Councils of Cryptic Masons form the center body of the York Rite of Freemasonry. A Master Mason may join a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons and receive the four degrees of that organization, after which he may seek further knowledge in Freemasonry and join a Council of Cryptic Masons.
Ancient Cryptic Masonry centers around the story of the preservation, loss, and recovery of the Word. The Word represents the 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 Council, completes this story by teaching of the Word’s initial preservation.
The Council of Cryptic Masons consists of three degrees:
The Royal Master, the Select Master, and the Super Excellent Master.
The Royal Master Degree is the first degree of the Cryptic Rite as conferred in the United States. Candidates who receive the degree are impressed with its dignified ritual and relevant teachings. It contains one section which is generally regarded as an outstanding display of symbolism and content of philosophy. The ritualistic presentations in the degree explain the articles contained in the Holy of Holies and King Solomon’s Temple, including the Ark of the Covenant, a knowledge of which is essential to those who would fully understand the preceding degrees. The principal characters in the degree are King Solomon and his royal assistant.
The Select Master Degree has not always been associated with that of Royal Master. Jeremy Cross, a traveling Masonic lecturer, author, and educator of the early 1800’s, is given credit by most writers for having combined the two degrees into one rite. There is strong evidence to support the theory that the degree came from a similar degree in the Scottish Rite called Intimate Secretary or Grand Tiler of King Solomon. Regardless of its origin, the legend of this degree is very old.
The scene of this degree is laid in the underground vault of King Solomon’s Temple. The events which characterize the degree are stirring enough to make it one intense interest. The ritualistic presentations contain the story to “complete the Circle of Perfection” in Ancient Craft Masonry.
The Super Excellent Master Degree is not actually a degree of the Crypt. However, 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 for eleven years in Jerusalem, and he did which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God.”
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.