What is Cryptic Masonry?
Councils of Cryptic Masons form the center body of the York Rite of Freemasonry. A Master Mason may join a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons and receive the four degrees of that organization. After which, he may seek further knowledge in Freemasonry and join a Council of Cryptic Masons.
The Cryptic Rite
No rite of Freemasonry has come into its own so much as the series of degrees known as the Cryptic Rite, also known as Cryptic Masonry.
Its popularity is well deserved for there are no more beautiful or meaningful degrees in all of Freemasonry than those conferred in a Council of Cryptic Masons. The degrees conferred complete a story, a Masonic allegory. Ancient Cryptic Masonry centers on the story of the preservation, loss and recovery of the Word. The Word represents man's search for life's purpose and the nature of God. Symbolic Freemasonry teaches of the loss of the Word and hope for its recovery. Royal Arch Masonry teaches its recovery. Cryptic Masonry completes this story by teaching of the Word's initial preservation.
The Name "Cryptic"
The degrees of the York Rite are classified as Symbolic (Lodge of Master Masons), Capitular (Chapter of Royal Arch Masons), Cryptic (Council of Cryptic Masons), and Chivalric (Commandery of Knights Templar). The Cryptic Rite derives its name from the setting of the degree of Select Master in the underground crypt beneath King Solomon's Temple. The word cryptic means hidden; hence its use in describing these degrees.
Origin of the Degrees
As with many of the Masonic degrees, the origins of the degrees of Cryptic Masonry are shrouded in mystery. Nearly two hundred years ago, the degrees of Royal Master and Select Master appeared. Traveling Masonic lecturers throughout the East were conferring them upon Masons while engaging in instruction of the Symbolic and Capitular degrees. Even one Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite included the degree of Select Master as one of its "detached" degrees. But, these beautiful degrees were not to remain detached for any length of time.
The Vault and the Mysteries
Biblical students and archaeologists know of the vaults or crypts beneath King Solomon's Temple. Masonic Degrees were probably not actually conferred in these vaults. However, such a legend does persist throughout Freemasonry. The legends, conveyed in this system of degrees form a beautiful allegory or story. The Masonic author, Albert G. Mackey, MD, writing of the vault says: "The vault was, therefore, in the ancient mysteries, symbolic of the grave; for initiation was symbolic of death, where alone Divine Truth is to be found. Freemasons have adopted the same idea. They teach that death is but the beginning of Life; that if the first, or evanescent Temple of our transitory life be on the surface, we must descend into the secret vault of death before we can find that sacred deposit of Truth, which is to adorn our second Temple of Eternal Life." This teaching is not unusual in Freemasonry since, as was stated previously, the requirements for membership include a professed belief in God and one's eternal life.
The Work of Cryptic Masons
Freemasonry seeks to improve the community by improving the individual. Therefore, Councils of Cryptic Masons can be found working with Lodges, Chapters, and Commanderies to provide more opportunities to improve one's skills in leadership, public speaking, interpersonal relationships, and administration. This empowers the individual Mason to become a better leader in his career, church, and community. Councils also work with other Masonic groups in community service projects to demonstrate Masonic teachings as a way of life.