Michael A. Botelho, 32°, K.C.C.H.
P.O. Box 391, Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632

Defining Masonic Landmarks involves consulting historical
sources and one's own insights.

Illustrious Albert Gallatin Mackey, 33°, (1807–1881) had considerable influence regarding the initial definition of Masonic landmarks.

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" of the Craft is one of the most debated issues in Freemasonry.

In 1865, the word Landmarks was 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 laid down three requisite characteristics of Landmarks, which continue to be generally accepted today. These are: (1) immemorial antiquity (2) universality (3) absolute irrevocability.

The concept of Masonic Landmarks appears in George Payne's General Regulations, which was published with James Anderson's Constitutions of 1723. It is generally accepted that Payne used manuscripts of the operatives, the regulations of stonemason guilds. These operatives appeared to use the word in the sense of the old traditional secrets of the builder's craft, trade secrets relevant to the effective construction of buildings.

William Preston, in his 1772 Illustrations of Masonry, clearly uses "Landmarks" as synonymous with established usages and customs of the Masonic Craft. He refers to the ritual of the Master Mason's Degree as the preservation of the ancient "landmarks." His arguments had serious weight as the Grand Lodge of England expressly sanctioned his work.

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 Brother 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. Albert Gallatin Mackey, 33°, attempted to set down the actual Landmarks as he saw them. He determined there were 25 in all. Seven years later, in 1863, George Oliver published Freemason's Treasury in which he listed 40 Landmarks. In the last century, a number of American Grand Lodges 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 writing 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, favor the six Landmarks preferred by Roscoe Pound. These include:

  • Belief in a Supreme Being
  • Belief in a persistence of personality
  • A "book of law" as an indispensable part of the "furniture" (or furnishings) of the Lodge
  • The Hiramic legend of the Third Degree
  • The symbolism of the operative art
  • That a Mason be a man, freeborn, and of age.

The first and foremost Landmark, in my opinion, is belief in a Supreme Being, generally described in Masonry by the title the Great (or Grand) Architect of the Universe. This will be found included in all lists of Landmarks, regardless of the source.

The second, persistence of personality, can, for Christian Masons, more clearly be called the immortality of the soul. Most of the major religions of the world have a similar doctrine. Even the Buddhist doctrine of transmigration and ultimate Nirvana would meet this requirement.

The third of Pound's Landmarks is "the book of the 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 consisting of the Old and New Testaments. In countries where Judaism prevails, it would be the Bible consisting of the Old Testament. In Islamic countries, it would be the Koran, and in Hindu countries, it would be the Shasters.

In India before its national 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 Landmark is the Hiramic legend of the Third 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 Masonic Landmark is symbolism. Symbolism in Masonry is immemorial and universal, having clearly been inherited from the early rites of the Craft.

The sixth and last of this list of Landmarks supports the tradition that a Mason must be a freeborn man, of full and lawful age, according to the custom of the place. This tradition has its roots in the early social systems of Europe, where a person was either "free-born" (nobility, soldiers, and skilled craftsmen) or bonded to the land (serfs, laborers, and the unskilled).

So, I said to the inquisitive young Brother, "These are the Landmarks with which I find myself most at ease." Are they complete? It is not for me to say. Rather, every Mason must do as this young Brother and I have done—explore this matter and satisfy himself.

Michael A. Botelho is the President of E.M. Management, Inc., a company which serves the seasonal tourist industry. He is the Commander of the Council of Kadosh in the Valley of Fort Smith, Arkansas, a Past Master of Basin Spring Lodge No. 386 in Eureka Springs; a Past Grand Tyler of Arkansas; a member of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas Publicity Committee; the Representative of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts living near the Grand Lodge of Arkansas; and a member of King Hiram's Lodge, Provincetown, Massachusetts; Seite de Setembre Lodge (Honorary) in Brazil; Scottish Rite Bodies of Little Rock, Arkansas; and a Charter Member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, who recently received its "Contributing Member" award.