The Degree of Royal Master
By Companion Scott A. Schwartzberg, Guest Author
Submission to the General Grand Council Education Committee
Photo Credit: Isidro G Pentzke (http://isidropentzke.com/)
A Council of Royal and Select Masters confers the Cryptic Degrees of Masonry, so called because they are chiefly concerned with a crypt, an important subterranean vault known only to a select few of the Craft. In a minority of states and provinces, it is not required to be a member of the Council in order to progress to the Order of Knights Templar.
As the Lodge of Master Masons deals with the Loss of the Master’s Word and the Chapter with its Recovery, the Council deals with its Preservation.
In his Manual of the Council, Albert Mackey discusses the American Rite, as it is known, a modified version of the English or Ancient York Rite. Mackey limits this Rite to nine degrees, from the Entered Apprentice through the Royal Arch, continuing through to the degrees of Royal Master and Select Master, and does not include the degree of Super-Excellent Master, explaining that although it is not a recent invention, none of the traditional ritualists, such as Webb or Cross, include it in their collections.
The first degree worked in the Council is that of Royal Master. This degree focuses on the Fellow Crafts who were instrumental in building the Temple. The first part of the degree takes place prior to the death of G∴M∴H∴A∴, while the second part depicts the events that follow.
In the Royal Master degree, the principal elected officer, the Illustrious Master, represents K∴S∴ and is styled “Most Illustrious,” the second officer, the Deputy Master, represents H∴,K∴ of T∴, and the third officer, the Principal Conductor of the Work, represents H∴A∴, although he sits in the Northeast corner of the Lodge1, rather than in the East with the other two. The Captain of the Guard, sits the West, and functions in a similar way to the Senior Warden in the Lodge. He receives orders from the Illustrious Master, and communicates them to the Companions or to other officers. The Conductor of the Council sits in the South, and it is he who attends at the altar. The Steward is placed inside the door, like the Junior Deacon, with the Sentinel posted outside, like the Tyler.
The candidates for this degree are informed that the search for Light is not one that can be completed. Every advancement in knowledge opens the eyes to yet more knowledge that can be attained. Everything revealed in Masonry is also a reveiling. One of the important points of Masonic education is given to the candidate – the order in which events take place in the degrees is not the same as chronological order. The order which takes place in the degrees is the order in which things were learned, not the time it happened, hence this eighth degree takes place both before and after events depicted in the third degree, as events in the Mark Master degree took place between the second and third degree, not after the third, as a chronological time-frame would require. The candidates’ attention is directed to this fact, and that they should be aware of how this degree will fill in the gaps of knowledge left by that of the second section of the Master Mason degree.
The candidate, representing Adoniram, is conducted to G∴M∴H∴A∴, and brings him a beautiful golden bowl for inspection. H∴A∴ does not recognize the bowl, as it was not of his design, but a dialog with K∴S∴ assures him that it was crafted according to his own plan, and provides an explanation of its import – its depiction of the mysterious triad, representative of Deity and the Masonic virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, causes it to be deposited in the Holy of Holies, and also to be displayed in every regular Lodge, as three burning tapers placed in a triangular position about the Altar of Obligation.
As he now has all the furniture for deposit in the Holy of Holies, and that it is now High Twelve, by order of K∴S∴, H∴A∴ calls the Craft from Labor to Refreshment, then enters the S∴S∴ to offer up his devotions to Deity. After he is finished, he meets Adoniram by the South Gate, who asks a question that is sure to be reminiscent of another asked at the same location, during the Master Mason degree, which chronologically takes place soon after this. During three circumambulations, he delivers a monologue on the transitory nature of life, and that Faith and Hope are strengths which will serve us well in the Celestial Lodge above.
As the second section of the degree begins, the Illustrious Master again represents K∴S∴, the Deputy Master represents H∴K∴ of T∴, and the station formerly occupied by H∴A∴ is draped in mourning. The candidates, currently Royal Arch Masons, are dressed as such, and announced as wishing to advance to the rights and honors of Royal Master. K∴S∴ reads lessons to the candidates, who, after each reading, advance on the step, and give the due-guard and sign, of each of the preceding seven degrees, starting with the Entered Apprentice, and finishing with the Royal Arch2.
As in the preceding degrees, there were questions asked at the door prior to admitting the candidates. The same questions are again asked at this time, after which the candidates are instructed by the Captain of the Guard on how to approach the Altar for the eighth time. After receiving the Obligation, the new Royal Masters are given the sign of recognition for this degree3 and the Grip of this degree is explained4. The Historical Lecture explains the reason this degree was created after the death of H∴A∴.
Avery Allyn, in Ritual of Freemasonry, explains that this degree originated, according to Masonic tradition, at the building of K∴S∴T∴. Our three ancient Grand Masters formed a resolution to reward all worthy Master Masons who should prove themselves worthy, by fidelity, industry, and skill, by communicating the omnific5 word to them. This could not be done until the construction was complete, and only in the presence of all three Grand Masters.
Jeremy Ladd Cross’s True Masonic Chart has little to say on this degree, although Allyn’s exposé does quote his version. The various copies I was able to find say that this degree is not to be conferred upon anyone who is not a Royal Arch Mason and has taken all the preceding degrees. This is followed by the Biblical texts read as lessons during the degree by K∴S∴, from I Kings 6 and 7, and Revelation 22. Cross includes this degree and that of Secret Master before the Order of the High Priesthood, the chair degree conferred upon sitting or past High Priests in the Chapter.
Webb does not list either this degree or Secret Master in his Freemason’s Monitor. He covers the degrees of the Chapter, then moves directly into the Orders of the Commandery. When these degrees were first worked, there was much discrepancy on which body would confer them. In some places they were originally part of the Scottish Rite. In others, the Chapter controlled them, and continues to do so under the Grand Chapters of Virginia and West Virginia. Separate Councils of Royal and Select Masters confer these degrees in much of the rest of the United States.
Mackey describes this degree as having the shortest ceremony of any of the degrees so far. It does, however, present one great idea – the laborer seeking his reward. He explains that the search for Truth has been the great object and design of Masonic labor. Divine Truth – the knowledge of God – is the reward proposed to every Mason who has wrought faithfully. He informs us that Adoniram represents the speculative Mason, who has been laboring faithfully on his spiritual Temple, and comes to the Divine Master, to see about receiving his reward, and that the completion of his labor will be accompanied with the acquisition of Truth. Adoniram, and every speculative Mason has been building the temple of this life; which must be destroyed by death, that the second temple can be erected upon its foundations. It is the foundation for the eternal temple which we are responsible for crafting. Divine Truth cannot be achieved in this life – we must be content with the substitute.
In the ritual of Royal Master in Scotland, during the opening of the degree, the Captain of the Guard states that he is the successor and representative of H∴A∴. This degree and the following two work under the authority of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland. When the candidate brings his piece of work to the Principal Conductor of the Work, representing H∴A∴, in the Northeast corner, he approves the vessel himself, apparently being based on his own designs, rather than those of K∴S∴.
The English Royal Master ritual opens in a similar method to that used in Scotland. This ritual does include a section that explains its importance and links the Master Mason and Royal Arch degrees. It is explained that this degree originated in a conversation between G∴M∴H∴A∴ and Adoniram. The Fellow Craft asked his friend when he would receive the Master’s Word. The answer was that it could only be given by the three Grand Masters together. Perhaps aware of his fate, H∴A∴ tells his friend that in the case of his death, the Master’s Word may be lost, but it will be buried under the S∴S∴. After the loss of H∴A∴, Adoniram informs K∴S∴ of this conversation, and the two remaining Grand Masters deposit the Master’s Word in the ninth Arch of the Secret Vault written in three languages, that if the children of Israel are taken away from their homeland, long enough to forget their mother tongue, that it could still be found and be restored.
The version of this degree which was given to Albert Pike in 1853 is slightly different, and it also incorporates the explanation given in the English version. In this account, the Principal Conductor of the Work sits in the West, and he represents Adoniram, while the candidate is not representative of any specific person. After the Obligation, the Thrice Illustrious Master, representing K∴S∴ reflects that at this time, the three Grand Masters were to deliver the secrets, but since the death of H∴A∴, this cannot be accomplished. At this time, Adoniram tells K∴S∴ of the conversation that he had with H∴A∴, foreshadowing his demise, and that should he fail to see the completion of the Temple, his secrets would be buried under the S∴S∴. Upon hearing this, K∴S∴ confers with H∴, K∴of T∴, and they reward the noble Adoniram with having the secrets of a Royal Master conferred upon him.
This degree spells out the preservation of the Master’s Word and the role of the Council in Masonry.
1 In the Northeast of the Lodge room, H∴A∴ sits at a table, with items as described in I Kings 7:48-50. The gold Table of the Presence should have the showbread, gold lampstands, golden bowls, etc., all furniture made for the Temple by theorder of K∴S∴
2 The Conductor of the Council directs the candidates, ensuring that they have the steps, due-guards and signs correct. It is stated that the lessons read by K∴S∴ should be either from a Bible or from a scroll prepared for this purpose. The readings come from I Kings and Revelation.
3 Found in Revelation 1:8
4 After the death of H∴A∴, K∴S∴ and H∴, K∴ of T∴ found themselves in the S∴S∴, and realized that they were unable to give the M∴W∴, as one of their number was missing.
5 Meaning capable of making or doing anything; also all-creating.
Allyn, Avery. Ritual of Freemasonry. 1865.
Blaisdell, Ron, P.M., “The Rituals of American Freemasonry,”June 16, 2001, http://www.themasonictrowel.com/ebooks/fm_freemasonry/Blaisdell_-_The_Rituals_of_American_Freemasonry.pdf accessed on February 20, 2012.
Blaisdell, Ron. Personal communication.
Cross, Jeremy Ladd. The True Masonic Chart. 1851.
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Degrees, http://yorkrite.com/degrees/ accessed on February 21, 2012.
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