A Freemason ritual description from the 19th century is encrypted in two different ciphers. Can a reader find the solutions?

Frequent readers of Klausis Krypto Kolumne certainly know my encrypted book list, which has meanwhile grown to almost 90 entries. About a dozen of the books listed are ritual descriptions issued by the Freemasons. Books of this type are usually not encrypted in the classical sense, i.e., they have not been created with a cipher that can be inverted if one knows how it works and has the key. Instead, they consist of abbreviated words (sometimes only the initial letter of a word is given, sometimes more). The main requirement for being able to read such a document is previous knowledge of the cleartext.


These ritual books served as mnemonic aids for Freemasons who had to learn their rituals by heart. For a non-Freemason such an abbreviated text is not readable, which is, of course, desired.

Freemason mnemonic books are sometimes referred to as a “Cypher”. This is a little confusing, as “cypher” (or “cipher”) usually has a different meaning in cryptology – it is a synonym of “encryption algorithm”.


An abbreviation cryptogram

The two pages pictured below are taken from a Freemason mnemonic book introduced in a post on the blog of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. This book was published in 1860, and is titled Written Mnemonics: Illustrated by Copious Examples from Moral Philosophy, Science and Religion.


As can be seen, two different kinds of encryption were used. The letter sequence on the left side (page 14 of the book) is, like most texts in Freemason books, abbreviated. Each letter is a word initial. In addition, the punctuation marks are present:

S T T! T, W, A; – W A A …

Though it might be possible to guess some of the words, solving the whole cryptogram only works if one finds the orignial text. Does a reader know where this text is available?


A numbers cryptogram

The text on the second page shown (i.e. page 15 of the book) is different. It consists of a sequence of numbers:

41, 50, 37, 82, 39, 92, -, 58, 72, 129, …

I don’t know what kind of cipher was used for this cryptogram. In the afore-mentioned blog post no information about the encryptiom method is given. My guess is that a nomenclator was used. If so, it will be difficult or even impossible to decipher the message, unless the substitution table is available.

Another possibility is a homophonic cipher (i.e., each number stands for a letter; several numbers may have the same meaning to disguise the letter frequencies). However, in the 19th century homophonic ciphers were a lot less common than nomenclators. So, a homophonic cipher is certainly the less likely option.

Can reader break this second cryptogram?

Further reading: The Top 50 unsolved encrypted messages: 30. The Harry-Caroline and the Tissie-Jabber messages

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Kommentare (14)

  1. #1 Thomas
    21. November 2017

    Page 14 and 15 are parts of a dictionary code encrypting one and the same text: According to Denslow, The Masonic Conservators (1931), a second book is needed, named spelling book or vocabulary. It contains al the words of the Masonic ritual, arranged alphabetically, with each word numberered. As to the image above that means the first word is the 41st entry of the letter “S” in the spelling book.

  2. #2 Thomas
    21. November 2017

    Could find out only a part of the code:

    D 10/11: deacon/deacon´s
    J 9: junior
    I 20: in
    I 72: is
    L 55: lodge
    M 22: master
    O 21: of
    O 31: on
    P 55: place
    R 92: right
    S 41: senior
    T 24: the
    T 59: to
    W 5: warden
    W 26: West (?)
    W 28: what
    W 30: which (?)
    W 75: Worshipful

    If I understand Denslow`s explanation right, only the columns with a stroke figure are crucial (here: 1, 3, 4, 7, 13, 17). Moreover, the text seems to Ends at the X/= signs, so following letters in the columns have no meaning.

    Col. 1: (the question of the Master concerning the Lodge´s officers; the preceding text on p. 12/13) must have ended with “Worshipful Master to”):
    Senior Warden: “W C O O(ficers?) 7 WW”

    Col. 3: T?” Senior Warden to Worshipful Master: “The Worshipful Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden.”

    Col.7: Worshipful Master To Senior Warden: “What Is The Junior Deacon`s Place In The

    Col. 13: Lodge?” Senior Warden to Worshipful Master: “On The Right Of The Senior Warden.”

    Col. 17: “In The West.” Worshipful Master To Junior Deacon: “What..”

  3. #3 Thomas
    21. November 2017

    Sorry, overlooked col. 4 rows 1 – 7 (continuation of the officers in col. 3):

    “Treasurer, Secretary, Senior Deacon, Assistant Junior Deacon”

  4. #4 Nick Pelling
    21. November 2017

    I included more scans of “Written Mnemonics” on my page here:

  5. #5 Norbert
    21. November 2017

    @Thomas:awesome! Let me add two minor suggestions:
    A 1: a
    I 1: I
    Seems quite logical, if the spelling book is arranged alphabetically…

  6. #6 Thomas
    21. November 2017

    @Nick Pelling

    Thanks for the other pages. The entire books consists of an “interrogation” according to the Masonic rite: Questions asked by the Worshipful Master (WMT…) and answers given by the Senior Warden (SWTWM), Junior Deacon (JDTWM) and other members of the Lodge.

  7. #7 Thomas
    21. November 2017

    I agree but don’t know if on p. 14/15 A1 and I 1 belong to the text. According to the explanation also a reading instruction (which direction, where is the end…) is needed 🙁

  8. #8 Klaus Schmeh
    21. November 2017

    @Thomas: Thank you very much! Great job. This is definitely a strange kind of encryption.

  9. #9 Norbert
    21. November 2017

    I suspect that at page 14, also the columns 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, and 14 are to be read bottom-up (but not beyond a stop mark) because there are some numbers with overlines below the said columns. Strange numbering at first glance, but when you read from page 4 onwards (at Nick’s site), it’s all logical.

  10. #10 Thomas
    22. November 2017

    This is the complete plaintext of pages 14/15:

    (Worshipful Master to) Senior Warden: “When composed of only seven, who were they?”
    Senior Warden to Worshipful Master: “The Worshipful Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden, Treasurer, Secretary, Senior Deacon and Junior Deacon.”
    Worshipful Master to Senior Warden: “What is the Junior Deacon’s place in the Lodge?”
    Senior Warden to Worshipful Master: ” On the right of the Senior Warden, in the West.”
    Worshipful Master to Senior Warden: “What (are your duties there, Brother Junior Deacon?”)

    This book contains the plaintext (see p. 11), presumably the whole text of the ´Mnemonics` (Entered Apprentice, first degree in a freemason lodge): https://www.masoniclib.com/images/images0/345790536304.pdf

  11. #11 Thomas
    22. November 2017

    Correction: The plaintext of pages 14/15 of the Mnemonics can be found on p. 17 of the book linked above.

  12. #12 Norbert
    22. November 2017

    @Thomas #10: not complete – here comes the bottom-up part of pages 14/15. See pp. 35/36 in the mentioned book (great finding!).

    (1/46) What are the 3 Lesser Lights? – The Sun, Moon and Master of the Lodge.
    (2/47) How are they explained as such? – As the Sun rules the day and the Moon governs the night, so
    ought the Worshipful Master to
    (3) [E26] to rule and govern his Lodge with equal regularity.
    (4/48) How are they represented? – By three burning tapers placed in a triangular position in the
    (5/49) What did you then discover? – The Worshipful Master approaching me from the East, under the
    due guard and sign of an Entered Apprentice; who,
    (6) in token of his brotherly love and friendship, presented me with his right hand, and
    with it the grip and word of an Entered Apprentice,
    (7) and bid me arise, and salute the Wardens as such.
    (8/50) After saluting the Wardens, what did you then discover? – The Worshipful Master approaching me from the East a 2nd time, who presented me with
    (9) the lamb-skin or white leather apron, and informed me that it was an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason; more ancient
    (10) than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle; more honorable than the Star and Garter, or any other order that could be conferred upon me at
    (11) that time or at any future period, by king, prince, potentate, or any other person, except he be a Mason; and which he hoped I
    (12) would wear with equal pleasure to myself and honor to the
    fraternity: and bade me carry it to the Senior Warden in the West, who
    (13) taught me how to wear it as an Entered Apprentice.
    (14/51) After being taught how to wear your apron as an Entered Apprentice,
    what were you then informed? – That, agreeable to an ancient custom in
    (15) all regular and well-governed lodges, it was then necessary that I should be required to deposit something of a metallic kind, not for its
    (16) intrinsic worth or value, but that it might be laid up among the relics in the archives of the Lodge as a memorial that I
    (17) was therein made a Mason, but, upon strict examination, I found myself entirely destitute.

  13. #13 Thomas
    23. November 2017

    Good job! So there are no ‘nulls’.

  14. #14 ArCh
    2. Oktober 2021

    The above script can be read as research or predictions
    admonitus OHIO HPG-1.
    quaerite orientem
    The t in gl pruritus