Historical Summary of the Royal Master Degree

The following entry appears on pp. 650-651 of the 1912 edition of “An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences” by Albert G. Mackey.

The Eighth Degree of the American Rite, and the first of the degrees conferred in a Council of Royal and Select Masters. Its officers are a Thrice Illustrious Grand Master, representing King Solomon; Illustrious Hiram of Tyre, Principal Conductor of the Works, representing Hiram Abif; Master of the Exchequer, Master of Finances, Captain of the Guards, Conductor of the Council and Steward. The place of meeting is called 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. Candidates who receive this degree are said to be “honored with the degree of Royal Master.” Its symbolic colors are black and red — the former significant of grief, and the latter of martyrdom, and both referring to the chief builder of the Temple.

The events recorded in the degree of Royal Master, looking at them in a legendary point of view, must have occurred at the building of the first temple, and during that brief period of time after the death of the Builder which is embraced between the discovery of his body and its “masonic interment.” In all the initiations into the mysteries of the ancient world, there was, as it is well known to scholars, a legend of the violent death of some distinguished personage, to whose memory the particular mystery was consecrated; of the concealment of the body and of its subsequent discovery. That part of the initiation which referred to the concealment of the body was called the aphanism, from a Greek verb which signifies “to conceal,” and that part which referred to the subsequent finding was called the euresis, from another Greek verb, which signifies “to discover.” It is impossible to avoid seeing the coincidences between this system of initiation and that practiced in the masonry of the third degree. But the ancient initiation was not terminated by the euresis or discovery. Up to that point the ceremonies had been funereal and lugubrious in their character. But now they were changed from wailing to rejoicing. Other ceremonies were performed by which the restoration of the personage to life or his apotheosis or change to immortality was represented, and then came the autopsy or illumination of the neophyte, when he was invested with a full knowledge of all the religious doctrines which it was the object and design of the ancient mysteries to teach,—when, in a word, he was instructed in Divine Truth.

Now a similar course is pursued in masonry. Here also there is an illumination, a symbolical teaching, or, as we call it, an investiture with that which is the representative of Divine Truth. The communication to the candidate in the Master’s degree of that which is admitted to be merely a representation of or a substitution for that symbol of Divine Truth, the search for which, under the name of the true word, makes so important a part of the degree, however imperfect it may be, in comparison with that more thorough knowledge which only future researches can enable the Master Mason to attain, constitutes the autopsy of the third degree. Now the principal event recorded in the degree of Royal Master, the interview between Adoniram and his two Royal Masters, is to be placed precisely at that juncture of time which is between the euresis, or discovery, in the Master Mason’s degree, and the autopsy, or investiture with the great secret. It occurred between the discovery, by means of the sprig of acacia, and the final interment. It was at the time when Solomon and his colleague, Hiram of Tyre, were in profound consultation as to the mode of repairing the loss which they then supposed had befallen them.

We must come to this conclusion, because there is abundant reference, both in the organized form of the Council and in the ritual of the degree, to the death as an event that had already occurred; and, on the other hand, while it is evident that Solomon had been made acquainted with the failure to recover, on the person of the Builder, that which had been lost, there is no reference whatever to the well-known substitution which was made at the time of the interment.

If, therefore, as is admitted by all masonic ritualists, the substitution was precedent and preliminary to the establishment of the Master Mason’s degree, it is evident that at the time when the degree of Royal Master is said to have been founded in the ancient temple by our “first Most Excellent Grand Master,” all persons present, except the first and second officers, must have been merely Fellow-Craft Masons. In compliance with this tradition, therefore, a Royal Master is at this day supposed to represent a Fellow-Craft in the search of, and making his demand for, that reward which was to elevate him to the rank of a Master Mason.

If from the legendary history we proceed to the symbolism of the degree, we shall find that, brief and simple as are the ceremonies, they present the great Masonic idea of the laborer seeking for his reward. Throughout all the symbolism of Masonry, from the first to the last degree, the search for the WORD has been considered but as a symbolic expression for the search after TRUTH. The attainment of this truth has always been acknowledged to be the great object and design of all Masonic labor. Divine truth — the knowledge of God — concealed in the old Kabbalistic doctrine, under the symbol of his ineffable name — and typified in the Masonic system under the mystical expression of the True Word, is the reward proposed to every Mason who has faithfully wrought his task. It is, in short, the “Master’s wages.”

Now, all this is beautifully symbolized in the degree of Royal Master. The reward has been promised, and the time had now come, as Adoniram thought, when the promise was to be redeemed, and the true word — Divine truth — was to be imparted. Hence, in the person of Adoniram, or the Royal Master, we see symbolized the Speculative Mason, who, having labored to complete his spiritual temple, comes to the Divine Master that lie may receive his reward, and that his labor may be consummated by the acquisition of truth. But the temple that he had been building is the temple of this life; that first temple which must e destroyed by death that the second temple of the future life may be built on its foundations. And in this first temple the truth cannot be found. We must be contented with its substitute

The full text of the 1912 edition of Mackey’s “An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences” may be found at:

Mackey’s Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry: Volume I

Mackey’s Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry: Volume II