(By Michael A. Botelho)
A young brother recently asked me to help him understand the meaning of the word "Landmarks" as it is used in our Fraternity. The brother had read a great deal of Masonic literature in the short time since he was raised, but was confused by the conflicting information he was presented. Frankly, he is not alone!
The matter of what is and is not a "Landmark" is one of the most debated issues in Masonry. The word "Landmarks" was, in 1856, defined by Albert Mackey, the prominent Masonic writer, as "those ancient and universal customs of the Order, which either gradually grew into operation as rules of action, or, if at once enacted by any competent authority, were enacted at a period so remote that no account of their origin is to be found in the record of history."
Mackey also lays down three requisites of characteristics of "Landmarks": (1)immemorial antiquity (2)universality (3)absolute irrevocability.
The concept of Masonic "Landmarks" appears in Payne's "General Regulations" which was published with Anderson's Constitutions of 1723. It is generally accepted that Payne used manuscripts of the Operatives. These Operatives appeared to use the word in the sense of the old traditional secrets of the builders craft. Preston, in his 1772 "Illustrations of Masonry" clearly uses "Landmarks" as synonymous with established usages and customs of the Craft. He refers to the ritual of the Master Mason's degree as the preservation of the ancient "landmarks". His arguments have serious weight as his work was expressly sanctioned by the Grand Lodge of England.
He also refers to the Charges in the Installation of the Master-elect, wherein the Master-elect is required to promise to "strictly conform to every edict of the Grand Lodge which is not subversive to the principles of Masonry" and further, "that it is not within the power of any man or body of men to make alterations or innovations in the body of Masonry."
As Roscoe Pound, a Past Master who for many years was a professor of Law at Harvard University, wrote in his 1941 book "Masonic Jurisprudence" "these principles, this groundwork, this body of Masonry, whether we use the term "Landmarks" or not, convey the very idea which has become familiar to us by that name."
In 1856 Dr. Mackey attempted to set down the actual "Landmarks" as he saw them. He determined there to be twenty-five in all. Seven years later, in 1863, George Oliver published his "Freemason's Treasury" in which he listed forty "Landmarks." In more recent times a number of American Grand Lodges have attempted the daunting task of enumerating the "Landmarks", ranging from West Virginia (7) and New Jersey (10) to Nevada (39) and Kentucky (54). Brother Joseph Fort Newton, in his wonderful writings called "The Builders", attempts to define "Landmarks" in a single statement: "The fatherhood of God, the
brotherhood of man, the moral law, the Golden Rule, and the hope of life everlasting."
I personally find favor in the seven "Landmarks" preferred by Roscoe Pound.
(1)Belief in God
(2)Belief in a persistence of personality
(3)A "book of law" as an indespensible part of the furniture of the lodge
(4)The legend of the 3rd degree
(6)The symbolism of the Operative Art
(7)That a Mason be a man, freeborn, and of age.
Belief in God, the Great Architect of the Universe, is clearly on all lists of "Landmarks".
The persistence of personality can more clearly be called the immortality of the soul for Christian Masons. However, even the Buddist doctrine of transmigration and ultimate Nirvana would meet this requirement.
The third of Pound's "Landmarks" is "the book of law", that volume which, by the religion of a country, is believed to contain the revealed word of the Great Architect. For lodges in Christian countries this would be the Bible of old and new testament. In countries where Judaism prevails, it would the Bible of old testament. In Islamic countries it would be the Koran. In Hindu countries the Shasters. In India before Independence, it was common for Christian Englishmen to sit in lodge with Hindus and Moslems. Such lodges kept a Bible, a Koran, and a Shasters on the altar. The essential idea of this is to emphasize that Masonry, while not a religion, IS an institution which recognizes religion and seeks to be a co-worker with
religion in the quest for moral progress.
It was the action of the Grand Orient (Grand Lodge) of France, which in 1877 substituted the "Book of Constitutions" upon its altars for the traditional book of law that resulted in the cessation of recognition of that Orient by the majority of Grand Lodges of the day.
The fourth is "the legend of the 3rd degree." Mackey said of it "any rite which would exclude it or materially alter it, would at once...cease to be a Masonic rite."
The fifth is secrecy. If anything in Masonry is immemorial and universal, this is it. Here is clear evidence of our connection to the ancient rites.
The sixth, symbolism, is also clearly inherited from the early rites of the Craft.
The seventh and last supports the tradition that a Mason must be a freeborn man, of full and lawful age, according to the custom of the place.
So, I said to the young brother, these are the "Landmarks" of Brother Pound and those with which I find myself most at ease. Are they a complete set?
It is not for me to say. Rather, every Mason must do as this young brother has done - explore this matter and satisfy himself!