By John W. Davis III
PMIGM and Grand Treasurer, Grand Council of North Carolina

Cryptic Arches
The Cryptic Vault
 

Legends about a crypt or vault under the Temple mount are varied. The Talmudic version, dating to around 100 AD, describes a Vertical crypt of nine arches one above the other, and are attributed to Enoch. Another legend told by Philostorgius describes a horizontal crypt consisting of a large cavern reached by a narrow passage. Both legends 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 France and Germany during the eighteenth century (1730-1750).

As we are reminded, the Cryptic degrees historically precede the Royal Arch; a peculiarity of the York Rite. This is a good thing because it causes the reflective Mason to be continually studying the sublime precepts and ceremonies of the Rite.

This is evidence that the source of the Cryptic Degrees is the same as that of the Scottish Rite. But 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 speaks of the vertical crypt erected much earlier by Enoch.

On September 2, 1810 Thomas Lowndes 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 Lowndes 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.

Another huge issue was 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 aforementioned sixteen Brothers included adherents of both sides.

Some scholars are even of the opinion that Lowndes 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 Lowndes 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.

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

The Council gradually established itself as a functioning institution and 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 particularly important because, Jeremy Cross’s reception of the Royal Master Degree is not recorded anywhere, although Columbian Council is the most logical place.

Three theories about the Cryptic Degrees present themselves:
   

The Stuart Theory:

The Cryptic Rite began to emerge in the 18th Century and some contended that it was Scottish in origin, having a definite connection to the Stuart dynasty.

Primarily, the ritual had a hidden meaning associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie and his attempts to restore the crown to his family. For example, the "widow's son" is tantamount to the heir of King Charles I who was executed; the "lost word" is related to be the "lost cause"; the "raising" of a Mason to reference the restoration of the Stuart Crown.

Further, the Stuart claim of origin theory relates that these "meanings" had to be kept secret for the very reason that they were "treason" in the eyes of the current monarchy. Some claim that this led to the need for "higher" degrees where the membership was carefully selected with the view to using the meeting places as planning sites and the doctrine of Stuart succession. This, it is claimed, is the reason for the legend of the "Secret Vault."

It is certain that the Stuarts in exile used the Masonic higher degrees originating in France for their own purposes, but there is no evidence that they invented them.

The Baltimore Theory:

Since Baltimore was an important city, both commercially and Masonically in the early 19th Century, it should be no surprise that one of the theories of the origins of Cryptic Masonry would be linked to Maryland.

In 1810, the Select Master Degree of Philip Eckel and Hezekiah Niles had already been conferred at a "Grand Council" in Baltimore. On a lecture tour to Baltimore around 1819-1820, Jeremy Cross, well known Masonic lecturer, received the degree from Eckel and spread it far and wide.

Characteristically, Masonic history now gets somewhat blurred when we try to connect the Royal Master Degree and the Select Master Degree. Eckel received the Royal Master Degree in 1819 - nine years after conferring the Select Master on Cross, but that was conferred in a Royal Arch Lodge. Some scholars maintain that it was actually Jeremy Cross who put them together in either 1818 or 1823.

We now also know that Eckel received the Select Master Degree from a man named Henry Wilmans, a Past Master of a Lodge in Charleston, South Carolina (later to be founding Master of a Lodge in Baltimore). Wilmans it seems was a Scottish Rite Inspector General from Europe, and it was this power which permitted him to bestow the Select Master Degree on Eckel in Baltimore in March of 1792. This leads us to the:

Scottish Rite Theory:

Part of the early Rite of Perfection (25 Degrees) was the 5th Degree, termed the "Knight of the Eagle or Select Master." Morin and his successors, Francken (Charleston, 1762 and Albany, New York 1767) and Moses Hayes of Boston (1768) were early proponents of not only the AASR but also of the "Cryptic Degrees” in Charleston, in 1802, they issued a manifesto outlining the degrees to which they claimed jurisdiction. It stated: "Most of the Inspectors are in possession of a number of detached degrees given in different parts of the world and which they generally communicate free of expense to those brethren who are high enough to understand them such as Select Mason of "27." Such in brief is the Scottish Rite claim to the origin and control over the Cryptic degrees. It is supported by the fact that their members, some of whom were inspectors (e.g. Cohen, Jacobs, and Lowndes), actually did confer the degrees and in every instance the first record of conferring of either the Royal Master or the Select Master Degrees indicates that it was conferred by a member of the Rite of Perfection."

So what happened that they are not so associated today? According to most scholars, it was because of a falling out within the ranks of the AASR, Northern Jurisdiction between J.J.J. Gourgas and Joseph Cerneau which saw that Lowndes, most influential over both York Rite and the Cryptic degrees, sided with Cerneau, and the Degrees were actually permanently exported into the York Rite, ca. 1818.

 

Bibliography

Van Doren, Richard- “An Encapsulated History of Cryptic Masonry in Europe and the United States”
Coil, Henry Wilson- “Coils masonic Encyclopedia”
Chase, Jackson H.- “The Textbook of Cryptic Masonry”
Mackey, Albert G.-“ Cryptic Masonry- A Manual of the Council or Monitorial Instructions in the Degrees of Royal and Select Master”

 

Decryption - All Articles

  • General Grand Master's Update: November 2019
  • G. Thomas Taylor, Candidate for General Grand Principal Conductor of the Work
  • 2019 Northeast Conference Recap
  • Passing of MI Silas Wilson, PMIGM of Arkansas and Ambassador to Arkansas
  • Some Aspects of the Theories in the Development of the Cryptic Degrees
  • Ebenezer: Stone of Help
  • Velox Annos (Fast Year) – GGR September 2019
  • South Central Conference Recap
  • The Mercy Seat
  • The First First Responder's Award Presentation
  • What are your regular hours?
  • Aaron's Rod and It's Message
  • Grand Cryptic Council of DC Centenary: November 8-9, 2019
  • Manna: What is it?
  • The Importance of Improvising
  • Guardians of the Sacred Treasures
  • Consejo Internacional 2019
  • Passing of MI Don Himes, PMIGM of Michigan
  • South Central Regional Conference: September 20-21, 2019
  • The 200th Anniversary of the Grand Council of Connecticut
  • Jurisdiction Jewels: Arizona Ish Sodi
  • General Grand Recorder's Update: August 2019
  • Passing of MI Bill Price, PMIGM of California and Ambassador to California-North
  • Arizona, the 48th State, the Wild West
  • I find our number to be 3 times 9 plus 1: The 25th GP Rendezvous
  • The Significance of the Silver Trumpet
  • Introducing the First Responders Award
  • Cryptic Masons International: Enhancing Our Awards Presentation
  • Summary Assembly 2019: Reaffirmation of Your Masonic Lessons
  • The Revitalization of Rathdrum Lodge #41
  • Discharge Your Duty to the Craft
  • General Grand Master's Update: Happy Cryptic New Year!
  • Portugal's Upcoming 22nd Annual Assembly
  • A Challenge to Become an Individual Giver
  • A Review, A Call, and A Need for the General Grand Council's History
  • General Grand Recorder's Update: July 2019
  • Snyder's Synopsis of three of the Thirteen Degrees in the American York Rite
  • A Message from the Decryption Staff
  • The Beginnings of the Thrice Illustrious Master's Degree
  • Arizona: Order of Ish Sodi and Super Excellent Master Degree
  • Passing of Betty J. VanEtten, Widow of Charles VanEtten GGM 2002-2005
  • Deputy General Grand Master: Travels in April (Austria, GEKT Easter Observance, Maine, GGC-PHA,...
  • Educational Article: The Regular Alarm of the Mysterious Nine
  • General Grand Master: More on types of Masonic Members and recent activities
  • General Grand Chaplain's Message: Our Family, Gifts from God, and Masonry's Place in Life
  • Right Puissant Companion Gerald L. "Jerry" Ogle, PGM, has been called to work on the second temple...
  • Right Puissant Companion Carle L. Jackson has been called to work on the second temple above.
  • Update on the Recorders office - a lot done, A LOT left to do!
  • Ritual demand and some changes that will ensure continued availability.
  • The General Grand Master's announcement regarding the next Triennial.
  • ADVANCE AND BE RECOGNIZED! - Being A Cryptic Freemason in an Ever-Changing World.
  • The key to Freemasonry; that each of us – and the Fraternity – grows by mutual admiration and...
  • Technology Update as We Approach the Mid-term of the Triennium.
  • 2018 Provisional Royal & Select Master Ritual - Printed and Available
  • Strategically Approaching the New Year and Beyond
  • From One Member of a GREAT Team
  • Some very significant Grand Council activities in Maryland over the past six months
  • Progress is being made in regards to Cryptic Masonry in the Hawaiian Archipelago
  • Happy New Year, Companions! It's been quite the start.
  • Looking to the future, our faith being in God, we will surely prevail!
  • 2018 European Cryptic Masonry - A year filled with travel for the Cryptic Rite
  • Daniel's Gloves - 'If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?'
  • From the Editor - TWO IN TWO DAYS!! THAT’S TOO MUCH… Or is it enough?
  • 70 Companions gather in France to create 25 new Super Excellent Masters in 2018
  • 2018 Provisional Royal & Select Master Ritual - Announcing the availability of the provisional...
  • General Grand Council Service - Monty Glover and continued service.
  • The General Grand Treasurer, duties and great experiences!
  • GG Chaplain - Christmas at the Gas Station - Carry this warm story through the New Year!
  • From the Editor - Projects, processes and fruition - Catching up with communication.
  • Cooperative work within the Ninth Arch recently resulted in an historic moment for our Craft.
  • Here is an outline of the living plan for a path forward for the General Grand Council.
  • Let’s give you an update on some of the opportunities that I have been given to promote the cause...
  • The Board of Trustees met October 12, 2018 with Dr. Michael Murphy
  • Preserving Traditions, Enabling Masonic Unity, and Creating Conduits for Effective Masonic...
  • We as Masons are generally becoming busier because we are picking up the work that we have laid...
  • Does Character reflect your true self and your true relationship with your God?
  • York Rite Masonry is beginning to spread its wings here in the Mid-Atlantic region
  • Grand Orient of Brazil – about Freemasonry today and the perspectives to it in the rest of the...
  • Such an honor being included on one of the most effective and communicative leadership teams!
  • We in the Southwest still have two major events coming up - Colorado River Fall Festival and the...
  • Nuggets from the North Central Region
  • This is one of the smallest but one of the most important and certainly one of the most curious of...
  • Please anticipate much more on ritualistic teachings like this in future issues.
  • The General Grand Council of Cryptic Masons International has made a major commitment to Masonic...
  • There are (at least) two reasons for having this conference every year...
  • The 2018 Colorado River Fall Festival is being held on October 21st, 22nd, and 23rd.
  • Just a few examples of how the Brothers, Companions, Sir Knights, and Families can be involved in...
  • Freemasonry is 300 years of tradition, unimpeded by progress.
  • Strategic Planning consists of a systematic process that the organization agrees on...
  • Out of the mouth of babes, so they say, comes a saying we can all learn from.
  • Please consider this your invitation to join us at the 61st Annual South-Central Regional York...
  • General Grand Recorder Reassigned, Stephen Balke, GGR and Bryan Bechler, RDGGM for Canada - both...
  • Regional York Rite Conferences: Traditions and the Way Forward as True Partners
  • Kentucky is close to wrapping up Cryptic year 2017-2018, but we’re not done yet!
  • You are cordially invited to the South Dakota Grand York Rite Sessions will occur on September...
  • August, Arizona and Ascending the Cliffs Together
  • Introducing the Cryptic Mason Service Medal
  • You are cordially invited to attend our Grand session in Casper Wyoming in September!
  • The Grand York Rite Session of Colorado for 2018 will be in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
  • This month sees the General Grand Officers becoming very busy after a short lull...
  • Results of the survey on GGCCMI Objectives and Improvements.
  • New York State is proud to have one of the founding Grand Councils.
  • First Year Triennium Reflections
  • Ego autem in nobis Nobis
  • I keep finding evidence of great cooperation between the York Rite bodies from Grand Lodge to...
  • Busy of late, visiting Asia, and Hawaii updates.
  • We just finished our Florida Grand York Rite and all went well with Peace & Harmony Prevailing.
  • A Seat of Power or a Place at the Father's Table?
  • Your General Grand Council officers continue to represent you and share information across several...
  • So, what does this phrase in our ritual signify or reference?
  • Learning to allow the Craft to grow will have its own reward.
  • Regalia, Symbols, and keeping our history alive for future generations.
  • Share your Masonic experience and become a part of others' journey!
  • Masons Operative Masonry English Freemasonry
  • The study of the Evolution of the Three Great Lights
  • When you first joined your Craft Lodge
  • With this issue of the Weekly Decryption, I wanted to briefly report to you about the emerging and...
  • The Education Manual Course that was discussed at our 193rd NY Grand Assembly when I was GPCW and...
  • Last week, MP Grindle mentioned that the General Grand Council is investigating the concept of...
  • The East Central Region consists of the states of Michigan, Indiana and the Commonwealth of...
  • In Delaware, we are proud of the fact that we are the first state. We are also the second...
  • Update including the progress on our Weekly Decryption newsletter, traveling officers, and...
  • Something I've seen over the past few months is how the General Grand Council team is working...
  • It has been truthfully proclaimed that to preserve and transmit our principles to those who...
  • Greetings to my Royal and Select Companions throughout worldwide Cryptic Freemasonry!
  • The Ritual Committee this Triennium is making a concerted effort to correct the many mistakes that...
  • The Cryptic Degrees are a set of three degrees controlled by the Council of Cryptic Masons: Royal...
  • Welcome to a New Year with new beginnings. It’s an exciting time with exciting challenges ahead of...
  • Welcome to the new technology applications of the General Grand Council - We Want YOU! Help us...
  • Greetings from the Southwestern States of the US!
  • Life Membership Listings for the Each of the Grand Councils.
  • Happy New Year, Companions, and welcome to the first issue of our on-line and email newsletter.
  • Despite its antiquity, the York Rite still has a lot of untold histories, unclear symbols and...