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by Athena Stafyla
Jurist, LL.M, Ph.D student,University of Munich



The origin, the number and the meaning of the Masonic landmarks are among the most controversial aspects of Masonic research.



I. The Meaning and the Significance of Landmarks


A first attempt to find the meaning of the term landmark points out that
n the early Anglo Saxon, German, or Scandinavian languages the noun “land” meant the same as in modern English, although as a verb it meant “come to land,” a meaning reflected in our custom of saying a man lands from a ship, etc. “Mark” is found in almost all European languages and derives from the Latin margo, “edge” or “boundary”, whence our margin, mark, and cognate terms. A “landmark” is some mark, line or object to indicate a boundary. The landmarks of Masonry are those principles by which the Craft is bounded, that is, marked off from all other societies and associations and without which it would lose its identity.[1]


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The word landmark in architecture signifies an element, or a whole part of a building, or sometimes a statue, or a decoration in the entrances to it that is of great importance for the whole architectural plan. Sometimes the building as a whole serves as a landmark for the geographical area. In all cases the landmark is a cathedral or architectural structure with a distinct meaning and symbolism, which makes the building or the geographical place totally discernable from any other place or building. A similar practice has resulted in the allegorical use of the word landmark in Masonic philosophy, marking a cathedral point in the inner organisation and way of thinking in Masonry, without which it would be impossible for a lodge to be characterized and seen as such. I consider the second, architectural, significance of the term landmark as more important than the linguistic one, the reasons for which will be the object of further analysis in this article.


The most incontestable point is that the landmarks embody the unalterable and inviolate rules of the Masonic organization, theory and esoteric tradition as a set of sacred principles, which can never come under review. This rule of inviolability is the last and crowning landmark in the better-known enumeration, written by Albert Mackey[2], according to which “the landmarks can never be changed”. In other words in medieval terminology this may be expressed as “nolumus leges mutari”, “let the laws abide”.


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Some authors[3] have explained the legal usage of landmarks in freemasonic governance by drawing a parallel between the landmarks and the English principles of common law, or the unwritten British Constitution. The landmarks crown the hierarchy of rules in the Masonic legal order of pyramidal structure. If legislation has violated the landmarks, it becomes subject of Masonic judicial determination. If a violation can be demonstrated; the violating rule becomes null and void, with the legal effect that no regular Mason is bound to observe it any longer. It may happen, of course, that the courts of different Sovereign Grand Jurisdictions disagree as to whether a principle is a landmark, or as to whether there has been violation of a commonly accepted landmark. In that case the individual Mason is obliged to follow the interpretation of his own Jurisdiction.[4]


Other authors[5] focus on the biblical roots and symbolical significance of the landmarks. In the Bible the landmarks are regarded as highly venerable and sacred. In Deuteronomy 27:17 it is written “Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark” and in Proverbs 22:28 someone says “Remove not the ancient landmarks which the fathers have set.”


The above mentioned biblical significance of the landmarks is in accordance with another metaphor from the ages of Operative Freemasonry, in which the Landmarks could be regarded as equivalent to the five perfect points of Entrance and closely connected with the architectural definition of term Landmark, as explained above. The Operatives had as their principal aim to build the symbolic Temple of God, the Temple of Light as Solomon and the ancient priests of all religious dogmas and mysteries did, by building the Gothic Cathedrals according to the rules of divine Geometry and Architecture. They realized from the synergy of various esoteric societies, through the acceptance of Rosicrucian, Hermetic, Cabbalist, and Templar refugees as new members in the Guilds, that the esoteric tradition was unique and unalterable through the ages.


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The points of Entrance to the Temple of Light were allegorically written over the upper parts of its doors as crowning scripts. In order to be admitted to the first room of the Temple, the new member had to manifest his belief in these sacred principles without asking for proof of these axioms. The belief in God; the immortality of the souls; the Secrecy; the Ritual of Resurrection; and the prerogatives of the High Priest, who was seen as the Priest-Sun in the Circle of initiates, were the first five most ancient Portals-Landmarks of the Divine Temple, in Egyptian religious thinking and in the Greek Delphic Mysteries, as well as the Pythagoreans and the Platonic circles. Rightly Doron[6] points out that the need felt by masons to trace unalterable, sacred Landmarks throughout the ages supports the “Transition Theory”. The elements of “unalterable usage” and of the “existence from time immemorial” as conditions for the qualification of a general principle as a Landmark, theoretically presuppose its “Transition”. For that reason the existence of the Masonic Landmarks as such totally justifies, in my judgment, the archaic origin of Freemasonry and its “Transition” through the ages.



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II. The Landmarks and the Old Charges


The landmarks must be discerned from the Old Charges.[7] Under the last term are meant all medieval texts of the pre-speculative Masonic history, which described the rules of the inner organisation of the Guilds as well as their beliefs and attitudes. Some Old Charges have been considered and qualified as Masonic landmarks simultaneously, because they prove their incontestable usage and validity from time immemorial and became very significant for Masonic philosophy at a later time. The belief in the Supreme Being is such a Landmark and an Old Charge at the same time. We find it in the Constitutions of masons of Strasbourg[8], dated from 1459, as a duty of mason to be a good Christian and also in the Rules of the German Steinmetzen, literally “stone-measurers”, as a duty to believe in God[9]. The medieval masons used as a greeting the formal words “God greet ye, God guide ye, God reward ye, ye honourable overmaster, warden and trusty fellows.” [10] At that time many formal words and gestures manifested a belief in a Supreme Being.


A second Old Charge, which has been transformed over the passage of time and is the first Landmark listed by Albert Mackey, is the usage of modes, or signs of recognition. The rituals of the German Steinmetzen included, among other elements, the positioning of a brother’s body and hands to provide a mode of recognition between the members and also as a method of giving silent “bodily” messages of a symbolic and emblematic nature. [11]


A third Old Charge, which reflects much of the modern Masonic philanthropic and moral philosophy, is expressed as “No fellow shall do another’s work for money, but he shall do one piece for another, or do it for him to his honour.”[12] An unwritten Landmark was developed from this obligation of altruistic support between the brothers of the medieval Guilds and is related to the humanistic tradition of the Age of Enlightenment, which prescribed that:

Freemasonry is based on a dogma of altruistic and humanistic philosophy, based on the respect of human values and a philanthropic moralistic dogma.”



III. The Various Enumerations of the Landmarks -

An Analysis of the most important


The lists of landmarks vary in number from author to author. Albert Mackey presented 25 landmarks, but others reduced the list to 7 or even to 5 principal landmarks, which incorporate Mackey’s twenty other landmarks as subdivisions. The principal landmarks refer either to the organization of the lodge, or to the inner meanings and the ideological or cathedral points of the craft that may be analysed as follows.


1. The landmarks of an administrative nature can all be combined in one greater category under the general rule: “The lodge as an institution must be governed according to the ancient accepted rules and traditions of the Craft, according to which a Grand Master ultimately is responsible for the government of the fraternity. His prerogatives, to make freemasons on sight, to grant dispensations for conferring degrees, to establish “Lodges under dispensation” and to preside over every assembly of the Craft, are inviolable. The equality between the brothers is an unalterable principle.”


The prerogatives of the Grand Master reflect the respect and position of supremacy held by the archaic High Priest in every mystery circle and religious community in Antiquity. The High Priest possessed exceptional rights because of his wisdom and the respect held for his position as head of the Pyramid of Initiation. He could grant exceptions from the recognized rules, when and whenever it was necessary. He symbolized the Sun; which also is the symbolic rank of the Grand Master of a Grand Lodge nowadays.


Many authors define the Principle of Equality between the Brothers as their right to participate on equal terms in the Congregation of the lodge, as well as their right to be represented, their right to visit other lodges, the principle that one Grand Lodge must not intervene in the work and rules of another Grand Lodge and the right of every Mason to appeal to Grand Lodge against the decisions of his lodge. All these rights should be considered as derivatives of the Principle of Equality, which is a subdivision of the Landmark relating to the administration of the Craft under the established and ancient rules.


2. The landmarks of ideological nature are the most significant and the most controversial among the different Grand Lodges and their various ideological lines upon to what freemasonry is and what its aims should be.


A. The first landmark in this category should be the rule of secrecy of the Masonic rituals, to which should be annexed the landmark of the modes of recognition, usually seen as a separate landmark.


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According to all ancient rituals of initiation in the mysteries of the Temple of God the new members had to follow a mystical path from the first room of the Temple to its innermost room, the so called Adyton. The Architecture of the ancient temples followed the divine plan of initiation, step-by-step, from room to room, where the rooms were decorated and divided with special architectural landmarks. Koldeway[13]compared the organisation of interior space in the temples at Selinous with that of Solomon’s temple, the ancient Egyptian temple, and the Christian basilican church. In each of these a religious sequence is experienced as a journey or progression that advances from the regular to the sacred, the way of initiation.  The Adyton signifies that the inner room is “not to be entered”, thus symbolizing the rule of secrecy from the first degree to the last or highest degree. The oracles of the God Apollo in the temple of Delphi were pronounced from within the Adyton, which was below the ground. Only the High Priest or the Council of High Priests had the right to enter the Adyton, in the same way as only the higher level of initiates in Masonry achieve a superior grade of knowledge. The concept of Adyton expresses the condition that the degrees of initiation were not freely accessible to everyone, but had to be achieved progressively. The secrecy of the various grades secured the sacred knowledge from the profane and was an incentive for the initiates to make progress along their pathways of initiation.


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In addition the rule of secrecy was symbolically represented in the ancient temples with the curtains that covered the statue of God, positioned in the inner sacred room, in the Adyton of the Temple. The Old Testament was protected and covered in the Tabernacle and was intended to be placed in the Temple of God when it had been erected. We are told in Exodus 36:8 that the Tabernacle was covered by curtains made of “fine twined linen”. Each of the men who worked on the construction of the Tabernacle made ten curtains. When assembled, they were raised over the Tabernacle to form a gable roof.[14] The Egyptian Goddess Isis was covered with veils, in the same way as the secret teachings of freemasonry and its degrees are protected with the veil of allegory. All the paradigms refer to the inviolable status of the secret divine knowledge, which could only be approached by and revealed to the initiates, the priests and the elected ones who were able to remove the veils of secrecy and allegory. The same rule has survived to the present day in the Masonic Initiation, in which the upward advancement through the scale of Masonic Degrees signifies that in each degree a metaphorical veil is removed so that the mason progressively acquires the sacred knowledge.


The modes of recognition served as signals for the close circle of initiates and were used in the Medieval Guilds to exclude uninstructed persons, thus protecting the members of their archaic lodges from the enemies of the Craft during the Dark Ages of the Inquisition.[15]


Albert Mackey considers as an administrative Landmark “the necessity that every lodge when congregated should be duly tiled.” This is the eleventh Landmark according to his enumeration. I consider that it is an integral part of the Rule of Secrecy. Mackey comments on his Landmark: “The necessity of this law arises from the esoteric character of Freemasonry. As a secret institution, its portals must of course be guarded from the intrusion of the profane, and such a law must therefore always have been in force from the very beginning of the Order.” [16] The office of Tiler therefore cannot be abolished in any attempt of innovation.


Having elucidated the archaic roots of the rule of secrecy, it has become clear that the Landmark of Secrecy consists on the following rule: “Freemasonic degrees, initiation and the administrative proceedings of the Craft are secret. The freemasonic institution uses the well-established rules of recognition. The office of Tiler ensures that the profane are kept outside the entrances of the Lodge.”


B. The second Landmark consolidates the belief in a Supreme Being and of the immortality of souls as an unalterable and incontestable requirement. Grand Lodges who tried to introduce Atheism as an acceptable philosophical attitude in the Craft, by omitting this Landmark and the letter G, definitely renounced being masons. It is the strongest form of irregularity, because it destroys the inner esoteric meaning of the words of the rituals and the purpose of the existence of Freemasonry.


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The belief in the immortality of souls and of a resurrection to a future life is a subcategory of this landmark and not a separate one. Masonry in almost all of its rituals uses biblical extracts to recount the message of a spiritual rebirth and to confirm the belief in a future life after the “resurrection” of the human soul and humankind, as taught in the higher Templar degrees. It cannot be specified in any detail what type of future life will be found in the symbolical hereafter of the Masonic rituals, without a detailed analysis of the ancient Pythagorean and Platonic doctrines upon the immortality of the soul, in which they elaborated upon the pre-existent traditions of the Egyptian and the Mithraic Mysteries.


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C. The Ritual of the third degree preserves the cathedral character and integrity of the centuries of Masonic history and constitutes the third ideological Masonic Landmark. The Hiramic Legend constitutes the main part of this ritual. The story describes three levels of a universal mythical drama, which is taken from the Bible. In the first level the spiritual growth and creative talents of Master Hiram and Hiram King of Tyre are presented, as it was manifested in the construction of the King Solomon’s Temple. In the second level the treason and the murder of the Master Hiram by the three traitors is described, revealing the destructive force of jealousy. The third level is victorious end of the myth, in which Master Hiram is reborn as a result of the divine manifestation in the human soul. This victory is part of the eternal circle of regeneration or, according to a more mystical explanation, to the divine plan for never ending reincarnation that leads to the platonic sublimation of the souls. The three steps analysed above are the essence of the Hiramic Legend of the third degree.


 The contestable Landmark of the division of masonry into three degrees cannot be sustained. Historically an absolute rule of the division of masonry into three degrees has never existed. Some Masonic Guilds and medieval brotherhoods were incontestably organized in three degrees; the Entered Apprentices, the Fellows and the Masters or in the German Steinmetzen system in Lehrlingen, Gesellen and Meister[17]. However other Masonic groups, like many Operative Societies were incontestably organized in seven mystical degrees, more elaborate in their esoteric teachings.[18] In France during the years from about 1730 to about 1780, under the name Grand Temple of Lyon, the so-called group of Elus Coens operated under the leadership of Pasqually. They recognized and used a system of seven mystical degrees.[19] Therefore it cannot be concluded that three degrees were the absolute and unique division of the early Masonry, in a way that could be established as a landmark. The element of “unalterable and unbreakable usage is missing, so that the landmark cannot come to life.


The three degrees or steps of initiation must be seen in interaction and as an integral part of the landmark of the third degree. They were established in all ancient mysteries and were related to the eternal circle of three steps in human life: I birth, II death and III resurrection of the soul. At the same time the third step signifies the beginning of a new cycle. The Hiramic Legend of the Master Mason’s degree reflects the same three steps of initiation. Pythagoras had three Mystery Degrees for which a preparation of five years of abstinence and silence was required.[20] Furthermore, these three stages of psychic development through a series of degrees also appear under other ritualistic allegories, as in the whole scale of the 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite. These three stages are:

1)       Material stage: Innocence, blindness at the beginning, repentance, light;

2)       Intellectual stage: sympathy, justice, gratitude, veneration, knowledge of the divine rules of geometry, psychical condition of harmony;

3)       Spiritual stage: rebirth, the mystery of the death and of resurrection, faith and the rule of universal love.[21]

These Scottish Rite degrees offer different explanations of the Hiramic Legend, frequently using many elements of the first three steps of initiation to reveal more mystical meanings of them, according to other systems of allegorical and mythical interpretation. It is a progressive discovery of the veils of Masonic allegory.


As a conclusion the only existent Landmark should be concretised as follows: “The ritual of the Third Degree in unalterable and must be accomplished in three elementary psychological steps of initiation, two of an introductory and preparatory nature and a third during which the rite of rebirth must be performed.”


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 D. The foundation of a speculative science upon an operative art is the fourth important ideological Masonic Landmark. The speculative and operative elements constitute a fascinating duality in the nature of the Masonic Institution. The Operative Art instructed through the centuries by giving all required specifications and details of the ideal materials with which the House of God, the spiritual Temple of Light, will be erected. The Operative Art schedules in perfect Geometry, with symbolical words and deeds. The Speculative Science follows as a theoretical companion, through the catechisms, to analyze these symbolical words and deeds of the Operative Art. In this way it contributes to the explanation of the theosophical and esoteric allegories of the operative myths and rituals. Albert Mackey comments in his Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry: “Hence, all the comparatively modern rites of Freemasonry, however they may differ in other respects, religiously preserve this temple history and these operative elements, as the substratum of all their modifications of the Masonic system.”[22]


The ritualistic element should be added to the Landmark as inviolable. The Masonic rituals find their origin partially in the ancient Mithraic, Orfical, Apollonian and Dionysian mysteries, which were played in theatrical form and partially in the sacred plays or religious dramas that the Masonic Guilds presented periodically once, or twice a year in public festivities in the medieval cities.[23] The medieval masons played as mysteries and dramas the biblical stories that they were carving in stone in the Gothic Cathedrals. This theatrical way of transmitting sacred knowledge, using instinct and emotion rather than logic, was adopted by the lodges and led to the modern Masonic rituals. This is why the ritualistic element constitutes a third essential element in the nature of Freemasonry. If a modern lodge tried to abolish the ritualistic character of the Craft by transforming lodges into purely theoretical assemblies, in which only lectures would be given without the element of acting or communal playing in accordance with the known form of rituals, it would cease being a Masonic body.


The Landmark could be modified according to my proposal as follows: “In all Masonic degrees a speculative science can be founded upon the operative art and coexist with it. The ritualistic character of Freemasonry must remain inviolable.”



IV. Summary - the seven Landmarks


Having analyzed the archaic roots and the importance of the Landmarks I now propose a list of seven Landmarks that, in my judgement, should be regarded as “having existed from time immemorial” and therefore must be seen as “unalterable” rules of the Craft.


1. Freemasonic degrees, initiation and the administrative proceedings of the Craft are secret. The freemasonic institution uses the well-established rules of recognition. The office of Tiler ensures that the profane are kept outside the entrances of the Lodge.


2. The belief in a Supreme Being and the immortality of souls is an unalterable and incontestable theosophical cornerstone of the Craft; therefore it cannot be abolished. A Book of Divine Law must be open in the lodge when it is at work.


3. The ritual of the Third Degree in unalterable and it must be accomplished in three elementary psychological steps of initiation, two of an introductory and preparatory nature and a third during which the rite of rebirth must be performed.


4. In all Masonic degrees a speculative science can be founded upon the operative art and coexist with it. The ritualistic character of Freemasonry must be inviolable.


5. The lodge as an institution must be governed according to the ancient accepted rules and traditions of the Craft, according to which a Grand Master is ultimately responsible for the government of the fraternity. His prerogatives to make freemasons at sight, to grant dispensations for conferring degrees, to establish “Lodges under dispensation” and to preside over every assembly of the Craft, are inviolable. The equality between the brothers is an unalterable principle.


6. Freemasonry is based on a dogma of altruistic and humanistic philosophy founded on the respect of human rights and a philanthropic moralistic dogma.


7. These rules cannot be changed.

[2] A list of them is electronically available in;.

[3] Haywood, History of Freemasonry, Chapter IX The Old Charges 

[4] Haywood, History of Freemasonry, Chapter IX The Old Charges

[5] Daniel Doron, Landmarks and Old Charges, in Pietre Stones Review of Freemasonry, on line in

Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, History of the Landmarks, on line in

[6] Daniel Doron, ibid (5)

[7] Rightly  Daniel Doron, ibid (5)

[8] The Constitutions of the Masons of Strasburg, on line in

[9] Phil Elam, The German Steinmetzen.

„Steinmetz-Grund“ (in german)online in

[10] Phil Elam, ibid (9)

[11] „Steinmetz-Grund“ ibid (9)

[12] Phil Elam ibid (9)

[13] Koldeway, R, and O. Puchstein, Die griechischen Tempel in Unteritalien und Sicilien, Berlin, 1899

[14] Cromwell Mensch, The Origin of Masonry, Part II The House Erected to God.

[15] „Steinmetz-Grund“ ibid (9)

[16] Albert Mackey Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, his comments online in

[17] Don Falconer, The Square and the Compasses, 2002, The Chapter on the Traditional Degrees in Freemasonry-The Medieval Freemasons; Upon the duties of the three early masonic degrees see also: Freimaurerloge „Zur Brudertreue“, Aarau, Die Geschichte der Freimaurerei vor der Gründung der Grossloge von London und Westminster (in German) online in

[18] Don Falconer, ibid (17) The Chapter of the traditional Degrees-The Operative Freemasons; Don Falconer, The Operatives, Pietre Stones Review of Freemasonry, online in

 Frank Higgins, Ancient Freemasonry, 1923, Kessinger Publishing, The Chapter: the Passing of the Last of the Medieval Lodges, 149

[19] Le Forestier, La Franc-Maçonnerie Templière et Occultiste aux XVIII et XIX siècles, 1970, 296

[20] Leslie Scott, The Mystery Degrees.

[21] Leslie Scott, ibid (20)

[22] Albert Mackey Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, ibid (16).

[23] Neville Cryer, From Role Play to Ritual, Freemasonry Today, Issue 20

  I owe to express my gratitude to the eminent masonic author, mason and friend Don Falconer, who had the kindness to read the text with the eyes of a native speaker and to make slight linguistical improvements to it.
Athena Stafyla


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