Some Basic Information about Cryptic Masonry
(Prepared April 18, 1995, revised May 23, 1998)
(This paper is intended to present some information
to stimulate discussion. It is based on limited research by Paul M. Bessel, who is solely
responsible for any errors and who would welcome any corrections or suggestions.)
The Cryptic Rite is "one of the smallest but
one of the most important and certainly one of the most curious of all the rites,"
according to Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia. "Crypt" comes from a Greek
word meaning "hide, conceal, or secret," and thus has come to mean a vault,
cave, or other place of underground concealment. The Cryptic degrees are centered on
stories involving a vault or crypt where certain treasures were hidden beneath King
Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem for very specific purposes. They were first called
"Cryptic" by Rob Morris, a very influential Mason in the 1800's.
Cryptic Masonry now consists of the two degrees that
concern the crypt or vault under King Solomon's Temple, the Royal Master degree and the
Select Master degree. These originally had no relation to each other, and were only
combined into a Rite until after they had each existed for many years.
Masons have disagreed for many years whether the
Royal or the Select degree should be conferred first, and whether they should both be
conferred before or after the Royal Arch degree. Both should precede the Royal Arch
degree, which is based on the rebuilding of the Temple after it had been destroyed, yet in
most States only those who have first gone through the Royal Arch degree can obtain the
Royal and Select Masters degrees.
There is a General Grand Council over the Cryptic
Rite in the U.S., which helps bring about uniformity of ritual, etc. The Grand Councils in
each State are sovereign, and individual Councils of Royal and Select Masters are usually
chartered and governed by the Grand Councils. In two States (Virginia and West Virginia)
the Royal and Select Master degrees are conferred in Royal Arch Chapters.
The Select Master degree was probably first
conferred in America about 1790 in Jamaica by Moses Cohen under what became the Scottish
Rite. By 1792 Cohen was in the United States conferring the degree of "Select Master
of Twenty-seven" on many Masons. The Royal Master degree was probably first conferred
in America in 1810 in New York.
Jeremy Ladd Cross (1783-1861) was the originator of
the Cryptic Rite as we know it. He lived most of his life in New Hampshire and
Connecticut. His education, grammar, and knowledge of Masonry were poor but he had an
excellent memory for ritual. He said, "When you memorize what I am teaching you, you
will know as much about Masonry as I do." It was said that he always did the ritual
in the same way, repeating the same instructions in the same words, varying neither
gesture, step, syllable, or letter. Cross was a student of Thomas Smith Webb, the most
famous American Masonic ritualist. Cross received authorization from several Grand Masters
to travel and teach any of the degrees in Masonry in any state. He did this, making his
living from fees for the degrees, plus selling his books and Masonic regalia, and in the
process establishing Councils of Royal and Select Masters.
Although the history of the Cryptic degrees is
connected with the Scottish Rite degrees, Cryptic Masonry is now a part of the York, or
American Rite. In 1850 the Scottish Rite Supreme Councils claimed jurisdiction over the
Cryptic degrees, but they gave up this claim in 1870. Some felt that Scottish Rite degrees
(13th) cover similar ground, so the Scottish Rite did not need the Cryptic degrees. Since
the discovery in the Royal Arch degree is related to the deposit mentioned in the Royal
and Select Master degrees, these degrees are logically in the York Rite.
There has always been an issue whether the Cryptic
degrees should be conferred in Royal Arch Chapters or in separate Councils of Royal and
The Mississippi Grand Council proposed in 1873 that
each Grand Royal Arch Chapter open a Council of Royal and Select Masters under it, and
that the Grand Councils should dissolve themselves. Several states followed this Plan, but
many were opposed. Also, the Cryptic degrees seemed to be forgotten in some states where
they had been included in the Royal Arch, or Capitular system.
The General Grand Council was organized to help stop
efforts to combine the Cryptic degrees in Royal Arch Masonry and to bring about more
uniformity of ritual and organization in the Cryptic degrees. In 1872 fourteen Grand
Councils met in New York and resolved that the Cryptic degrees should be under the
exclusive jurisdiction of Councils, with no one who received the degrees in Royal Arch
Chapters being recognized. This delayed things, because many Royal and Select Masters had
received those degrees in Royal Arch Chapters. It was not until 1880 that a constitution
was formed, and the General Grand Council came into existence in 1881 when it was ratified
by nine Grand Councils. The first meeting of the General Grand Council was in Denver in
The Council of Excellent, Royal, Select and
Super-Excellent Masters was established in 1873 by four Councils which had been chartered
two years earlier by the Grand Council of New York. The Grand Council of Illinois
chartered Councils in Scotland in 1878, and the Scottish Grand Council was formed in 1880.
In England, Cryptic Masonry consists of the Most Excellent Master (a shorter form than the
one in U.S. Royal Arch Masonry), Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master.
As of 1961 (when Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia
was published), the General Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters in the U.S. included
Grand Councils in most states, but not Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode
Island, Illinois, and Texas. Since 1942 the General Grand Council recognized the Royal and
Select Master degrees as conferred in the Royal Arch Chapters in Virginia and West
Virginia. The General Grand Council directly charters Councils in New Mexico, Panama,
Mexico, and the Philippines.
History of the Cryptic Rite, by Eugene E.
Hinman, Ray V. Denslow, and Charles C. Hunt, published by the General Grand Council,
R&SM, U.S.A., 1931
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