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  • FDTL

Soooo, How Many Landmarks Are There?

It dawned on me, watching Masonic-folk on Facebook argue about this and that, and all the while someone will always throw out the "Remember your Obligations," or the more rare "Adhere to the Landmarks." I saw that a couple of times, and I thought to myself "well, what about the Landmarks, and why are people not adhering to them?"

Why are these Landmarks so special, and why are they such an integral part of Freemasonry, or at least "recognized" Freemasonry in general? And where do these "Ancient" Landmarks actually come from?

The earliest known reference to these Ancient Landmarks comes to us in the Constitutions of the Free-masons, edited by James Anderson, around 1722-1723. After the long and interesting history of the Craft, going back to the Creation, weaving thru the rise of the First Man in the Garden of Eden, to the King of England, he defines certain Charges and duties that layout the conduct of Masons and Lodges, and concepts such as a Grand Lodge and it's workings. But these Landmarks aren't actually defined anywhere.

Next we come to the Ahiman Rezon, or the אֲחִימָן רְזוֹן, which came to print around 1756, with the formation of the Antients Grand Lodge, and again referenced the the Charges of the Craft and the workings of their government. Again, referencing these Ancient Landmarks and how important they are, but never naming them as such.

The Ahiman Rezon was later used by many of the older Grand Lodges in the New World, such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. In fact, some of these Grand Lodges still refer to their Constitutions as the Ahiman Rezon. But still, no nice, concise list of these Ancient Landmarks. It is not until 1858 when we see these "Ancient" Landmarks defined by Albert Mackey. 25 Landmarks in all, these have been promulgated to become the most common Landmarks adopted by recognized jurisdictions in the Old and New Worlds. They are:

1 - The fraternal modes of recognition

2 - The division of Masonry into 3 symbolic degrees

3 - The Legend of the Third Degree

4 - The authority and governance of a Grand Master

5 - The prerogative of the Grand Master to preside over an assembly of the Craft

6 - The prerogative of the Grand Master to issue dispensations for holding Lodge at irregular times

7 - The prerogative of the Grand Master to issue dispensations for holding Lodge in irregular places

8 - The prerogative of the Grand Master to make Masons at Sight

9 - The necessity for Masons to congregate in Lodges

10 - The government of Lodges to be by a Master and two Wardens

11 - The necessity that every Lodge when congregated to be tiled

12 - The right of every Mason to be represented in all general meetings of the Craft

13 - The right of every Mason to appeal from his Lodge's decisions to the Grand Lodge

14 - The right of every Mason to sit in every regular Lodge

15 - That no unknown visitor be allowed to sit in Lodge without being examined and found to be a Freemason

16 - That no Lodge can interfere in the business of another Lodge

17 - That every Freemason be amenable to the laws and regulations of the Jurisdiction in which he resides

18 - That candidates for Freemasonry be required to meet certain qualifications; namely: being of mature age, not a cripple, and free born.

19 - That a belief in the existence of God be a requirement for membership

20 - That belief in a resurrection to a future life be a requirement for membership

21 - That a "Book of the Law" shall constitute an indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge

22 - The equality of Masons ("The monarch, the nobleman, or the gentleman is entitles to all the influence...which rightly belong to his position.")

23 - The secrecy of the Institution

24 - The foundation of a speculative science upon an operative art

25 - That none of these landmarks can be changed.

So, let's be clear, these Ancient Landmarks were first committed in writing in the 1850s, so they aren't as "ancient" as many people claim, and they are certainly not as ancient as "existing since time immemorial." That would imply that they have been around since the distant past. Even though they are not millennia in age, they still govern most Grand Lodges to the present day.

Apparently there were too many in Mackey's list, so Roscoe Pound shortened these to a smaller list of 6 in the early 1900s, which included:

1 - the belief in a Supreme Being

2 - the belief in the immortality of the soul

3 - a "book of sacred law" as an indispensable part of the "furniture" (or furnishings) of the Lodge

4 - the legend of the Third Degree

5 - the secrets of Freemasonry: The modes of recognition and the symbolic ritual of the Lodge

6 - that a Mason be a man, freeborn, and of lawful age

Over the years, different Grand Lodges have adopted some, all, or none of these, and differences vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some adhere to these Pound's 6, to Mackey's 25, some have 39 Landmarks, and some have as many as 51. Lots of Landmarks to choose from, plenty of them to confuse people and muddy the waters when it comes to what is "ancient" and what is not.

My thoughts? Some of these "ancient" (but not really) Landmarks need to go. Being freeborn? Not many people in modern cultures are born into slavery, and I'm sure those that are in modern times don't really care if a Masonic Lodge is going to accept them. They have other things to worry about, like, you know, slavery.

The modes of recognition? Sure, that's a good one. A belief in a Supreme Being or Higher Power? Yep, gotta keep that one. A Volume of Sacred Law being indispensable? Totally agree with that one. The Legend of the Third Degree? Well, considering it is a bit different depending on which jurisdiction you are in, I would say to define this one a bit better, but yes, a consistent legend to navigate through the process of Initiation is super important.

The right of a Mason to sit in any and every lodge? Absolutely, this one needs to be plastered in more places so people remember this one. The belief in a resurrection event in the hereafter? Which one are we talking about? The Hebrew flavor of resurrection? The Christian version? Moving to a different plan of existence after your mortal existence ends? It doesn't say.

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Mackey's last one: not changing any of the Landmarks, ever. Well, it is said that "Innovation is not permitted within the body of Masonry," and that concept gets thrown around to each and every new generation of Mason that enters into the Masonic fraternity. That, sadly, will never change. The problem is that there has been innovation since that "time immemorial" that people like to spout constantly. Freemasonry has been "innovating" since 1717.

The Master Mason degree? Innovation. Didn't exist until around 1725. Watering down the Initiatic experience and the symbolism in the Craft? Goes back at least to the time of the Prohibition, and still farther back to the time of the Morgan Affair, to make Freemasonry more "public friendly" and palpable to the masses. Equality of Masons? It's a great one, but it's not practiced in many places. "The foundation of a speculative science concealed upon an operative art." I love this one, but it should be replaced with "The foundation of a speculative science choked by the trappings of gun raffles, pancake breakfasts, and green beans."

So remember: adhere to the Landmarks, even though there's a different number of them depending on where you are, and remember that they are as ancient as time immemorial (or the 1850s), whichever makes you feel better. No matter how many your jurisdiction adheres to, if they focused more on the intent of these Landmarks, then swelling numbers back to the time of days gone by, we as a initiatic system espousing faith, hope, and ultimate love, would be all the better for it.

~~ FDTL ~~