Vol. XXXIV No. 10 — October 1956

Masonic Enigma

The Standard Dictionary defines enigma as follows: “An obscure or ambiguous statement the meaning of which must be guessed or discovered.”

In the charge at the close of the Master Mason Degree the initiate is instructed:

The Ancient Landmarks of the order, entrusted in your care, you are carefully to preserve and never suffer them to be infringed or countenance a deviation from the established usages and customs of the fraternity.

It is an established principle both in law and nature that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

If, therefore, the Master Mason is never to suffer the landmarks of Freemasonry to be infringed, he must know what they are.

No Mason has yet been wise enough to set forth the landmarks of Freemasonry.

Many have tried it; none has succeeded to the point where all other Freemasons agree.

From the earliest beginnings of society, law has been a necessity. The early caveman was a law unto himself, while he roamed the hills and plains; if he met a fellow his “law” was the law of might, the heaviest club, the greatest strength. One killed the other and took his possessions.

When necessity drove cavemen into tribes, it was essential to have an agreement, a law, a rule that they did not kill each other, and that each was entitled to keep his own possessions without hindrance whether that possession was a stone ax, a wife, a child, or a cooking pot.

From such crude beginnings law developed, and as an inevitable result, all human institutions devised their own laws, Freemasonry among them.

Of the making of laws there is no end; like Freemasonry, law making is “a progressive science.” New conditions demand new laws. New inventions require new controls. New ideas need new restrictions. Men of the tenth century required no Securities and Exchange Commission or laws governing the buying and selling stocks on margin. George Washington never received a “parking ticket” or was arrested for speeding. During the Civil War, no one invoked the Fifth Amendment because of his membership in the Communist party. Corporation law was known in Rome but not to the Twelve Tribes.

A few of the many varieties of law may be listed; natural laws, those principles that activate natural phenomena such as weather, tides, winds, lightning, fire, earthquake, volcanoes, geysers, growth of tree, grain and flower, the four seasons, day and night and an unnumbered and unnumberable number of other “natural phenomena.”

Scientific laws, in addition to natural laws, which surround and control phenomena brought into being by man’s use of, or interference with, nature. Thus nature has no atomic or hydrogen bomb, produces no power by the burning of oil in a cylinder, sends no intelligent messages by radio wave, exhibits no television shows, runs no railroad trains, and propels no ships across the sea. Man does and discovers some of the laws controlling such things.

Morality hath its laws; they begin in the Ten Commandments for most westerners and are expounded in pulpit and church, school, and home, but no fist of them has ever been made. What is moral or immoral changes with people, climate and custom; no list seems likely to be made. The “one-arm bandit” is illegal in most of the United States but legal in Nevada. Polygamy is legal in some places; slavery is still legal in certain areas in the world. During the “noble experiment” it was illegal and therefore immoral to transport a pint of whiskey in a motor car; the illicit still in the mountains of some parts of the south is still moral to many.

Law is a part of nature, but no man knows all of nature’s laws.

Law is the foundation of science, but no scientist has written all the laws that control the activities of science, as opposed to those of nature.

It is a law of nature that, under certain conditions of temperature and pressure, electricity in the form of tension in the clouds results in lightning. It is a law of science that the same force, brought into being by man revolving certain coils of wire in and around certain cores of iron, will light an electric lamp, produce X-rays, cook a meal, drive a train or a ship, and produce heat and cold.

Lightning is unpredictable because all the laws that govern it are not known. Electricity has been tamed, but we are doubtless in the infancy of its possible uses, because science does not know all the laws that govern it.

Freemasonry is often referred to as a beautiful system of morality that seems to predicate the fact that there are several if not many “systems of morality” of which Freemasonry is one. The logician deems this nonsense; there is only one system of morality of which Freemasonry may be a phase, or within which it may operate. No one, not even the eminent divines, ministers, preachers, priests, and prophets of the world, has ever written all the “laws of morality.”

The “unwritten law” is a part of law. No code of civil laws commands that a householder kill an intruder, a robber, a villain who enters his home for the purpose of raping his wife and stealing possessions. But no judge or jury will convict when a man kills the intruder in defense of his home, his family, his property, or himself. The “unwritten law,” not stated in any code of law, is as well understood as the written law.

There are “laws of manners,” which, while to some extent set forth in books of etiquette, and which do govern the conduct of many civilized people, are no more reduced to an all-inclusive code than are the laws of morality. The Ten Commandments sets forth certain essentials of human conduct but only a few; a man may set fire to his neighbor’s house, salt his neighbor’s fields, or dam up the stream that waters his neighbor’s garden without offending the Ten Commandments. The “laws of manners” indicate that civilized man remove his hat when greeting a lady but say nothing of the husband who reads a newspaper at the breakfast table! We remove our gloves before taking a friend by the hand, or apologize for keeping it on, but you will search the books of etiquette from cover to cover and find no prohibition that states that a man must retain or remove his shoes or his neckties before entering a church or kissing his wife!

Every lady and gentleman knows what good manners are, but none define them in toto — in the same way Freemasons have a general consciousness that the landmarks are thus and such and the ancient usages and customs such and thus, without listing or defining them in any complete form.

Many grand lodges have stated that, within their jurisdictions, such and such commandments and/or prohibitions, are “landmarks” which is much like a law-making assembly saying that lightning that strikes a house and an apple that falls from a table if it rolls off, do so as the result of laws. The same law-making body could then repeal the commandment or prohibition and say it was against the law for lightning to strike and that an apple must not fall to the ground if it rolls from a table. The repeal would have no effect. If repeal can have no effect, neither, logically, can the enactment have any effect. The enactment of a “list of landmarks” can indeed, produce rules of conduct or activity, but cannot become landmarks by ukase of a law-making body, any more than the said body can enact or repeal a law of nature or of morality.

Freemasonry began in a crude and simple form, developed through many years, became a fairly complete, well-defined and bounded system with the beginning of grand lodges, crossed the ocean, redeveloped in certain ways in this country and became what it is — let him define it who can.

Its governing laws stem back to the six Old Charges and Thirty-Nine Articles of Anderson’s Constitutions, but behind these are the landmarks and ancient usages and customs that initiates are charged to preserve, even if they are never told what they are!

Certain more or less modern “usages and customs” have become so fixed in Masonic thinking as to have the force of landmarks, although they cannot be framed within the definition of landmarks. Thus, it is impossible to imagine a successful American grand lodge that imitated the Grand Orient of France, removing the Book of the Law from the altars and admitting atheists to membership. Yet there was a time, and not so long ago, when there was no V.S.L. on the altar or even an altar in a Masonic body to put it on.

No grand lodge could successfully legislate that the Ancient Craft have only two, or four, or more degrees; it would immediately be without the pale of all other regular and legitimate grand lodges. Yet there was a time when, in all probability, Masonry had only one degree, and not since 1813 has it been legal to have more than three degrees within the frame of Ancient Craft Masonry.

There are certain landmarks agreed to by all, which no one questions, which do comply with the definition of a landmark — a law or custom so important that without it Freemasonry would not be Freemasonry but would be something else. No one will argue that it is not a landmark that Freemasonry makes Freemasons of men only. Organizations that admit women to membership are not Masonic. They may be “allied to” Masonry. Their men members may be Masons (as in the Eastern Star), but Masonic they are not. Male membership is universally agreed on as a landmark.

Secrecy of ritual and ceremony is undoubtedly a Landmark. Any grand lodge that permitted the conferring of degrees before other than Master Masons would not be a Masonic grand lodge.

The Legend of the Master Mason’s Degree may or may not be a landmark in point of fact, but it is so recognized universally; it is impossible, for instance, to imagine a Master Mason Degree built upon the story of Damon and Pythias, or Jason and the Golden Fleece, or King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The Master Mason Degree must tell the story of the master builder and no other myth or legend could possibly take its place.

Belief in a Great (or Grand) Architect (or Artificer) of the Universe as a necessary thinking in any candidate for Freemasonry is a landmark. Freemasonry cannot tolerate the atheist. One pseudo-Masonic body tried it and is now not only unrecognized but anathema to all regular Freemasonry.

Undoubtedly monotheism is a landmark; indeed belief in a Great Architect is incompatible with any pantheistic philosophy. A great architect presupposes no lesser architects.

Belief in immortality is and must always be a personal, not a grand lodge matter. Definitions of immorality simply do not define. If “belief in personal immortality” is thought of as the landmark, then there must be many forsworn Freemasons since many a good man and true thinks of his immortality as his children or that the divine spark within him but joins with others after physical death in a great pool of immortality, exactly as he thinks of a drop of water still existing, although losing its identity as a drop, when, as rain, it falls in the ocean. Belief in some form of a Hereafter may justly be considered a Landmark.

But when reading, for instance, such a list as Mackey’s twenty-five or Kentucky’s fifty-four landmarks, the Masonic student asks himself, “Who determined these as landmarks?” Inevitably he must answer “certain brethren.” He has, therefore, the reason why so many such pronouncements cannot be landmarks — they are the ideas of men and not the contributions of time immemorial to the Fraternity.

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The citizen who is in doubt about the law consults a lawyer. The lawyer may inform him, or misinform him.

The man who is doubtful about a point of moral law consults his minister or other ecclesiastical authority or some moral philosopher. He gets the best advice obtainable, which may, or may not, be correct.

The experimenter in the laboratory who wonders whether a certain experiment will produce new facts or blow him up will advise with his teacher, higher authority, greater scientist. He may, or may not, get correct information; he may, or may not, add to the sum of human knowledge or be blown higher than Gilderoy’s kite as a result of that experiment he tries.

The Freemason, uncertain as to the landmarks or the ancient usages and customs he is to support, will consult the best authorities he can find; he may, or may not, get adequate and intelligent information.

All of us, in all these fields, just do the best we can.

Anciently it was written

Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor’s landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land the Lord thy God hath given thee. (Deuteronomy 19:4)

That landmark might be a stone, a tree, a stream. In the course of time it might disappear. But the boundary it marked did not disappear.

It was the boundary, not the landmark, which was of importance.

Freemasons differ widely as to the landmarks themselves.

None disagree as to the boundaries that mark off Freemasonry from any other institution.

Most men know morals and equity by training and instinct though the law may escape them.

Most Freemasons know Freemasonry, though the landmarks may be an enigma. It is “thine inheritance” which the landmarks define and that, no enigma can take from the reverent and conforming brother!

The Masonic Service Association of North America