the Royal Master and Select Master. The Super Excellent Master Degree is a part of the Council degrees but does not have anything to do with a crypt or a vault. The Super Excellent Master Degree is not required in some jurisdictions but all Royal and Select Masters are urged to take this degree when it is conferred. The Cryptic degrees derive their names from the scenes of the Royal and Select Master which are laid in the underground crypt beneath King Solomon’s Temple. The word cryptic means hidden, hence its use in describing the degrees of the Council.

The Cryptic degrees historically precede the Royal Arch; this is a peculiarity of the York Rite, that the moving of degrees is often inverse and the historical connection reversed. The light and knowledge gained always reflects back upon the path we have traveled. This is good for York Rite as it causes the reflective Mason to be continually studying the sublime precepts and ceremonies.

The Royal Master, which is the first degree of the Council, is very impressive and has a valuable lesson pertaining to Ancient Craft Masonry. In the Royal Master Degree, we find H.A. alive, and the sublime teachings of useful labor on earth and a worthy end of life is imparted to the candidate. The tragedy of his untimely death is again brought forward with the great loss suffered by the Craft. The lecture of the Royal Master Degree explains the articles contained in the Holy of Holies of King Solomon’s Temple including the Ark of the Covenant, a knowledge of which is essential to those who are desirous of fully understanding the preceding degrees of Masonry. The principal characters are King Solomon and his associates.

The Select Master Degree is dramatized by one of the incidents that occurred during the building of the Temple. Our three ancient Grand Masters, King Solomon, Hiram of Tyre, and Hiram Abif, appear in charge of a very important work, and one of King Solomon’s most particular friends is promoted to the work. Here secrets are imparted that clarify the preceding degrees. The Select Master Degree is laid in an underground vault, and the knowledge displayed is beneficial to those seeking full Masonic Light and knowledge. The degree is believed to have its origin from a similar degree of Scottish Rite Masonry. The Select Master Degree is highly dramatic, very interesting and completes the circle of perfection of Ancient Craft Masonry.

The Super Excellent Master Degree is the most impressive and beautiful degree of all Masonry. It refers to the last, sad days of the reign of Zedekiah, the last King of Judah, and his punishment for disobeying the commands of Jeremiah and the resultant destruction of the city, and for the destruction of the Temple of God. Fidelity to a trust reposed is the one great lesson taught in the Super Excellent Master Degree, and it affords the foundation for one of the greatest dramas of Old Testament history.

ORIGIN OF THE DEGREES: Royal Master; Select Master; and Super Excellent Master. While early forms of these degrees originated in Europe during the eighteenth century, and arrived in America individually, they were not assembled into the Council of Royal and Select Masters – a York Rite Body – until the first and second decades of the nineteenth century in the United States of America.

The Council Degrees of Royal Master and Select Master are often called Cryptic degrees, because the degrees are concerned with a subterranean crypt or vault where treasure or valuable secrets are preserved, so that they can be subsequently found, often centuries later. Legends about a crypt or vault under the temple mount are very old. One legend, which is found in the Talmud, a Jewish commentary on the Torah dating to around 100 AD, describes a vertical crypt of nine arches one above the other, and attributed to Enoch. The other legend told by Philostorius (born about 365 AD) describes a horizontal crypt consisting of a large cavern reached by a narrow passage. These legends subsequently appear in some of the Old Charges. These legends were expanded and adapted for Masonic degrees by the Chevalier Michael Ramsey and his friends in the Emperors of the East and West in France and Germany during the eighteenth century (1730-1750).

This suggests that the source of the Cryptic Degrees is the same as that of the Scottish Rite. As they have come down to us, however, there is one important difference. In the Cryptic Degrees we talk about the horizontal crypt erected by King Solomon during the construction of the first temple, while the Scottish Rite thirteenth degree talks about the vertical crypt erected much earlier by Enoch.

On September 2, 1810 Thomas Lowndes (1762- 1825) and fifteen other active Masons founded what they named “Columbian Grand Council No. 1, Royal Master Masons”. At this meeting is recorded the first known conferral of the Royal Master Degree.

It is not known where or how Thomas Lownds acquired the Royal Master Degree. On the one hand, he had received several of the degrees of the Rite of Perfection in 1806 from Abraham Jacobs, a Grand Inspector of the Emperors of the East and West, which could have included the Royal Master or a related degree. Moreover, from 1810 to 1816 the Council used Scottish Rite dating. On the other hand, the dispute between Joseph Cerneau and J. J. J. Gourgas over leadership of the Scottish Rite was in full bloom at this time, and the sixteen Brothers included adherants of both sides.

Some scholars are of the opinion that Thomas Lownds created the degree a few years before 1810. At the very least he is recognized as the principal disseminator of the degree.

At the first meeting on September 2, 1810, the members elected their first officers, including Thomas Lownds as “Thrice Illustrious Grand Royal Master”, an office he continued to hold until 1821. They also balloted on four candidates and then conferred the degree on them.

The degree of Royal Master remained the working degree of this Council from its founding until it joined in the formation of the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of New York in 1823. However, shortly after the founding of the Council, it added three additional degrees, one of which survives today. On December 7, 1810, Thomas Lownds conferred the Knight of the Round Table Degree. On March 4, 1811 he conferred the Honorable Order of the Garter. These two degrees, which have since disappeared, were distinctly of English character, with no relation to the Scottish Rite. They are believed to be the work of Thomas Lownds.

On December 22, 1817, is recorded the first conferral of the Degree of Super Excellent Master, presided over by Thomas Lownds. The degree, which has no relation to English degrees with a similar name, was probably written by Thomas Lownds, and hence, is a product of America.

The connection of this degree with York Rite Masonry grew gradually. By 1816, the Council was using York Rite dating. Also, in 1816 candidates affiliations in the minutes changed from their Lodge to listing their Royal Arch Chapter. This was probably in part a result of the fact that Thomas Lownds was an active York Rite Mason. He was several years High Priest of Jerusalem Chapter #8 and attained the rank of Deputy Grand High Priest. He was the first Commander of Columbian Commandery #1, K.T.

The Council, also, gradually established itself as a functioning institution. By 1812 it developed Bylaws, and then a Constitution. For the most part it kept regular minutes. However, there are occasional gaps, sometimes of more than a couple months. This is important because, Jeremy Cross’s reception of the Royal Master degree is not recorded anywhere, although Columbian Council is the most logical place.

In December 1821 a Council of Select Masters was absorbed by Columbian Council, and the first conferral of the Select Degree in Columbian Council was not until December 22, 1821, well after the establishment of many Councils of Royal and Select Masters elsewhere, including the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of CT.

THE USE OF THE NAME CRYPTIC: The degrees of the York Rite are classified as Symbolic (Lodge of Master Masons). Capitular (Chapter of Royal Arch Masons), Cryptic (Council of Cryptic Masons), and Chivalric (Commander of Knights Templar). The Cryptic Rite or degrees derives its name from the setting of the degrees of Royal Master and Select Master in the underground crypt beneath King Solomon's Temple. The word cryptic means hidden, hence its use in describing these degrees. The last of the series of Cryptic degrees is not cryptic because it does not comply with the requirement of a vault scene. It might be regarded as one of the Cryptic Rite's detached degrees for it has no connection either in history or symbolism with those of Royal Master and Select Master, as shall be discussed later.

The important dates documenting the combination of the degrees of Royal Master and Select Master into the Cryptic Rite are two. First, on March 21, 1818 Jeremy Cross visited Middletown, CT where he communicated the “two degrees of Royal and Select Master”, according to his diary. Second, on May 20, 1819 the original constitution of the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of Connecticut granted Councils power to confer the degrees of Royal and Select Master for the established fee.

THE ROYAL MASTER DEGREE: The circumstances on which this degree was founded (according to Masonic tradition) originated at the building of King Solomon’s Temple. Our three ancient Grand Masters, Solomon, King of Israel, Hiram, King of Tyre, and Hiram Abif, at that time formed a resolution to reward all those Master Masons who should prove themselves worthy by their fidelity, industry, and skill, by communicating to them the omnific word. This being agreed upon, it then became necessary to agree at what time and under what circumstances it should be first communicated; this was a point not easily determined. Several plans were proposed, and found exceptional, insomuch, that their deliberations upon this subject continued until a short time prior to the completion of the Temple, when it was proposed by H.A. that the word should not be given until the Temple was completed, and then only in the presence and by the consent of all three. This plan was adopted, and they bound themselves by solemn oaths to a strict observance of the same.

Not long after this agreement, H.A. went into the sanctum sanctorum, as was his usual custom at high twelve, to offer up his prayers to the Deity and draw designs upon the trestle-board, and as he was returning, he was accosted at the entrance of the same by Adoniram who in a very friendly manner inquired when he should receive the omnific word. H.A. replied, “ My worthy friend Adoniram, it is uncertain when, or whether you ever receive it, for, agreeable to arrangements lately entered into by Solomon, King of Israel, Hiram, King of Tyre, and myself, the word cannot be given until the Temple is completed, and then only in the presence of all three.”

Adoniram replied, “Supposing one of you three be removed hence by death, prior to the completion of the Temple, how then shall I expect to receive it?” Hiram Abif, pointing down and tapping the floor three times with his foot, observed in a very solemn tone, “When I die, they’ll bury it there.”

The following passage gives an allusion to what is intended to be represented by this council: “And he set the cherubims within the inner house, and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubims, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other touched the other wall, and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house.”

The ark, called the Glory of Israel, which was set in the middle of the holy place, under the wings of the cherubim, was a small chest or coffer. The companions being thus arranged around the altar, the candidate is conducted into the room, or hall; soon after he enters, a companion, in imitation of H.A., comes in and kneels at the altar (called sanctum sanctorum) and repeats the following prayer:

“Thou, God, knowest our downsitting and uprising, and understandest our thoughts afar off; shield and defend us from the evil intentions of our enemies, and support us under the trials and afflictions we are destined to endure while traveling in this vale of tears. Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth as a flower and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not; seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee; thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass; turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish his day, for there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fall from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up, so man lieth down, and riseth not up till the heavens shall be no more. Yet, O Lord, have compassion on the children of thy creation; administer them comfort in time of trouble, and save them with an everlasting salvation. Amen. So mote it be.”

This degree cannot legally be conferred on any but Royal Arch Masons, who have taken all the preceding degrees, and it is preparatory to that of the Select Master. Although it is short, yet it contains some valuable information, and is intimately connected with the degree of Select Master. It also enables us with ease and facility to examine the privileges of others to this degree, while, at the same time, it proves ourselves. The following passages of scripture are considered to be appropriate to this degree: Rev.xxii 12-14, “And behold I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”

THE SELECT MASTER DEGREE: The oldest document mentioning the degree we now call Select Master is a certificate dated November 8, 1790 wherein Moses Cohen, in his capacity of Grand Inspector General of the Council of Emperors of the East and West, certifies that he had conferred several degrees, including the “Select Master of Twenty Seven” on Abraham Jacobs. This degree is now known to be essentially the same as our Select Master Degree.

The two virtues which it is particularly the symbolical design of the Select Master’s Degree to inculcate are secrecy and silence. They are, indeed, called the cardinal virtues of a Select Master, because the necessity of their practice is prominently set before the candidate in the legend, as well as in all the ceremonies of the degree. But these virtues constitute the very essence of all Masonic character . They are the safeguard of the institution, giving to it all its security and perpetuity, and are enforced by frequent admonitions in all the degrees, from the lowest to the highest. The Entered Apprentice begins his Masonic career by learning the duty of secrecy and silence. Hence it is appropriate that in that degree which is the consummation of initiation, in which the whole cycle of Masonic science in completed, the abstruse machinery of symbolism should be employed to impress the same important virtues on the mind of the neophyte.

The same principles of secrecy and silence existed in all the ancient mysteries and systems of worship. When Aristotle was asked what thing appeared to him to be most difficult of performance, he replied “To be secret and silent”.

“If we turn our eyes back to antiquity,” says Calcott, “we shall find that the old Egyptians had so great a regard for silence and secrecy in the mysteries of their religion that they set up the god Harpocrates, to whom they paid peculiar honor and veneration; who was represented with the right hand placed near the heart, and the left down by his side, covered with a skin before, full of eyes and ears; to signify that of many things to be seen and heard few are to be published.”

Apuleius, who was an initiate in the mysteries of Isis, says: “By no peril will I ever be compelled to disclose to the uninitiated the things that I have had entrusted to me on condition of silence.”

Select Masters therefore work in secrecy and silence, that they may prepare and preserve the sacred deposits of truth until the time shall come for its full revelation. And so should all men do, working now, yet not for the present time alone, but that their labor may bring forth fruit in the future; laboring here among the foundations of the first temple of this transient life, that when their hours of work are finished on earth, the deeds which they have done may be brought to light, and the reward be bestowed in the second temple of eternal life.

This is the true symbolism of the Select Master’s Degree.

THE SUPER EXCELLENT MASTER DEGREE: As we have stated, the degree of Super Excellent Master is not a degree of the Crypt. But, it relates events that lead to the recovery of the lost Word. This degree beautifully tells of a period in history in which all Freemasons are interested, that period following the destruction of the first Temple. The essence of the degree is foretold in the presentation by the Principal Sojourner in the Royal Arch Degree when he makes reference "Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign and he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem, and he did which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God," etc.

The degree of Super Excellent Master is one of the best devised, most impressive, and beautiful degrees. It is most enlightening and relevant to one's daily life. In a display of exciting events, Biblical characters come to life exemplifying the historical drama of the Holy Bible. Here Nebuchadnezzar rules again; Zedekiah proves the results of his wicked life; Ezekiel and Jeremiah prophesy the promises of Almighty God.

CRYPTIC MASONS IN OTHER COUNTRIES: The Cryptic Rite is widespread, although governing bodies exist only in England, Scotland, Canada, and the United States. In England the Cryptic Degrees are controlled by a General Council of the Cryptic Degrees. In Scotland, the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter has jurisdiction over the Cryptic degrees., the Royal Ark Mariner degree, the Knight of the East and West; bodies of the Cryptic Rite are attached to Chapters. It is interesting to note that while Scotland received the first three degrees of the last series from American sources, the degree of Thrice Illustrious Master, taken over recently in this country, was of Scottish origin.

THE WORK OF CRYPTIC MASONS: Freemasonry seeks to improve the community by improving the individual. Therefore, Councils of Cryptic Masons are found working with Lodges, Chapters, and Commanderies giving more opportunities to improve one's skills in leadership, public speaking, interpersonal relationships, and administration. This empowers Masons to become better leaders in their career, church, and community. Councils also work with these and other Masonic groups in community service projects to demonstrate Masonic teachings as a way of life.

The General Grand Council established the Cryptic Medical Research Foundation to give Cryptic Masons an opportunity to turn Masonic philosophy into a living practice. Currently the Foundation is working with medical researchers to find agents to prevent atherosclerosis or more commonly known as hardening of the arteries. This work places thousands of dollars annually into the needed research to stop our nation's largest killer, atherosclerosis and heart disease.

*The General Grand Council of Cryptic Masons International

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