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more on ancient landmarks

Published in Masonic Bulletin,
BCY, October 1940

"Ancient Charges, Regulations and Landmarks" are familiar words. What is called "Anderson's Constitution of 1723" contains both the "Charges of a Freemason" and "General Regulations". It is noteworthy that the 39th regulation declares, "Every Annual Grand Lodge has an inherent Power and Authority to make new Regulations or to alter these, for the real benefit of this ancient Fraternity; Provided always that the old Landmarks be carefully preserved, etc."

In this document we have the first known use of the word "Landmarks" in connection with Freemasonry. Note that a clear distinction is made between Regulations and Landmarks. Moreover, the Regulations in Anderson's "Constitutions" are described as "compiled first by George Payne Anno 1720, when he was Grand Master and approved by the Grand Lodge on St.John Baptist's Day Anno 1721." They are styled "General Regulations" and it seems to be the practice to use this designation for these and all Regulations enacted before 1721.

The designation "Local Regulations" is used for all regulations enacted since 1721 by the Grand Lodge of England or other Grand Lodges elsewhere.

Under the name "Ancient Charges" Haywood and Craig include those "curious documents which are variously known as the Old Charges, the Ancient Constitutions, The Ancient Manuscripts, the Gothic Manuscripts and the Legend of the Craft." These documents are of great historical importance and "Illuminate the state of the Masonic Craft as it was in the operative days revealing what the ancient brethren believed about their Fraternity, illustrating their customs and practices and showing forth something of the purposes which animates them." A total of 98 document of this class has been enumerated by R.H. Baxter in 1918.

In his little book 'Landmarks of Freemasonry," Silas H. Shepherd prints several of these ancient Manuscript, viz: The Regius Poem generally dated about 1390.

The New Articles of 1663.

The Charges of a Freemason and General Regulations (Anderson's "Book of Constitutions" of 1723.

Harlein Mss. of 1670.

The Antiquity Mss. of 1686.

Haywood and Craig in their "History of Freemasonry" also give extensive excerpts of York Roll No. 1, which is said to date about 1600.

When we come to Landmarks we confront the distinction between written and unwritten laws, between "leges scriptae and leges non scriptae." Charges and Regulations are written. Landmarks are for the most part unwritten.

The Grand Lodge of England has never attempted to define or enumerate the Landmarks. In 1859, Brother Albert G. Mackey published a list of twenty-five Landmarks. Others have followed him in this endeavour. Brother Mackey's list has been the subject of much discussion. It has proved, however, a most informative summary land is held in very high regard. Several Grand Jurisdictions have adopted summaries of the Landmarks.

As comments the following, quoted by Shepherd, are to the point: (1) "We assume those principles of action to be Landmarks which have existed from time immemorial, whether in the written or unwritten law; which are identified with the form and essence of the society; which, the great majority agree, cannot be changed, and which every Mason is bound to maintain intact, under the most solemn and inviolable sanction:
-John W. Simson, "Principles of Masonic Jurisprudence"

(2) "The very definition of Landmarks shows that an enumeration of them is scarcely possible. All we can know is that it is a law or custom that has existed from time immemorial. If any universal usage exist, and has existed so long that its origin is unknown, it is a Landmark."
- Josiah Drummond "Maine Masonic Text Book"

It is no detriment to the study of Landmarks that an exact list should never be adopted. To our minds, the analogy most naturally suggested is that of the British Constitution. It has never been written.It is fairly safe to say it never will be. Yet it is very real and its operation is unmistakable.

Our study of the Landmarks will always lead us to a deeper and truer interpretation of the fundamental principles, the genuine tenets, and the living spirit of our ancient institution.

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