The following was originally published in 2007. It is one of several essays in the book Masonic Traveler, where you can find a more refined and extended version of this missive.
Since this original publication in 2007, the dialog increased only to taper off again to a quiet whisper, if heard anywhere at all. In 2008/9 Stephen Dafoe produced a rebuttal of sorts, not in the context – but in the meaning of the numbers. His conclusions can be found in the article There’s a Hole in our Bucket, but I recommend that you read it after this piece so as to put all the information into context.
Changing Masonic Membership
The question above has been an institutional answer (yes, I said answer) that has plagued Masonry for the last 50 years. When I first heard it’s asking, I wasn’t sure what to think about it. I wasn’t even sure if I should talk about as it seemed like an internal problem, and not the fodder for the rank and file (you and me) to ponder. It wasn’t until my own realization that it was the rank and file that was ultimately the cause and effect of the question AND answer when its implications became clear.
As the adage goes, if you don’t talk about it, how do you fix it? And in such a large fraternity I felt that we absolutely needed to talk about it, NOW.
In doing some research, I found myself at the website for the MSANA, which is the Masonic Service Association of North America which is a national clearinghouse for all things Masonic in North America, but specifically an informational collection agency that gathers data and publishes literature for the overall benefit of the craft.
One of the items I found there were statistics on membership (now in archive) from 1925 to 2005.
The statistics are the national numbers of membership in the United States from 1930-2000 not graphed, but in a pretty uninteresting grid of data.
From a surface analysis what it showed was an early high figure, a dip, a huge growth period, and then a dramatic down trend in membership, specifically from a period of 1960 to close to present day. The graph below was created from this data.
What it charts is the membership numbers from 1925 to 2005.
For a comparison, this graph is the US population in the same period.
Obviously, the numbers are dramatically different – Freemasonry at one to four million and the US population at 100 to almost 300 million, but what it illustrates by contrast is the dramatic rise in US population (about half of which are male +/- 51/49%) and the dramatic decrease to male membership.
What I want to illustrate here is that while the US population has steadily increased, the population of Freemasonry has steadily decreased, substantially.
So to the question, so what?
Most who have been members for a significant time know that the membership of Freemasonry is changing. Lodge rooms are seating fewer and fewer members, old buildings bought and built in the boom era are being sold off as membership roles shrink and charters evaporate. We know that already, this isn’t new information. Every Masonic publication has said this at some point or another – “our numbers are retracting, that we felt a boom with the returning vets of WWII and Korea, and that their numbers swelled our ranks to their record numbers, topping at a height of 4,103,161 in 1959” -the glory days of the ancient and honorable.
But since that high water mark we have been in a steady decline in membership.
Again the question, so what?
The decline of the 1960’s and 70’s is often blamed on the selfish attitudes of the “tuned out” generation, the hippy turned Baby-Boomer, with widespread distrust of past paternal institutions, and a growth in a personal individuality, no one wanted to join, even when they later came of age the attitude of “Forget doing what Daddy did” and “why do I want to be a part of a secret institution of good old boys” prevailed. But was that really the problem?
I’m sure if analyzed in an academic fashion, we could explore the “why Freemasonry changed” notion in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, but I wonder if it would be enough to give us a real answer.
Some have suggested it was the institutional change towards fraternalism. Others suggest that it picked up and patriotic flavor of Americanism with the high number of veterans that came to its ranks. Trying to associate the increase to any one reason is difficult at best.
What the numbers do tell us is that in 10 year intervals, from 1960 to 2005, membership dropped by an average of 560,152 members. On the graph, you can see the decline to 2005. Distilling the numbers, it comes out to an average of a 20% decrease in membership per 10-year period.
By the years it breaks out to:
1959, membership at its height was at 4,103,161
1960 – 1970 there was a loss of 336,006 a decrease of 8.19%
1970 – 1980 there was a loss of 511,685 a decrease of 13.597%
1980 – 1990 there was a loss of 719,885 a decrease of 22.14%
1990 – 2000 there was a loss of 690,474 a decrease of 27.274%
2000 – 2010* there was a loss of 542,714 a decrease of 29.477% (*Calculated by doubling the loss from 2000 to 2005)
Updated numbers at bottom.
The average loss, per year, was 20% (20.2%)
Again the question “so what”, we already know this, these numbers are not secret. They are published in an open forum for the public to see.
The overall calculation led to an extrapolation, if the fraternity lost on average 560,152 members, per decade – from 2010 to 2020, our national number of members would be under 1 million members at 738,303. In ten more years 2020 to 2030 our national member base would be 178,151.
That number again is one hundred and seventy eight thousand one hundred and fifty one TOTAL Freemason’s in North America by 2030, which led me to speculate that the last American Freemason would probably be somewhere in about 2034 or so.
Ok, so this is a worst-case scenario, this is an assumption that we will continue to lose the same 560,000 members a year, due to attrition, brothers passing, or low community interest. The overall numbers tell me that the loss % per year is INCREASING; not decreasing, but maybe the trend is just that, a trend. It should be said that at present, 2005 numbers show our fraternity at numbers lower than the 1925 watermark, when the US population was less than half of what it is today. What appears to be happening is not just a “correction”, that it is not simply the Fraternity going back to the “way things were” at the turn of the 20th century, rather that it is something much worse at play and further outside the scope of our control.
Taken from another angle, we can say that over the same 50-year period, we did average out to a 20% loss per year. These numbers are far less frightening and show a slower descent over the next one hundred years. In 2030, where the first model takes us to extinction in the percentage model we sit at just over 800,000 members. It isn’t until 2130 that we get to fewer than 100,000. But again, that is at a steady 20% decrease no ups, no downs, steady. The trend in the last 50-year cycle has been one of a steady increase in percentage loss, 8.9%, 13.59%, 22.14%, 27.27%, and 29.47%. This model, though more positive, seems less likely.
At the other end of the spectrum, some locations so seem to indicate an upward trend in membership. In areas that lost 4000 members, they took in 2000, diminishing the overall drop, but even these anecdotal statistics only suggest a change in trend without much ability to forecast realistically where the descent will level off.
Again the question, so what?
With those of us left, we become the inheritors of Freemasonry here in America, and need to address the question of what we are going to do about it. I have read a Laudable Pursuit as I am sure many other masons have, I attend meetings, pay my dues, and heed the length of my cable tow, but is that enough?
Are dynamic meetings, meaningful Masonic education, Traditional Observance Lodges, Festive Boards, or low cost spaghetti or fish fry dinners the answer? Are even the boldest Grand Lodge programs such as the Massachusetts Is there Greatness in you? Marketing Campaign or the California Masonic Formation movement, enough? What generated interest in the past?
To answer this question we need to ask what Freemasonry has lost — what component of our fraternity did we lose in the transition of the 1950’s into the 1990’s that closed us off from the moral imagination of society? What changed?
Was it the success of the offshoot “clubs” whose focus on charity or drama plays, rather than esoteric transference, took prominence?
Did we, institutionally, become afraid of what our own metaphysical/spiritual fraternity represented?
Were we marginalized as an increasingly religious America took over, forcing out interfaith institution?
Did American Freemasonry fall out of progressive step with the evolving landscape of American women’s issues, and racial equality taking the forefront but still at odds in the fraternity dedicated to the moral high ground?
It was in the periods of transition from the 19th to the 20th century that many esoteric or occult works were created that seem to evoke the spirit of the coming age of Masonry. Did their promise grow silent on the lips of those who took the reins of leadership?
Just a small (yet significant) marker I can point to that symbolically illustrates the transition was the name change of the monthly Scottish Rite Magazine formerly known as the New Age Magazine in 1989.
Its true that in the mid century a degree of quackery took hold of the metaphysical giving birth to an explosion of Self Help and “Occult” practices. Did Masonry’s hasty retreat from all things esoteric help steer the fraternity towards the rocks of fraternal obscurity? Did we become afraid of our own esoteric shadow marginalizing our own traditions effectively doing this to ourselves?
The one thing that so many outsiders look to Freemasonry to provide is a degree of esoteric wisdom and education, yet we can barely articulate to the answer to the simple question of “what does Freemasonry represent”? Our tradition is betwixt pointing one way with progressive learning, equality of faiths, and metaphorical death and members pointing another with social fraternalism, overt patriotism, and faux civic engagement – is it a social club or a path to self enlightenment?
As the numbers continue to descend, some possible scenarios to consider is the separation of the Shrine from the craft lodge system. With the success that the Shrine has enjoyed in this last century, why would they keep the requirement of the Blue Lodge membership, if the blue lodge can barely support itself let alone its drive for localized charity. Especially now in the face of diminished revenue and potential loss of its charitable hospitals. In its present configuration, can it afford to not take in now blue lodge members?
Another scenario is the separation of the Scottish Rite to become its own degree imparting body. What is to keep them from offering the degrees as more Craft lodges start to close? Maybe it makes more sense to pool the resources and go with the bigger temples that the Scottish Rite inhabits. The easy answer is, of course not, but as the feeder blue lodge membership continues to plummet, at what point will desperation take hold and other options become more enticing? Are the American Rites prepared to cease operations if memberships diminish to an unsustainable level?
So what? So what can we do about this?
The most effectual answer I can come up with, individually, to the “SO WHAT” question is nothing.
We can, at this point in time do nothing to turn this trend around. No matter how many open houses, public lectures, marketing campaigns, sports sponsorships, television commercials, radio spots, billboards, or finite programs promoted by individual lodges or Grand Lodges will stem the hemorrhage. Even if the blue lodge started giving away memberships, it’s doubtful that we could find enough people who even remembered who the Freemasons are, and even fewer who would want to become one. The damage is already done, and we are now in a free fall that threatens to erase the remains of North American Freemasonry. This means the closure and roll back of individual state Grand Lodges. This will mean the selling of more Masonic properties and assets, and the selling or divesting publicly of our privately funded billion dollar institutions.
This means the end of Freemasonry as we know it today.
But all is not lost and that there are things that we , individually, can do now to start to effect change. The greatest challenge will come in our re-shaping the perception of what the fraternity represents and that its history, both real and imagined, becomes a part of who we are. And by understanding that, we can embrace it and celebrate that diversity and begin to explore those ideas that we left off from a century ago. As a body we can pause and consider out institution and how it relates to its broader impact on civil society. Is OUR venerable institution living up to the promises that our very Rites espouse? Do we treat ALL people equally, no matter of Race, Gender, Religion, or Preference? Are we striving to make social progress?
In the next 30 years the landscape of what we call Regular Freemasonry will be radically different than what we see today. The sooner we come to see that NOW, to talk about it, and confront it head on – the sooner we can start planning on what we want to do about it. Burying our heads in the sand is not the answer and if we continue to insist on doing nothing about it WE will only further hasten OUR demise.
Our generation, RIGHT NOW, is the unwilling inheritor of the future of Freemasonry – what we do NOW dictates how our sons will come to know this ancient institution. If we ignore the problem, there won’t be any institution left.
And, of you who say “So What”, I ask that you look at the numbers for yourself and then draw your own conclusions,
Once you’ve seen them you’ll see that they speak for themselves.
Update – May 21, 2017
Period of 2010 – 2015 15.45%.
Period of 2005 – 2015 26.02% (calculated).
Doubling the loss from 2010-2015 (424,400) to calculate potential loss = 31% change.
In this episode, recorded on March 7, 2010, Dean and Greg are joined by Mark Tabbert and Cliff Porter to talk about Traditional Observance Lodges and the Masonic Restoration Foundation. T.O. (Traditional Observance) Lodges seemed at one time to be a bright spot in the future of Freemasonry. Since this program, the was recorded, it seems the Traditional Lodge movement has slowed.
You may of heard these questions tossed around in some of the more secluded or private conversations at a lodge meeting. Or, perhaps in one of the many web forum discussions that so often ask the meaningful questions about where Masonry has come from, where it resides today, and where its headed. And all the while in those discussions, the term Traditional Observance Lodge or European Concept seems to be mentioned as one of the strongest possible paths of preserving the past and future of the American styled Gentleman’s Craft.
From the episode: “A Traditional Observance Lodge is a specific model under the Masonic Restoration Foundation that has implemented a series of best practices that have been studied and taken from Europe, South America and Colonial American Masonry from the US and returned the focus of the lodge to the initiatic experience.”
But, from a top down view, Traditional Observance Lodges work to preserve a “pure” form of Masonry, and something that necessitated a point of restoration. To get back to a point of origin. Ultimately in the middle of our modern day busy lives and hastened schedules, TO lodges strive to make better lackluster meetings and breathe a point of restoration of tradition in Freemasonry. Which brings us to the Masonic Restoration Foundation. At its heart, the Masonic Restoration Foundation is about identifying solutions and ways to implement them. That goal is aimed at reinforcing and expanding positive trends at local, state and national levels in Freemasonry.
“Curious about how to bring Masonry into the Tradition it came from?” “What’s this new Concept I’ve heard about called European Masonry?” This is the episode to listen to and find out.
The MRF provides education and training to individuals, lodges and Grand Lodges on ways to establish quality programs, academic excellence and social relevance in their Masonic communities that will be a match with the needs of the new Mason.
As American Freemasonry faces some of the most important challenges in its history the MRF stands to ensure a sense of purpose and identity for the Craft.
Listen to this episode of Masonic Central as they talk about the Masonic Restoration Foundation, Traditional Observance Lodges (TO) and the European Concept Lodge (EC). Marc Conrad and Cliff Porter, both of whom are active Board members of the Masonic Restoration Foundation join the show to discuss all things forward in Freemasonry. What exactly is a EC lodge? Are TO lodges the wave of the future? How do I start the conversation on forming a TO lodge? Listen in and ask the questions with us as we explore the TO and EC lodge archetypes with the Board of the Masonic Restoration Foundation.
In the episode there’s a mention of Robert Davis who was a guest on Masonic Central in 2008.
We have heard over and over that Freemasonry is a Brotherhood. That it is a fraternity. We use the term Masonic Family when referring to the group of organizations associated with Masonry. But it often seems that we use these terms out of habit, without any sense of meaning behind the words that are coming out of our mouths.
I can think of countless lodge meetings that I have attended where we recognize men as Brother Smith or Worshipful Brother Jones. We use the term Brother so often that we become desensitized to its meaning. Soon the word ‘Brother’ becomes little more than a substitute for ‘Mister’ or ‘Sir.’ Perhaps this is a failing of our institution’s protocol or perhaps it is our own fault for overusing this word. But in the spirit of the Christmas season, I’d like to talk a little bit about what the word ‘Brother’ means to me.
A Brother is your next of kin. He is more than a friend, he is your own flesh and blood. A man for which you would lay down your life. In the Masonic lodge, the term refers to the men of that mystic tie, that solemn obligation which we have all taken. This obligation is more than just a formality or organizational oath. The obligation is a pledge to be true to God, to yourself, and to your neighbor. The obligation is our promise to live and act virtuously and to love our fellow man. When we assume this obligation, we are declaring that we wish to be in the company of men who share the same values and ideals. By uniting ourselves with this honorable pledge, we become Brothers of that ancient and honorable clan: the Freemasons.
Unfortunately, we find that throughout history that relationships between brothers have not always been worthy of emulation. Two of the greatest examples of this are found in the Old Testament. We read of Cain murdering Abel in Genesis and when God inquires about Abel’s whereabouts, Cain replies “Am I my Brother’s keeper?” We learn that Jacob was willing to trick his father Isaac in order to obtain Esau’s blessing. We need not look far to see similar actions occurring today. Our Masonic lodges are full of Brothers who resent each other out of jealousy or are too proud to meet each another upon the level. We have arguments and feuds over lodge business and we often neglect our fellow Masons in need of relief.
During the Christmas holiday, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus who would grow up to become a leader that espoused the ideals of Brotherhood. Of all the lessons that Jesus taught, the most important is undoubtedly his new commandment: love one another. This is exactly what we as Freemasons and as Brothers should do. For if we love one another we will act by the square, we will circumscribe our desires, and we will give relief to our worthy Brother Masons. If we use the word ‘Brother’ not out of habit, but out of love, we will truly be a Masonic family. And by loving one another, we can understand the spirit of that solemn obligation.
One of the tenets of our profession is Brotherly Love and I propose that we all make this theme our focus for the new year. Let us make love a bigger part of the Masonic equation and let us focus on the meaning of being a Brotherhood.
My Brothers, love one another.
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A budget debate in Excelsior Lodge focused on memorial contributions for deceased brethren. In the jurisdiction, it is customary for Lodges to remit a nominal amount as a memorial contribution to the state-wide Masonic charity, and I may reliably report that since time immemorial, that amount has been ten dollars. I know this because several brethren of Excelsior Lodge have been Masons since time immemorial ; one of them – Roy Mantooth — was even Past-Master of Antediluvian Lodge No. 1, before he transferred, and his membership number, barely visible on his faded dues card, is four.
You read that right: Four.
Mine is 127598. His is 4.
So the story goes, when they decided they ought to assign membership numbers, Solomon took number one, then Hiram King of Tyre, then the other Hiram, and then Mantooth because he was the one who always filled the coffee pot. With Sanka. Anyway – so since forever Excelsior Lodge has sent ten dollars as a memorial, until this year’s sitting master – a dangerous and revolutionary firebrand, not to mention a financial daredevil – decided to make the contribution twenty-five dollars and chaos ensued.
As discontent is concerned, it was pretty mild, like most things Masonic. No shouting or anything (that’s for The Elks, or worse: The Eagles). No, it was more like watching dandelions taking over your garden, slow, inexorable, and not really noticeable, but you wake up one morning and think, wow – where’d all those weeds come from? But like discontent everywhere, it was deeply rooted.
“We need to lower that memorial contribution back down to ten dollars,” Mantooth was saying in his forceful manner, “it’s been ten dollars since I’ve been here and that’s always been good enough in the past.”
Always been good enough in the past. You run into this sentiment a lot in Masonry. In fact, I think it’s a Masonic motto: Is est satis pro habenae opus. A few nods from some of the older fellows and Mantooth started gathering more steam, “ I mean, if we were going to send flowers to the funeral – instead of sending a memorial to the Charity – we wouldn’t spend more than ten dollars, anyway…”
To be fair, Mantooth is not a florist, but one of the younger fellows piped up at that, saying “that would be a pretty lame bunch of flowers for ten bucks,” but it didn’t register.
And the problem is, it usually doesn’t register, because the divide between the older and younger members is very deep. We’ve all noticed them in a hundred small ways – the emblematical instant coffee, for example, which, with a plate of day-old snickerdoodles from Albertson’s, is the Alpha and Omega of a typical Masonic fête. Our meetings are slack, our regalia tattered, and our dress codes are either from 1974, or would shock the staff at the City Rescue Mission, take your pick. But more alarmingly, our lodge halls are crumbling. In some halls this occurs because the members have fled the instant coffee for the latte house, but in others it comes not from penury but from pure parsimony, and heaven help the master who suggests raising dues.
These are all symptoms of doing Masonry on the cheap, and its effects are insidious. It means not paying proper attention to good form because it’s easier not to, and it means that the way things were in the past is not only good enough now, but for the foreseeable future. This is why members think that flowers still cost ten dollars, that instant coffee is an elixir, and that red Bee Gees jackets present the image of the fraternity that will attract members in the critical 25 – 40 age group. Because it’s always been good enough; no further analysis required. If the goal of the fraternity was to rival the AARP in members over 65, we’d be in fine shape.
If not, it’s time to unplug the percolator. Go digital instead of analog.
I don’t pretend knowing how to pry the dead hand of the past off the steering wheel, but a good place to start is your officer line, you incoming masters. Pack that sucker as full of young brethren as possible, giving yourself a coterie of men who share your priorities and who can withstand the insistence that the old way is the only way. With a young line, you still might have an antediluvian secretary (or treasurer), but with no voting bloc of his own, that’s a majority of one. Too often, the young men are sidelined because they don’t know the work, or because the master wants “seasoned” brethren in line to help him out. This can be helpful in the short term, but it will defer our younger members assuming the mantle of leadership for as long as it continues.
And if you hate Sanka as much as I do – the sooner you start, the better.
Mackey’s notorious list and its impact on Maryland Masonry. Originally published in The Philalethes Magazine, vol. 44, no. 3, June 1991 authored by S. Brent Morris
A mushroom may grow ever so tall, on a boundary line or at a corner, but it will never be mistaken for a landmark Albert Pike on Mackey’s “Landmarks”
Freemasonry in Maryland, as in the rest of the world, is changing. This is a continuing process that began in 1717 at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in London when four lodges made a radical innovation on the body of Masonry and created the office of Grand Master, an office that prior to that date had been only legendary. The additions, corrections, and elaborations to our Craft have come in fits and spurts since then, and we should not be so naïve to think that our Grand Lodge is immune. What is needed to face the challenges of change is an openness of mind and a flexibility of procedures.
Maryland Masonry is fortunate that its leaders have had minds open to the evolving needs of the Craft. They have laid a solid foundation on which the Grand Lodge has set goals, established programs, and disseminated the tenets of our profession. However, there is a grave danger that we are losing our flexibility of procedures which will be so essentially necessary for our survival in the twenty-first century.
At the 1989 Semiannual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Maryland, we witnessed the elimination of informed debate on several potentially vital pieces of legislation and the disenfranchisement of the representatives of the subordinate Lodges. This disregard for democratic principles was not part of a conspiracy nor planned with malice, but rather it sadly followed from a strict application of Mackey’s so-called “Landmarks of Freemasonry.” These twenty-five platitudes never have been adopted formally by the Grand Lodge of Maryland, but they threaten to become liabilities through a rigid interpretation.
Albert Galatin Mackey is one of the best-known American authors on Freemasonry. What is less well-known is that his creative genius often overshadowed his quest for historical accuracy and truth. In 1858, Mackey invented his list and foisted it upon an unsuspecting American Craft. Soon after there was a headlong rush by “scholars” to create lists of Landmarks and thus fill in what they perceived as a nagging gap in Masonic tradition. Right behind these creative writers came the Grand Lodges, each trying to outdo the other in adopting the “true” list of fundamental Landmarks of Freemasonry.
These enterprises resulted in nothing less than confusion in the temple. Of the American Grand Lodges, thirteen have adopted no formal list, five rely upon the Old Charges, ten have produced their own lists (ranging from seven to thirty-nine Landmarks), eight use Mackey by custom, and only thirteen have formally adopted his tabulation. The United Grand Lodge of England, the source and origin of all Freemasonry, has never seen fit to adopt any formal enumeration and in particular has never endorsed Mackey’s list, and our English Brethren seem none the worse for it.
Where in all of this does the Grand Lodge of Maryland stand?—somewhere between using Mackey by custom and by formal adoption. In November, 1939, R.W. Harry C. Mueller, Grand Secretary wrote that “Maryland has included in its Code Mackey’s twenty-five Landmarks. By the adoption of this Code we feel that the twenty-five Landmarks in their entirety were adopted also, although there was no specific mention made of this, nor has there been at any time.”
Thus the foundation of Masonic Jurisprudence in Maryland has never been formally adopted!
Isn’t the simplest solution to formally adopt Mackey’s product and to be done with it? That would easily solve the problem F the status of Mackey’s landmarks in Maryland, but like most simple-minded solutions, it’s more wrong than right. There is a naïve satisfaction in having an absolute list of guiding principles, and a childlike comfort in being able to assert, “These constitute the Landmarks … in which it is not in the power of any man, or body men, to make the least innovation.” However, naïve satisfaction and childlike comfort should not be the guiding forces of Maryland Freemasonry as it prepares to face the rigors of the twenty-first century.
To begin with, Mackey was simply wrong. Some of his so-called “Landmarks” are universally agreed upon, but most are just creatures of his fertile imagination. Albert Pike’s scathing denunciation of Mackey’s concoction stands as the damning opinion of contemporary scholar, and Pike was not alone in his condemnation. No serious student of Freemasonry has accepted Mackey’s 1858 list in its entirety, nor have more than thirteen Grand Lodges. “So far as known, no Grand Lodge outside the United States has ever adopted any list of landmarks.…” Even a partial list of those disagreeing with Mackey provides a Who’s Who of Masonic scholarship.
Some Masonic Scholars Disagreeing With Mackey’s Landmarks:
1856, Rob Moms, Past Grand Master, Kentucky
1858, J. W. S. Mitchell, Past Grand Master, Missouri
1885, Robert Freke Gould, Past Master Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076
1888, Albert Pike, Sovereign Grand Commander. Southern Jurisdiction
1910, George Fleming Moore, Sovereign Grand Commander, Southern Jurisdiction
1919, Roscoe Pound, Dean, Faculty of Law in Harvard University
1923, Joseph D. Evans, Past Grand Master, New York
1924, Melvin M. Johnson. Past Grand Master, Massachusetts
1931, E. W. Timberlake, Jr., Past Grand Mater, North Carolina
1961, Henry Wilson Coil, Fellow of the Philalethes Society
1973, Dwight L. Smith, Past Grand Master, Indiana
A Landmark should be something so fundamental, so basic to the fabric of Freemasonry, that any deviation merits immediate condemnation. Mackey’s creation fails this test rather miserably. There is no reason to analyze each of his landmarks; a few particulars should suffice. For example, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina not only does not recognize the prerogative of a Grand Master to make Masons at sight (Mackey’s Landmark 8), but also does not recognize any Mason made by this method, regardless of whether he may belong to a regularly chartered Lodge. Yet we still maintain fraternal relations with the Grand Lodge of North Carolina. Several of the regular European Grand Lodges we recognize use a Grand Masonic Word different from Maryland, thus effectively negating the Mackey’s first landmark, the modes of recognition.
Freemasonry recently has come under increasingly vicious attacks from narrow-minded religionists. One of the frequent accusations made against our gentle Craft is that we are a “secret society” with all of the vague connotations of unknown evil that charge carries. Maryland has wrestled with this problem and has tried to solve it with our rather awkwardly worded Standing Resolution No. 8, which says in part “that our Order is not a secret one in the sense that everything that goes on in the Lodge room may never be revealed; rather it is an Order which has certain secrets which we do not share with the world outside these doors.”
This is all fine and good, but Mackey’s Twenty-third Landmark states in simple, plain language, “Freemasonry is a secret society.” If we adopt Mackey’s invention, then we are declaring to the world that we are indeed a secret society (despite our waffling resolutions to the contrary). If we are not a secret society, then Landmark 23 of Mackey is not a Landmark of Maryland.
The Grand Lodge of Maryland presents another paradox on the one hand we acknowledge by custom Mackey’s Landmark 14, “the right of every Mason to visit and sit in every regular Lodge.” On the other hand we ignore this clear, absolute right and allow only the privilege of visitation. A Brother visiting a Maryland Lodge may be denied admission if any member of that Lodge personally demands it. In fact, Maryland’s deviation from this “landmark” has earned us special condemnation in Mackey’s Masonic Jurisprudence, as an offensive example of a “very contracted view of the universality of Freemasonry.…”
At the 1989 Semiannual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Maryland, an amendment to the Constitution was proposed that would have allowed subordinate lodges to conduct normal business in the first degree. The Committee on Masonic Jurisprudence carefully considered the matter, adhered faithfully to Mackey’s landmarks, and made the straightforward decision that “the proposed Amendment … would violate the Landmarks of Freemasonry and Masonic history and tradition.” This inescapable conclusion that the committee reached by following Mackey’s authority is logically precise and historically wrong. On May 18, 1842, the Grand Lodge of Maryland “Resolved, That all the business of a Lodge, except that of conferring the inferior degrees, and the instruction therein, should be transacted in a Master Mason’s Lodge.”
In other words, from 1749 to 1842, every Lodge in Maryland conducted its business on the first degree—in violation of Mackey’s landmarks and Masonic history and tradition! How is it possible that our first ninety-three years of Masonic activity violated the Landmarks of Freemasonry and Masonic history and tradition? For that matter, what does this say about the United Grand Lodge of England, whose Lodges have never stopped meeting on the first degree? These contradictions are possible only if Mackey’s inventive list is given official status in Maryland, and we abandon our original history and customs.
Finally, there is the example of the recently aborted attempt to provide checks and balances upon the powers of the Grand Master of Maryland. The argument which prevented the amendments from even being discussed was that Mackey’s so- called landmarks do not allow the Grand Lodge to limit the authority of the Grand Master. Mackey states with his usual authoritative tone that Grand Masters and Grand Lodges are “coeval” (a highfalutin word that means “of equal antiquity”). However, there is no foundation in fact—only in modern Masonic ritual—that Grand Lodges or Grand Masters existed before that historic 1717 meeting in London.
These lofty, theoretical arguments overlook a fundamental problem: if the Grand Lodge cannot limit the powers of the Grand Master, how did we get the limitations we now have? Perhaps the Grand Architect Himself ordained the requirement that the Grand Lodge has to approve edicts of the Grand Master for them to remain in force? The powers of the Grand Master spring from the consent of the lodges he governs, and they can modify his powers whenever or however they see fit.
The fact is, Mackey’s fabrication never has been adopted formally by the Grand Lodge of Maryland nor has it made any particular contribution to our jurisprudence. What is true is that Mackey has been regularly ignored by the Grand Lodge of Maryland when convenient, though his invention most recently prevented a democratic discussion of important issues facing the Grand Lodge of Maryland. The solution to the confusion is straight forward: drop Mackey’s lame “landmarks” (either by agreement or by formal edict or by resolution) and give the Grand Lodge of Maryland the flexibility and authority it needs to face the problems of the future.
Quotations from Some Masonic Scholars Disagreeing with Mackey’s “Landmarks”
Robert Freke Gould
We shall vainly search in the records of those early times for a full specification of the twenty-five “Landmarks” which modem research pronounces to be both ancient and unalterable … Of the Ancient Landmarks it has been observed, with more or less foundation in truth: “Nobody knows what they comprise or omit; they are of no earthly authority, because everything is a landmark when an opponent desires to silence you, but nothing is a landmark that stands in his own way.”
The History of Freemasonry, New York: John C. Yorston & Co., 1885, vol. 2, p. 59.
There is no common agreement in regard to what are and what are not landmarks. That has never been definitely settled. Each writer makes out for himself the list or catalogue of them, according to his own fancy, some counting more of them and others less.
Most of these so-called landmarks were not known either to Ancient Craft Masonry in England or Scotland before the revolution of 1723, or to the new Masonry, as landmarks, for years afterwards. It is a pity that Masonry has not a Pope, or cannot make one of some Grand Master, Editor, or Chairman of a Committee on Foreign Correspondence, endowed with infallibility, to determine the age which a landmark must have to entitle it to call itself a landmark; what is the essential nature of a landmark; how many of the supposed twenty-five are landmarks, and what others the oracular wisdom of the author [Mackey] of this catalogue has overlooked.
Proceedings of the Masonic Veterans’s Association of Iowa, 1888 (reprinted in Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, New York: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., 1961, pp. 367–59).
E. W. Timberlake, Jr.
A number of Grand Lodges have undertaken, by express enactment, to fix what the landmarks shall be within their respective jurisdictions, and these differ very widely. For example, nine American Grand Lodges declare that the ancient charges contain the landmarks, while several Grand Lodges have adopted statements of their own, varying all the way from seven in West Virginia and ten in New Jersey to thirty-nine in Nevada and fifty- four in Kentucky. It would seem obvious, therefore, that, since even a Grand Lodge can neither create nor abolish a landmark, such declaratory enactments cannot be viewed in any other light than as Masonic legislation.… It is generally conceded that Dr. Mackey’s list includes all of the landmarks, but it is not conceded that all those which he enumerates as landmarks, are in reality such.
“The Landmarks of Masonry,” Nocalore, vol. 1, part 1. pp. 416,1931.
The skeptic says, first, that down to the appearance of Mackey’s Masonic Jurisprudence “landmark” was a term floating about in Masonic writing without any definite meaning. It had come down from the operative Craft where it had meant trade secrets, and had been used loosely for “traditions” or for “authorized ritual” or for “significant historical occurrences,” and Oliver had even talked of “obsolete landmarks.” Second, he says. the definition of a landmark, the criteria of a landmark, and the fixed landmarks generally received in England and American from 1860 on, come from Mackey. Bro. Hextall says: “It was more because Mackey’s list purported to fill an obvious gap than from any signal claims it possessed that it obtained a rapid circulation and found a ready acceptance.” Perhaps this is too strong. But it must be admitted that dogmatism with respect to the landmarks cannot be found anywhere in Masonic writings prior to Mackey and that our present views have very largely been formed—even if not wholly formed—by the influence of his writings.…
In reading [Mackey’s definition of a landmark] we must bear in mind that it was written in 1856, before the rise of modem Masonic history and before the rise of modem ideas in legal science in the United States. Hence it is influenced by certain uncritical ideas of Masonic history and by some ideas as to the making of customary law reminiscent of Hale’s History of the Common Law, to which some lawyer may have directly or indirectly referred him. But we may reject these incidental points and the essential theory will remain unaffected—the theory of a body of immemorial recognized fundamentals which give to the Ma¬ sonic order, if one may say so, its Masonic character, and may not be altered without taking away that character. It is true Mackey’s list of landmarks goes beyond this. But it goes beyond his definition as he puts it; and the reason is to be found in his failure to distinguish between the landmarks and the common law.
Lectures on Masonic Jurisprudence, New York: Board of General Activities [Grand Lodge, F. & A.M.], 1941, pp. 32–34.
Henry Wilson Coil
The way to define a thing or a principle is to examine it closely, list its peculiarities, state how it looks and acts, what it does and does not do, and what it is not as well as what it is. Again, the landmarkers reversed the process by attempting to define the unknown thing arbitrarily and, then armed with that prejudicial formula, search through the rituals, the regulations, and even unofficial literature in search of items which would satisfy the definitions. They did not know that the definition is the conclusion, not the beginning of such enquiry. But, worse yet, they commonly included some items which did not conform to their definitions. Of this class, one of the leaders, Mackey, was a striking example. What he called ancient and unwritten principles were in several of his proposals no more than legislation of the premier Grand Lodge set forth in the Constitutions and General Regulations published in 1723. Some that he called universal were not followed in all, possibly not even in a majority of Masonic jurisdiction. Those called unalterable had already been altered in some instances, and Mackey, himself, gave out several additions which altered his unalterable list of twenty-five.
Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, New York: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Company, 1961, p. 364.
Dwight L. Smith
The Grand Lodge of England, which should know a thing or two about the ancient landmarks, never has “adopted” landmarks or in any way attempted to define them other than to make casual references to certain practices. To my knowledge, no Grand Lodge of Freemasons outside the United States has ever become concerned about what the landmarks are, or how many there may be.
Not so in the U.S.A. Beginning about the middle of the Nineteenth Century, Grand Lodges started trying to define the landmarks and enumerating them. They literally ran races to see how many ancient landmarks they could “adopt” officially. Some lists became so long and so all-inclusive that it was hardly safe to take aim at the brass cuspidor for fear an ancient landmark would be removed. And the hilarious feature about the various lists of “official” and “unalterable” landmarks is that so many are in total disagreement with their neighbors’ lists!
“Of Landmarks and Cuspidors,” The Philalethes, vol. 26, no. 1 (February 1973), pp. 6 & 22.
Coil, Henry W., et al. Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia. New York: Macoy Publishing aid Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1961.
Gould, Robert Freke, et al. The History of Freemasonry. New York: John C. Yorston & Co., 1885.
Mackey, Albert G. Mackey’s Masonic Jurisprudence. Revised by R. I. Clegg. Chicago; The Masonic History Company, 1927.
Maryland, Grand Lodge of. Maryland Manual of Ancient Craft Masonry. Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Md., 1935.
Reports to the Annual Communication. Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M, of Maryland, November 17, 1986.
Reports to the Semiannual Communication. Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & AM of Maryland, May 15, 1989.
Masonic Service Association. “The Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry.” The little Masonic Library. 5 vols. Richmond: Macoy Publishing aid Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1946.
Pike, Albert. “The Landmarks of Freemasonry.” The Little Masonic Library. 5 vols. Richmond: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1946.
Pound, Roscoe. Lectures on Masonic Jurisprudence. New York: Board of General Purposes, [Grand Lodge, F. & A.M.], 1941.
Schultz, Edward T. History of Freemasonry in Maryland. 4 vols. Baltimore: J. H. Medairy & Co., 1887.
Smith, Dwight L. “Of Landmarks and Cuspidors.” The Philalethes, vol. 26, no. 1 (Feb. 1973.)
Timberlake, E. W. Jr. “The Landmarks of Masonry.” Nocalore, vol.1, part 1 (1931).
 Albert Pike, “The Landmarks of Freemasonry,” The Little Masonic Library, 5 vols. Richmond: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1946, vol. 1, p. 66.
 Masonic Service Association, “The Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry,” The Little Masonic Library, Richmond: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1946. vol. 1, p. 95.
 Masonic Service Association, “The Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry,” pp. 76–77.
 Grand Lodge of Maryland, Maryland Manual of Ancient Craft Masonry, Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F.&A.M. of Md., 1935, p. C.
 Henry W. Coil, et al., Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, N.Y.: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., 1961, p. 360.
 Grand Lodge of Maryland. Reports to the Annual Communication. Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Maryland, November 17, 1986, p. 29.
 Albert G. Mackey, Mackey’s Masonic Jurisprudence, rev. R. I. Clegg, Chicago: The Masonic History Co., 1927, p. 141.
 Grand Lodge of Maryland, Reports to the Semi-Annual Communication, Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Maryland, May 15, 1989, p. 29.
 Edward T. Schultz, History of Freemasonry in Maryland, 4 vols., Baltimore: J. H. Medairy & Co., 1887, vol. 3, p. 67.
Why did an organization founded in the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St. Paul’s Churchyard in 1717, go on to spread over the entire face of the habitable earth, and become the largest fraternal society in the history of mankind? And why is Freemasonry dying, in England, the place of its birth? Freemasonry is one of history’s success stories. Under the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland and Ireland we have an estimated membership of over 500,000. But the universal appeal of Freemasonry is not limited to the British Isles; world-wide we have an estimated membership of over 5 million!
Even within Freemasonry it is not widely appreciated how rare and unusual a phenomenon this is. No other fraternal organization has ever spread so quickly, spread so widely or grown so large. To have done this Freemasonry must contain some idea that exerts a firm grip upon the imaginations of a considerable body of humanity, regardless of race, language or upbringing. Something about Freemasonry appeals to the very basic nature of humanity. What is it?
Today all organizations are having problems retaining membership, many Masonic lodges are having to close. Perhaps it is time to look at what got us into our successful historical position and what attracted our present level of membership. To recreate these achievements in the future, we need to understand what Freemasonry has that other organizations, founded at the same time did not. We must ask what distinguishes our Craft from superficially similar organizations.
Our society provides many and varied chances for social and fraternal intercourse amongst individuals who choose to split off into distinctive fraternities. It offers many chances for charity and friendship. But this is not exclusive to freemasonry. There are a huge number of societies that offer similar opportunities, but none boast even half our membership, and none attract such men of distinction as we. By a process of elimination, we arrive at the only remaining raison d’etre for the spread and attractiveness of the Masonic system, namely, the significance and implications involved within our ceremonial rites. There is something very special about our rituals.
A wonderful thing about Masonic ritual is that it acts like an ink blot test on the human mind. Each Freemason sees something slightly different in the working of the Craft depending on his situation in life, his personal background and his level of development. Sometimes I wonder if lack of firm knowledge of our origins is one of the greatest gifts Freemasonry has. This ambiguity allows the ritual to speak directly to us all without preconceptions.
Masonic ritual is a system of moral and spiritual transformation. It inspires men to look at themselves and change the way they interact with the world; and it always has. Freemasonry is a system of mental control and self-development comparable to Buddhism, yoga and many other paths of self-improvement to be found around the world. But it is a unique western tradition.
The special thing about Freemasonry is that it is free of dogma or religious bigotry. It is truly open to all religious persuasions. Each ritual is progressive, building on the work that was set before the candidate in the previous ceremony. It was the effectiveness of our teachings that inspired men the world over to don the Masonic apron. The rituals of Freemasonry tap into the basic human urge to want to improve one’s self, and to make the world a better place for all. Our Masonic philosophy should direct and aid us in this quest.
Freemasonry teaches us that our personal characteristics are neither random nor immutable. We are not stuck with the nature we are born with. We can change ourselves just as a builder changes his surroundings. We are living stones to be reshaped by the Masonic tools of the ritual. This is a powerful lesson. I believe it is the idea that originally drove the success of freemasonry and made it appeal to so many people. We all want to be better. If Masonic membership is dwindling, could it be that we are no longer putting this message across.
The lessons of freemasonry could be summarized as follows, the first degree teaches the principles of morality, the second degree the importance of learning, and the third the discipline of self knowledge.
As a young Freemason looking at Freemasonry in the modern world, I believe that it is at this final step that we falter. Lack of self-recognition and self-knowledge is not just lacking in the membership but also in the organization itself.
Freemasonry as a collective has still to master its third degree. We know the principles of morality, we understand the outside world. But we still have not realized our Order’s own true nature. The value of self knowledge is immeasurable. A man or a society must know its vices and its failures before it can eliminate them. It must know its virtues and successes to build on them.
Everywhere I go I hear Brethren earnestly saying that “Freemasonry has no secrets!”
If this is true then it is no surprise that young men join and then leave.
We are misleading them, because Freemasonry does hold secrets. Its traditional secrets tell how to turn vice into virtue. We are a school of self-improvement and self-development. This is the point of Freemasonry. If we Freemasons lose this focus then only failure can result. If we have no secrets, what’s the point in joining? If a school has no lessons it will attract no pupils. We will only get more men into Freemasonry, if we get more Freemasonry into men. Our success in the past was due to men being inspired to join to learn how to improve themselves. Freemasonry is about inspiration. If we do not practice our teachings we will fail to be attractive. A rose only becomes beautiful as it grows from a bud into a full flower. We are only going to progress if we truly engage with our own teachings. I don’t mean doing “sincere” ritual, I mean applying the “peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” to ourselves. No matter how many rituals or meetings you turn up to you can’t absorb the virtue of morality by osmosis (Though you may absorb extra weight as you eat your way through numerous festive boards.). To make a daily progress in Masonic knowledge you have got to work hard in your spare time. You need to contemplate the working tools, and apply their principles to your daily life until they become second nature. You need to study the ritual, slowly cultivate the control and progress it demands. When others see Masons on this path they will flock to join us, as they did in the past.
The task that Freemasonry puts before each one of us, is monumental, hard and painstaking. It is easy for modern Freemasons to push their efforts and time into other matters, which though laudable can lead to them becoming distracted from the purpose of the Craft.
Many Freemasons become expert on the history of Freemasonry in general and their own Lodge in particular. Knowledge of Masonic history is interesting and fun, but it should always be second to the transformational work of Freemasonry. Many Freemasons work hard to be charitable. Charity is commendable and is one of the virtues all Freemason should try to cultivate. But Charity should be a side effect of our personal development not its focus. It is not, and should not, become the point in our organization. If we are a charity then our ritual is of no purpose. If we are a moral School the important thing is that our students are learning. I believe it is time for Freemasonry to take a close, critical look at itself.
The United Grand Lodge of England is leading the way with the message of its pamphlet Freemasonry An Approach to Life which makes clear to the public that freemasonry is system of self-improvement. But the brethren need to get serious and back up this message by demonstrating its application by their actions.
If we are to regenerate Freemasonry from within, we need to look to the future not the past. We need to enjoy the solution, not suffer the problem. I opened this article by saying Freemasonry in England is Dying. Our third degree teaches us that a wonderful thing about death is it can lead to a rebirth. Let is concentrate on putting this Masonic lesson at the center of our Freemasonry.
I know were up against the Super Bowl but this will be a great show to sneak away from the TV for a bit and give it a listen to. Were talking Masonic data management 2.0.
We have as our guest Br. Mark Menard who was raised in 1995, and has since held a variety of positions in lodge as well as become the go to IT man for a variety of lodge and Grand Lodge projects.
Missed the live Podcast? Listen to the show now!
Two key projects that we plan to discuss are the Masonic MORI application, which is a web-based full suite Lodge and Grand Lodge tool to administration tool presently in use by in 5 states in north America. And, his Masonic Wiki project Masonicapedia which is a combined wiki and member database to include membership information and and other general data on the fraternity. One interesting idea behind the application is its database of past Masons compiling data from every state back to the beginnings of the fraternity in America.
Both of these subjects will be great discussion points, as well of as our usual collection of cool new apps tales from the digital wonderland.
The program will record live Sunday, 6pm PST / 9pm EST on the only radio program for Freemasons by Freemasons, Masonic Central.
Join our live in “virtual” studio to ask your questions on the digital dominion by logging in to our program on talkshoe!
Join Greg and Dean in this episode of the Masonic Central podcast, originally recorded on November 16, 2008, as the talk with to Brother Timothy Hogan about his book The Alchemical Keys To Masonic Ritual. It was an enlightening conversation on alchemy, ritual, and the “secrets” of Freemasonry.
In His work, Timothy has found several special connections from antiquity that correspond to more than a few aspects of Freemasonry. Do they connect the modern fraternity to the ancient path? We talk about those answers as Hogan explored them in his book, The Alchemical Keys To Masonic Ritual.
In the episode we dig into:
Freemasonry and Alchemy
The Mystery Schools of antiquity
The Morgan Affair
And, of course, alchemy!
Timothy Hogan is a great listen. He’s passionate about Freemasonry and well versed at conveying complex ideas in an understandable manner.
S. Brent Morris, joined the Masonic Central podcast where he discussed the importance of the Scottish Rite in the 21st Century, the differences/similarities between the Scottish Rite and the York Rite, American Masonry today and shared his thoughts on how to proceed into 21st century Masonry.
In this podcast Morris discusses his personal Masonic journey including his time as the first (and only) American to head the Quatuor Coronati lodge of research and delve into the nuanced history of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in America.
We also talk about the development of the Scottish Rite Journal (the largest Masonic publication in the world with more than 250,000 circulation) from its former incarnation as the the New Age Magazine.
In this episode we dig deep into the issues facing Freemasonry (member retention), masonic literacy and the future of the gentle craft. This was a fascinating conversation to get to know Brent and his amazing work in furthering the fraternity.
This podcast was originally recorded on Sunday, November 9, 2008.