Nearly two hundred years ago the degrees of Royal Master and Select Master appeared. Travelling Masonic lecturers throughout the East were conferring them upon Masons, while engaging in instructing in Craft (Lodge) and Capitular (Chapter) degrees. Even one Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite included the degree of Select Master as one of its "detached" degrees. But, these beautiful degrees were not to remain detached for any length of time. The state of Connecticut bore the first Grand Council in 1819. In Virginia and West Virginia the degrees developed in the Chapter of Royal Arch Masons where they still remain. In the 1870's a General Grand Council was formed for the United States of America. Today this Grand Council numbers most of the Grand Councils in the United States, as well as the western section of Canada.
Biblical students and archaeologists know of the vaults or crypts beneath King Solomon's Temple. Masonic Degrees were probably not actually conferred in these vaults. However, such a legend does persist throughout Freemasonry. The legends, conveyed in this system of degrees form a beautiful allegory or story. The Masonic author, Albert G. Mackey, writing of the vault, says: "The vault was, therefore, in the ancient mysteries, symbolic of the grave; for initiation was symbolic of death, where alone Divine Truth is to be found. Freemasons have adopted the same idea. They teach that death is but the beginning of Life; that if the first, or evanescent Temple of our transitory life be on the surface, we must descend into the secret vault of death before we can find that sacred deposit of Truth, which is to adorn our second Temple of Eternal Life." This teaching is not unusual in Freemasonry since as was stated previously the requirements for membership include a professed belief in God and one's eternal life.
The Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of England and Wales etc, was formally constituted on 29 July 1873 by four Councils chartered just two years earlier by the Grand Council of New York. They organized themselves into a sovereign body under the patronage of the Rev Canon G. R. Portal, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons, who was installed as the Grand Master of the Order.
This Grand Council had its vicissitudes but continues to prosper and today has many Councils overseas which are controlled by District Grand Councils. The degrees in this group are frequently referred to as ‘Cryptic Degrees’ but this description is not strictly correct, as only two actually refer to a crypt. It is somewhat surprising to note that to many, these ceremonies constitute nothing more than interesting side degrees or a random collection of unrelated incidents in the story of King Solomon's Temple, but to the serious and understanding Masonic student, they prove to be the essential link between the degrees of Master Mason and Royal Arch Mason.