Snyder’s Synopsis of three of the Thirteen Degrees in the American York Rite
A Case for the Three Degrees of the Cryptic Rite
General Grand Principal Conductor of the Work
It has been traditionally said that there are Nine (9) Degrees that comprise the American York Rite. Those Nine Degrees are the Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, (Holy) Royal Arch in the Capitula Rite, the Royal Master and Select Master in the Cryptic Rite, and the Red Cross, Malta and Temple in the Templar Orders. As a result, the Super-Excellent Master Degree is viewed by many as an extra degree that is a wonderful but optional conferral. The Cryptic Rite is left to have only TWO (2) degrees as its foundation.
Most often cited is the authority of Albert G. Mackey who contended that since the number 9 is the recognized number of the York Rite for many purposes, there could only be NINE York Rite Degrees. The Super-Excellent Master (SEM) Degree necessarily had to be relegated to the status of being an optional but beautiful ceremonial degree. Mackey and most of our Cryptic rituals tell our candidates that the SEM has little to connect it with the ritual or history of the Royal Master and Select Master degree. Mackey’s focus was on the fidelity portion of the Super-Excellent Master Degree which focuses on the failings of the last King of Israel.
I suggest to you that Mackey was WRONG and our perspective on the SEM is WRONG. In like manner, I will suggest to you that we also neglect some important aspects of the Select Master and Royal Master Degrees. It is time to renew our commitment to excellence in the Cryptic Rite and that begins with our THREE (3) Degrees in the Cryptic Rite.
First, this same Mackey told all of us that the first three Craft Degrees are a part of the American York Rite System. My Dear Albert, that would be a total of Twelve (12) Degrees, not Nine (9). As to the SEM, in most of our rituals throughout the States, there is the significant study of the Square, Circle and Triangle.
We are told that the Square represents the Perfect Ashlar, the Circle represents Unity or Completeness, and the Triangle represents Our Deity. Three symbols well-known to all of us in the Craft Degrees as well as the rest of the recognized York Rite Degrees. Mackey simply chose to ignore this part of the SEM in order to keep his conceptual reliance upon a perfect NINE being the number of the York Rite for all purposes.
As I have noted in many Grand Council sessions across the United States, is not the true Perfect Ashlar found in our God, our Deity? Is not the true realization of Unity found in our God?
Is it not abundantly clear to all of us that the Square, the Circle and the Triangle all represent the Grand Geometrician of the Universe? Thus, it is difficult to continue to contend in our rituals and our perspective that the SEM has no connection in history or ritual with the Cryptic Rite Degrees or the other York Rite Degrees. In my state, we present the SEM at least once a year in full form, with 44 cast roles. Yet, we also present it in a short form in several other locations and we are now working to place the emphasis on the symbolism. You may not serve as a local or Grand Council officer unless you have received the SEM in some form.
We need to begin to change this in our rituals and recognize that this is an important part of the Cryptic Rite, and one that will be of great benefit to future generations if properly presented and not just treated as a grand yet cumbersome effort. We cannot let the SEM become only a rarely conferred degree nor let its’ very important symbolic lessons be lost over time.
Our venerable Mackey also has told us that the Select Master Degree is deliberately conferred out of order, as Royal Master is truly the last degree of the Cryptic Rite. In most of our rituals, the fortunate Companion who is selected to play the role of Ahishar, the snoozing guard at the entrance to the Secret Vault, enjoys the benefit of this being the comedy relief moment of our conferrals. Ahishar is presented as a person of low rank, who can easily be put to death for the sake of Zabud.
For the sake of our number being 27, Ahishar dies and Zabud fills the vacancy. As the Biblical and Historical Ahishar is not a person of low rank but the head of all of King Solomon’s household as well as a Guardian of the Secret Vault, a Select of the Twenty-Seven, perhaps we are missing some important point that would be of benefit to our new Companions.
I suggest to you that Ahishar’s position was one that he held by virtue of being a blood relative, a kinsman of King Solomon, one who was in the familial and Royal Circle of Trust of King Solomon’s Court.
Most likely, he was a descendant of King David, and his part of the family was not part of any insurrection against Solomon being installed as King David’s successor. While the proper number of Tyrians or those of other descent in the Select of Twenty-Seven may be debated for the purposes of our legends, it should be clear that some of the Twenty-Seven were likely citizens of Solomon’s Kingdom, and Ahishar’s role as either Head of the Royal Household or the Guardian of the Secret Vault indicates that he was connected to King Solomon by more than a friendship.
What if the point of the Select Degree was that Ahishar, who had earned his position by his blood, his genetics, and by his connection to King Solomon, lost that position by failing in his trust, by a lack of effort? Thus, could it be that his position was filled by one Zabud, who had earned the right to that trust by merit, by effort and dedication to King Solomon? Is that not a lesson that confirms all that we teach about our Craft Degrees?
Turning now to the last of the Cryptic Degrees, we often speak of Hiram’s instructive remarks to Adoniram, with the importance being where something will be found. In doing so, we may cause the candidates in our care to ignore the importance of Hiram’s revelations to Adoniram. Hiram is telling Adoniram that there is an eternal destination to which all of us may aspire. I want you to reflect upon this point.
Where else in our degrees is there an explicit statement of that faith and hope of immortality? To be sure, it is inferred or implied elsewhere, but in the Royal Master, Adoniram learns that this hope, for Hiram, his mentor, is a FACT that will be fulfilled!
My Companions of the Purple, I leave you with these thoughts to ponder, and for all of us to maintain due respect for Brother Mackey for he gave us much of benefit. As always, I do not contend that I am the sole authority on these assertions. You are Speculative Masons as well as Cryptic Masons, and you have the right to reason and judge these things for yourselves. In like manner, the last issue gave you one view of the possible literal meaning and symbolism of the Mysterious Nxxx and that author is to be commended for that effort.
As I seem to have been the first person to ask the question in 2015 in Missouri, my question of “What is the regular alarm of the Mysterious Nxxx?” has provoked considerable discussion across the States. There are clearly many levels of answers inherent in our ritualistic history. We will have more articles on that subject over time.
Yet, I suggest to you that there is much more for us to consider and to bring to life in our Cryptic Rite. I welcome your thoughts and any articles that you wish to submit for possible publication by the General Grand Council.