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landmarks of the fraternity

From the booklet, More Light on Freemasonry
Distributed by the Grand Lodge of New Brunswick

Before the development of modern surveying it was a difficult problem how best to establish the permanent boundaries of a farm, field, lot or other parcel of ground. Almost the only method men could devise was to fix upon some feature, such as a hill, stream, rock or even a tree, and to draw a line from it to some other feature, and so on, thus establishing the limits beyond which a man' property could not, or should not, go. These more or less permanent makers were called landmarks—a word which explains itself. And it is easy to understand why the destruction or removal of a landmark was deemed so serious an offense; it meant robbing a man of his property—therefore, the ancient saying, "Remove not a neighbor's landmarks".

Freemasonry has honored this term as a name for one of the most important of all its basic laws, namely, that there are in the Craft certain principles, practices, traditions, usages or laws which cannot be changed by any Mason, Lodge, or Grand Lodge. It is this we mean when we speak of "The Antient Landmarks", a phrase heard often in Masonic circles. Let us see if we can understand that phrase, at least in its larger meaning.

As a simple illustration we may take a lesson from chemistry. Water may be divided into smaller and smaller portions until the invisible molecule is reached, but all the time it will continue to be water. If, however, the molecule is divided we shall no longer have water but two gases: hydrogen and oxygen. There is a point beyond which water cannot be divided without losing its character or identity.

This is a picture of the idea of the Landmarks. They signify those things in Masonry which are essential to its identity. To do away with them is to do away with Masonry. Let us, therefore, in a rough way, define the doctrine of Landmarks as follows:—

"Whatever is found necessary to maintain the identity and secure the perpetuity of Freemasonry has the power of a Landmark."

We can now see why even a Grand Lodge, or the Fraternity as a whole cannot change these Landmarks! If a Grand Lodge were to change them it would destroy itself because there would no longer be any Masonry left and there cannot be a Grand Lodge of Masonry if there is no Masonry.

A few examples of the Landmarks follow; also, what is likely to happen if these Landmarks are removed:—

Many things are kept private and confidential from the outside world, being deemed sacred to its own membership. This "secrecy" is not a theatrical pose to gratify a desire for mystification, but is so essential to the very nature of the Craft that we could not conceive of Masonry without it. Gone would be the ritual, initiation, the obligations, the modes of recognition and all the homelike privacy which makes Lodge life so delightful. Secrecy therefore, has the power of a Landmark.

Ever since it began Masonry has admitted adult men only to membership. A boy under age could not be held accountable to his obligations; and if women were admitted it would call for such a recasting of our system from top to bottom that little of it would remain standing.

Each petitioner is required to possess certain qualifications, must be sound in limb, well recommended, of good character, free born, of mature age. If these qualifications were removed, men of every sort would flock in, men not physically, mentally or morally capable of living the Masonic life. The result would be no Masonry to live.

But it is not sufficient for a petitioner to be well qualified in order to gain admittance to our mysteries; he must also pass through the rites of initiation. This has also been an integral part of our Fraternity from the very beginning, and is so vital to it that the whole system pre-supposes it throughout. Eliminate initiation and it is possible that some kind of society would remain, but it would not be the society of Freemasonry.

Another equally essential factor is the secret ballot. Since it is the principal purpose of the Craft to bring men together into brotherly relations, it is necessary that such candidates as are admitted shall not disturb harmony among the members. The ballot is so carefully designed to guard against this that if three or more members are convinced that a given petitioner will be a disturbing influence their vote has the power to exclude.

The Ritual, with its assemblage of symbols, emblems and allegories, is yet another character belonging to the nature of Masonry and belogs to essentially to it that without it the Draft would be an empty house devoid of furnishing, life, light or warmth.

The Sovereignty of Grand Lodge, the corresponding sovereignty of the Lodge within its own jurisdiction and the sovereignty of the unwritten Law are a similar necessity; for without such sovereignty anarchy would ensue and the Fraternity would be disrupted by the discordant forces generated within itself.

Every Mason must have respect for and obedience to the civil law; no Mason may engage in broils or rebellions; no political discussion can be brought into our assemblies. Were this abolished our organization would be taken captive by some political or social party and would perish at the first radical turnover of political power; and while it lasted it would be the servant of some power outside itself without the ability to regulate and control is own existence.

To the same effect is the ancient law forbidding that a candidate or Brother shall be questioned as to his peculiar mode of religious faith and also that no sectarian matters hall intrude within a Lodge. Just as it would mean the ultimate destruction of Freemasonry if it were to make itself over into the hands of apolitical party, so would it be its death sooner or later to surrender itself to some religious organization.

The last example might be described as the crowning Landmark of all. Belief in God, with the Altar at the center of the Lodge having the Holy Bible open upon it, belief in immortality, belief in prayer—here is the religious basis of Freemasonry. If this spiritual life were destroyed, our Fraternity would degenerate into a mere social club, a thing at the opposite pole from what it is now.

These are but a few examples of those characteristics which belong inalienably to Freemasonry as such. It makes plain that Freemasonry is clearly conscious of what belongs to its own proper nature; against every possible influence it guards and cherishes that nature continually; the petitioner who comes into its membership must accept it as he finds it or not at all; there is no way to change Freemasonry to suit the tastes, foibles, prejudices or opinions of the candidate; it is the candidate who must change himself to conform to it. To be come a Mason, therefore, one must stand ready with all sincerity to give whole-hearted assent to its teachings and principles, obedience to its laws and regulations and observance to its Ancient Landmarks.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014