Origin of the Degrees
Nearly two hundred years ago, the degrees of Royal Master and Select Master appeared. Traveling Masonic lecturers throughout the East were conferring them upon Masons, while engaging in instructing in Craft (Lodge) and Capitular (Chapter) degrees. Even one Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite included the degree of Select Master as one of its “detached” degrees. But, these beautiful degrees were not to remain detached for any length of time. A Council was formed in New York City as Columbian Grand Council #1 in 1809. The state of Connecticut bore the first Grand Council in 1819. In Virginia and West Virginia the degrees developed in the Chapter of Royal Arch Masons where they still remain. In the 1870’s a General Grand Council was formed for the United States of America. Today this General Grand Council numbers most of the Grand Councils in the United States, as well as many Councils and Grand Councils outside the North American Continent.
What are the Council degrees?
The Council degrees are largely an elaboration and explanation of the Royal Arch degree and, to a lesser extent, the Master Mason degree. The first Council degree, the Royal Master, develops more fully the story of recovery of the “lost” word and the Holy of Holies of the Temple of King Solomon. The next degree, Select Master, concerns itself with the construction and adornment of the subterranean vault introduced in the Royal Arch degree of the Chapter. The last degree is that of Superexcellent Master, and tells the story of the Babylonian Captivity, and of Zedekiah and his perfidy. Council Masonry is also referred to as “Cryptic Masonry”, in allusion to the continuance of the vault, or crypt.
Why are they called “Cryptic” degrees?
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.