Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Ancient Landmarks revisited

The Ancient Landmarks Revisited by Bro. Jeff Peace, PGM, Exalted High Priest of the Ancient & Honorable Order of the Thorn in the Ass, and other awe inspiring titles too numerous to mention.

Distant Sun Lodge, No. OU812

Grand Lodge of the Universe, est. 0 hours, 0 Minutes, 0 Years

(The oldest continuously operating Grand Lodge in the Cosmos operating under the authority of God — and nothing trumps that.)

Copyright © 2007 by Jeff Peace. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, republished, or mirrored by any means without prior permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Most Freemasons have heard mention of “The Ancient Landmarks” at one time or another in their Masonic journey. Most simply assume it is a list of the most fundamental aspects of Freemasonry that were written down long ago when the organization first came into being. Some believe it is the “Landmarks” as written down by Bro. Albert G. Mackey, Bro. Albert Pike or something their Grand Lodge printed in its Code or monitor. While all of these could be “The Ancient Landmarks” none of them can assert that claim with absolute certainty. The problem with “The Ancient Landmarks” arises out of a statement in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723: "Every Annual Grand Lodge has an inherent power and Authority to make new Regulations or to alter these, for the real benefits of this Ancient Fraternity; provided always that the old Land-Marks be carefully preserved." Unfortunately, brother Anderson doesn’t bother to provide us with a list of the “Land-Marks” to which he is referring. This problem has plagued Masonic scholars for years.

As a historian with no particular interest in Masonic Jurisprudence I never spent any time in search of the Landmarks because there wasn’t a single document to support a valid argument regarding them. Other scholars had already speculated about them and adding to their speculations wouldn’t help to clarify the matter.

Every week I receive emails asking questions about the history of Freemasonry and its symbolism from brothers around the globe, and usually I am able to provide them with a quick answer or point them to other resources that can provide an answer. Then one day I received the grand daddy of all questions. It seemed like such a simple question at the time but it took two years for me to reply to the email with a twenty-five page essay.

The brother pointed to the definition of Freemasonry which says that “Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” and asked what was “so peculiar or unique about the morals discussed in the degrees?” After thinking about it for a moment I realized there was nothing particularly peculiar or unique about them. The morality taught in the degrees is the same as one would learn from their parents or at Sunday School. Then an idea occurred to me; could the definition of Freemasonry actually be a Landmark? After all, wouldn’t the definition of Freemasonry be something that should be “carefully preserved” as Anderson had said? If it was a Landmark then what were the others? Did the founders have more than one definition of “Freemasonry”? I was soon to discover that indeed the founders left several “Landmark” definitions of the Craft.

Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723 are ninety-one pages long. They include the regulations of the Grand Lodge, constitutions of the fraternity, a lengthy mythical history, the charges of a Freemason, an approbation, and several songs. It would have taken Bro. Anderson a long time to compile this document and write everything out by hand, so it seems very strange that he would leave out something so fundamental as a list of Landmarks. Was it an oversight? If it were then he could easily have corrected it when he published a revised version of the Constitutions in 1734, but again the Landmarks are strangely absent from these as well.

I would put forth that there are only two possible reasons for this behavior by Anderson:
  1. “The Ancient Landmarks” were secret.
  2. “The Ancient Landmarks” were universally known by all Fellows and Masters of the Craft.
If they were a secret then he could not publish them without violating his oath and obligation, and if they were already well known by Masons then there was no reason to put them into print.

If they were a secret then the original Masons must have taken it to their graves. Why?

In 1753 there was a Masonic schism. A rival Grand Lodge appeared known today as the ‘Antients.’ The new Grand Lodge adopted the Royal Arch degree as an explanation for the supposed lost word of a Master Mason. The original Grand Lodge (est.1717) claimed that both the ‘Antients’ and their new degree was clandestine and irregular. They further stated that the “word” was not lost. Many modern readers will find this statement incredible because they have been told the word was lost and that they have its replacement.

There are some fragments from a Masonic catechism attributed to Bros. Anderson and Desauguliers written about 1720 that seem to verify this claim.

Q: What are you going to do there?

A: To seek for that which was lost and is now found.

Q: What is that which was lost and is now found?


Since virtually all modern era Grand Lodges are derived from the Grand Lodge of the ‘Antients’ it makes sense that we are not in possession of “The Ancient Landmarks,” because they were the creation of the ‘Moderns’ of the Grand Lodge of London (est. 1717).

If “The Ancient Landmarks” were lost during the schism then might we be able to recover some part of them? While we can’t know for certain their exact wording I do believe we can at the very least come to a basic understanding of them. All we need to do is look at the definitions of Freemasonry handed down to us.
  1. Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
  2. Freemasonry is dedicated to the brotherhood of man under the All-Seeing Eye of Deity.
  3. Freemasonry is a progressive science.
  4. Freemasonry is a natural philosophy, or system of natural philosophy.
From the first definition a few things can be concluded. The original speculative Freemasonry offered a peculiar or unique system of morality from that which was accepted in the early eighteenth century. That this peculiar morality was hidden in an allegory, and that specific symbols were used to illustrate or reveal it to the initiates. Thus, having the right set of symbols is essential to understanding the peculiar system of morality, which is, in and of itself, Freemasonry.

From the second definition we learn the object of Freemasonry, or the peculiar system of morality; the brotherhood of man under God. Unfortunately, we do not know how this was to be accomplished. That would have been an aspect of the Landmarks that can only be speculated upon.

In the third definition we learn that Freemasonry was a progressive science. Science, as we know it today, was in its infancy at the time. One of the Landmarks must have promoted the need for a progressive science as a means to furthering the cause of the peculiar system of morality and the brotherhood of man.

Finally, in the fourth definition we discover that Freemasonry was a system of natural philosophy as opposed to a religion. It, like all natural philosophy, attempts to interpret the universe and our reality through the laws of nature. This definition is closely associated with the third definition (Freemasonry is a progressive science) because natural philosophy relies on a progressive science to further our understanding of the cosmos.

As Freemasons we may never know all of the details of the original “Ancient Landmarks” but now I believe we have a place to start our search. What we’re searching for isn’t obvious or easily uncovered. It will take time and perseverance, but in the end we may discover that which we have been seeking all along: the truth.

— Bro. Jeff Peace

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  1. As a new member to the craft I am having trouble figuring out what exactly a landmark is after reading your article. From my little amount of knowledge The Landmarks were listed (up to 25) by Mackey who is said to be the most authorative source. Some of them are:

    ~ 1 ~

    The modes of recognition are, of all the Landmarks, the most legimate and unquestioned. They admit of no variation.

    ~ 2 ~

    The division of symbolic Freemasonry into three Degrees is a Landmark that has been better preserved than almost any other.

    ~ 3 ~

    The Legend of the Third Degree is an important Landmark, the
    integrity of which has been well preserved. There is no Rite of
    Freemasonry, practiced in any country or in any language, in which the essential elements of this Legend are not taught. Any Rite which should exclude it, or materially alter it, would at once, by that exclusion or alternation cease to be a Masonic Rite.

    ~ 4 ~

    The government of the Fraternity by a presiding officer called a
    Grand Master, who is elected from the body of the Craft, is a fourth
    Landmark. Many persons suppose that the election of a Grand Master is held in consequence of a law or regulation of a Grand Lodge.
    Such, however, is not the case. The office is indebted for its
    existence to a Landmark of the Order.

    ~ 5 ~

    The prerogative of the Grand Master to preside over every Assembly of the Craft, wheresoever and whensoever held, is a fifth Landmark. It is in consequence of this Landward, derived from ancient usages, that the Grand Master assumes the chair at every Communication of a Grand Lodge; and that he is also entitled to preside at the communication of every subordinate Lodge where he may happen to be present.

    ~ 6 ~

    The prerogative of the Grand Master to grant Dispensations for
    conferring Degrees at irregular times is another very important
    Landmark. The statutory law of Freemasonry requires a month, or
    other determinate period, to elapse between the presentation of a petition and the election of a candidate. But the Grand Master has the power to set aside or dispense with this probation, and to allow a candidate to be initiated at once. This prerogative he possessed before the enactment of the law requiring a probation, and as no statute can impair his prerogative, he still retains this power.

    So from my understanding the definition of a "landmark" seems to really be the "charactersitic(s)" of the Craft. Thus I am having trouble figuring out your perspective on this. Are you saying that there are a set of "landmarks" which most masons are intentionally not informed of? Or are you saying that the current list of "landmarks" are not the 'real'landmarks at all and that the word "Landmark" has a totally different and secret meaning that most, if not all, masons are unaware of? So, are you implying there is a certain degree or rite or lodge which one might learn what the "landmark" means and lists?

    It is also interesting to note that number 25 states:
    ~ 25 ~
    The last and crowning Landmark of all is, that these Landmarks can
    never be changed. Nothing can be subtracted from them -- nothing can be added to them -- not the slightest modification can be made in them. As they were received from our predecessors, we are bound by the most solemn obligations of duty to transmit them to our successors.

    - E.85

  2. mackey was only speculating...
    some only recognise 7 landmarks, things that precede any concept of a Grnad Lodge... any landmark referencing a Grand Lodge is not a "Ancient Landmark", since GL's are recent, so when Anderson refrred to the Ancient Landmarks, anything dealing with Grand Lodges are self important , control mechanism. remember it was american masons involved in a "revolution", so if you "loyalty" clauses in oaths, one may be able to prevent a revolution, whether governmentally or masonically.

  3. E.85 writes:

    "The modes of recognition are, of all the Landmarks, the most legimate [sic] and unquestioned. They admit of no variation.... The division of symbolic Freemasonry into three Degrees is a Landmark that has been better preserved than almost any other."

    He then writes:

    "The last and crowning Landmark of all is, that these Landmarks can never be changed. Nothing can be subtracted from them -- nothing can be added to them -- not the slightest modification can be made in them."

    If that last "landmark" is really true, how did the first two "landmarks" remain the "most legitimate," and "better preserved than almost any other?" Shouldn't all the so-called "landmarks" be equally legitimate, and perfectly preserved?

    When were the so-called "landmarks" above established? In George Washington's day, Freemasonry was composed of only two degrees. A third was added after the American Revolution, which was just over 240 years ago. How "ancient" can a landmark really be, which describes a practice that isn't even as old as the US?

  4. Hello Brothers :-)

    Let me try and help clarify things a bit.

    Mackey's "Landmarks" are indeed just his speculations on the subject and he says so if you read his work. Bro. Mackey was just trying to make sense out of Bro. Anderson's remark about their being "Ancient Landmarks".

    George Washington would have witnessed the Master Mason degree. As I recollect he became a Mason sometime in the 1750's. The Master Mason degree was worked for the first time around 1723.

    It is true that there were only two degrees (in some cases only one) before 1723.

    When Bro. Anderson wrote his book of Constitutions in 1723 and mentioned that the "Ancient Landmarks" were unchangeable he never said what the "Ancient Landmarks" were.

    My paper simply tries to pave the way to understanding the type of Masonic system they must have supported based on the old definitions of Freemasonry.

    I hope that helps.

  5. Indiana has no landmarks at all. Obnoxiously enough, what we DO have is a list of what our list of landmarks might be if Indiana had such a list.

    In other words, there are no landmarks outside of Mackey's mind.

  6. Just make them up thats what you all want to do anyway. The new Masonry according to me.


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