Cryptic Masonry and the Commandery

by Bro. J. Angus Gillis, Oklahoma

In the beginning I wish to say that in this article there is nothing original. In some instances I have used quotation marks and at times give full credit when I have copied verbatim what I have read if at the time I remember who made the original remarks, but the assembling of facts and arrangement of arguments may be of some value to the Craft.

The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, claims to have conferred both the Royal and Select Master’s degrees at Charleston, S.C., in 1783, which was certified from Berlin, Prussia; but Josiah H. Drummond investigated and found that the ritual was not authentic, for while they claimed the Supreme Council as the governing body, the Supreme Council did not exist until 1801. The records show that in 1802 to 1807 the Inspectors General conferred fifty-five different degrees, but the Council degrees were not named among them.

The Supreme Council, Northern Jurisdiction, claimed that the Royal and Select Master’s degrees were conferred in the lodge of Perfection in New York by Andrew Franken who received his authority from Stephen Morin, of Jamaica, Deputy Inspector General, and that Morin was empowered to propagate the rite in the new world by the Emperors of the East and the West in France; but there is no evidence to substantiate the claim.

Philip P. Eckles and Hezekiah Niles received the degree of Select Master in 1792, at Baltimore, from Henry Wiemans, Grand Inspector General; but there is no record of when, where, or from whom Wiemans received it. Eckles and Niles conferred it on Jeremy L. Cross in 1807, and Cross conferred it on a great many Royal Arch Masons in the North, South and Western parts of the then United States; and in 1818 he received the Select Master’s degree and united it with the Select Mason’s of 27, now the Select Master’s degree. To Jeremy L. Cross, therefore, are we indebted for uniting these two degrees and forming the Cryptic Rite; and even if it was from a mercenary motive for disseminating them more assiduously than any one else, until they became independent in their governmental relations to the other branches of the American system, it was a real service to the Order.

The origin of all Masonic degrees is unknown; in fact, the Holy Bible, the Great Light of Freemasonry, gives an account of everything that we know. Our knowledge otherwise ;s limited, mystic, unauthentic, denied by some and averred by others. No one can go back with steady steps through the dark, winding, and sometimes obliterated pathways of the past, to the time or birthplace of Masonry.

In discussing the origin of the different Masonic degrees, Frederick Speed said: “One myth after another has vanished into thin air, until we do not hesitate to aver in writing, that, with scarcely an exception, the ritual of every Masonic degree now produced in these United States, originated, or was elaborated, since the American revolution, and by Americans; but that the admission of this fact does not in the least degree detract from the dignity, high character, or claim to an ancient origin of the institution itself.”

All Masonic students admit that the origin of the Cryptic degrees are in doubt, just as are the origin of the Symbolic and Capitular degrees; and while there seems to be no doubt but what the Scottish Rite first conferred them as detached or side degrees, there is the same proof that the Royal Arch degree was conferred by the Inspectors General the same way, and under the same conditions, until each branch became self supporting, or expressed a desire to be controlled or under the jurisdiction of State Grand Chapters and Councils. While in each branch or rite in the American system there is an interdependency for application for membership, both by affiliation and by receiving the degrees, the system lacks one link of being complete, because of its numerical place (except in the Virginias), as the Commandery organization does not protect the Council as is done in all the other branches of the system.

For example, the pre-requisite to apply for the E. A. degree is to be a man of lawful age, etc.; for the F. C. is to have been an E.A. for a proper length of time; for a M. M. is to have been a F. C. a proper length of time. As a member of a Symbolic lodge, he may apply for the Capitular degrees, and as a member of a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons he may apply for the Cryptic degrees; or he may skip this link in the series of allegories of Ancient Craft Masonry and apply to the Commandery for the Chivalric Orders–the summit of teaching in the American system of Freemasonry.

Thus, each degree is a pre-requisite to the succeeding degree, and each branch is a pre-requisite to the succeeding branch. Each is supported from below and protected from above, (except the Council), and if the amendment to Sec. 113 of the Constitution of the Grand Encampment is adopted, the accepted scheme of Masonic support and protection will be carried out in full.

Masonry is a progressive science consisting of a series of degrees, and as practiced in the American system is divided into branches, or rites, which, when taken together, form the complete American system of Freemasonry.

Albert Gallatin Mackey said: “I learned from the experience of my early Masonic life, that the character of the institution was elevated in everyone’s opinion, just in proportion to the amount of knowledge that he had acquired of its symbolism, philosophy and history.” This is why Masonry means something different to each individual. Some think it is simply a “club of good fellows,” while to others it is a “system of morals, or even pure religion,” according to their foundation of character, educational and intellectual attainments, previous instructions, etc.; as is evidenced by the superficial and selfish views of some who see only the part that suits their narrow purposes, or the deep reverence and wide humanitarian outlook of others; and the difference becomes greater the more difference there is in their preliminary Masonic instructions.

It is a pleasure to gather together the scattered legends of Freemasonry, each different, but deftly built together so that their symmetry as a whole develops the great TRUTH. The Cryptic degrees are so closely connected with the degrees of the other branches of the American system, their beauty and utility is unquestioned; their logical necessity is recognized by all Masonic students. They are thoroughly established and organizations are maintained in almost every Jurisdiction in the United States; and no one will claim to have completed the studies of Ancient Craft Masonry who has not received the Cryptic degrees. This being so, we do not treat the applicant for further Masonic light justly when we allow him to skip these links that are explanatory of the 3rd and 7th degrees.

This logically brings to mind the question of prerequisition of the Council degrees for the Commandery Orders, which has been before the Grand Encampment for the last three years, and which is to be adopted or rejected at the Triennial Conclave in Philadelphia in October, 1919.

There is no good reason why this legislation should not be adopted; for if Cryptic Masonry is good–and it is or organizations would not be maintained–it should have the same protection that is accorded the other branches of Masonry. This argument of one’s own free will and accord will not stand against the acid test of enlightened reason, and the fact of compulsion practiced in all other degrees and branches comprising the American system of Freemasonry. The Cryptic rite is universally recognized and accepted as a component part of the American system, and a legitimate and necessary branch to complete Ancient Craft Masonry; herefore the Commandery should willingly require knowledge of all preceding degrees, Symbolic, Capitular and Cryptic, in order to maintain with dignity and impartial justice its position at the head of the system.

Cryptic Masonry is the top of Ancient Craft Masonry; Templary is the top of the American system of Freemasonry; and it is beyond dispute that it was the intention of the original organizers of Templary in America to make all Masonic degrees pre-requisite to the Commandery Orders, for each degree known at that time was specifically mentioned. The accepted scheme of Masonic support and protection should be carried out full. A Templar should receive all the information contained in the system; not be a half or two-thirds, but a complete Mason.

If a brother is satisfied with his Masonic knowledge and fraternal associations after taking the Symbolic degrees, well and good; if a Companion is satisfied after taking the Capitular degrees, it is also well; but if he then desires to take the Chivalric Orders for the satisfaction of being a Templar, or in order to be eligible to take the Shrine, he should also be required to take the Cryptic degrees. Each applicant should have the same Masonic preliminary teaching, receive the same lessons, learn the same allegories, and miss none of the links; for if so, it will be a handicap in accomplishment in proportion to the educational attainments along other lines. For, “He who has the key to any science will interpret the whole according to the light he possesses,” and the efficiency of the membership will be marred according to the number missing a part of the legends.

The claim that this legislation, if adopted, would be the death knell of Templary in some Jurisdictions, is proven not to be a fact from the rule and practice in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Ohio, and in many of the large subordinate Commanderies; and as the law in some Jurisdictions compels an applicant for the Capitular degrees to apply and pay for the Cryptic degrees at the same time, experience wholly disproves that the additional fee, time required, or association as Cryptic Masons, deleteriously affects Templary; e. g. investigate conditions in Texas and South Carolina.

In every walk and vocation and in every effort of life we must advance or retrograde. Accomplishment is effected by individual or collective effort, and socalled Independent Jurisdictions must decide whether they can accomplish the most independently or collectively. We must all admit that visits and fraternal exchange of idea is an aid to accomplishment, and having this end in view the National Masonic bodies have been organized. The General Grand Chapter, General Grand Council, and the Grand Encampment Knights Templar of the United States of America are working (in a broad sense) harmoniously together towards the hope of accomplishing many great things which are in the heart of every true Mason; and the question of affiliation of the so-called Independent Jurisdictions with the National bodies is whether more good can be accomplished alone or by working in concert with a large majority of the other Jurisdictions of the United States.

This last phase of the question some may say has nothing to do with pre-requisition, but I think it has, for–“in union there is strength” and every division means a less concerted effort which is a detriment to accomplishment.

– Source: The Builder January 1917