The degrees of Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master are conferred under the jurisdiction of Councils. These are called Cryptic from the Greek word crupe, or the Latin crypta, meaning a vault. All the degrees of Cryptic Masonry are introductory to, or part of the Second Temple legend.
The timing of the Royal Master degree is between the discovery of the body of Hiram and its raising and final interment, and involves a meeting between Adoniram, Hiram’s successor, and the two Kings. We find in all the Council degrees a step back in time from the earlier Chapter degrees. In fact, all three of the degrees in this series are chronologically in front of the Royal Arch degree and have to do with the secrets deposited in the unfinished sanctum sanctorum.
Historically, the sign and pass of a Royal Master can be traced to 1740 in an English ritual that had been translated from a French ritual. In the Ecossais (sublime) system of Masonry there is a legend that the builder of the Temple engraved a word upon a triangle of pure metal, and, fearing that it might be lost, he always bore it about his person, suspended from his neck, with the engraving side next to his breast. In time of great peril to himself, he cast it into an old dry well, which was in the southeast corner of the Temple, where it was afterward found by three Masters. In another version of the French ritual, an important job is assigned to a friend of Hiram Abif, who becomes a central character in this degree; namely Adoniram. Thus we find the introduction of a new character in Masonry; and the theme of the Royal Master’s degree. A lecture given in the first section of the degree is among the most profound and mystical in all of Masonry.
The Select Master degree is another of a series of degrees in Masonry known as the Secret Vault degrees. It was reportedly brought to America by Stephen Morin about 1762 as a side degree of the Lodge of Perfection. It is of French or German origin and was initially conferred on Masons of the Royal Arch of Solomon in the Scottish Rite system and Royal Arch Masons in the York Rite system. In its history, the degree has been conferred by Grand Councils, Grand Chapters, Lodges of Perfection, Council Princes of Rose Croix, and Supreme Councils of the Scottish Rite. The degree was not originally worked as a partner with the Royal Masters degree.
The historical object of the degree is to commemorate the deposit of an important secret or treasure which was said to have been made by Hiram Abif. The place of meeting is a secret vault under the Temple. This degree is closely connected with the Royal Arch degree and is essential to a full understanding of the Royal Arch theme in Masonry. The Select Master represents the culmination of what has been styled Ancient Craft Masonry.
Super Excellent Master
The Super Excellent Master degree was originally a side degree conferred by Inspector-Generals of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite at Charleston but was later introduced into some of the Royal and Select Councils of the United States. It is likely a degree of American origin as it is not referenced by European Masonic writers. It is often considered more of an honorary degree of the York Rite than one that is part of its original system of nine degrees and, although quite dramatic, is rarely conferred. The story of the degree relates to circumstances that occurred on the last day of the siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. It occupies the precise point in time embraced in the Royal Arch by the destruction of the Temple and is thus considered an extension of that degree.