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E.4.5 The Freemason’s Landmarks

Streams, hills, and other natural features have always been used to fix boundaries that are easily recognised by everybody. Stones and big boulders are also used for the same purpose when no natural feature exists. These landmarks have a special statute and, in principle, nobody is authorised to move or modify them. This notion too comes from the Bible, and has been adopted by Freemasonry that pictures landmarks as great rocks immovable, or which should be immovable. Landmarks are also elevated marks by which mariners take their bearings or any historical event by which it is possible to situate precisely other events or things. Freemasons, like the Bible, see landmarks as rocks that cannot be moved, they see their landmarks as a history or a tradition, a law, a rule or a tenet, a rite or a custom, a system, a prerogative or right, in other word something fundamental and each of them in existence, and coming down to them from time immemorial.

Landmark is a word of Hebrew origin that means “border, coast or line”, or even “rope”. So initially landmark was seen as a boundary-line determined by stretching a rope, or drawing a straight line between two points.

The Romans feasted their landmarks (termini) once a year by crowning them with flowers; they also poured wine and milk on them, and sacrificed a lamb or small pig to them. The Craft ritual has many references to landmarks. The Initiate is told to follow strictly the Constitutions of the fraternity and to adhere to the Ancient Landmarks of the Order. The Fellowcraft is told that he may give his opinion under the supervision of an experienced Master who will make sure that the landmarks are respected. The Master Mason is told to preserve the landmarks, sacred and inviolable. The Master Elect is required to be well skilled in the landmarks and he must promise that he will not permit or suffer any deviation from them. The Director of Ceremony is reminded that the preservation of the landmarks is his responsibility.

The Constitutions of 1723 and 1738, as well as the present ones, state that every Grand lodge has the power and authority to make and alter the Craft regulations, provided that the Old landmarks are preserved. Unfortunately it is difficult to define what the Masonic landmarks really are. It is generally admitted that landmarks are the principles of action that have existed since time immemorial in written or unwritten forms, those which are identified with the form and essence of the Order, those which the great majority of the Brethren agree that they cannot be changed, and which every Mason is bound to maintain intact. Some Brethren add any customs, even if not ancient, that are universally acknowledged. On the opposite, if all the Masons in the world would agree on a new rule, this would not become a landmark since a landmark can only be discovered, not created. They cannot be changed, altered, improved, or cancelled. In summary, a landmark is a boundary set up against innovation. This is strange as the landmarks were not set up by anybody, Freemason or not; they just were, and still are, a fundamental part of Freemasonry. Every tenet of the Craft is a landmark, but an allegory or symbol that teaches or indicates it, is not a landmark. A landmark is part of the Freemason’s system of morality, and not of the allegory that veils, and of the symbols, that illustrate it.

The English Grand Lodge refuses to define, name, or specify the landmarks but some authors have drawn such a list. As an example we will give Albert G. Mackey’s list of twenty-five landmarks taken from his book, “An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry” of 1858:

1. Modes of recognition.
2. The division of symbolic Masonry in three degrees.
3. The legend of the Third Degree being the essence and identity of Freemasonry.
4. Government of the Fraternity by an elected Grand Master.
5-8. The prerogative of the Grand Master a) to preside over every assembly of the Craft, b) to grant dispensation for conferring degrees at irregular times, c) for opening and holding lodges and d) to make Masons at sight.
9. The necessity for masons to congregate in lodges.
10. The Government of a lodge by a Master and two Wardens.
11. The necessity that every lodge should be duly tiled.
12-14. The right of every Mason to a) be represented to all general meetings of the Craft; b) to appeal from a lodge’s decision to Grand Lodge; c) to visit every regular lodge (right of visitation).
15. No unknown visitor to enter a lodge without examination.
16. No lodge to interfere with the business of another lodge, or give degrees to Brethren who are members of other lodges.
17. Every Mason to be amenable to the laws and regulations of the Masonic jurisdiction in which he resides. Non-affiliation, a Masonic offence, does not exempt a Mason from Masonic jurisdiction.
18. A candidate for initiation to be a man -unmutilated, free-born, and of mature age. A woman, a cripple, or a slave, or one born in slavery, is disqualified.
19,20. Belief in a) the existence of God as the Grand Architect of the Universe, and b) resurrection to a future life.
21. The Book of the Law to have a place in every lodge. It is that volume which, by the religion of the country, “is believed to contain the revealed will of the Grand Architect of the Universe”.
22. The equality of all Masons.
23. Secrecy. “If divested of its secret character, it would loose its identity and cease to be Freemasonry”.
24. The foundation of a speculative science upon an operative art, and the symbolic use and explanation of the terms of that art, for the purposes of religious or moral teaching. “The Temple of Solomon was the symbolic cradle of the Institution”.
25. The crowning landmark is that these landmarks can never be changed.

Of course, there is no general agreement on this list to day. The tendency now is to reduce the list to a few landmarks, but there is no agreement either on which to keep. The ancient landmarks of Freemasonry like all other landmarks, material or symbolical, can only keep their stability if they have sure foundations. All laws, customs, and methods that do not have such foundations are conventions and not landmarks. In short, a landmark is that without which Masonry cannot exist, and that fixes the boundary beyond which Grand Lodges cannot go; conversely anything that a Grand Lodge can change is not a landmark. As Anderson said in his 1723 Constitutions: “Regulations can be added to or altered by Grand Lodge, provided always that the Old landmarks be carefully preserved”.

Like the old Crafts and guilds, Freemasonry has its own preferred saints:

. St John the Baptist whose traditional birthday is 24 June. Many lodges have their summer festival on that day.
. St John the Evangelist is believed to be Zebedee’s son. His feast day is 27 December on which day many lodges have their winter festival.
. St Thomas is often regarded as the patron saint of the masons and architect.
. St Barbara is the patroness of the architects and the builders.
. St George. The United Grand lodge hold its festival on that Saint’s Day, 23 April, or as near as possible.
. The Four Crowned martyrs (the Quator Coronati) -in fact they were nine- are recognised as the patron saints of the mason’s Craft. (12)