SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.XI   May, 1933   No.5

by: Unknown

“Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor’s landmark, which they of old have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land the Lord thy God hath given thee (Deuteronomy XIX:14).  The Masons “of old time set thine inheritance” (Masonry) certain fundamental principles which are named as “Landmarks” as early as the Constitutions of 1723.

Men have quarreled about the stone markers set up as boundaries for land ever since sections of the earth were claimed as property; in like manner have Masons differed about what are and what are not Landmarks of the Order.  In this country particularly, with forty-nine Jurisdictions, each sovereign within its own territory, arguments about Landmarks are never ending.  This Bulletin attempts not to settle any of these numerous controversies, but only to bring before the average Lodge Member some of the reasons why his neighbor’s Masonic Landmarks may differ from those  his own Grand Lodge may have set up for him to follow.  In 1858 Albert Gallatin Mackey, the great Masonic jurist and authority, listed twenty-five fundamental principles as the true Landmarks of Freemasonry.  Although critical scholarship has since riddled the list as to accuracy, Mackey’s ideas of what constitute the essential qualities of a Landmark - antiquity, universality and irrevocability - are still respected.  This definition excludes from the classification of Landmarks any principle which is any two of these but no the third,  It is by his own standards that many critics have measured Mackey’s Landmarks and found them wanting.  As an example of what is meant; it is “ancient,” in the sense that it was recognized in the “Constitutions” of the Grand Lodge in 1723, that a Grand Master appoints own Deputy Grand Master.  But the practice is by no means universal.  Lodges are now universally governed by Grand Lodges, but the practice has antiquity of only two hundred and sixteen years.  According to Mackey’s dicta, neither the manner of creating a Deputy Grand Master not the fundamental governing body of the Craft can be considered as Landmarks.  A few principles are so universally recognized that they are freely admitted to be essentials, even in Jurisdictions which have no pronouncements as to the Landmarks.  Belief in a Supreme Being, the Volume of sacred Law as a necessary part of the furniture of the Lodge, that a Masons must be a man are essentials all over the world, though not necessarily listed in all Jurisdictions.  On the validity of certain principles all authorities agree, but differ as to their antiquity, universality and irrevocability.  A substantial minority of American Grand Jurisdictions have Officially adopted Mackey’s twenty-five Ancient Landmarks, but a majority either follow other compilations, use other Old Charges, or decline to specify what are and what are not the Landmarks of the Craft.  The right and power of any Grand Lodge to determine for itself just what is and what is not “law” in its Jurisdiction is unquestioned.  Therefore, when a Jurisdiction sets forth any list of Landmarks in its Code, they have all the force of Ancient Landmarks in that Jurisdiction, whether they are actually so or not.  “Actually so” refers to inherent nature; that which cannot be altered by law, no matter what the lawmaking authority.  The National Legislature has the undoubted “right” to enact a law that unsupported objects must fall.  “Per contra,” it then has the right to repeal the law of gravity, and forbid things to fall when no longer supported.  But it has not the “power” to enforce, change or suspend the law of gravity!  A Grand Lodge which says “Thus and such is an Ancient Landmark “in that Jurisdiction,” give that pronouncement the full force and effect of an Ancient Landmark “in that Jurisdiction, but its edict does not “actually” make it such.  One Jurisdiction follows Lockwood’s list of nineteen landmarks, of which number 8 reads:  “That every Lodge has an inherent right to be represented in Grand Lodge by its first three officers, or their proxies.”

This is good Masonic law in most Jurisdictions, but not all; the Mason from this Jurisdiction (Washington, D.C.) who moves to New York or Texas and there affiliates finds that this is not a Landmark in either of these Jurisdictions, since neither New York not Texas admit Wardens to Grand Lodge.

In the General Assemblies of Ancient times each Mason, Craftsman or Entered Apprentice, represented himself.  In Grand Lodges Masons are represented by their officers.  Evidently a change has been made in the manner of governing the Craft.  As a Landmark is not subject to change, this particular principle of law does not conform to Mackey’s definition of a Landmark.

No wonder his neighbor’s landmark is a matter of confusion to brethren from neighboring but differing Jurisdictions!  Mackey’s fourteenth Landmark asserts that every Mary Mason has the right of visitation.  Just what is a “right?”  Until that word is defined this so-called Landmark cannot be discussed intelligently.  If it here means “power superior to all other powers,” then it is merely nonsense.  If it here means “privileged until a higher privilege overcomes it,” how may it be considered to conform to the requirements of a Landmark?

Even so, how can the word “right” be translated “privilege?”  A privilege may be withdrawn; an inherent right cannot!  as many Jurisdictions rule on the “right of visit” in different ways - even those which have adopted Mackey’s list - it can hardly be considered a true Landmark, “if” we judge by Mackey’s own pronouncement on what constitutes a Landmark and “if” the word “right” means what it says.  In some jurisdictions a Mason cannot visit without a good standing card; in others any member may object to any visitor and the Master must exclude; in still others, some Masters close the doors of their lodges to all visitors on election nights, and so on.  Occasionally there is a conflict between ritual and Landmarks as adopted.  A certain Jurisdiction lists fifty-four Landmarks, of which Number 18 reads:  “Every Lodge, Grand or Subordinate, when lawfully congregated, must be regularly clothed, tyled and opened before it can proceed to work.”  Many other Jurisdictions agree that it is a Landmark that a Lodge must be “duly tiled.” Our ancient brethren met on high hills and low vales to observe the approach of cowans and eavesdroppers.  Did they “truly tile?” California Lodge No. 1 of the District of Columbia was chartered to go to California during the gold rush of 1849.  Had that Lodge (now California No.1 on the register of the Grand Lodge of California) been wrecked going around the horn; had only the members of the Lodge, with their charter, been saved upon an otherwise uninhabited island; if they then held meetings with no tiler - since there were no cowans or eavesdroppers against whom to tile - would they have violated the so-called Landmark?

Many rituals give “three” as the irreducible minimum for a Master Mason’s Lodge; a Lodge must have a Master and two Wardens.  If under some strange circumstances, three and only three met as a Lodge, what becomes of the so-called Landmark which requires a Tiler?  Secrecy undoubtedly conforms to the classification of the three essentials of a Landmark; but about “the means” of securing secrecy is at least room for argument.

Other Masonic laws, good where in force but not necessarily Landmarks, are Mackey’s 8th:  “The prerogative of the Grand Master to make Masons at sight” and the 11th Landmark of a Western Grand Lodge which reads:  “Every person, to be made a Mason must be a man of lawful age, free born and; hale and sound, as a man ought to be.” Several Grand Jurisdictions have enacted legislation preventing a Grand Master from convening an Emergent Lodge for the purpose of Making a Mason “at sight.”  Others consider that it is an inherent right of Grand Masters to convene Emergent Lodges (that is, give a certain number of brethren a dispensation to hold a Lodge) and that no law can take this right from him.

If a Landmark cannot be changed, and this “has been” changed, is it truly a Landmark, or merely a matter of common law?  All will agree that no woman can be made a Mason.  But what becomes of the “lawful age” provision in the face of the fact that Washington - and many another man - was made a Mason before he was twenty-one?  He would be a daring debater who argued that the Father of His Country was not regularly and legitimately initiated.  The “hale and sound” provision is by no means universal; many Jurisdictions stick to the strict letter of the “doctrine of the perfect youth” while others admit the lame and the halt under a Grand Master’s dispensation, Worshipful Master’s judgment or even Grand Lodge law relaxing restrictions in favor of men of the Army or Navy who had arms or legs shot off in the war!

A number of Grand Jurisdictions have never adopted any list or classification of Landmarks.  The thought back of such absence of legislation may be understood from the following, from R.W. Charles C. Hunt, Grand Secretary and Grand Librarian of the Grand Lodge of Iowa.

“We hold that the power of the Grand Lodge of Iowa in the Jurisdiction of Iowa is limited only by the Ancient Landmarks.  We do not attempt to make a list of the Landmarks.  “We believe it as unnecessary 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 list what they conceive to be the laws of nature, but no scientific society would undertake officially to adopt these laws as the official laws of the science in which they are interested.

“The very definition of a Landmark is a fundamental law or principle of Masonry which no body of men or Masons can change or modify.  Anything that can be adopted can be repealed.  If a Grand Lodge has the power to adopt, it has the power to modify or repeal.  It is the very fact that they unalterable that makes them similar to scientific laws which cannot be changed or altered by any man or body of men.” Some authorities have attempted to formulate lists of Ancient Landmarks which no Mason would question.  For instance, one very old Jurisdiction states that the Landmarks are:

a.   Monotheism, the sole dogma of Freemasonry.

b.   Belief in immortality.

c.   The Volume of Sacred Law, an indispensable part of the furniture of a Lodge.

d.   The legend of the Third Degree.

e.   Secrecy.

f.    The symbolism of the operative art.

g.   A Mason must be a freeborn male adult.”


But then adds “The above list of Landmarks is not declared to be exclusive.”

Dr. Joseph Fort Newton suggests five fundamentals on which all Masons can agree:  “The Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the moral law, the Golden Rule and the hope of a life everlasting.”  Those who question these as Landmarks usually qualify by agreeing that they are teachings of the Order, but are in doubt as to just how old all of them may be, as such.

Dean Roscoe Pound, whose “Masonic Jurisprudence” is generally considered to be among the most profound analyses of Landmarks, thinks seven are unquestionable:  (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) The symbolism of the operative art; and, (7) That a Mason must be a man free born and of age.” Of thirty-nine Jurisdictions of our forty-nine, eighteen either have adopted, recognized or follow Mackey’s list of twenty-five Landmarks; two use the Old charges, or Old Charges and General Regulations as Landmarks; eight have adopted, recognized or follow lists of Landmarks of their own, and eleven either have not adopted, do not recognize, or do not follow any special compilation of Landmarks, preferring to leave the question untouched.  Reduced to a percentage basis, Mackey is followed in 46.1% plus of these thirty-nine Jurisdictions; Old charges and Regulations in 5.1%; own Landmarks in 20.5% plus and no special list in 28.2% plus.  Obviously there is no universality of opinion as to what is and what is not a Landmark, and yet all Jurisdictions agree there “are” Landmarks.

Many “Laws of Nature” recognized in former times are believed in no longer; knowledge of science and of nature is in a state of flux.  What appears to be the truth today may be the error of tomorrow.  Possibly this is true also of our conception of the ancient Landmarks, and that no list of all those fundamentals of the Craft which are “actually” Landmarks is possible.  Both that statement and this bulletin are without prejudice to the undoubted fact that in those Jurisdictions which have adopted any list of Landmarks, whether all inclusive or not, the principles there denominated as Landmarks have the force of Landmarks within the borders of those Jurisdictions.