SYMBOLISM OF THE CRYPTIC DEGREES
This section is taken freely from Mackey's Symbolism as written in Chapter XXXI of "The History of the Cryptic Rite." It is not written verbatim, but rather was adapted to the form of our present day ritual. Symbolism from other authors has been incorporated. It is the belief of the Grand Council, that if our members understand the beautiful symbolism of our Order, they will become better members of their subordinate Councils. We encourage you to study and learn more about our great Order, as it is not possible to include everything of interest or importance in this brief synopsis. We learn in the Royal Master degree, that there was an agreement among our three Most Excellent Grand Masters, that the word would not be communicated to the Craft until the Temple was completed, and then only in the presence of all three. We learn in the Master Mason degree, how the Word was lost, and in the Royal Arch degree, how it was recovered. In the Symbolic degrees, we have an account of the loss of the Word, and we search but do not find. In the Chapter, we search and find, but do not understand the significance of what we have found. It is left to the Cryptic degrees for enlightenment and explanation, to learn how the Word was preserved, and what it means. In the Royal Master degree, we learn that whatever may be the uncertainties of life, the reward is sure to the faithful Craftsman. In the Select degree, we learn that the Word is to be preserved in the Secret Vault of the Soul. While in the Super Excellent Master degree, we find that catastrophe overtakes the unfaithful, whether he be a prince or pauper, and that without fidelity, success is impossible.
This degree is held in the Council Chamber, and represents the private apartment of King Solomon, in which he is said to have met for consultation with his two colleagues during the construction of the Temple. Its symbolic colors are black and red -- the former being significant of grief and the latter of martyrdom -- and both referring to the chief builder of the Temple. The period of time referred to in the first and second sections of the degree is different. In the first section, Hiram Abif is active in the construction of the Temple. In the second section, he is missing and the Temple is very near completion. This is evident by the presence of the Ark of the Covenant and the investiture of Adoniram with the responsibility of the Master Builder. His search is not complete as he is instructed that in due time he will receive his reward, and is returned to the Clay Grounds to continue his labors. The Beautiful Piece of Work (brought up by Adoniram), represents a pure and complete life, offered to the Supreme Architect of the Universe, followed by an admonition to remain content and in due time we shall receive our reward. The reward will come after our life has been completed, and is further symbolized by our entry into the 9th Arch, after completing all the symbolic instructions of Ancient Craft Masonry. The 9th Arch is usually considered the symbolic Gate of Death. It is now high twelve, an appropriate time to cease our labors and commune with the Supreme Architect of the Universe. The number twelve is considered a sacred number in Mythology. It is explained by some as being the product of multiplying the three sided triangle by the four sided square. The triangle represents the three equal attributes of Deity; His Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence (Universal wisdom, peace, and power). Low twelve consists of the same numbers, but represents death, or the midnight of life. Hiram Abif passes from the spiritual trestleboard to the temporal trestleboard, where he is met again by the eager candidate, who is still pursuing his search for Divine Truth. Then he delivers the commentary on death, moving slowly around the room, going in the same manner and direction as the sun. He explains that all men are equal in the eyes of God, from the youngest Entered Apprentice, to King Solomon.
ROYAL MASTER (Second Section)
As the first light of day comes from the East, we are taught to look to the East for enlightenment. The step symbolizes reverence toward the Alter. We alternate steps as we pass through the degrees, up to, and including the Royal Master degree. It is believed this has an allusion to the path of the Sun crossing the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, between the two signs of the zodiac, Capricorn and Cancer, in a zig-zag motion. When the two hemispheres are laid out end-to-end, with two parallel lines on the sides, it forms an oblong square or the shape of a Lodge. In the sign, Alpha is the first, and Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet, equivalent to the beginning and the end of anything. Alpha and Omega are adapted as a symbol of Deity. This passage was at one time read from the Apocalypse during the circumambulations, but is now read from the book of Revelations. The equilateral triangle represents our three Grand Masters at this point in the ritual. The broken triangle represents the allegory of life. Some must go, and other must remain and carry on. The number seven was sacred in Hebrew scriptures and ceremonies. The seventh day was the Sabbath day; Solomon was seven years in the building of the Temple; there are usually seven sabbatic years; seven days usually constituted the feast periods; and seven represents completeness. In the Temple, twelve loaves of bread (shewbread) were always kept upon a table in the sanctuary (representing the twelve tribes of Israel). It was a symbol of the bread of eternal life by which we are brought into the presence of God. The principal article of furniture in the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem, was the Ark of the Covenant. It was surmounted by the Cherubim and between the wings of these fabled characters was the Shekinah, or perpetual cloud, from which the bathkol issued when consulted by the High Priest. The Altar of Incense was made of wood and overlaid with gold, as was most of the furniture of the Temple. On the four corners were horns, in shapes like those of a ram's horns. A censer was placed on the top center of the Golden Altar, and in it sweet incense was burned every morning. On the table of Holy Vessels were pots, shovels, basins, flesh-hooks, and fire pans, as well as all the other vessels or utensils necessary to the services of the Altar. These were made of gold and brass.
This degree commences with a character by the name of Zabud. Zabud was a friend of King Solomon, and appears in several of the Masonic degrees. To most of our membership, Zabud is but another character out of the past. Yet a reading of the Holy Scriptures reveals that he was truly the friend and companion of King Solomon, for Zabud was one of the sons of Nathan the Prophet. Nathan was the chief advisor of King David, and it was through the strategy of David, Nathan, and Bath-Sheaba, that Solomon came to the throne of Israel, for the natural heir to the throne should have been Adonijah. Zabud must have been about the same age as Solomon, and probably frequented the Royal Court where he acquired the friendship and favorable notice of Solomon, later developing into a friendship which caused King Solomon to refer to Zabud as "my particular friend and favorite." The Deputy Master refers to the number 27 which is also alluded to in the closing ceremony. Although the closing ceremony states it a little differently, some authors belive that 27 members were made up from one of each of the twelve tribes of Israel, the three workmen who discovered the triangle hidden by Enoch before the flood, nine Grand Masters of the Arches, one of whom was Ahishar, and our three Grand Masters. The Select Master degree, or the building of the Secret Vault, took place between the first and second sections of the Royal Master degree. This is explained by saying that the secrets of the Select Master degree were not brought to light until long after the existence of the Royal Master degree had been known and acknowledged. In other words, to speak only from the traditional point of view, Select Masters had been designated, had performed the task for which they had been selected, and had closed their labors without ever being recognized as a class in the Temple of Solomon. Their occupation and their very existence, according to legend, was unknown in the first Temple. Whether the punishment meted out to Ahishar was deserved, we should not question, for the story is but a legend, teaching us that constant watchfulness is necessary in waging the warfare of life, and only those shall succeed who are constantly on guard. Considered simply as a historical question, there can be no doubt of the existence of immense vaults beneath the superstructure of the original Temple of Solomon. Legend has it that Josiah, forseeing the destruction of the Temple, commanded the Levites to deposit the Ark of the Covenant in this vault, where it was found by some of the workmen of Zerubbabel, at the building of the second Temple. Masonic legend, whether authentic or not, teaches that there was an Ark in the second Temple, but that it was neither the Ark of the Covenant, which had been in the Holy of Holies of the first Temple, nor one that had been constructed as a substitute for it after the building of the second Temple. It was that Ark which was presented to us in the Select Master degree, and which, being an exact copy of the Mossical Ark, and intended to replace it in case of its loss, is best known to Freemasonry as the Substitute Ark. In the Masonic System there are two Temples; the first Temple in which the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are concerned, and the second Temple, with which the higher degrees, especially the Royal Arch, are related. The first Temple is symbolic of the present life; the second Temple is symbolic of the life to come. The first Temple, the present life, must be destroyed; on its foundations, the second Temple, the life eternal, must be built. And so we arrive at this result, that the Masonic Stone of Foundation, so conspicuous in the degree of Select Master, is a symbol of Divine Truth, upon which all Speculative Masonry is built; and the legends and traditions which refer to it are intended to describe, in an allegorical way, the progress of truth in the soul, the search for which is a Mason's labor; and the discovery of which is to be his reward.
SUPER EXCELLENT MASTER
In 598, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem, captured the city and took into captivity the King, Jehoiachin (Jeconiah). He replaced him on the throne with Mathaniah, the youngest son of Josiah, and an uncle of the former King, who was but twenty-one years old. Nebuchadnezzar changed Mathaniah's name twice, although the reasons as to why are not clear. First to Mattaniah, which means "gift of Jehovah" and then to Zedekiah, which signifies "Jehovah is righteous." As one of the conditions of his enthronement, there was extracted from him a solemn oath to be subject and loyal to his King and to Babylon. Being subjects of Babylon, naturally there were powerful parties in court determined to throw off the yoke of the "barbarian" ruler, and, in order to accomplish this, favored an alliance with Egypt. It is natural that this palace clique and the priestly circle should favor Egypt. The civilizations of the Nile was a dying one, but its rulers and its aristocracy were living in wealth and luxury, blind to the ominous forces threatening their existence. The royal crowd of Jerusalem was of like character, and attracted by the same glitter and pretense. Against this royal party was arrayed the strength, courage, and oratory of Jeremiah of Anatoth, the prophet, a descendant of one of the earlier High Priests of the Jews, and a small group of followers, who advised submission to Babylon as the only means of preserving national entity, and claimed for his position that he had direct command, and approval of Jehovah himself. Into this maelstrom of contending and conflicting forces was plunged a young man of twenty-one, immature, inexperienced, over-shadowed for years by his princely relatives, lacking in strength of character and resolution. To be sure, at times he showed an inclination to follow the voice of the prophet, but it was an inclination which he did not have the strength and resolution to pursue through to the bitter end, in the face of intrigues, and the influence of royal favorites. The story of his struggle with Jeremiah, his yielding to him on occasion, his later stiffening of his neck in opposition to him, his punishment of him, and of the conflict between Jeremiah and the petty dignitaries of the court, is a fascinating one, and it gains much in its appeal as it is portrayed in the degree of Super Excellent Master.