The Cryptic Rite
The Council of Royal and Select Masters is referred to as Cryptic Masonry and takes its name from the word Crypt having its origins in the Greek language meaning a concealed place or subterranean vault. Indeed the degrees of royal Master and Select Master deal with the vault under the Temple of Solomon.
Originally the degrees were placed between the Craft Lodge and Chapter degrees and the stories contained are like a bridge connecting the two branches. The Super Excellent Master degree, while conferred by the Council of Royal and Select Masters is not truly a Cryptic Degree as it does not pertain to the crypt or vault.
Sadly the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry is often overlooked by many Masons on their way to the Chivalric degrees as it is not a prerequisite for admission. The Mason who misses this Masonic body misses a great deal for the degrees conferred in dramatic representations are rich with Masonic history and instruction.
Membership Requirements For Cryptic Masonry
Member of a recognized Craft Lodge (Master Mason)
Member of a recognized Chapter (Royal Arch Mason)
The Royal Master Degree
In this degree the council chamber represents the private apartment of King Solomon where legend has it he met with the two principal assistants in the building of the temple. The candidate represents one of the metalworkers at the time just prior to the completion and dedication of the First Temple. In such a capacity he approaches the king to find out when he may be rewarded with the secrets of a Master Mason.
The principal lecture of the degree is one of the most impressive in Masonry and tells of death and how the secrets came to be placed in the secret vault where they are later discovered (See Royal Arch Degree).
The Select Master Degree
The setting of this degree is within the secret vault mentioned in the preceding degree. Here are found several arches where various secrets were deposited. The candidate represents a well-known mason in the employ of King Solomon, who stumbles by accident into the secret vault where the three Grand Masters are in conference. The consequences of his accidental intrusion are explained.
The Super Excellent Master Degree
Although conferred by the Council of royal and Select Masters, this degree can not properly be called Cryptic for it has no connection to the vault or crypt under the Temple. Rather the ritual is built around the time of the destruction of the First Temple. It tells the history of the siege of Jerusalem by the troops of Nebuchadnezzar, who is motivated to action by the tributary Jewish king Zedekiah.
In another act of the drama portion of this degree the feast of Belshazaar is depicted with Daniel revealing and explaining the mysterious writing on the wall.
The final act depicts the release of the Jewish captives and reintroduces the characters already familiar to the Royal Arch Mason.
A candidate who is part of this degree will see not only the longest, but most beautifully presented of degrees pertaining to the Temple of Solomon.
The Ark Mariner Degree
The degree of Royal Ark Mariner is conferred upon Masons who have taken the Super Excellent Master Degree. It is important to note that in the UK this degree is conferred on Mark Master Masons. In both cases the degree is performed in a Royal Ark Mariner's Lodge which in practice is actually a council of Royal and Select Masters with the officers of the Council taking the part of their counterpart officers in the Ark Mariner's Lodge.
The degree relates to the legend of the Great Flood and the principal officers represent Noah and his sons. The material is derived from Biblical sources and the degree is impressive and informative to the candidate.