Symbolical Design and Historical Summary of the Select Master Degree

The following monitorial instructions on the Select Master degree appear on pp. 35-39 of “Cryptic Masonry: A Manual of the Council” by Albert G. Mackey.

The two virtues which it is particularly the symbolical design of the Select Master’s degree to inculcate are secrecy and silence. They are, indeed, called the cardinal virtues of a Select Master, because the necessity of their practice is prominently set before the candidate in the legend, as well as in all the ceremonies of the degree. But these virtues constitute the very essence of all Masonic character; they are the safeguard of the institution, giving to it all its security and perpetuity, and are enforced by frequent admonitions in all the degrees, from the lowest to the highest. The Entered Apprentice begins his Masonic career by learning the duty of secrecy and silence. Hence it is appropriate that in that degree which is the consummation of initiation, in which the whole cycle of Masonic science is completed, the abstruse machinery of symbolism should be employed to impress the same important virtues on the mind of the neophyte.

The same principles of secrecy and silence existed in all the ancient mysteries and systems of worship. When Aristotle was asked what thing appeared to him to be most difficult of performance, he replied, “To be secret and silent.”

“If we turn our eyes back to antiquity,” says Calcott, “we shall find that the old Egyptians had so great a regard for silence and secrecy in the mysteries of their religion that they set up the god Harpocrates, to whom they paid peculiar honor and veneration; who was represented with the right hand placed near the heart, and the left down by his side, covered with a skin before, full of eyes and ears; to signify that of many things to be seen and heard few are to be published.” [Calcott, Wellins. Candid Disquisition of the Principles of Freemasonry. p. 104.]

Apuleius, who was an initiate in the mysteries of Isis, says: “By no peril will I ever be compelled to disclose to the uninitiated the things that I have had intrusted to me on condition of silence.”

Lobeck, in his “Aglaophamus,” has collected several examples of the reluctance with which the ancients approached a mystical subject, and the manner in which they shrunk from divulging any explanation or fable which had been related to them at the mysteries under the seal of secrecy and silence.

And lastly, in the school of Pythagoras these lessons were taught by the sage to his disciples. A novitiate of five years was imposed upon each pupil, which period was to be passed in total silence and religious and philosophical contemplation. And at length, when he was admitted to full fellowship in the society, an oath of secrecy was administered to him on the sacred tetractys, which was equivalent to the Jewish tetragrammaton.

Select Masters therefore work in secrecy and silence, that they may prepare and preserve the sacred deposits of truth until the time shall come for its full revelation. And so should all men do, working now, yet not for the present time alone, but that their labor may bring forth fruit in the future; laboring here amid the foundations of the first temple of this transient life, that when their hours of work are finished on earth, the deeds which they have done may be brought to light, and the reward be bestowed in the second temple of eternal life.

This is the true symbolism of the Select Master’s degree.

The circumstances referred to in the degree of Royal Master occurred during the building of the first temple, and at a period of time which lies between the death of the Builder and the completion of the edifice. Those referred to in the degree of Select Master also occurred during the construction of the Solomonic temple, but anterior to the Builder’s death. Hence in the order of time the events commemorated in the Select Master’s degree took place anterior to the occurrence of those which are related in the degree of Royal Master, although in the Masonic sequence the latter degree is conferred before the former. This apparent anachronism is however reconciled by the explanation, that the secrets of the Select Master’s degree were not brought to light until long after the existence of the Royal Master’s 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 openly recognized as a class in the temple of Solomon. Their occupation and their very existence, according to the legend, were unknown in the first temple. The Royal Master’s degree, on the contrary, as there was no reason for concealment, was publicly conferred and acknowledged during the latter part of the construction of the temple of Solomon; whereas the degree of Select Master and the important incidents on which it was founded are not supposed to have been revealed to the Craft until the building of the Temple of Zerubbabel. Hence the Royal Master’s degree is always conferred anterior to that of the Select Master.

The full text of Mackey’s monitorial instructions on the Royal Master degree may be found at:

Select Master from Mackey’s “Cryptic Masonry: A Manual of the Council”