Redefinition of the Ancient Landmarks of the Order, 1939

The topic comes from a link picked up in a message board on the ever swirling definition of Regularity between Masonic bodies. Setting aside the idea of Territorial Exclusivity prevalent in the U.S., the message board linked to an interesting inclusion to a Wikipedia entry on the European question of recognition and the 11 defined Ancient landmarks that makes Masonry Freemasonry. Simple called “The Aims and Relationships of the Craft Freemasonry” this document is the Magna Carta, if you will, of who, how, and when, a body is recognized and the trump to why English Masonry (UGLE and its Home lodges of Ireland and Scotland) is the arbiter of what is, or what isn’t recognized Masonry.

What I find most interesting is that there is no mention of the “Antient” Landmarks as such that most are familiar with from Anderson (that rang from 11-25 depending on the source which you can read on Paul Bessel’s site). Some states have NO codification of any these past landmarks, rather deferring, it would seem, to the document below as their institutional operating parameters.

These are more Corporate Landmarks, in that they spell out what the essence of regular Grand Lodge Freemasonry is, saying at the end of the document that “The three Grand Lodges are convinced that it is only by this rigid adherence to this policy that Freemasonry has survived the constantly changing doctrines of the outside world, and are compelled to place on record their complete disapproval of any action which may tend to permit the slightest departure from the basic principles of Freemasonry.” and that if any deviation were to take place “that [they] cannot maintain a claim to be following the Antient Landmarks of the Order, and must ultimately face disintegration.”

It’s a pretty extreme position, and probably true, just as adding any new ingredients to a particular recipe changes it into a new one.  It is impossible to make a singular change to a thing and see it as the same as it was before the revision.

With that in mind, I’m struck by the idea that the document then places some very interesting caps onto the fraternity dictating what exactly IT is and what IT isn’t, despite what the ritual implies, or what it imparts.

The most notable point in the document is that the institution is essentially a thoroughly Christian institution as indicated by paragraph 4. I say this as it instructs to place the Bible into such a position of prominence above (read in-place) of all others which excludes entirely other faiths. On its own merit, this isn’t bad, but does it does not take into account the faiths of other members, whether in majority or minority of a lodge.

What does this mean? At a surface brush it leaves open the question of oaths and obligations of those who are not of that particular faith. Would the oath sworn by a Christian hand upon a Koran be the same as an oath taken upon the bible? Or, in a less inflammatory tone, would the oath of a Jewish brother taken on the Holy Bible be held to breast as close as an oath taken on the Tanakh, the Hebrew holy writing, called the Old Testament in the Christian church.  But, taken a step further, does it truly permit a lodge of mixed faith brothers to exist, putting each members on equal footing, or does it place deference towards the Christian faith at the sake of any others?

Paragraph 3 does seem to address this in stating that the condition of being a Freemason is predicated upon the belief in a Supreme Being, with no declaration of which Supreme Being, but does this square with the idea that the Holy Bible as the Volume of the Sacred Law that MUST be on the alter? Does that very book dictate the order as being exclusively a Christian body? Could, in light of the requirement of books on the alter, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or other non-Christian truly become a Freemason under the United Grand Lodge of England or its Home Lodges of Ireland or Scotland?

Albert Mackey‘s Landmarks, recorded in 1835, say nothing of which Holy Book, saying rather in Landmark 21 “A “Book of the Law” is indispensable in every Lodge” but not saying in the list what that book of Law is. Pounds Landmarks say too A “book of the law” as an indispensable part of the lodge” but does not indicate which book. Mackey, in an expanded look says: I say advisedly, a Book of the Law, because it is not absolutely required that everywhere the Old and New Testaments shall be used. The “Book of the Law” is that volume which, by the religion of the country, is believed to contain the revealed will of the Grand Architect of the universe. Hence, in all Lodges in Christian countries, the Book of the Law is composed of the Old and New Testaments; in a country where Judaism was the prevailing faith, the Old Testament alone would be sufficient; and in Mohammedan countries, and among Mohammedan Masons the Koran might be substituted. Masonry does not attempt to interfere with the peculiar religious faith of its disciples, except so far as relates to the belief in the existence of God, and what necessarily results from that belief. The |”|Book of the Law|”| is to the speculative Mason his spiritual Trestle-board; without this he cannot labor; whatever he believes to be the revealed will of the Grand Architect constitutes for him this spiritual Trestle|-|board, and must ever be before him in his hours of speculative labor, to be the rule and guide of his conduct The Landmark, therefore, requires that a |”|Book of the Law,|”| a religious code of some kind, purporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form in essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.  -From The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon

Anderson’s Constitution speaks to the obeying of the “Moral Law” but offers no leaning towards what that means. Used in context, one could debate its meaning as coming from a religious implication stemming form the Bible or a Humanist one based on the work of John Locke.

American Masonry has this same prohibition as the Holy Bible is the undisputed Volume of Sacred Law upon every alter in every lodge, with some states allowing for shared space with other books, usually at the will and pleasure of its membership to allow its use.

Another aspect of the document is the prohibition of Masonry taking a position “to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action, however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes its unalterable policy of standing aloof from every question affecting the relations between one government and another, or between political parties, or questions as to rival theories of government.”

While this alleviates the shift of balance, it also preserves the harmony of the membership from leaning the fraternity in any particular way. In some respects, this seems characteristic of the first prohibition, making the fraternity a predominantly Christian body to ensure its cultural heritage which worked in an era of Christian dominance. Peace and harmony of the lodge being the principal aim of the Landmarks. the difference in these two very definite points is that in the column of no politics it makes no declaration as to which political party it drapes onto its alter in the manner it does with religion.

The full document of The Aims and Relationships of the Craft Freemasonry as crafted by the Masonic High Council the Mother High Council in 1939 has some other interesting aspects that dictate regularity, and make for an interesting consideration as to the shape and composition of Masonry in the 21st Century now. The MW Pro Grand Master-Most Hon. Marquess of Northampton Iain Ross Bryce, TD, DL presented a speech in 2007 on the subject and reaffirmed the importance of the document to European Masonry and the role of the UGLE in recognizing them, which lends itself even more to the authority, within Masonic circles, of the High Councils Document.

The full points of the document:

1. The MHC has deemed it desirable to set forth in precise form the aims of Freemasonry as consistently practiced under its Jurisdiction and since the premier Grand Assembly it come into being as an organized body at York in 1705, and also to define the principles governing its relations with those other Grand Lodges with which it is in fraternal accord.

2. In view of the distortion by some so called world Masonic powers, and the deviation from the core values principles and aims of Ancient Craft Freemasonry, it is once again considered necessary to emphasize certain fundamental principles of the Fraternity.

3. The first condition of admission into, and membership of, the Order of Freemasons is a belief in a Supreme Being. This is essential and admits of no compromise.

4. The Bible, referred to by Freemasons as the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the Lodges. Every Candidate is required to take his obligation on that book or on the Volume, which is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon it.

5. Everyone who enters Freemasonry is, at the outset, strictly forbidden to countenance any act which may have a tendency to subvert the peace and good order of society; he must pay due obedience to the law of any state in which he resides or which may afford him protection, and he must never be remiss in the allegiance due to the Sovereign of his native land.

6. While English Freemasonry thus inculcates in each of its members the duties of loyalty and citizenship, it reserves to the individual the right to hold his own opinion with regard to public affairs. But neither in any Lodge, nor at any time in his capacity as a Freemason, is he permitted to discuss or to advance his views on theological or political questions.

7. The MHC will always consistently refused to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action, however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes its unalterable policy of standing aloof from every question affecting the relations between one government and another, or between political parties, or questions as to rival theories of government.

8. The MHC is aware that there do exist Bodies, styling themselves Freemasons, which do not adhere to these principles, and while that attitude exists the Regular Grand Lodge of England refuses absolutely to have any relations with such Bodies, or to regard them as Freemasons.

9. A Regular Grand Lodge is a Sovereign and independent Body practising Freemasonry only within the four Degrees and their complement within the limits defined by the Grand Assembly at York 1705 as pure Antient Masonry. It does not recognize or admit the existence of any superior Masonic authority, however styled.

A) A Regular Grand Lodge has sole Jurisdiction over the Craft Freemasonry including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch, and confers the degrees of: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason and employ the ceremony of the Board of Installed Masters in which the Worshipful Master of a Lodge is installed and invested, it confer the; Mark Man/Mason degree on Master Masons in a regular craft lodge of Master Masons lowered to the Fellow Craft degree.

B) The degrees controlled by the Grand Royal Arch Chapter are: Royal Ark Mariners, Excellent Mason and Most Excellent Master, Royal Arch, including the Ceremony of the Veils and inner workings of Royal Arch Freemasonry as practiced in the Crypt of York Minster.

10. The MHC will refused to participate in Conferences with so-called International Associations claiming to represent Freemasonry, which admit to membership Bodies failing to conform strictly to the principles upon which the MHC is founded. The Grand Lodge does not admit any such claim, nor can its views be represented by any such Association.

11. There is no secret with regard to any of the basic principles of Freemasonry, some of which have been stated above. The MHC will always consider the recognition of those Grand Lodges, which profess and practise, and can show that they have consistently professed and practised, those established and unaltered principles, but in no circumstances will it enter into discussion with a view to any new or varied interpretation of them. They must be accepted and practised wholeheartedly and in their entirety by those who desire to be recognised as Freemasons by the Regular Grand Lodge.

How do you read them and how do you see them relating to your jurisdiction practice of Freemasonry?  Do you see Freemasonry as principally a Christian organization?

Freemasonry – Know Thyself

By Martin Faulks

UGLE, coat of arms, Freemasonry

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.

ashlar in freemasonry

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.