A 1794 Masonic Medal from New London
New to the Collection: A Masonic Punch Bowl

Rural Conversations of the Merry Midshipman (A Royal Arch Cipher)

Rural_conversations_webIt is no surprise that here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library we have a large and interesting collection of rituals. In the past, we've written about a couple of Masonic ritual cipher books that have deliberately misleading title pages: Magicians' Magic Movements and Ceremonies and Hindoo Theology for the Use of Missionaries. These books are part of a subset of Masonic ritual books, mostly written in cipher, and often containing an intentionally misleading title page. They are often bound with a flap that closes over the opening and snaps shut, much like a diary. The use of cipher, the false title page, and the clasp binding all serve one purpose: to insure that, should the book fall into hands of a non-member, that person would not be able to make heads or tails of the contents.

Our readers may be familiar with perhaps the two best known examples of these cipher books: Ecce Orienti: An Epitome of the History of the Ancient Essenes, Their Rites and Ceremonies and King Solomon and His Followers: A Valuable Aid to the Memory, Strictly in Accordance with the Latest Authors. Both are Masonic ciphers for the Symbolic (also known as Craft or Blue Lodge) degrees.

The title page seen here is yet another example in this rather whimsical tradition of creating false title pages. It is, compared to the others mentioned above, decidedly more absurd:

Rural Conversations of the Merry Midshipman, Pompous Manes, Monkish Epicurean Mantchoo, and Rollicking Ambling Moufflon

What in the world...? you might be thinking. This title, of course, reveals little about the book's contents. The true title of the book is:

Ritual Ceremonies of the Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason

As you can see, the misleading title uses the first letter of every word in the real title, but substitutes them with outlandish phrases.

So what is this book? It is a cipher ritual for the Royal Arch degrees for the state of Kentucky. The 1949 edition pictured here contains a helpful page that precedes the title page, which states that it was "Printed and Published by Order of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Kentucky, Royal Arch Masons." The book is a mix of plain English and cipher and would have been used by members of local Royal Arch Chapters in Kentucky for memorizing the four degrees that are conferred in a Royal Arch Chapter.

Although the edition being discussed here was published in 1949, the first edition of Rural Conversations was published by the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Kentucky in 1887. The organization's Annual Proceedings of that year devote many pages to it.


Title page of Rural Conversations of the Merry Midshipman, Pompous Manes, Monkish Epicurean Mantchoo, and Rollicking Ambling Moufflon. 8th ed. (Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Kentucky, Royal Arch Masons, 1949)


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