Vol. XXXII No. 5 — May 1954

Your Landmarks

No Masonic law makes it illegal for the individual brother to “adopt” his own list of Masonic landmarks.

Grand lodges are at variance as to what is a landmark. Thirteen United States lodges have “adopted” no list at all. Five are satisfied that “The Old Charges,” as expressed in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, are their landmarks. Thirteen grand lodges have actually, and eight “by custom” adopted Mackey’s list of twenty-five landmarks. Ten grand lodges list their own landmarks.

Nothing prevents the reader from adopting for his own guidance his own list of what appeals to him as “the landmarks” of Freemasonry.

You — even as grand lodges — must have a point of departure. Universally this has been in the past, and doubtless will for you, a definition of what a landmarks is.

To the majority it is that something — or those somethings — which are ancient, which are universal, and which could not be taken from Freemasonry without making Freemasonry into something else. These several somethings not only cannot be taken from Freemasonry, but cannot be changed.

In legal Masonic language, the definition of a landmark is “The Ancient Landmarks are those fundamental principles which characterize Masonry, as defined in the Charges of a Freemason, and without which the Institution cannot be identified.”

Henry B. Grant, one-time grand secretary, Kentucky, said: “The Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry are the immemorial usages and fundamental principles of the Craft and are unchangeable.”

Mackey defines a landmark as that which in Freemasonry existed from time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, which is unrepeatable, and which is universal. In his list of twenty-five landmarks, the twenty-fifth (unshortened) reads:

The last and crowning landmark of all is, that these landmarks can never be changed. Nothing can be subtracted from them — nothing can be added to them — not the slightest modification can be made in them. As they were received from our predecessors, we are bound by the most solemn obligations of duty to transmit them to our successors. Not one jot or title of these unwritten laws can be repealed; for in respect to them, we are not only willing, but compelled to adopt the language of the sturdy old barons of England, Nolumus leges mutari; let the laws abide.

Alas, for the great Mackey, Freemason extraordinary, to whom the Masonic world owes a debt it can never pay; Mackey’s own twenty-fifth landmark has been the bomb that exploded out of existence many of his preceding twenty-four landmarks.

And it is by its aid that, as an individual, you may “blow up” anyone’s list of landmarks, just as students and grand lodge committees and commissions have been doing ever since Mackey wrote his famous list that follows:

  1. The modes of recognition.
  2. The division of symbolic Masonry into three degrees.
  3. The legend of the third degree.
  4. The government of the Fraternity by a grand master.
  5. The prerogative of the grand master to preside over every assembly of the Craft.
  6. The prerogative of the grand master to grant dispensations for conferring degrees at irregular intervals.
  7. The prerogative of the grand master to give dispensations for opening and holding lodges.
  8. The prerogative of the grand master to make Masons at sight.
  9. The necessity for Masons to congregate in lodges.
  10. The government of the Craft when congregated in a lodge, by a master and two wardens.
  11. The necessity that every lodge, when congregated, should be duly tiled.
  12. The right of every Mason to be represented in all general meetings of the Craft.
  13. The right of every Mason to appeal from his brethren, in lodge convened, to the grand master.
  14. The right of every Mason to visit and sit in every regular lodge.
  15. That no visitor, unknown to the brethren present or someone of them as a Mason, can enter a lodge without first passing an examination according to ancient usage.
  16. No lodge can interfere with the business of another lodge.
  17. Every Freemason is amenable to the laws and regulations of the Masonic jurisdiction in which he resides.
  18. A candidate for initiation must be a man, freeborn, unmutilated and of mature age.
  19. A belief in the existence of God as the Grand Architect of the Universe.
  20. Belief in a resurrection to a future life.
  21. A “Book of the Law” constitutes an indispensable part of the furniture of every lodge.
  22. The equality of all Masons.
  23. The secrecy of the Institution.
  24. The foundation of a Speculative science upon an operative art.
  25. These landmarks can never be changed.

What will you do with these statements?

For the moment, you will, perhaps, pass Number 1. But Number 2 — the division of Symbolic Masonry into three degrees, you may argue “can that be a landmark? Mackey says a landmark must be ancient. There were not three degrees prior to the Mother Grand Lodge of 1717 and probably not three before 1726. If the number of degrees has been changed, how can that number be a landmark?”

Passing Number 3 you read Number 4: “The government of the Fraternity by a grand master.” The first elected grand master of a grand lodge was Anthony Sayer, in 1717. Undoubtedly there have always been grand masters, even in pre-grand lodge days, and from this standpoint Number 4 may be, really a landmark. But Mackey then proceeds to list various powers and duties of grand masters as landmarks: (5) his prerogative to preside; (6) his power to grant dispensations for conferring degrees at irregular intervals; (7) his power to grant dispensations for opening and holding lodges; (8) his power to make Masons at sight.

What will you do with these? Perhaps you will admit that a grand master has the prerogative to assume leadership in any Masonic body, but how about dispensations? Doubtless you will hold these to be a modern invention. You may argue our ancient brethren held their meetings when they pleased; there were no regular intervals in the ancient builders’ lodges, and hence no necessity for any dispensation to hold such meetings at irregular intervals. Lodges formed and opened without benefit of a grand master for hundreds of years; even in this country and as late as the initiation of George Washington, lodges were formed as of time immemorial and without either dispensations or charters. As for the grand master’s power to make Masons at sight, the practice has been definitely forbidden in a number of U.S. grand lodges. If this law or rule or practice were a landmark, how could it be repealed?

You will next consider carefully Mackey’s No. 9 “The necessity for Masons to congregate in lodges.” If this means to you that lodges are now and have always been, a part of the necessary machinery of Freemasonry, you may pass this as a landmark. But if you think, as have many before you, that the language is unfortunate and that both “necessity” and “congregate” are words with various meanings, you may debate with yourself as to this being a landmark. You may ask, for instance, “What of the three men who met off the Mullin Trail in Montana and held a private Masonic meeting with a rock for an altar? Out of that meeting grew organized meetings in Montana, but these Masons did not do what they did by necessity nor were they congregated in a lodge. What of the group of Masons who climbed Independence Rock in Wyoming for its first Masonic meeting, met in a ‘lodge’ which, while it had no charter, no grand lodge, no law behind it, nevertheless was opened and closed on each degree, the minutes of which are a precious possession of the Grand Lodge of Wyoming?” Here were Masons, here was a gathering that could not be a lodge under any interpretation of the word, yet here Masons were not only congregated in a gathering but consecrated to Freemasonry. Did they violate a landmark, you may ask, or is Number 9 not a landmark?

You will likely agree that a lodge must have a master and two wardens and that it has always been so, but Number 11, that every lodge when congregated must be “duly tiled” is contradicted by practically every ritual that declares that three — a master and wardens — can constitute a lodge of Master Masons. If the ritual says three are enough and Mackey insists on four (the fourth a tiler) is Mackey discussing a landmark or a practice? Of course you will agree that a lodge should be tiled when it is possible, but suppose it is not possible?

Mackey’s Number 12 and 13 depend upon a grand master and a grand lodge being landmarks. If you do not believe a grand lodge to be a landmark you will ask yourself, how can the right of appeal to a grand lodge be a landmark? As for your right to be represented, it is an unsettled question in many grand lodges whether the representatives of a lodge must vote as instructed, or vote their convictions. Therefore, you may say that an undecided question cannot be a landmark.

As for Number 14, what is a “right”? Is it a law? Can it be broken? Can it be denied? Any member of any lodge may object to any visitor and the master must sustain him. Some lodges do not permit visitors on election nights. Do these exceptions break a “landmark”? Or is the “right” merely a privilege and the privilege a custom, and not a landmark?

Number 15 merely says in different words that only Masons can sit with Masons in a Masonic lodge. But there have been many examples of cowans and eavesdroppers getting into lodges. The word can here doubtless means and should be read "should be allowed to." Numbers 16 and 17, you may argue, are practices that have grown from our system of lodges and grand lodges and could not be inherent, because there would have been no necessity for them when Masonry was young. When “lodges” were groups of Masons building Cathedrals, there were no others to “interfere,” and when there was no grand lodge, there was no jurisdiction to the laws of which a Mason had to conform. You may think that these fundamental practices are good but not necessarily landmarks.

As for Number 18, none of Mackey’s has been so shot full of holes. Unmutilated, indeed! With the armless, the legless, even the blind being made Masons (the latter, not often, but there are instances) how can this be a landmark, you will ask? Half the grand lodges in the United States are lenient occasionally on the subject of the “doctrine of the perfect youth.” Doubtless, it was once essential that a Mason be unmutilated, but the necessity disappeared with the invention of artificial arms and legs. Many grand lodges cling to the letter; others forget the letter for the spirit. If common, you will argue, this leniency surely deprives No. 18 of its character as a landmark.

Number 19 is probably universally admitted as a landmark but there are some — and you may be among these — who will demand definitions of that “future life” which is here set forth as part of a landmark. Some sincere men believe immortality is only in their children. Other good men think of immortality as a rejoining of a universal life, as a drop of individual water falling back into a great ocean. If the “landmark” can be considered in as broad a light as “Grand Architect of the Universe” can be considered as the name of any God in which a man may believe, you will consider this a landmark. But if “belief in a resurrection to a future life” necessarily means personal resurrection and personal future life, you will not be alone if you deny that this is a landmark.

Today No. 21 which requires a “Book of the Law” as part of the furniture of every lodge is Masonic law. But prior to about 1760, the “Book of the Law” was not, as Mackey here doubtless means, a holy book of some faith; but the Book of Constitutions. There was no Book of Constitutions prior to 1723. How, then, you may well think, can any book, whether sacred writ or Masonic law, be a landmark?

Numbers 22, 23 and 24, equality, secrecy, the speculative character of modern Freemasonry may not, to you, be debatable. But once Masonry was almost entirely operative. Will you not inquire “Was it then not Masonic? When did Cathedral building turn into a speculative science? During those slowly changing and formative years, was Masonry not Masonry because not wholly speculative? How, then, can this be considered a landmark, a landmark being a something not subject to change?”

By now you may have argued Mackey’s list so full of holes it has more openings than solid cloth! And you may be ready to look with some interest on at least one jurisdiction that has simplified Mackey’s list and determined that but a few of Mackey’s twenty-five are really landmarks; the rest but good Masonic rule and practice.

Massachusetts, always conservative, states the landmarks as:

  1. Monotheism, the sole dogma of Freemasonry;
  2. Belief in immortality, the ultimate lesson of Masonic philosophy;
  3. The Volume of the Sacred Law, an indispensable part of the furniture of the lodge;
  4. The legend of the Third Degree;
  5. Secrecy;
  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.

The late great Dr. Joseph Fort Newton reduced the whole matter to poetry and expressed his belief that there are but five landmarks; “The Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, the moral law, the golden rule, and the hope of a life everlasting.”

Finally, you may wish to consider Dean Roscoe Pound’s list (Masonic Jurisprudence). He thinks there are seven landmarks: (1) Belief in God; (2) Belief in the persistence of personality; (3) a Book of the Law as an indispensable part of the furniture of every lodge; (4) the legend of the third degree; (5) secrecy; (6) symbolism of the operative art; (7) a Mason must be a man, free born, and of age.

To leave the reader as little confused as possible these suggestions on individual Masonic thinking close with the observations of the late great Charles C. Hunt of Iowa — grand librarian, grand secretary, honorary past grand master, deep and admired Masonic student:

In ancient times a landmark was an object that marked the boundary line between one person’s property and that of another. Masonic landmarks are those things that distinguish the Fraternity from other organizations. If changed or altered, it might remain a fraternity, but it would no longer be Masonic. Hence our grand lodge admits that its powers are limited by the Ancient Landmarks.

However, we must remember that it was the position of the object that marked a boundary that made it a landmark, not the object itself. The stones that are used as landmarks cease to be such when moved away from the boundary line. It is the line rather than the stone that is important. In the same way, it is the principles of Masonry rather than concrete lists that determine the character of our institution. A stone used as a landmark could be replaced by a post or some other object, but the boundary remained unchanged. The object must mark the line or it is no landmark.

We believe it is as unnecessary to adopt an official list of landmarks as to adopt an official list of scientific laws, such as the law of gravitation. The landmarks, like scientific laws, are valid only in so far as they are true, and their adoption by any so-called body has no effect whatever on their validity. Individual scientists may fist what they conceive to be laws of nature, but no scientific society would undertake to officially adopt these laws as the official laws of the science in which they are interested.

The master of a Masonic lodge prior to installation promises to be a good man, and true, and strictly to obey the moral law. Can a lodge or grand lodge by law determine the characteristics of a good man and true and define the moral law? If a grand lodge should attempt to do so, what effect would such legislation have on the moral law itself? We believe that legislative lists of landmarks are just as effective as would legislative attempts to define the moral law.

The Masonic conception of a landmark is a fundamental law or principle of Masonry that no body of men or Masons can repeal. Anything that can be adopted can be repealed. If a grand lodge has power to adopt, it has the power to repeal. It is the very fact that they are unalterable that makes them similar to scientific laws that cannot be changed or altered by any man or body of men.

The Masonic Service Association of North America