The Landmarks of Freemasonry
Percy Jantz, March 8, 2004
The term "Landmark" is found in Proverbs 22:28: "Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set." In ancient times, it was customary to mark the boundaries of land by means of stone pillars. Removal of these would cause much confusion, men having no other guide than these pillars by which to distinguish the limits of their property. Therefore to remove them was considered a heinous crime. Jewish law says "Thou shalt not remove thy neighbours' landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance."
Hence landmarks are those peculiar marks by which we are able to designate our inheritance. They define what is being passed on to us. In the case of freemasonry, they are called the landmarks of the order.
What are the landmarks of the order? What are "those peculiar marks by which we are able to designate our masonic inheritance?"
In deciding what are and are not masonic landmarks, there has been much diversity of opinion. Some restrict themselves to the obligation signs, tokens and words. Others include the ceremonies of initiation, passing and raising and the ornaments, furniture and jewels of a lodge or their characteristic symbols. Some think that the order has no landmarks beyond its peculiar secrets. But all of these are loose and unsatisfactory.
Perhaps the safest method is to restrict them to those ancient and therefore universal customs of the order, which either gradually grew into operation as rules of action, or, have been enacted from a time so long ago that no account of their origin exists.
The first request therefore of a custom or rule of action to constitute it a landmark is that it must have existed from a time when no one remembers anything else. Its antiquity is its essential element. If every one of the masonic scholars were to get together now and agree on a new regulation, it would not be a landmark because it would not satisfy the need for antiquity.
The landmarks are also by definition unrepealable. "The Landmarks are those essentials of Freemasonry without any one of which it would no longer be Freemasonry," said MW Bro. Melvin M. Johnson, Past Grand Master of Massachusetts in 1923.
In 1720 the Grand Master of England compiled the General Regulations, which were approved by the Grand Lodge of England and published in 1723. One Regulation reads "Every Annual Grand Lodge has an inherent power and Authority to make new Regulations or to alter these, for the real benefits of this Ancient Fraternity; provided always that the old Land-Marks be carefully preserved." The Landmarks were not defined.
Until 1858 no attempt had been by any masonic writer to write out the landmarks. In that year, Albert Mackey made the first attempt, when he published "The Foundation of Masonic Law" in a masonic review, where he laid out twenty-five landmarks. He subsequently published the list in a book entitled Text Book of Masonic Jurisprudence. These twenty-five were generally accepted by the American freemasons of the day. Since then his list of twenty-five has been adopted by a number of North American Grand Lodges.
Today, Albert Mackeys Landmarks of Freemasonry are not universally accepted; they are not really landmarks at all. For example, No. 2, the three degrees of Craft Freemasonry aren't a landmark. The Third Degree didn't exist at the time of the formation of the first Grand Lodge in England. No. 3, the Master Mason Degree legend isn't unchanged as the oldest legends concern Noah, not Hiram Abiff. The five points of fellowship appear in ritual first in 1726, not at the time of founding in 1717. No. 4, there was no grand master in 1717 either. Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8 are privileges vested in the Grand Master by the Grand Lodge. No. 9 is interesting as operative masons seemed to have the right to congregate for lodge purposes anytime five or six came together. No. 10, there was a time when the lodge was governed by the master and one Warden. No. 14 is noteworthy since in some jurisdictions, visiting is considered a privilege. No. 20, regarding resurrection, raises theological questions which some jurisdictions feel unqualified to address. And so on.
H. B. Grant of Kentucky enumerated 54 landmarks in the Masonic Home Journal of 1889, a list that was frequently reprinted. On December 11, 1918 the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts adopted, as part of their Constitutions, a shorter list recognizing the following Landmarks:
1) "Monotheism, the sole dogma of Freemasonry;
2) Belief in immortality, the ultimate lesson of Masonic philosophy;
3) The Volume of Sacred Law, an indispensable part of the furniture of the Lodge;
4) The Legend of the Third Degree;
6) The Symbolism of the Operative Art;
7) A Mason must be a freeborn male adult.
The above list of Landmarks is not declared to be exclusive."
Albert Pike wrote in 1924: "There is no common agreement in regard to what are and what are not 'Landmarks.' That has never been definitely settled."1
The best writers are unanimous on two essential points, the two point test: a landmark must have existed from the "time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary" and a landmark is an element in the form or essence of the Society of such importance that Freemasonry would no longer be freemasonry if it were removed. In other words, they are something perpetual and unchanging
There are in fact very few items that pass this rigid test. Most attempts include items which really come under the heading of regulations, or customs, or principles and lists range from five items to fifty-five.
The following would meet the two point test:
1) That a freemason professes a belief in God;
2) That the Volume of Sacred Law is an essential and indispensable part of the lodge, to be open in full view when the brethren are at labour;
3) That a freemason must be male, free-born and of mature age;
4) That a freemason, by his tenure, owes allegiance to the sovereign and the craft;
5) That a freemason believes in the immortality of the soul.
The first four date from the Old Charges,2 from 1390. The last is implicit in the religious beliefs of that time. These are very close to many codes written into many masonic constitutions.
Mackeys landmarks would mostly not pass the two point test.
This enumeration of landmarks has not been accepted or authorized by our Grand Lodge, and this presentation is done only out of historical interest. In 1887 this jurisdiction adoptedwith some concession to modern spelling James Andersons Charges of a Free Mason into our Book of Constitutions. These are not landmarks by the two point test above. Rather they are exactly what they are called: "Charges of a Freemason." What we are obliged to do, how we are to act.
In 1964 the Grand Lodge of British Columbia "purported to adopt" the following in lieu of the first paragraph of those composed by Anderson:
"A Freemason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art he will never be an atheist nor an irreligious libertine. He, of all men, should best understand that God seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh to the heart. A Freemason is, therefore, particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a mans religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practise the sacred duties of morality. Freemasons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion and to strive, by the purity of their own conduct, to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess."3
1.More accurately, Albert Pike is cited in Research Pamphlet No. 20, Bro. Silas H. Shepherd, Wisconsin : Grand Lodge Committee on Masonic Research, 1924, p. 147, in an excerpt from the Proceedings of the Masonic Veterans Association, District of Columbia. The date of the original quote is not available. See Mackey's Encyclopedia, "Landmarks". [ed.]
2.While Harry Carr makes this claim, neither Andersons Charges, the Regius Poem nor the Matthew Cooke Manuscript appear to mention the need for the Volume of Sacred Law.
3.Sources: 4masonry.com/default.htm; Harry Carr, The Freemason at work, London : Privately printed, 1977; Albert Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (1898); Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Brish Columbia and Yukon.