LANDMARKS AND OLD CHARGES
by R. W. B. Daniel Doron, PGDC
Grand Lodge of the State of Israel
term "Landmarks" is known to all brethren, yet its' definition is
not always as clear. Moreover, these Landmarks are often connected
to the Old Charges. My aim here is to clarify these terms and draw
distinct lines between three terms.
'Old Charges' is the name given to certain manuscripts having more
or less the same contents. It is
a term which is used to characterize 131 manuscripts, the oldest
of which is
"Regius" dated 1390. These manuscripts contain 'Charges' in the
sense of rules which all
Masons are obliged to keep. Most of these Charges are concerned with the
operative building craft and with its' regulation. The York legend
is part of these
Antient Charges & Regulations have nothing to do with the Old
Charges. They are a set of 15
regulations which appear in the first pages of the Book of
Constitutions of the UGLE. Though
they are said to be "Summary of the…" they are the only ones. They are not a
summary of any other set. Every Master-Elect has to promise to keep them before he
is obligated as WM.
Landmarks are basic principles of Freemasonry similar to axioms in
mathematics. Basically they
are boundary lines or marks between what is inside the boundaries of Freemasonry and
what is outside of them.
should be stressed that boundary lines, or border marks, have in all
ages been regarded by men as most important and zealously kept. In
the Bible they are regarded as sacred. In Deuteronomy 27,17 we find:
"Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor's landmark". Similar
references can be found in Proverbs 22,28 and in Job 24,2. We should
remember that such boundaries always imply that all recognizes them
Masonic literature, there are many efforts to deal with the
Landmarks of our Craft and it is generally agreed that the
definition of what is a Landmark is not easy. In order to better
understand the difficulties let us use some examples:
is obligatory that every Brother believes in the Great Architect of
the Universe and that there must be an open VSL on the Altar when a
lodge is at work. These are two of our Landmarks. They are not
included in the Old Charges or in the Antient Charges and
Regulations. On the other hand, Recognizing "only three degrees of
EA, FC and MM and the Installation ceremony of a WM" is not a
Landmark but part of the Antient Charges and Regulations.
to William Preston, Landmarks are boundaries set up in order to
check all innovations. This is expressed well in the 11th
admit that it is not in the power of any Man or Body of Men to make innovations
in the body of Masonry"
S. Simons defined Landmarks in a comprehensive way as follows:
assume those principles of action to be landmarks which have existed
immemorial, whether in the written or unwritten law: which are
the form and essence of the society: which the great majority agree,
changed, and which every mason is bound to maintain intact under the
and inviolable sanctions".
is quite clear that this definition includes three necessary
elements which define a Landmark as such:
It exists from time immemorial,
It expresses the form and essence of the Craft,
It is agreed that it can never be changed.
often than not, when Landmarks are discussed, only two of these
elements are mentioned, namely that they are 'from time immemorial'
(ancient) and that they cannot be changed. Very often, any attempt
to change even a trifle is met with criticism that it is against our
Landmarks. In my view, the most important element is that a Landmark
must express the form and essence of the Masonic body. Furthermore,
the weakest element in this definition is the third part: what does
it mean "agreed that it can never be changed"? Agreed by whom? When?
And, if it will be agreed to change a Landmark, will it stop to
express the essence of Freemasonry? It is almost like saying: a
Landmark is a Landmark because we say so. Is this a definition? It
seems to be generally accepted that not only did Landmarks set
borders, but that they were recognized as such; they were considered
as legitimate. One should realize, that in such a case if there is a
general consent of all concerned, these borders may be changed.
Indeed, the original phrasing of this clause included: "…without the
consent first obtained of …Grand Lodge". This final part was omitted
after the UGLE was formed .
This was a significant change from an adjustable set of Landmarks to
a full and final canonization.
his book "Speculative Masonry" ,
A.S. Macbride defined our Landmarks as "certain established usages
and customs, occupying the position which usage and custom do in a
community" namely, similar to 'common law' in a political system.
These Landmarks are similar to civil laws but they differ in one
respect: they were adopted by a Grand Lodge. At the same time, it
should be pointed out that not every usage or custom is a Landmark;
There must exist an additional condition: it has to serve as a
border between what is within the boundaries of the Craft and what
is outside these boundaries. Only such usages can become Landmarks.
In other words: the Landmarks of Freemasonry are established usages
and customs which serve as boundaries both inwards as well as
outwards of a Masonic organization If we examine this definition
closely, it will be apparent that it contains a goal; not only
boundaries but such that conform to the goals of Speculative
seems to me that the need to set Landmarks supports the 'Transition
Theory' at least partly. When operative lodges started to accept
non-operative Masons, and the building of a spiritual and moral
temple became the central target, there arose the need to set
agreed-upon boundaries. In other words: only Landmarks which serve
the goals of speculative Masons were chosen from among the usages
and customs already existing in the (operative) lodges. Just as the
need of a lodge for the builders, before actual building was
started, so do we need a set of rules before a human temple is
erected for the building of a spiritual temple; for shaping the
human rough ashlars in accordance with moral principles.
to Macbride, the Landmarks listed in Dermot's 'Ahiman Rezon' (1756)
about a hundred years before Mackey's Encyclopaedia was published,
include several which do not conform with the typical goals of
Landmarks as defined by Simons above. So did others in their lists
of Landmarks, some of which were new inventions and not existing
usages and customs.
we examine the twenty-five Landmarks of Mackey, it becomes clear,
which Landmarks express the quintessence of Freemasonry and which
express structural aspects only. If we accept Simons's definition of
Landmarks, it is quite obvious that those Landmarks which deal only
with Grand Master and Grand Lodge cannot be "from time immemorial".
After all, these could not exist before 1717. Furthermore, they have
nothing to do with 'a system of Morality'. The same applies to any
Landmark concerning the third degree. Although the Hiramic legend is
very old, the tri-gradal system was created only around 1730.
B.E. Jones rightly pointed out in his "Freemason's Guide &
although every Freemason has to observe the Landmarks, there is no
authoritative definition of what is a Landmark, nor are they named
in many Grand Lodge Constitutions. Masonic writers often quote
Mackey's list of 25 Landmarks, which are fully listed by Jones.
we examine Mackey's Landmarks, we can discern between four
Those concerning the fraternity and the essence of the Craft: §§.
1-3, 9, 11, 18-24
Those concerning the Grand Master and his rights: §§. 4-8
Those concerning the rights of a Brother: §§. 12-15, 17
Those concerning the duties of a lodge, including inter-relations
between lodges:§§. 10, 16.
my opinion, the last Landmark can hardly be regarded as a Landmark
at all, since all it stipulates is that these Landmarks can never be
changed. Certainly not when we know the self same Landmark was
changed in 1823.
Landmarks concerning the Grand Master and Grand Lodge are obviously
not 'from time immemorial' and have nothing to do with Freemasonry
being 'a peculiar system of Morality'. The same goes to the last
group above, since 'Private Lodges' existed well after 1717, so they
too are not ancient.
Pound listed only seven Landmarks, which in my opinion fully conform
to Simons's definition of Landmarks. These are:
Belief in TGAOTU.
Belief in resurrection and life hereafter.
Obligation to have an open VSL in lodge when at work.
The legend of the third degree.
Obligatory secrecy. (Modes of Recognition)
The foundation of our speculative art and its' symbolic use for the
purposes of religious
and moral teaching.
A candidate must be male, free of birth and of age.
doubt, this concise list of Landmarks better relates to the absolute
necessary boundaries of our Craft. Being a jurist by profession,
Pound included as Landmarks only those which truly express the
quintessence of Masonry and excluded those which are administrative
The 24th Landmark in Mackey's list is almost identical with
Pound's 6th Landmark, which is the connection between the operative
Craft and our Speculative Freemasonry. One should note, that it does
not make Speculative Freemasonry a direct descendent of operative
Masonry; it only stipulates a connection between the two, adding a
definite purpose to our moral speculations.
There are several lists of Landmarks, the shortest containing
only 7 (Pound's) and the largest nearly a hundred. The most well
known is that of Mackey, containing 25 Landmarks.
is my hope that I have helped to better understanding of the meaning
of our Landmarks.
modes of recognition.
2) The division of Symbolic
Masonry into three degrees.
3) The Legend of the
4) The government of the fraternity
by a presiding officer called a Grand Master.
The prerogative of the Grand Master to preside over every
assembly of the craft.
6) The prerogative of the
Grand Master to grant Dispensations for conferring degrees at
7) The prerogative of the Grand
Master to give dispensations for opening and holding Lodges.
8) The prerogative of the Grand Master to make
masons at sight.
9) The necessity of masons to
congregate in lodges.
10) The government of the
craft, when so congregated in a Lodge by a Master and two
11) The necessity that every lodge, when
congregated, should be duly tiled.
12) The right of
every mason to be represented in all general meetings of the
craft and to instruct his representatives.
Right of every mason to appeal from the decision of his
brethren in Lodge convened, to the Grand Lodge or General
Assembly of Masons.
14) The right of every mason to
visit and sit in every regular Lodge.
visitor, unknown as a mason, can enter a Lodge without first
passing an examination according to ancient
16) No Lodge can interfere in the business of
another Lodge, nor give degrees to brethren who are members of
17) Every freemason is amenable to the
Laws and Regulations of the masonic jurisdiction in which he
18) Qualifications of a candidate: that he
shall be a man, unmultilated, free born, and of mature age.
19) A belief in the existence of God.
20) Subsidiary to this belief in God, is the belief
in a resurrection to a future life.
21) A "Book of
the Law" shall constitute an indispensable part of the
furniture of every Lodge.
22) The equality of all
23) The secrecy of the institution.
24) The foundation of a Speculative Science, for
purposes of religious or moral teaching.
Landmarks can never be
 J. W. Simons, The Principles of Masonic Jurisprudence"
back to text
T. O Haunch, Prestonian Lecture for 1972, which was a study in
change. back to text
Published by Southern Publishers Inc, Masonic Publications Division,
1924. back to text
 Pages 334-6. back to text
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