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beyond the northeast corner

the landmarks


Richard h. sands


THE FIRST TIME a Mason becomes aware of the existence of Masonic landmarks is usually when he is newly raised. The Charge to the Master Mason contains the words: "The ancient landmarks of Masonry entrusted to your care, you are carefully to preserve, and never allow them to be infringed, or countenance a deviation from the established usages and customs of the Fraternity”.

If he reads the Installation of Officers in our Michigan Masonic Monitor he will discover further that every Master before being placed in the chair shall solemnly pledge that he will not during his term of office, nor at any other time that the Lodge shall be under his direction, permit or suffer any deviation from the established usages and customs of the Fraternity and strictly to enforce them within his own lodge. This has allusion to the eleventh of the Ancient Charges to which the Master-Elect assents before he can be installed. In general, when Masonic laws conflict, their authority ranks in the following order:

1. Landmarks;

2. Constitution of Grand Lodge;

3. By-laws and Regulations of Grand Lodge;

4. Lodge By-laws;

5. The changeable part of the “unwritten laws".

By way of clarification, we read further: "The term 'unwritten' is applied to all laws known to have existed among Freemasons prior to A.D. 1717. Unwritten laws include both Changeable and Unchangeable laws. Laws which have originated either by enactment or usage since 1717 are called for convenience sake Written laws and are Changeable. Of the division into Unchangeable and Changeable, it may be enough to say that there are certain laws, viz., the Ancient Landmarks, which it is not in the power of any man or body of men to change. On the other hand, all Masonic laws, except the Landmarks, whether written or unwritten, may be changed.”

What are these Landmarks which loom so large in the Masonic jurisprudence of our Grand Lodge?. On page B - 2 of our Book of Constitutions (Blue Book of Masonic Law) the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Michigan recognizes the following as Ancient Landmarks of Masonry:

A belief in a Supreme

Being A belief in the immortality of the soul

A Volume of the Sacred Law is an indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge.

Many other grand lodges in North America, with less reticence, have adopted specific codes of Landmarks. These are usually printed as preambles to their constitutions in the form of lists containing anywhere from five to fifty individual clauses. One may well wonder why there is such disparity in numbers and whether there are in fact any features common to all. This is a question which has generated considerable debate, often with more heat than light. One English historian, Robert Freke Gould, after searching in vain for a definitive list, concluded: "Nobody knows what they comprise or omit; they are of no earthly authority because everything is a landmark when an opponent desires to silence you, but nothing is a landmark that stands in his way". Evidently the problem merits further study.

Landmarks Before Freemasonry

Originally, in the literal sense, the landmark was a boundary mark. It was a stone, or post, or marker of some kind that indicated where one piece of property, one town, one city, one state, or one nation ended and another began. The importance of such stones in ancient times is indicated by the Biblical injunction, '`Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set" (Proverbs 22:28), and by the Mosaic denunciation, "Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor's landmark" (Deuteronomy 27:17).

The Earliest Masonic uses of the Word

The word "Land-Marks" occurs in print in its Masonic sense for the first time in Anderson's first Book of Constitutions (1723) in the General Regulations which had actually been compiled in 1720 and approved by Grand Lodge at its Assembly in June, 1721. Regulation 39 stipulated that "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 LAND-MARKs be carefully preserv'd.... " We note that the author of these words, George Payne, who was Grand Master in 1718 and again in 1720, already drew a distinction between the Regulations, which could be amended, and Land-Marks, which were unalterable.

In Anderson's New Book of Constitutions (1738) the words "Land Marks" appear twice: once when restating the "Old" Regulation 39 (quoted above), and again in the final Regulation of the code which he called the "New" Regulations. In the latter passage he summarizes the resolutions of the Grand Lodge meetings of June 24, 1723, and November 25, 1723, where Payne's statement about the Land Marks must have been reviewed. In neither of these resolutions are the words "Land Marks" actually used; the phrase "Ancient Rules of Masonry" seems to have sufficed for official needs.

We might infer that the two terms were regarded as synonymous. In the last paragraph however Anderson adds his own explanation: "Accordingly, ALL the Alterations or NEW REGULATIONS above written are only for amending or explaining the OLD REGULATIONS for the Good of Masonry, without breaking in upon the antient Rules of the Fraternity, still preserving the Old Land Marks...." Evidently Anderson himself had no doubt about the importance of the actual term "Land Mark"

The Latter Part of the Eighteenth Century

The minutes of the premier Grand Lodge, later to be dubbed "Moderns", through the whole period 1723-1758 contain no mention of the word Landmarks. Nor is there any reference in the records of the Grand Lodge ("Ancients") other than one on the register of the Royal Arch ("Ancients"), under the heading of Resolutions passed, November 5, 1783: "Resolved, . . . In order that the Ancient Landmarks may be faithfully preserved: and handed down pure and undefiled to our posterity forever."

Fifield D'Assigny in A Serious and Impartial Enquiry into the Cause and Present Decay of Freemasonry in the Kingdom of Ireland (Dublin, 1744) used the word landmarks three times. Laurence Dermott, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge ("Antients"), in the 1756 edition of Ahiman Rezon, and also in later editions, made reference to landmarks four times. Typical examples are: "No man who rightly understands the Craft can be so blind as to trammel over its ancient Landmarks"; and ". . . remove not the ancient Land Mark which thy Fathers have set...." Likewise William Preston in his Illustrations of Freemasonry (1772 and 1775 editions) refers to them six times, one of which is the familiar precept, "Our ancient landmarks you are carefully to preserve, and never to suffer an infringement of them.”

The Period of the Union

On October 26, 1809, the Grand Master of the "Moderns" issued a warrant to form the Lodge of Promulgation "for the purpose of promulgating the ancient Land Marks of the Society and instructing the Craft in all such matters and forms as may be necessary to be known by them.... " The minutes of December 29, 1810, reveal the ideas and work of the Lodge of Promulgation: "The R.W.M. then took a retrospective view of the proceedings of the Lodge in the three degrees of the Order . . . and proceeded to point out the material in and between the several degrees to which [their] attention would be requisite in preserving Ancient Land Marks of the Order, such as the form of the Lodge, the number and situation of the Officers, the different distinctions in the different Degrees, the restoration of the passwords to each Degree, and the making of pass-words between one Degree and another, instead of in the Degree".

The Lodge of Promulgation met thirty times. In its report to the Grand Master the word "Landmark" is never used. It may be assumed however that in the judgment of the Lodge the term "ancient practice" was synonymous with "Landmarks". The Lodge of Reconciliation (1813-1816) left no records, and its views on "Landmarks” are unknown. After the work of the Lodge of Promulgation and shortly before the actual union, formal expressions of approval were voted on December 1, 1813. The Duke of Sussex ("Moderns") was thanked for "firmly and with brotherly affection upholding and maintaining the ancient land marks". The Duke of Kent ("Ancients") was thanked for the "firm and brotherly determination with which he asserted, maintained and secured the ancient landmarks". While each Grand Lodge claimed victory in the union, it appears that the two resolutions are contradictory. It is not possible that the two Grand Masters could both have succeeded in upholding the true Landmarks, since the Grand Lodges always maintained that their beliefs were in conflict. Alternatively, if both had preserved the true Landmarks, then the matters over which the Grand Lodges had differed for so long were not true Landmarks.

In the third of the Articles of Union (1813) the reason for the union is given: ". . . so that but one pure unsullied system, according to the genuine landmarks, laws and traditions of the Craft, shall be maintained, upheld and practiced, throughout the Masonic World. . . . "

Essential Features of Landmarks

The amount of ink spilled on the question of the Landmarks of Masonry is immense. From 1723 right down to the present day Masons all over the world have persisted in trying to read more into the words than was intended when they were added, almost as an afterthought, at the end of the General Regulations. Serious debate began in 1858 when Albert G. Mackey wrote an article in the second volume of the American Quarterly Review of Freemasonry. In the hundreds of discussions which have ensued since that date, two essential points recur again and again in definitions. (1) A Landmark must have existed from "time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary". (2) A Landmark is an element in the form or essence of the society of such importance that Freemasonry would not be Freemasonry if it were removed. One or both of these features has been adduced by such well known and highly respected Masons as Mackey himself, probably one of the ablest authorities of American Freemasonry, Dean Roscoe Pound, the noted American jurist and Masonic scholar, and Dr. Chetwode Crawley, the eminent Irish Masonic writer. There seems to be a consensus that these are the two necessary and sufficient qualifications by which to identify a Masonic Landmark.

If they are applied strictly to test for Landmarks, it will be found that there are in fact very few items that will pass this rigid examination. Many of the so-called "Landmarks" that occur in the longer lists are actually regulations, customs, or principles which are either of recent origin or unessential to Freemasonry. Landmarks which do meet the twofold requirement are as follows: (1) that a Mason professes a belief in God; (2) that the Volume of the Sacred Law is an essential and indispensable part of the Lodge, to be open when the brethren are at labor; (3) that a Mason must be male, free-born, and of mature age; (4) that a Mason, by his tenure, owes allegiance to the Sovereign and to the Craft; (5) that a Mason believes in the immortality of the soul. The first four of these are derived directly from the earliest documents belonging to the Craft, the Old Charges which begin about 1390. The fifth is implicit in the religious beliefs of that period. This brief list is in close conformity with the code adopted by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, the senior grand lodge on this continent.

In the above connection, it may be of interest to note the Principles of Recognition required by our own Grand Lodge (page B –1 of our Blue Book of Compiled Laws):

“Fraternal recognition may be extended to another Grand Lodge upon recommendation of the Committee on Fraternal Relations, when it appears to the satisfaction of Grand Lodge:

1. That such Grand Lodge shall have been established lawfully by a duly recognized Grand Lodge or by three or more regularly constituted Lodges.

2. That a belief in the Grand Architect of the Universe and His revealed will shall be an essential qualification for membership.

3. That all Initiates shall take their obligation on or in full view of the Open Volume of the Sacred Law, by which is meant the revelation from above which is binding on the conscience of the particular individual who is being initiated.

4. That the membership of the Grand Lodge and individual Lodges shall be composed exclusively of men; and that each Grand Lodge shall have no intercourse of any kind with mixed Lodges or Lodges which admit women to membership.

5. That the Grand Lodge shall have sovereign jurisdiction over the Lodges under its control, i.e., that it shall be a responsible, independent, self-governing organization, with sole and undisputed authority over the Craft or Symbolic Degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason) within its jurisdiction; and shall not in any way be subject to or divide such authority with any other Power claiming any control or supervision over those degrees.

6. That the Great Lights of Freemasonry (namely the Volume of the Sacred Law; the Square, and the Compasses) shall always be exhibited when the Grand Lodge or its subordinate Lodges are at work, the chief of these being the Volume of the Sacred Law.

7. That the discussion of religion and politics within the Lodge shall be strictly prohibited.

8. That the principles of the Ancient landmarks, customs and usages of the Craft shall be strictly observed.” Appendix: Aims and Relationships of the Craft.

In 1920 the Grand Lodge of England broke its traditional silence. It referred to the Landmarks, and itemized a number of them (possibly all of them) in a statement entitled "Aims and Relationships of the Craft". In August, 1938, the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland each agreed upon and issued a statement identical in terms except that the name of the issuing Grand Lodge appeared through-out. This statement was reaffirmed by the United Grand Lodge of England on September 7, 1949. It has never been adopted by the Grand Lodge of Michigan in terms that would make it expressly appropriate to this jurisdiction. However, because it is such a concise, accurate, and comprehensive statement of the aims and relationships of regular Masonry, it was reprinted in its original form and widely distributed. The statement is in the following terms:

1. From time to time the United Grand Lodge of England has deemed it desirable to set forth in precise form the aims of Freemasonry as consistently practiced under its Jurisdiction since it came into being as an organized body in 1717, and also to define the principles governing its relations with those other Grand Lodges with which it is in fraternal accord.

2. In view of representations which have been received, and of statements recently issued which have distorted or obscured the true objects of Freemasonry, it is once again considered necessary to emphasize certain fundamental principles of the Order.  

3. The first condition of admission into, and membership of, the Order is a belief in the supreme being. This is essential and admits of no compromise.

4. The Bible, referred to by Freemasons as the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the Lodges. Every candidate is required to take his obligation on that book or on the Volume which is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon it.

5. Everyone who enters Freemasonry is, at the outset, strictly forbidden to countenance any act which may have a tendency to subvert the peace and good order of society; he must pay due obedience to the law of any State in which he resides or which may afford him protection, and he must never be remiss in the allegiance due to the Sovereign of his native land.  

6. While English Freemasonry thus inculcates in each of its members the duties of loyalty and citizenship, it reserves to the individual the right to hold his own opinion with regard to public affairs. But neither in any lodge, nor at any time in his capacity as a Freemason, is he permitted to discuss or to advance his views on theological or political questions.  

7. The Grand Lodge has always consistently refused to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic state policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action, however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes its unalterable policy of standing aloof from every question affecting the relations between one government and another, or between political parties, or questions as to rival theories of government.  

8. The Grand Lodge is aware that there do exist Bodies, styling themselves Freemasons, which do not adhere to these principles, and while that attitude exists the Grand Lodge of England refuses absolutely to have any relations with such Bodies, or to regard them as Freemasons.  

9. The Grand Lodge of England is a Sovereign and independent Body practicing Freemasonry only within the three Degrees and only within the limits defined in its Constitution as "pure Antient Masonry". It does not recognize or admit the existence of any superior Masonic authority, however styled.  

10. On more than one occasion the Grand Lodge has refused, and will continue to refuse, to participate in Conferences with so called International Associations claiming to represent Freemasonry, which admit to membership Bodies failing to conform strictly to the principles upon which the Grand Lodge of England is founded. The Grand Lodge does not admit any such claim, nor can its views be represented by any such Association.

11. There is no secret with regard to any of the basic principles of Freemasonry, some of which have been stated above. The Grand Lodge will always consider the recognition of those Grand Lodges which profess, and practice, and can show that they have consistently professed, and practiced those established and unaltered principles, but in no circumstances will it enter into discussion with a view to any new or varied interpretation of them. They must be accepted and practiced wholeheartedly and in their entirety by those who desire to be recognized as Freemasons by the United Grand Lodge of England.  

Selected References  

Darrah, Delmar D., The Evolution of Freemasonry, The Masonic Publishing Co., Bloomington, IL 1920, pp. 301-312.

Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry, As Adopted, Followed or Undecided by the Fifty Grand Lodges of the United States, a publication of the Masonic Service Association, 8120 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD 20910-4785 Bernard E. Jones, Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium, New and Revised Edition, George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd., London 1957, pp. 332-337.

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