The Cryptic Degrees of Freemasonry
by Barry E. Newell, KYCH
Ill. Grand Captain of the Guard
Grand Council of Cryptic Masons of Idaho
The York Rite is one of many organizations around the world that falls under the umbrella of Freemasonry. The term York Rite is a misnomer though and should more accurately be called the American Rite as this rite is comprised of degrees and orders uniquely structured in America in comparison to that seen in such places like the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Scotland. The York Rite is composed three main organizations who each operate with their own hierarchy and enjoy their own autonomy. These three bodies have united in a confederate system to ensure mutual continuation and prosperity. These three bodies are known as the Chapter of Royal Arch Masonry, the Council of Cryptic Masonry, and the Commandery of Knights Templar.
The Cryptic Degrees are a set of three degrees controlled by the Council of Cryptic Masons (often just referred to as Council of Select Masters): Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master. Only the first two degrees are regularly worked in a Council. The degree, Super Excellent Master, is worked as an honorary degree.
The degrees get their name from the reference to a hidden or secret vault in the degrees, hence the term Cryptic. Vaults are a common motif in legends and stories concerning the preservation of knowledge and so the Cryptic degrees can also be called the Preservation Degrees.
So why are the Cryptic Degrees important?
Going back to the Master Mason degree, a newly Raised Master Mason has learned that with the death of Hiram Abiff, the Master’s Word is lost. For the aspirant seeking further light, he could join Royal Arch Masonry where the long-lost Master’s Word is discovered during the rebuilding of the Second Temple after the end of the Jewish captivity in Babylon. While this seems like the completion of ancient Craft Masonry, one is still left with questions.
In the Master Mason degree aspirants portrays the Grand Master, but it is a very short dialogue. In the cryptic degrees, a candidate truly sees the characteristics that typify the Grand Master and personifies all that being a Master Masons means.
The Royal Master degree displays the events leading up to death of the Grand Master. While the degree teaches us many lessons, the Royal Master more importantly teaches us that our first three Most Excellent Grand Masters knew the day may come that the Master Mason's word would be lost and in the Select Master degree shows the means by which they preserved the Word for future pages to discover.
With attaining the cryptic degrees, a Master Mason comes full circle and fully completes his quest at attaining the Master Mason's word as well as learning the means in which it was preserved over the ages.