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Masonic Landmarks are a set of principles that many Freemasons claim to be "both ancient and unchangeable precepts of Masonry". Issues of the "regularity" of a Freemasonic Lodge, Grand Lodge or Grand Orient are judged in the context of the Landmarks. Because each Grand Lodge is self-governing, with no single body exercising authority over the whole of Freemasonry, the interpretations of these principles can and do vary, leading to controversies of recognition. Different Masonic jurisdictions have different Landmarks.
According to Percy Jantz, the Masonic term Landmark is biblical in origin. He cites the Book of Proverbs 22:28: "Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set", referring to stone pillars set to mark boundaries of land. He further quotes a Jewish law: "Thou shalt not remove thy neighbors' landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance" to emphasize how these Landmarks designate inheritance. Mark Tabbert believes that the actual rules and regulations laid down in the early masonic landmarks are derived from the charges of medieval stonemasons.
According to the General Regulations published by the Premier Grand Lodge of England in 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." However, these landmarks were not defined in any manner. The first attempt at this was in Jurisprudence of Freemasonry 1856 by Dr. Albert Mackey. He laid down three requisite characteristics:
- notional immemorial antiquity
- absolute "irrevocability"
He claimed there were 25 in all, and they could not be changed. However subsequent writers have differed greatly as regards what they consider the Landmarks to be. In 1863, George Oliver published the Freemason's Treasury in which he listed 40 Landmarks. In the last century, several American Grand Lodges attempted to enumerate the Landmarks, ranging from West Virginia (7) and New Jersey (10) to Nevada (39) and Kentucky (54).
Joseph Fort Newton, in The Builders, offers a simple definition of the Landmarks as: "The fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the moral law, the Golden Rule, and the hope of life everlasting."
Roscoe Pound subscribed to six landmarks:
- Belief in a Supreme Being
- Belief in the immortality of the soul
- A "book of sacred law" as an indispensable part of the "furniture" (or furnishings) of the Lodge
- The legend of the Third Degree
- The secrets of Freemasonry: The modes of recognition and the symbolic ritual of the Lodge
- That a Mason be a man, freeborn, and of lawful age.
In the 1950s the Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America upheld three "ancient Landmarks":
- Monotheism — An unalterable and continuing belief in God.
- The Volume of The Sacred Law — an essential part of the furniture of the Lodge.
- Prohibition of the discussion of Religion and Politics (within the lodge).
The first great duty, not only of every lodge, but of every Mason, is to see that the landmarks of the Order shall never be impaired.—Albert Mackey, The Principles of Masonic Law
- The Landmarks of Freemasonry
- Mark A. Tabbert, American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities. National Heritage Museum, Lexington, MA: 2005, ISBN 0-8147-8292-2, p.109.
- Masonic Landmarks, by Bro. Michael A. Botelho. Accessed 7 February 2006.
- Standards adopted for use by The Commission for Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America in the 1950s accessed 30 July 2006.