Rudyard Kipling

An Empire of Freemasons

Marie Roberts

"once a mason, always a mason" Kipling [1]

Rudyard Kipling's (1865–1936) Masonic poems document an important phase in the history of British Freemasonry which concerns its spread to the colonies. The underground tentacles of British influence reaching out through the secret Masonic network contributed to the growth of the Empire. As an instrument of imperialism, Freemasonry had taken on a more military flavour through the phenomenon of the regimental lodge. The first permanent lodge for the armed forces was established in Gibraltar in 1728.[2] Prior to this, lodges attached to regiments were ambulatory having to travel with the army. As Pick and Knight point out, Masonry had expanded during the wars of the eighteenth century and its development continued throughout the period of British imperialism.[3] This would suggest that Masonry had become an extension of the militia as well as a symbolic stronghold of power and influence.

This process was particularly marked in India. Here in 1882 Kipling was employed as an assistant editor on the Civil and Military Gazette. In, 1886 he started his Masonic career at Lahore where he was admitted into the "Hope and Perseverance Lodge", no. 782 E.C.[4] (see plate 8) which is referred to as Jadoo-Gher ("the Magic House") in his novel, Kim (1901).[5] Normally candidates for admission were expected to have reached their twenty-first year. But as Kipling was eight months below the statutory age-limit, a special dispensation had to be obtained for him from the district Grand Master. Lodge members were eager to admit him because they needed his journalistic skills for the post of lodge secretary. Subsequently the unusual situation occurred when Kipling, as the acting secretary, recorded the minutes of his own initiation ceremonies through the first three degrees of the craft. He became the elected secretary the following year during which time he delivered two lectures to his lodge between April and July. The first, which was entitled the "Origin of the Craft First Degree",' concerned the genesis of the Entered Apprentice. While preparing for this lecture, Kipling would have been reminded of his own initiation ceremony which he had recorded in the lodge minutes as follows:

"THE CANDIDATE, Mr Joseph Rudyard Kipling, was then admitted and initiated in due form into the Mysteries and Secrets of Ancient Freemasonry, the Worshipful Master giving the Degree."[6] Kipling's second lecture would have dealt with a less specialised area of Masonic history since it was called "Remarks on Popular Views of Freemasonry". Unfortunately, neither lecture has survived but Kipling borrowed the setting of the lodge lecture for his short story "A Madonna of the Trenches" where Strangwick, a shell-shocked soldier, attends the Lodge of Instruction and listens to a lecture on "The Orientation of King Solomon's Temple". Kipling's commitment to Masonry during the time he spent in India is evident from his membership of various lodges such as the Lodge of Independence with Philanthropy no. 391, Allahabad, the Advanced Fidelity Mark Lodge and Mount Arrarat—Ark Mariners' Lodge, no. 98. His association with these lodges ended in 1889 when he was forced to resign owing to his permanent return to England. Without doubt, the years in India represented the most active period of his Masonic career.

By this time Freemasonry had become well-established in India. It had been founded there in 1728 by George Pomfret only thirteen years after the formation of Grand Lodge in England. Pomfret, who opened the first Indian lodge in Bengal, was also remembered for currying favour with Grand Lodge by sending them a "chest of the best arrack"[7] along with ten guineas for charity. Initially, the destiny of Masonry in India had been harnessed to the development of the East India Company. Many lodges were set up for employees on a kind of "home from home" basis which resulted in a predominantly British membership. While lodges in India had originally insisted upon European exclusivity, gradually membership was extended to carefully selected members of the Asian majority This gesture was in line with lodge precepts concerning cultural and racial egalitarianism. In 1844, the leading Freemason in India, Dr Burnes, who ranked as the Provincial Grand Master for Western India, founded the Rising Star Lodge, no 342, in Bombay, for the admission of indigenous citizens as well as Europeans.[8] According to the Masonic Register for India of 1869, this action led to the recruitment of many Indians from a cross-section of race and creed ranging from Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Parsee.

The Masonic principles of equality and racial and religious toleration, which were practised in some lodges, greatly appealed to the young Kipling. In his poem, "The Mother-Lodge" (1896), he warmly acknowledges this multi-cultural fraternity by referring to "My Brethren black an' brown". (p.446) In the second stanza, Kipling makes an ethnic breakdown of members of the lodge:

We'd Bola Nath, Accountant,
An' Saul the Aden Jew,
An' Din Mohammed, draughtsman
Of the Survey Office too;
There was Babu Chuckerbutty,
An' Amir Singh the Sikh,
An' Castro from the fittin'-sheds,
The Roman Catholick!

The names listed signify the major races and creeds of India. For example, the name Framjee Eduljee mentioned at the end of stanza one, indicates a Parsee, while Bola Nath may be identified as a Hindu from the United Provinces. The Muslims are represented by Din Mohammed while the Bengalis are suggested by the name Babu Chuckerbutty. Kipling goes beyond traditional Eastern religions to include a Roman Catholic since the name, Castro, is that of an Eurasian who has descended from a Portuguese ancestor.[9] Though the term "Mother-lodge" was derived from British Freemasonry to denote a Mason's lodge of initiation into the craft, for Kipling's purpose it comes close to expressing the concept of unity evoked by the image of "Mother-India".[10] Yet, Kipling's portrayal of cultural pluralism in the brotherhood was anachronistic. In his biographical Something of Myself for my Friends Known and Unknown (1937) he describes the racial diversity of the "Hope and Perseverance" lodge saying "Here I met Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, members of the Araya and Brahmo Samaj".[11] This account explicitly conveys the impression that a large proportion of the indigenous population was represented in the lodge-room. In actuality, there were only four non-Europeans recorded on the lodge register for that period while the quota per lodge averaged around thirty members. Kipling's idealized view of Freemasonry in India clouded the memory of his initiation which he misreported forty years later to The Times in 1925:

I was secretary for some years of Hope and Perseverance Lodge, no 782, Lahore, which included Brethren of at least four creeds. I was entered by a member of Bramo Samaj, a Hindu, passed by a Mohammedan, and raised by an Englishman. Our tyler was an Indian Jew.[12]

Apparently the lodge officials who entered, passed and raised Kipling into the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraftsman and Master Mason had all been Englishmen. None of the four non-Europeans listed had been of sufficiently high rank to carry out these initiation ceremonies. Presumably, these inaccuracies had occurred as a result of Kipling's eagerness to convince himself that Freemasonry rejected partisanship and transcended political, social and religious discord. But unfortunately the brethren did not always live up to their code of moral practice.

During the twentieth century, the craft's belief-system continued to blanket differing religious convictions through the Deistic concept of the Great Architect of the Universe. The re-orientation of social values fostered religious uniformity which ensured that there would be no dissidents within, the Masonic fold. As Kipling points out in "The Mother-Lodge":

It often strikes me thus,
There ain't such things as infidels,
Excep', per'aps, it's us.

The brethren were discouraged from discussing religion, business interests and politics during the leisure period following the official part of the lodge meeting. Yet contrary to Masonic injunctions members would frequently engage in informal discussions regarding religious differences. As Kipling reveals, such conversations drew attention to the variety of beliefs practised by Masons outside the lodge-room:

An' man on man got talkin'
Religion an' the rest,
An' every man comparin'
Of the God 'e knew the best.

The fraternity's ideals of egalitarianism could not buttress Freemasons from internal social and religious divisions. Theoretically, the colonial lodges enabled the Indian to escape from the tyranny of the caste-system. But this was not always possible to implement for as Kipling notes in his poem:

(We dursn't give no banquets,
Lest a Brother's caste were broke)

It was rarely possible for members of different religious sects and castes to eat together. A Hindu brother, for example, would not consume food prepared for him by a person from a lower caste, regardless of Masonic rank. Religious exhortations meant that Sikhs were restricted to a vegetarian diet while Muslims and Jews could only eat certain types of meat which had been prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. Ironically, sectarianism was sometimes highlighted by the Masonic community, for, as Kipling indicates in his account of a banquet held at the "Hope and Perseverance" lodge:

We met, of course, on the level, and the only difference anyone would notice was that at our banquets some of the Brethren, who were debarred by caste rules from eating food not ceremonially prepared, sat over empty plates.[13]

Even the symbolism of the craftsman's level could not smooth out the social divisions fostered by such partisan attitudes. These remained irreconcilable with the egalitarian principles of Freemasonry which are referred to as the "Ancient Landmarks" in stanza three of "The Mother-Lodge". Although Masonry could not break down the more intransigent cultural and religious barriers, it did challenge the conventions surrounding other social hierarchies as the poem's refrain reveals:

Outside—"Sergeant! Sir! Salute! Salaam!"
Inside—"Brother," an' it doesn't do no 'arm.

Here Kipling indicates how accepted forms of acknowledging figures of authority were abandoned in the lodge-room. More than this, as a tool of Westernisation, Masonry offered the Indian a degree of refuge from the stranglehold of the caste system by levelling out some of the differentials which were the determinants of caste.

Viewed in this way the secret Masonic network was capable of opening up frontiers for the empire-builders by becoming a refined instrument of colonisation. In his book, The Brotherhood: The Secret World of the Freemasons, Stephen Knight describes the role played by the British in the spread of Freemasonry:

But the British — the founders of Masonry remained throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the chief propagandists for the movement. Undaunted by the loss of the first empire and with it direct control over American Masonry, the British took Masonry with the flag as they created their second empire — the one on which the sun never set....

Associating the native upper and middle classes on a peculiar, profitable and clandestine basis with their white rulers, some historians believe, did much to defuse resentment of imperial domination. Despite his colour, any man rather better off than the mass of the people — who were not sought as members could, by being a Freemason, feel that he belonged in however humble a way to the Establishment.[14]

Kipling compares the British Empire to a Masonic lodge in his poem, "The Song of the Dead" where he celebrates the birth of Empire and lodge:

When Drake went down to the Horn
And England was crowned thereby,
'Twixt seas unsailed and shores unhailed
Our Lodge—our Lodge was born
(And England crowned thereby!

The symbiotic relationship between Masonry and imperialism had helped establish the craft as a world-wide organization, for as Kipling points out towards the end of "The Mother-Lodge":

Full oft on Guv'ment service
This rovin' foot 'ath pressed,
An' bore fraternal greetin's
To the Lodges east an' west,
Accordin' as commanded,
From Kohat to Singapore,
But I wish that I might see them
In my Mother-Lodge once more!

Kipling even expressed colonial problems in Masonic language in a speech on "Imperial Relations" delivered to a Canadian audience in 1907. Here he catalogued the main issues facing the imperial bureaucracy as: Education, Immigration, Transportation, Irrigation and Administration which, he claimed, corresponded to the five points of fellowship relating to the five points of bodily contact between Masons, being foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, cheek to cheek and hand to hand.[15] In the lecture Kipling referred to "the idea of our "Empire as a community of men of allied race and identical aims, united in comradeship, comprehension and sympathy."[16] As Bonamy Dobrée notes, "It would almost seem that his mission" in regard to the Empire "was to bind it together in one blood-brotherhood, a purposive Masonic lodge, whose business it is to cleanse the world of shoddy."[17] But sadly, Kipling's visionary ideals could not be fulfilled by the clanking chains of the imperial machinery. Kipling's vision of the brotherhood of man in terms of British colonialism was a fading mirage. Instead he looked to Freemasonry, the empire "on which the sun never set", to fulfil his dreams of a universal fraternity.

Kipling's early allegiance to the craft had been harnessed to his approval of British influence over the sub-continent. It was his furtherance of the interests of the Empire which aroused George Orwell to exclaim: "Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting."[18] Though Kipling rebuked the British Empire in the poem Recessional, his one-time support for Britain's policies of colonisation caused Dobrée to describe the Empire as Kipling's Catholic Church.[19] Certainly, it is in this context of devotion that Kipling addresses the imperial mater, Queen Victoria, in "Ave Imperatrix":

And all are bred to do your will
By land and sea—wherever flies
The Flag, to fight and follow still,
And work your Empire's destinies.

Elsewhere, Kipling identifies the Empress of India with the legendary founder of the Freemasons as in the poem, "The Widow at Windsor". The title and opening lines refer to Queen Victoria who was known to her troops as "The Widow":

'Ave you 'eard o' the Widow at Windsor
With a hairy gold crown on 'er 'ead?

A stark reminder of Victoria's sovereignty over the colonies appears at the beginning of the second stanza:

Walk wide o' the Widow at Windsor,
For 'alf o' Creation she owns:
We 'ave bought 'er the same with the sword an' the flame,
An' we've salted it down with our bones.

The poet argues that the property and person of the Queen should be protected which leads him to make the following injunction:

Hands off o' the sons o' the Widow,
Hands off o' the goods in 'er shop.

The image of "sons o' the Widow" is a homespun metaphor for the Empire as an extended family with Victoria as the symbol of imperial motherhood, where the sons represent her soldiers fighting for their country in foreign lands. But the epiphet "sons o' the Widow" was commonly used in lodge-circles to identify Freemasons as followers of Hiram Abif, himself, a widow's son. Undoubtedly, this usage would be instantly intelligible to any Freemason as a veiled reference to the legendary founder of the craft.

Kipling goes on to make a more specific connection between the Empress and Freemasonry in the following toast:

Then 'ere's to the Lodge o' the Widow,
From the Pole to the Tropics it runs -
To the Lodge that we tile with the rank an' the file,
An' open in form with the guns.

Here Kipling suggests that the lodge is dedicated to Victoria and hence to the interests of the British Empire which was spreading to all parts of the world "From the Pole to the Tropics". Again Kipling makes a direct link between the tools of the Empire-builders, the militia, and the Freemasons. It is interesting to reflect upon the aptness of these images since Masonry had originated as a kind of Medieval craft guild for the operative building trade. Kipling's vivid picture of building up the lodge with "the rank an' the file" links up a military idiom with the Masonic metaphor concerning the "temple of living stones". The pun on the word "tile" in the third line of the toast plays on the ritualised precautions taken by the brethren to ensure that no intruders or eavesdroppers are present at a meeting. The lodge official responsible for security is the tyler or guard whose emblem is the sword. In turn the lodges, themselves, were symbolic guardians of the Empire helping to preserve the secrecy which Kipling extends to Victoria as "The Secret of the Empire" (p.731) in his eulogy, "The Bells and Queen Victoria".

It is likely that the Empress would have been the patron of Kipling's lodge particularly since the monarch was traditionally the figurehead of British Freemasonry. Indeed the influx of Indian princes into the craft would suggest that the indigenous ruling class of India had assimilated the values of the Empire which were sustained throughout the colonial lodges.

"A King and A Mason"

Monarchy had always played an ambivalent role in Masonry since technically social ranks were suspended in the lodge-room. Kipling, who was fascinated by the idea of kingship, points out in his poem, "Banquet Night":

But once in so often, the messenger brings
Solomon's mandate: "forget these things!
Brother to Beggars and Fellow to Kings,
Companion of Princes—forget these things!
Fellow-Craftsmen, forget these things!"

The exhortation here is that the brethren must forget class differences while attending Masonic functions. Often the gulf between social groups was considerable especially since members of royal families were involved in the craft. For instance, William IV, the Sailor King, who knew little about Masonry was made its Grand Patron. He confessed his ignorance to a deputation of high-ranking Freemasons saying "if my love for you equalled my ignorance of everything concerning you, it would be boundless!".[20]

Many prominent figures in Masonic history had been kings and princes. Several of these are listed in a grandiose roll-call in Anderson's Constitutions where numerous patriarchs and kings throughout the Old Testament, such as Moses and Solomon, are cited as leading Freemasons. Paul Fussell comments that Kipling "was amused by Anderson's attribution of Masonic knowledge and virtues to the Hebraic kings" which prompted him to write "The Man who would be King" in which two outcasts unconsciously burlesque the legendary early history of Freemasonry.[21] Kipling's story is about two Masons, Brother Peachey Carnehan and Brother Daniel Dravot, who set out to establish themselves as twin monarchs in far-off Kafiristan in Northern Afganistan. On arriving at their destination, they establish a Masonic lodge and crown themselves rulers of Kafiristan. Parallels may be seen here between the pagan cults of the Kafirs and the rites of Freemasonry. In this Masonic fable, which is also a parody of colonisation, Dravot declares himself, "Grand-Master of all Freemasonry in Kafiristan in this the Mother-Lodge o' the country, and King of Kafiristan equally with Peachey!"[22]

The concept of kingship was of central importance to Masonic mythology. King Solomon was cited as the Grand Master of all the Masons in Jerusalem and King Hiram as the Grand Master of Tyre. According to Anderson's Constitutions, which would have been presented to Kipling on his initiation: "The tradition is, that King Hiram had been Grand Master of all Masons; and when the temple was finished, came to survey it before its consecration, and to commune with Solomon about wisdom and art; when finding the great Architect of the Universe had inspired Solomon above all mortal men, Hiram very readily yielded the pre-eminence to Solomon Jedidiab, i.e. the beloved of God."[23] Biblical sources identify Hiram as one of the rulers of Solomon's vassal states who sent Hiram Abif to help with the building of the temple. This project was to realise the great dream of David which had been inherited by his son, Solomon. While every brother was encouraged to emulate Hiram Abif, it appears that Kipling was identifying with the Master of Masons, King Hiram, in his poem, "The Palace", which opens:

When I was a King and a Mason—a Master proven and skilled -
I cleared me ground for a Palace such as a King should build.

In a secular context the temple represented the most splendid of palaces. The fraternity tried to recreate King Solomon's Temple in the lodge-room itself. In his autobiography, Kipling writes how he obtained advice on "decorating the bare walls of the Masonic Hall with hangings after the prescription of Solomon's Temple".[24] Temple symbolism lying at the heart of Masonic mythology expressed the divinity which had inspired the dreams of the Old Testament thinkers. The visionary aspects of Masonry are captured by Kipling in the following lines from "The Palace":

I read in the razed foundations the heart of that builder's heart.
As he had risen and pleaded, so did I understand
The form of the dream he had followed in the face of the thing he had planned.

Kipling may have been thinking of the ritual of the higher degree, Royal Arch Masonry, where through a mimed myth the brethren find a crypt in the foundations of a ruined temple. Hidden there is the "omnific name" or lost name of God which Kipling may be referring to in the last stanza as the "Word from the Darkness."

The identity of the builder mentioned above is Hiram Abif who, before the temple was completed, was brutally murdered by three apprentices. This tragic event is commemorated in the third degree of Freemasonry which enacts Hiram's symbolic death and resurrection. In Masonic terms, Kipling's messianic expression "As he had risen" is applicable to Hiram whose conquest of death is celebrated in the ceremony concerning the "raising of the master". Antecedents of this Hiramic tradition may be found in the ancient foundation sacrifice or stability rite which involved the internment of a living victim in the foundations of a projected building. Ironically, it was often the builder or apprentice who was chosen for this gruesome burial. Sometimes even the architect was sealed alive in the foundations which effectively became a tomb of his own design. Forebodings of Hiram's martyrdom are revealed in the final stanza of the poem:

When I was a King and a Mason—in the open noon of my pride,
They sent me a Word from the Darkness. They whispered and called me aside.
They said—"The end is forbidden." They said "Thy use is fulfilled.

According to Masonic tradition, Hiram was struck down at high noon after three apprentices had failed to persuade him to divulge the building secrets of the Master Mason. As the candidate for the third degree of Master Mason discovers, the secrets of the craft consist of signs, tokens and words. The secret pass-word taught to the candidate is 'MACHABEN or MACHBINNA' signifying the death of the builder, Hiram Abif. The retention of the Mason's Word was considered so important that Kipling even compares it to a priest recalling his litany in his poem "The Press".[25] Ambiguity between allusions to Masonry and the Bible occurs in the last stanza of "The Palace", where the "Word" sent "from the Darkness" may refer to the Mason's Word or to the Word of the Creator commanding the separation of day from night.

In the poem, the narrator comes across the ruins of a lost palace. These are reminiscent of the remains of King Solomon's Temple which so far have eluded archeologists.[26] Kipling draws attention to the razed foundations as they are being excavated by the Mason-King:

I decreed and dug down to my levels. Presently, under the silt,
I came on the wreck of a Palace such as a King had built.
There was no worth in the fashion—there was no wit in the plan -
Hither and thither, aimless, the ruined footings ran -
Masonry, brute, mishandled, but carven on every stone:
'After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known.

The royal builder in the poem does not take it upon himself to rebuild this monument to Masonry, for as he explains:

I called my men from my trenches, my quarries, my wharves, and my sheers.
All I had wrought I abandoned to the faith of the faithless years.
Only I cut on the timber—only I carved on the stone:
"After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known!"

The prophetic note at the end of the poem anticipates the visionary ideal concerning the final completion of King Solomon's Temple. The mystical message "carven on every stone" of the ruin would have reminded Kipling of the Mason's Mark which was designed to identify the builder responsible for each part of a structure. From the ruins of the palace the narrator is able to ascertain that the builder had been a king.

The historic equation between monarch and Mason which is central to Masonic myth was established through the kingship of Hiram, David and his son, Solomon, of whom Kipling wrote:

There was never a king like Solomon.
Not since the world began.[27]

Because Freemasonry had won the patronage of kings and princes it was appropriately known among its disciples as the "royal art". As a Mason, Kipling regarded himself as a "brother to Princes"[28] and would have taken pride in the noble lineage of the fraternity particularly since a sense of tradition and rightful heritage was fundamental to the society's system of morality.

The Labour of Lodges

The moral basis of Freemasonry has similarities with Kipling's concept of "The Law". According to Paul Fussell, this has been partly preserved within Boy Scout Law, since the founder of the movement, Baden-Powell, had been influenced by his friendship with Kipling.[29] The poet's ethical code was a blend of Hebraic morality and Anglo-Saxon idealism for, as Paul Elmor More comments:

At its best, his sense of order and obedience rises into a pure feeling for righteousness that reminds one of the ancient Hebrew prophets. He has in him something of the stern Calvinistic temper. brooding over a world in which the active and mechanical virtues fulfil their mission under the law of "interdependence absolute, foreseen, ordained, decreed."[30]

For Kipling Freemasonry combined both the law of his tribe and of his craft. The language of its ritual was derived from the Old Testament while Masonic iconography exalted the moral rectitude of the craftsman symbolized through the order of a building structure. As a universal brotherhood of man, Masonry became the touchstone for Kipling's faith in a moral universe. In turn the ethics of the Fraternity converged into Kipling's notion of "The Law". This was bound up with the poet's attitude towards work. He would have approved of the importance Masons attached to the virtues of industry. "Labour" was the term given to the business part of a lodge meeting in order to remind members of the operative roots of the craft. Yet speculative Masons were only symbolic workers since they celebrated the builder's craft through ritual and symbolism. In view of this, it is surprising that Kipling regarded the Masons' idealization of work as compatible with his doctrine of action. His poem "When Earth's Last Picture is Painted" was inspired by the image of the Master Craftsman drawing building designs for his workers to copy:

And only The Master shall praise us, and only The Master shall blame; And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame, But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star, Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are! (p.227)

The moral values of Masonry are expressed in Kipling's Masonic poem, "My New-Cut Ashlar", which first appeared as an envoy to the volume, Life's Handicap. The "new-cut ashlar" is a stone-mason's term referring to the freshly-hewn or squared stone to be used in a building operation. The "ashlar" was also used to denote the stone possessed by Masons as a token reminder of their operative origins. It also related to the pledge of loyalty made by the brethren to preserve the secrecy of the lodge. This was a revival of the ancient custom of swearing an oath on a stone. In The Golden Bough, J.G. Frazer provides various examples of vows made on sacred stones.[31] During the eighteenth century, candidates for Masonic initiation placed their right foot on a rough ashlar in accordance with the folk-lorist belief in the virtue of fidelity which was associated with various types of stones. Kipling may have been aware of the Indian custom of initiating a Brahman boy into the mysteries of the Hindu priestly caste which involved him treading on a stone with his right foot while repeating the words "Tread on this stone; like a stone be firm".[32] The Masonic vow or "Oath of the Brother-in-Blood" (p.237) was the first step in the spiritual odyssey symbolized by the ashlar.

Kipling's poem, "My New-Cut Ashlar", is an ethical statement expressing the metaphysical values of the craft. The poem could be more accurately described as a prayer since Kipling addresses the God of the Freemasons, the "Great Overseer of the Universe". This was the title used by Mark Masons who dedicated their labour to the supreme being supervising the actions of mankind. Kipling invokes Him:

My new-cut ashlar takes the light
Where crimson-blank the windows flare.
Be my own work before the night,
Great Overseer, I make my prayer. (p.511)

Th poet pledges himself to the service of God who was known in Masonic circles as the Master. The leader of the lodge, called by the same name, was, therefore, a representative of the deity. The pledge below encroaches upon that shadowy territory where Freemasonry appears to overlap with religion:

If there be good in that I wrought
Thy Hand compelled it, Master, Thine —
Where I have failed to meet Thy Thought
I know, through Thee, the blame was mine.
One instant's toil to Thee denied
Stands all Eternity's offence.
Of that I did with Thee to guide,
To thee, through Thee, be excellence.

Despite Freemasonry's denial that it is a religious surrogate it covets both the language and trappings of religion. Even the eschatological directives contained within the poem reveal that Kipling's vision of the after-life had a Masonic tinge to it:

Take not that vision from my ken -
Oh, whatsoe'er may spoil or speed.
Help me to need no aid from men
That I may help such men as need!

Kipling had internalized the Deistic creed of the Masons who abided by the "Religion in which all men agree" since he wrote in his preface to Life's Handicap that when men come to the gates of death all religions seem to them "wonderfully alike, and colourless".[33] In a verse which was later omitted from "My New-Cut Ashlar", Kipling communicated his fears for the after-life:—

Wherefore before the face of men.
Great Overseer, I bring my Mark —
Fair craft or foul. In mercy then
Will that I die not in the dark![34]

A perception of heaven which is central to the message of the poem is bound up with the concept of the perfect ashlar. In the lodge, each Freemason's ashlar symbolized his degree of spiritual development. For example, when an individual first entered Masonry he was likened to the rough stone recently hewed from a quarry which is then polished up and perfected. Probity is signified by the smooth ashlar hence the significance of the title of Kipling's poem, "My New-Cut Ashlar". The master cultivates the moral improvement of the brethren who are figuratively "polished by the master's ring". In order to make this allegorical progression as vivid as possible, in some lodges the ashlar was literally polished or hewn. In this way the ashlar becomes a metaphor for the soul since the object of its perfection lay in the rebuilding of King Solomon's Temple. According to the Masonic allegory of life-after-death, the perfected Freemason eventually takes his place among the temple of living stones. He is winched into place by a builder's lewis:

One stone the more swings into place
In that dread Temple of Thy worth.

The attainment of the perfection represented by the spiritual temple reworks the mystic return to Eden which Kipling evokes in the previous stanza:

Who, lest all thought of Eden fade,
Bring'st Eden to the craftsman's brain
Godlike to muse o'er his own Trade
And manlike stand with God again!

The craftsman, like the poet, is empowered through his own creativity to act in a "Godlike" way as the mediator between heaven and earth. But for Kipling and his brother-Masons, God is the ultimate craftsman, the Master, Architect and Supreme Overseer who measured out with compass and square the most massive building operation of all time, the creation of the universe. Thus the Freemasons may be seen as a tribe of secret builders who strive to emulate the Creator. Within Masonic teaching Kipling discovered:

The depth and dream of my desire,
The bitter paths wherein I stray -

It is through verse that we may begin to approach the true secret of the Freemasons even though Hannah maintains that it has been concealed from the brotherhood itself. Hannah argues that there is no particular Masonic secret, only a delusion spawned from the mythologies of the secret society. What Kipling reveals through his poetry is not a secret but a mystery which is verbally incommunicable to Mason and non-Mason alike. This relates to the Masonic way of life based on moral symbolism and allegory which the initiate, having received the ceremonial key, must discover for himself.

Ritual, as the vehicle for this journey of inner exploration, became for Kipling a way of life. In Something of Myself he wrote, "if one broke the ritual of dressing for the last meal one was parting with a sheet-anchor".[35] As one of his characters, Mr Burges, remarks in "In the Interests of the Brethren", "All ritual is fortifying. Ritual's a natural necessity for mankind."[36] Ritual functions to impose order upon the chaos and uncertainties of life. The Masonic fellowship helped cushion the individual from the insecurities of the world outside since the prime importance of Freemasonry lay in its consciousness as a collective body. In an address to a naval club in 1908 which appeared in A Book of Words Kipling would have included his lodge as one of the fraternities where, he states:

Men of all ranks work together for aims and objects which are not for their own personal advantage, there arises among them a spirit, a tradition, and an unwritten law, which it is not very easy for the world at large to understand, or to sympathise with.[37]

Kipling's reference to the "unwritten law" may be related to the unseen bond of fellowship expressed through ritual and symbolism which unites the brotherhood of Masons.

"In the Interests of the Brethren"

An important function of the lodge was to guide the individual through the topography of the Masonic world. This pedagogical role is prominent in a number of Kipling's short stories such as "In the Interests of the Brethren" from Debits and Credits (1926) which describes the meetings of a small group of London Freemasons who gather in a converted garage named the Lodge of Instruction. Other tales set around the Lodge of Instruction include "A Friend of the Family", "A Madonna of the Trenches," and "The Janeites". In "Fairy Kist" from Limits and Renewals (1932) Kipling describes how some members of the Lodge of Instruction of Faith and Works reformed themselves into a Masonic group called the "Eclectic but Comprehensive Fraternity for the Perpetuation of Gratitude towards Lesser Light."[38] The title suggests that through eclecticism the lodge aimed for universality. Such ambivalence mirrors Kipling's own attitude towards Freemasonry which oscillated between elitism and egalitarianism. His elitist tendencies may be demonstrated through his membership of numerous clubs and Masonic societies which included the Freemasons' Builders of the Silent City Lodge, Mark Masonry, the Royal Ark Mariners and the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. The last of these was an inner group restricted to Master Masons which would have satisfied Kipling's taste for circles within circles. When he joined on 8 July 1909, the ceremonial motto which appeared on his membership certificate was Fortuna non virtute. Since the society was dedicated to literary and antiquarian pursuits, candidates were selected on the basis of their "high moral character" and "ability to be capable of understanding the revelations of philosophy, theosophy and science, possessing a mind free from prejudice and anxious for instruction."[39] Kipling was content enough with his Rosicrucian membership to write: "For as you come and as you go, whatever Grade you be—the Rosicrucian brethren are good enough for me."[40] Kipling's love of exclusivity led him to pursue fashionable society while at Simla in India where he eventually gained entrance to the Study Five clique at United Services.[41]

His character consisted of a curious mixture of elitism and democracy since he identified with the ruling classes while, at the same time, trying to equate with the working man. Through Freemasonry Kipling made headway in reconciling this dichotomy since class and cultural differences were broken down to some extent by the Masonic hierarchies. Kipling was an advocate of the equality in rank, race and creed practised in the lodge-room. In "Banquet Night" Kipling describes the Mason as "Brother to Beggars and Fellow to Kings, Companion of Princes" (p.751). The poem opens with an invitation to a banquet of garlic, wine and bread issued by King Solomon to his workers:

"Once in so often," King Solomon said,
Watching his quarrymen drill the stone,
"We will club our garlic and wine and bread
And banquet together beneath my Throne.
And all the Brethren shall come to that mess
As Fellow-Craftsmen—no more and no less."

In the second and third stanzas the invitation is extended to Hiram Abif:

"Carry this message to Hiram Abif —
Excellent Master of forge and mine:—
I and the Brethren would like it if
He and the Brethren will come to dine."

Kipling seeks to demonstrate the unity between different branches of the brotherhood by linking up the conviviality of his lodge with the legends surrounding the building of Solomon's Temple. During a skilful counterpoint between past and present he draws attention to the operative traditions of the craft.

The images of the, building trade and stone-masonry were retained in speculative Masonry. For example, Kipling was the founder-member of two lodges which had specific overtones of the operative craft. In 1922 as a member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission he helped establish the Builders of the Silent City Lodge, no. 12 of the Grand Lodge National Français. Kipling was also one of the founders in 1925 of an English branch of this lodge, no. 4948, which he supported until his death. He belonged to two other Masonic orders, Mark Masonry and the Royal Ark Mariners. Both are mentioned in "Banquet Night" as "Masons of Mark" and the "Navy Lords from the Royal Ark" (p.751):

So it was ordered and so it was done,
And the hewers of wood and the Masons of Mark,
With foc'sle hands of the Sidon run
And Navy Lords from the Royal Ark,
Came and sat down and were merry at mess
As Fellow-Craftsmen—no more and no less.

Mark Masonry had evolved from the Menatschim or overseers who supervised the stonemasons. They were employed by Hiram Abif to reject or mark accepted stones for the temple building. The legend of the Mark Master's degree describes how an enterprising Fellowcraftsman anticipated that a key-stone would be needed to complete the building of an arch. Unfortunately the assigned stone went missing but was then recovered after a diligent search. These events are dramatically reconstructed during an initiation ceremony which resembles a Medieval miracle play. Eventually the ingenious Fellowcraftsman is rewarded with the degree of Master Mason. The jewel or badge for this degree is inscribed with the letters H.T.W.S.S.T.K.S. Kipling includes these initials in a drawing of King Solomon in his short story, "The Butterfly that Stamped". The letters stand for "Hiram Tyrian Widow's Son Sent to King Solomon" which was a semi-secret motto written on the key-stone. Another Mark-Mason's secret concerned the pass-word which is the place-name "Joppa". It is likely that Kipling had deliberately planted the word "Joppa" into the final stanza of "Banquet Night" as a signal to other Mark-Masons.

The Quarries are hotter than Hiram's forge,
No one is safe from the dog-whips' reach.
It's mostly snowing up Lebanon gorge,
And it's always blowing off Joppa beach.

The link between Mark Masonry and the Royal Ark Mariners is explained by Hannah in Darkness Visible:

Connected with Mark Master Masonry in somewhat the same way that the Royal Arch is connected with the Craft (though the analogy is not perfect) is the Royal Ark Mariner Degree, which commemorates the salvation of the human race through Noah and the Ark. The ritual is distinguished only by its trivial silliness.[42]

Hannah is referring to the Noah's Ark symbolism coveted by the Mariners from which they had derived their naval associations. Kipling's description of the Mariners as "Navy Lords from the Royal Ark" suggests that their operative roots must have been inextricably involved with the wood-workers or "hewers of wood" who were early ship-builders. The Mariner-Masons are summoned by Solomon in stanza two:

"Send a swift shallop to Hiram of Tyre,
Felling and floating our beautiful trees,
Say that the Brethren and I desire
Talk with our Brethren who use the seas."

An account of Hiram cutting down cedar trees appears in the Bible though it is likely that Kipling had derived his description from Masonic sources. In "The Merchantman" Kipling points out that these cedars were carried by water. He then goes on to draw a parallel between Solomon's workers and present day sailors:

KING SOLOMON drew merchantmen
Because of his desire
For peacocks, apes, and ivory,
From Tarshish unto Tyre,
With cedars out of Lebanon
Which Hiram rafted down;
But we be only sailormen
That use in London town.

Through the juxtaposition of past and present Kipling advanced his belief that the craft still had relevance to contemporary concerns. According to Kipling the destiny of the modern Mason was to transport the ethos of the temple-building era into the twentieth century. Through poetry he added his own voice to the dialogue which was being conducted between his Masonic brethren and the sources of ancestral wisdom belonging to the Solomonic period.

The importance of Masonry to Kipling on a personal level is apparent from his comment after his admission into the fraternity: "another world opened to me which I needed".[43] Amongst Kipling's reasons for becoming a Mason was the need for comradeship. His father had once accurately remarked, "Ruddy thirsts for a man's life and man's work."[44] Kipling preferred male companionship and he frequented bachelor gatherings such as those held at the Punjab Club. For Kipling it was the "deep-voiced men laughing together over dinner" which made "the loveliest sound in the world".[45] Since the Masonic lodges were restricted to men, Kipling was able to indulge there his preference for all-male company. He would have endorsed one of his character's enthusiastic description of Freemasonry as "veiled in allegory and illustrated in symbols—the Fatherhood of God, an' the Brotherhood of Man; an' what more in Hell do you want?"[46] Kipling was so devoted to Masonry that he even wrote a Masonic ritual which opens:

Question: Halt! Who goes there?
Candidate: A man trying to join the Main body.
Question: Long delayed it has at last gone forward, but what do you seek therein?
Candidate: Friends who bade me follow so soon as I was sure of my road.
Question: And why do you seek them?
Candidate: First to discuss.
Question: And after?
Here shall the candidate holds his peace tho' twice entreated.[47]

This is a sample of the creativity inspired in Kipling by Freemasonry as a living art-form enacted in the Masons' meeting place. Kipling also managed to combine his roles of Freemason and writer as a member of the Corresponding Circle of the Quatuor Coronatori Lodge, no. 2076 in 1918 and also through his honorary membership of the Author's Lodge no. 3546. As an ambassador for Freemasonry Kipling was following in the tradition of Robert Burns. He even inherited Burns's title of Masons' Poet-Laureate from 1905 to 1908 following his election as an honorary member of Burns's Canongate Kilwinning Lodge on 4 October 1899. It is fitting perhaps that Kipling had a lodge named after him which was known as "The Rudyard Kipling Lodge, no. 8169". Certainly Kipling fulfilled the promise of his Masonic career as predicted by his colleague, Brother J.J. Davies, who on hearing of the poet's departure from his Lahore lodge to Allahabad said:

Those of us who have watched his conduct since his initiation feel sure that he has before him a successful Masonic career, for the thoroughness with which he conducted his duties was prompted by a lively desire for a deeper insight into the hidden truths of Masonry.[48]

The craft satisfied many of the poet's emotional needs. For instance, it furnished him with a sense of tradition which could be transplanted into foreign cultures. For Kipling, Masonry countered the feelings of estrangement he experienced whilst being posted overseas. He describes his feelings of alienation in From Sea to Sea where he records a visit to China while en route to India:

the faces of the Chinese frightened me more than ever, so I ran away to the outskirts of the town and saw a windowless house that carried the Square and Compass in gold and teakwood above the door. I took heart at meeting these familiar things again, and knowing that where they were was good fellowship and much charity, in spite of all the secret societies in the world, Penang is to be congratulated on one of the prettiest little lodges in the East.[49]

While expatriated in India, Kipling discovered that the lodge reinforced his British identity and national spirit. It is appropriate that after returning to England he was elected an honorary member of the Motherland Lodge, no 3861. While in India, Kipling had valued the lodge as a channel for cross-cultural communication for when he moved from Lahore to Allahabad he insisted upon entering a lodge which was open to non-Europeans.[50] Kipling experienced his greatest need for the fraternity during his expatriation in India because the Masonic network provided him with a greater sense of security than that of the tottering British Empire. Later Kipling was to experience sharp disillusionment with his earlier vision of an imperial federation. The aftermath of the Boer War exposed the apathy of the majority of the British people towards the preservation of the Empire which was being mismanaged by its administrators. After hostilities had ceased, Kipling was disappointed to learn that a later Liberal government had returned conquered territory to the Boers. In 'The Lesson" Kipling announced:

We have had an Imperial lesson. It may make us an Empire yet! (p.300)

But it was too late. The Empire failed to give Kipling the sense of permanence which the ancestry of Freemasonry could provide.

The historic consciousness of the craft, more than the memories of a fleeting imperial greatness, infused Kipling with an inner security which sustained him during his time overseas. Kipling's biographer, Charles Carrington, argues that "Freemasonry, with its cult of common action, its masculine self-sufficiency, its language of symbols, and its hierarchy of secret grades, provided him with a natural setting for his social ideals" and that "even a non-mason can point out scores of allusions to masonic ritual dispersed through the whole of Kipling's verse and prose, proving how deeply the cult affected his mode of thought."[51] The importance of Freemasonry to Kipling's life and work can scarcely be over-estimated for, as he wrote in "In the Interests of the Brethren", "A man's Lodge means more to him than people imagine."[52]


[1] Kipling, Many Inventions (London, 1904), p.163.

[2] Pick and Knight, The Pocket History of Freemasonry, p. 243. Kipling makes a connection between the military and the Masons while discussing the American army in From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches: Letters of Travel (London, 1900), p.115: "That Regular Army, which is a dear little army, should be kept to itself, blooded on detachment duty, turned into the paths of science, and now and again assembled at feasts of Freemasons." Kipling also makes comparisons between Masonry and Mithraism, a religious sect which attracted the soldiers of Ancient Rome. See Kipling's Mind and Art, ed. Andrew Rutherford (London, 1964), p.65.

[3] Pick and Knight, The Pocket History of Freemasonry, p.242.

[4] Kipling claims that he was initiated in 1885 but the minutes of his Mother-Lodge state that the event took place on 5 April 1886. See Shamsul Islam, Kipling's Law: A Study of his philosophy of life (London, 1975), pp.42–3.

[5] See Kipling, Kim, (London, 1956), p.2. For a discussion of the Masonic references in Kim see Henry Carr "Kipling and the Craft", Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, 77 (1964), pp.241–2.

[6] Carr, "Kipling and the Craft", p.219.

[7] Pick and Knight, The Pocket Book of Freemasonry, p.306.

[8] Ibid., p.307 ff.

[9] See Ralph Durand, A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling (New York, 1971), p.187.

[10] See Louis L. Cornell, Kipling in India (London, 1966), pp.140–41.

[11] Kipling, Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown (Harmondsworth, 1977), p.43.

[12] This letter was printed in The Freemason (London), 28 March 1925 from where it has been reproduced by Carr in "Kipling and the Craft", p.221.

[13] Loc. cit.

[14] Knight, The Brotherhood, pp.34–5.

[15] Kipling, A Book of Words: Selections from Speeches and Addresses Delivered between 1906 and 1927 (London, 1928), p.29. In Letters of Travel, 1892–1913 (London, 1920), p.196 Kipling describes Quebec and Victoria as Canada's two Masonic pillars of Strength and Beauty which formed part of the lodge furniture.

[16] Kipling, A Book of Words, p.25.

[17] Kipling and the Critics, ed. Elliot L. Gilbert (London, 1965), p.43.

[18] Ibid., pp.74–5.

[19] Ibid., p.43.

[20] Pick and Knight, The Pocket History of Freemasonry, p.121.

[21] Paul Fussell, "Irony, Freemasonry, and Humane Ethics in Kipling's The Man who would be King", English Literary History, XXV (1958) p.227.

[22] Kipling, Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories (London, 1905), p.233. This short story is viewed as a parody of imperialism by Cornell in Kipling in India, pp.163–4.

[23] Anderson, Constitutions (1723), p.28

[24] Kipling, Something of Myself, p.43.

[25] See Rudyard Kipling's Verse, p.534.

[26] See Home, King Solomon's Temple in the Masonic Tradition, p.65.

[27] Kipling, Just So Stories For Little Children (London, 1955), p.229.

[28] Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill (London, 1906), p.291.

[29] See Fussell, "Irony, Freemasonry, and Humane Ethics", p.229.

[30] Paul Elmor More, Shelburne Essays, 11 vols (London, 1905), II, p.111.

[31] James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (London, 1978), p.43.

[32] Loc. cit.

[33] Kipling, Life's Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People (London, 1952), p.viii.

[34] Basil M. Bazley in "Freemasonry in Kipling's Works", The Kipling Journal, XVII (April, 1950), p.10.

[35] Kipling, Something of Myself, p.51.

[36] Kipling, Debits and Credits (London, 1949), p.61.

[37] Kipling, A Book of Words, pp.55–6.

[38] Kipling, Limits and Renewals (London, 1949), p.153. In his short story, "The Inexperienced Ghost" from Twelve Stories and a Dream, H.G. Wells mentions a lodge of Instruction: "the lodge of the Four Kings, which devotes itself so ably to the study and elucidation of all the mysteries of Masonry past and present", The Complete Short Stories of H.G. Wells (London, 1974), p.909.

[39] Carr, "Kipling and the Craft", p.231. One fictional character who did not meet the rigorous moral standards demanded by Rosicrucian membership was the villainous Count Fosco, who describes himself as the "Perpetual Arch-Master of the Rosicrucian Masons of Mesopotamia," in Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (Boston, 1969), p.475.

[40] Albert Frost, "R.K.'s Masonic Allusions", The Kipling Journal, XIII (Oct., 1942), p.17.

[41] See Robert E. Moss, Rudyard Kipling and the Fiction of Adolescence (London, 1982), pp.12–13.—See also Hilton Brown, Rudyard Kipling: A New Appreciation (New York, 1974), pp.97–8.

[42] Hannah, Darkness Visible, p.198.

[43] Kipling, Something of Myself, p.43.

[44] Carr, "Kipling and the Craft", p.216.

[45] Kipling, Something of Myself, p.16.

[46] Kipling, Debits and Credits, p.67.

[47] Lord Birkenhead, Rudyard Kipling, (London, 1978),pp.209–10. Thomas Pinney who is editing Kipling's correspondence informed me in a letter of 30 December 1984 that, during the 1920s, Kipling wrote an elaborate ritual for the society of Canadian engineers to be used in their ceremonies of initiation.

[48] Carr, "Kipling and the Craft", p.224.

[49] Kipling, From Sea to Sea, p.249.

[50] See Angus Wilson, The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works (London, 1977), p.314.

[51] Charles Carrington, Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work (Harmondsworth, 1970), p.543.

[52] Kipling, Debits and Credits, p.69.

Roberts, Marie. British Poets and Secret Societies. London: Croom Helm, 1986