The Ancient Landmarks – abusing them

By W. Bro. Dan Ellnor

Masonry is an old and entrenched institution. We have established a number of immutable laws which we call Landmarks. These Landmarks have helped to keep Masonry from being swayed by popular ideas which are fleeting and has helped the institution endure throughout time. However, strict adherence to unchanging ideals and misinterpretation over time of them can be the cause of a great amount of damage to this ancient and honorable institution.

Albert Mackey described over twenty ancient Landmarks. Most Masonic jurisdictions agree on seven.

  1. Monotheism.
  2. A belief in immortality.
  3. The Volume of Sacred Law.
  4. The legend of the third degree.
  5. Secrecy.
  6. Symbolism of the Operative Art.
  7. A Mason must be a freeborn male.

The Landmarks themselves I have no problem with. Various authors I have read have done a good service attempting to describe their various depths and probe the intricacies of them. I find it somewhat disheartening that we have few modern day philosophers that have attempted a modern day analysis of these. And here I believe is the heart of the problem.

Masonry today seems to be sitting in a rumble seat of an old jalopy … always looking backwards. I can hear the voice of the TV announcer now as it echo’s in my head … FAMOUS MASONS OF YESTERDAY..DAY..DAY … No one is thinking critically today about the Landmarks. They are like an old book that has set on a shelf gathering dust. And thus, we have allowed false and misleading interpretations of them to become the norm … nay … law.

The three most harmful of these, as I see it are:

Monotheism, Secrecy, and The Freeborn Male


It is required that a person cannot be a Mason unless they have a belief in one God. Sounds pretty clear … Until you do a little comparative religious study. Of course most Masons in the U.S. at least, think that means the differences between Baptist, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Unfortunately, I have seen this Landmark used to reinforce the bigoted and anti-Semites that have been allowed to infiltrate out ranks.

A review of various world religions today is easier than ever. When I first began my journey into this area it started with a comparative religion course in college. This was my first exposure to anything outside of Christianity. I thought becoming a Mason would expand this curiosity and allow me to meet persons of several different faiths and traditions. I have been disappointed, to say the least. While it is said that Rudyard Kipling was raised in a lodge with five different books of faith upon the alter … that could be hardly seen today. It is ironic that the Fundamentalist Christians accuse Freemasons of being Universalist when, in most lodges, Christianity is all that is represented. Which is why the abuse of this Landmark is so damaging to the craft. We should be universal in our view of this Landmark.

As an example, I direct you to brother Paul Bessel’s fine website, where he lists no less than 19 different monotheistic religions of the world. How many Wiccans would be accepted in your lodge?


SHssssssss! We can’t be talking bout’ that there masonary stuff. How many Masons have been lost to this misconceived Landmark. Now, I am not, nor have I ever been, a numbers, numbers, numbers Mason. However, the purpose of this landmark was never to hide your identity as a Mason. Nor was it the need to hide the precious secret rituals of our craft. Expose’s of the Craft have been written long before most of us were born … Duncan’s, Lester’s just to mention a few. Gentleman, let me let you in on something … the secret is out!

It is my opinion that the whole necessity for the Secrecy aspect of Masonry is nothing more than a marketing tool. Which is more appealing to a man, The sunny goody good doer’s association or the mystic secret handshake society? Consider this in the light of the era in which Freemasonry came about and you will see my point. Sorry Mr. Brown. You have sold a lot of books on the concept that Freemasons have a big dark secret … it just ain’t so.

The Freeborn Male

I think I will spend the least amount of time on this particular idiotic misconceived notion. ” a man, freeborn, of lawful age, and coming well recommended” How many times have we heard this. Again, this little tidbit is a nice tool for our more bigoted brothers to look to and say: “see, likes I is always a sayin’ no niggers or women’s allowed”.

Freeborn … The idea is simple, and the language is ancient, and once again you have to see things while considering the concept of time. The Landmarks were written in a time where slavery and indentured servitude were quite common and the language has held over. If a person has no control over there destiny then how can they make an oath to such an affect. It does not mean that if a person’s great granddaddy was a slave then you cannot be a Mason.

Well as far as the man portion of this landmark let me say that I for one am not interested in being a member of a co-ed lodge for reasons that are for another essay. However, there are female Masons … there have always been female Masons. This is a hold over of a time when only men had rights and thus were able to sculpt there own destinies. Females of the time were as good as slaves when the language of the landmarks were crafted.

These are the most egregiously abused Landmarks that continue to hamper the progression of Freemasonry today. So … what do we do? Well, lets first try to get out of the Rumble seat and get into the drivers seat. Forward looking and open mindedness is what is needed to take Masonry forward. Scottish Rite theater was the height of technology when developed. It has been frozen in time ever since and so have the Landmarks. We need to bring items such as the Landmarks into the twenty-first century.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not think we need to throw the Landmarks out the window and full speed ahead. I do think however that we need to look at the language of these landmarks and make a determination on what the modern day equivalent is. When did each one come about? What events prompted the addition of it? Are the concepts behind it still valid, two, three, five hundred years later. I am not so much of a scholar to be worthy to suggest replacement language or even deletion of some Landmarks … however, I think we can all see that if we do not learn, adapt, change … we will become another dusty tome on the shelf of society, to be looked at by some Sociologist one day saying “aahh, yes, I remember that era … I believe it was a group called the Freemasons”.

– Source: Knights of the North Masonic Dictionary