Cryptic Masonry and its place in the York Rite

by Ralph S. Davis, M.P.S. (Illinois)

CRYPTIC MASONRY derives its name from the Latin word crypticusmeaning concealed, and from the Greek word krypte meaning to hide: a concealed place or subterranean vault. Mackey says it is a division of the Masonic system, which is directed to the investigation and cultivation of the Cryptic degrees and is literally Freemasonry of the secret vault.

Cryptic Masonry teaches through symbolism the concealment of that which later will be found, and is but a part of the age-old Masonic lesson of the loss and recovery.

The origin of these degrees is obscure, like many degrees of Freemasonry, and the exact date of their introduction into this country is not known. Yet they have been worked here for nearly a hundred and fifty years. There is very little disagreement among Masonic students but that the degrees from Entered Apprentice to Select Master have been fabricated from lectures and legends contained in the Ancient Charges.

The Cryptic degrees as conferred in a Council of Royal and Select Masters are not pre-requisite to the Masonic Orders of Christian Knighthood yet they have always been held as Masonic and as supplemental to the degree of Master Mason and to the degree of the Holy Royal Arch. (In Virginia and West Virginia the degrees of Royal and Select Master are conferred in a Royal Arch Chapter). Because they are not pre-requisite to the Commandery Orders, some have thought them not to be a part of the York (or American) Rite, and therefore not connected in any way with the Craft degrees. Contrary, however, to that thinking, they play a vital part in the Craft system, in that they serve to solve the riddle of the “Lost Word.”

In the Lodge we are told that the Word is lost, and search was made and it could not be found. In the Royal Arch Chapter, the Word is found (by accident) but only in the Cryptic degrees do we obtain the key to understanding and fully comprehend the meaning of the Word and the mysteries that belong to the Holy Royal Arch.

The historical setting of the Royal Master degree is just before the completion of the Temple. Here we find the answer to that alarming assertion “I fear the Master’s Word is forever lost”. It also brings forth, beautifully symbolized, that great Masonic idea – that of a laborer seeking his reward.

The Select Master degree is the link that connects the Master Mason degree to the Royal Arch. Without this degree the mystery of the recovery would remain in darkness. It gives a rational account of the preservation of those valued treasures, which there buried in darkness for a period of four hundred seventy years. The possession of these two degrees are vital for the proper appreciation of the true significance of Masonry and are absolutely necessary for a thorough understanding of the preceding degrees.

The Super Excellent Master degree bears a direct relation to the Royal Arch degree and while symbolically has no connection with the degree of Royal and Select Master, it has always been conferred in a Council of Select Masters. It is probably the most dramatic and impressive of all degrees. It deals with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The Cryptic degrees bridge the gap between the degrees of the Symbolic Lodge and the Royal Arch degrees.