Freemasonry and Empire 153


Five years ago I knew almost nothing about Freemasonry except that it is believed to be often a vehicle for corrupt fixes between businesses and the various arms of government, which I suspect is very probably true.  But what Freemasons did, or believed in, I had really very little idea.  Writing my book on Alexander Burnes required me to learn a great deal, because the Burnes family were not just very active Freemasons but had a profound international influence on the organization.

My conclusion about Freemasonry is that it became widely established as part of the spirit of rational enquiry that informed the eighteenth century enlightenment.  It had the same motivation as Unitarianism, which thrived around the same time  – it was striving towards a form of Deism that allowed people to move towards a belief in God while abandoning the obvious irrational mumbo-jumbo of Christian miracles and the divinity of Christ.  There are obvious parallels with the French revolutionary cult of the Supreme Being.  It was therefore very friendly to other monotheistic religions and looked to provide a kind of lowest common denominator religious synthesis.  The whole project was then dressed up in a great deal of “secret” ritual borrowed from crafts guilds.  That Freemasonry was so successful in aristocratic and educated circles was simple because it was they who also propelled the Enlightenment.

As time went on, for most members it became just a club to make good business contacts – the commitment of “brothers” to help each other in a secret society including a lot of the wealthy was originally well-intended but obviously bound to become a conduit of corruption. Most members would probably, from about 1820 on, have been very surprised by my analysis of its intellectual and religious origins.  They probably still would be today.  It’s just a club for most.

But what I was surprised to find, and of this I am certain, is that Freemasonry’s insistence that all members were equal, of whatever colour and creed, played a very important role as a counterweight to the increasing nineteenth century British Empire philosophy of racial superiority and religious and cultural arrogance.  Freemasonry actively helped turn the tide among the governing classes and directly impacted the increasing anti-colonial beliefs of the British governing classes from the 1920’s on.  A very high proportion indeed of British colonial administrators and officers were Freemasons.

We have a caricature view of Rudyard Kipling now; he was by no means the apostle of Imperialism he has somehow become in popular belief.  I know his soldier’s dialect writing is annoying.  I find it helps to speak it out loud.  But although it is sentimental, his poem The Mother Lodge does contain the germ of a very real truth about the impact of Freemasonry on the British view of race in India.  We’d say ’twas ‘ighly curious, An’ we’d all ride ‘ome to bed,
With Mo’ammed, God, an’ Shiva, Changin’ pickets in our ‘ead.  The same was true in Egypt, at least.  Remember many lodges operated on a far higher social level than the one described in this poem, and those too were mixed.

I appreciate this posting is going to annoy pretty well everyone.  Oh well.  No, I am not a Mason.

Humour me and read it out loud:

The Mother Lodge

There was Rundle, Station Master,
An’ Beazeley of the Rail,
An’ ‘Ackman, Commissariat,
An’ Donkin’ o’ the Jail;
An’ Blake, Conductor-Sargent,
Our Master twice was ‘e,
With ‘im that kept the Europe-shop,
Old Framjee Eduljee.

Outside — “Sergeant!  Sir!  Salute!  Salaam!”
Inside — “Brother”, an’ it doesn’t do no ‘arm.
We met upon the Level an’ we parted on the Square,
An’ I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!

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!

We ‘adn’t good regalia,
An’ our Lodge was old an’ bare,
But we knew the Ancient Landmarks,
An’ we kep’ ’em to a hair;
An’ lookin’ on it backwards
It often strikes me thus,
There ain’t such things as infidels,
Excep’, per’aps, it’s us.

For monthly, after Labour,
We’d all sit down and smoke
(We dursn’t give no banquits,
Lest a Brother’s caste were broke),
An’ man on man got talkin’
Religion an’ the rest,
An’ every man comparin’
Of the God ‘e knew the best.

So man on man got talkin’,
An’ not a Brother stirred
Till mornin’ waked the parrots
An’ that dam’ brain-fever-bird;
We’d say ’twas ‘ighly curious,
An’ we’d all ride ‘ome to bed,
With Mo’ammed, God, an’ Shiva
Changin’ pickets in our ‘ead.

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!

I wish that I might see them,
My Brethren black an’ brown,
With the trichies smellin’ pleasant
An’ the hog-darn passin’ down;
An’ the old khansamah snorin’
On the bottle-khana floor,
Like a Master in good standing
With my Mother-Lodge once more!

Outside — “Sergeant!  Sir!  Salute!  Salaam!”
Inside — “Brother”, an’ it doesn’t do no ‘arm.
We met upon the Level an’ we parted on the Square,
An’ I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!

I might add in clarity that I honour the various  peoples who struggled against the Empire, and who still struggle against Empires today.  I by no means denigrate their achievement.  But there is no doubt at all that the demise of most of the British Empire (sadly it hasn’t all gone yet) was hastened by the fact that the majority of the British governing classes had come themselves to believe the colonies should be free, certainly by 1945 and arguably sooner.

Unfortunately since about 1975 public opinion has been moulded into a rigid neo-conservative mindset, and neo-imperialism increasingly looks like the old variety.  If you didn’t live through it, it must be hard now to believe that the British “elite” once held quite left wing opinions, and of course some ideologically motivated would wish to deny it as not fitting their model of society.  But it was so,

 


153 thoughts on “Freemasonry and Empire

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  • Jr q

    I think that it’s only in Scotland/NO thst it has metastasized into something more disagreeable

  • craig Post author

    Jr Q

    The relationship in West Scotland between freemasons and Orange lodges seems to be a unique bit of unpleasantness. But I wonder if the extent of the links between the two is exaggerated? Or were you talking of something else? I should say that is outside the area I have been studying both geographically and temporally – but certainly there was no Orange link in what I have studied.

  • Ben-LA PACQUTE LO ES TODO

    I think the principles of Freemasonry are like the Sermon on the Mount. The sincerest of intentions will eventually be suborned by ambition and avarice, no matter how sacred those vows may be.

  • CanSpeccy

    If you didn’t live through it, it must be hard now to believe that the British “elite” once held quite left wing opinions, and of course some ideologically motivated would wish to deny it as not fitting their model of society. But it was so.

    Such “left-wing” opinions were, in the nineteenth century, at least, considered not left-wing but liberal, for example Thomas Macaulay’s Minute on Indian education, which sought to promote education that would provide India with an elite able to match that of the West in philosophy, mathematics and the sciences.

    As for Kipling, he was certainly not a left-winger, he was a conservative who respected human diversity and wished to preserve it:

    A MAN should, whatever happens, keep to his own caste, race, and breed. Let the White go to the White and the Black to the Black. Then, whatever trouble falls is in the ordinary course of things—neither sudden, alien, nor unexpected. … (Plain Tales from the Hills — http://www.telelib.com/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/prose/PlainTales/beyondpale.html)

    But Kipling was no racist, if by that one means a person who regards of of another race somehow necessarily inferior or less worthy than oneself, as the moving story of Mohammed Din makes clear (http://canspeccy.blogspot.ca/2011/11/mohammed-din.html), and the characterization of the superb, half-breed character, Kim, Friend-of-all-the-World.

    Your account of Nineteenth Century Masonry,as a philosophical and moralistic movement is consistent with Tolstoy’s research as related in the experience of Pierre in War and Peace.

  • Roderick Russell

    Freemasonry is a major force in the legal and political communities where I live. It is known to have significant membership among Lawyers, Politicians, and Police Officers, not to mention the Secret Services. My own experience is that it is certainly not encouraging responsible behavior amongst its membership.

    It may not have always been like this. What I think happens is that in time secret societies like Freemasonry stop following ideals and start selfishly serving the self-interest of Elites and of their members; these same societies that once supported freedom can become a threat to it. This is what happened to the Mafia and the Triads which in their early days were decent societies and not the crime gangs they have become. I would suggest that something similar is happening to freemasonry.

    Quite possibly in Victorian times this was an organization that did public good, but the picture that most people have today is of an organization whose members have their snouts firmly planted in the public trough. My own family was once very masonic as was my wife’s. Yet in my view JFK had the truth of it when he said this – “The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings”

  • Tony M

    They sound like nice people, I’m sure they claim to do a lot for charity too.
    It’s like the fucking Secret Seven, these people are fantasist imbelic dangerous twats.

    Where is the conscience of these believers in supernatural supreme beings and such mumbo-jumbo – proving unquestionably they’re mental defectives – when oaths are made to defend and protect their fellow weirdos, right or wrong, i.e. wrong, as when else would they ever need such cover. How does that oath work in practice, say when their fellow mason is a loud-mouthed bigoted little Napoleon antagonising, humiliating intimidating everyone unfortunate enough to cross his path, who knows he can forever behave objectionably and criminally with impunity and never be answerable to anyone, to their victims or to society.

  • Tony M

    Mason: noun: A weak incomplete individual, often found huddled in bizarre ritual attire together with others of their order, pooling their weaknesses into a seething palpable mass of odiousness.

    So often we find the same recurring phenomenon of human detritus that can’t stand alone, collectivising their inadequacies and prejudices: religions, cults, political parties, clubs, societies, racial or religious supremacists, football supporters, eugenicists hierarchies of every kind -the pack instinct, and so easily led by self-declared chosen ones, mystics and false phony gods, shining exemplars of all possible baseness. Initiates are so frequently found on their knees, as their most recently acquired trait – walking upright – hasn’t yet been fully mastered and gets a bit difficult to keep up often times.

  • babushka

    “Yet in my view JFK had the truth of it when he said this – “The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings”

    Roderick Russell do you think JFK might have still been in denial about the real-life dealings of his father Joe?

  • Techno

    Like most social organisations, the Freemasons is in decline and has recently had to become more open and accountable to attract new members.

    I recently joined the Oddfellows, a friendly society that bears some superficial resemblance to the Freemasons. Before the welfare state, working people used to join a friendly society to gain access to a doctor, receive sickness benefit etc. Unfortunately, friendly societies too are in decline, rendered unnecessary by the welfare state and suffering from the general decline in civic participation, and increase in apathy and atomisation among the population (except Muslims, who are one group in society who are very socially cohesive).

  • Techno

    I would also add that Common Purpose is sometimes referred to as “the Freemasons for public sector managers”.

  • John Goss

    I think you’ve developed a romantic view on Freemasonry, and as a romantic myself I can understand this. Kipling was, no doubt one of the better poets, none more so than in his oft-quoted by Masons poem “If”. My own favourite is “The Way through the Woods”. But there are others not so politically correct, though I have no doubt written jocularly, like “The Betrothed” which contains the line “A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.” Kipling had few equals in rhythm and pace.

    Your romantic view about the inclusion of ‘blacks’ and ‘browns’ falls flat on its face when you look at the English and Scottish lodges where there were practically none (except those visiting from abroad). Those opposed to the slave trade included masons but the campaigns were run by caring Quakers and Anglicans and other Christians while the trade itself was run by many Quakers who did not have lodges for ordinary slaves and did not work towards emancipation. The part of our Empire where Kipling writes about was also where native Indians who tried to wrest back some of the land taken from them, were fired from cannons on the parade ground as an example to anyone else who thought of rising above his station.

    When you mentioned what you discovered on the previous thread I gave my opinion before seeing this thread.

    http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2014/04/corruption-and-fear-in-the-uk/#comment-454944

  • John Goss

    “Those opposed to the slave trade included masons but the campaigns were run by caring Quakers and Anglicans and other Christians while the trade itself was run by many Quakers who did not have lodges for ordinary slaves and did not work towards emancipation.”

    should read:

    “Those opposed to the slave trade included masons but the campaigns were run by caring Quakers and Anglicans and other Christians while the trade itself was run by many Masons who did not have lodges for ordinary slaves and did not work towards emancipation.”

    When will we have edit facilities?

  • johnf

    I think that anti-Empire feeling amongst the intelligent part of the British elite was as much caused by their knowledge that the Empire had become a horrible deadweight on the British economy.

    There’s a couple of Kipling masonic short stories. From memory, the first was about a group of British officers in the trenches who attempted to keep their spirits up by reading Jane Austen to each other and roaring with laughter. (Kipling himself found doing this to be the only way to raise himself and his deeply depressed family after the death of his son in the trenches).

    The second story is about a shell-shocked lag in the regiment who was the servant in the officer’s mess where these readings took place. He formed the opinion that the Jane they referred to was some sort of god and later, in civilian life, introduced her worship as a sort of cult in the West London masonic lodge he was a member of.

  • Geoff

    I too have come across the dodgy influence of freemasons at various places of work. This is an interesting post and thanks for that poem, new to me. Kipling’s line about a Catholic is perhaps over-hopeful though: despite various (mason-influenced?) claims it has never been possible for Catholics to be freemasons. A great little summary (which also offers a rather different historical analysis) is here, for under £2 worth getting even if one dislikes Catholics:-

    http://www.ctsbooks.org/freemasonry-and-the-christian-faith

  • Mark D.

    Kipling also wrote short stories about Freemasonry, and other poems which I think are better than the one you quote.

    See the short stories “In the Interests of the Brethren”, “The Janeites”, and “A Madonna of the Trenches” and the poem “Banquet Night” in the volume of short stories Debits and Credits (1926).

    They are about Freemasonry and soldiers with PTSD shortly after WWI.

    The stories are all here:
    http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/debits/contents.html

    “In the Interests of the Brethren” is the introduction to the Lodge ‘Faith and Works E.C. 5837’.
    “The Janeites” is a story told in the Lodge about a group of Jane Austen enthusiasts in the trenches.
    “A Madonna of the Trenches” is a tale of love, death and apparitions told in the Lodge.

  • John Goss

    Geoff, I believe that the Catholic Church has advised against the anti-Christian nature of Freemasonry (some of the ritual is the complete opposite of Christianity like making Darkness Visible) but it cannot stop Catholics joining, and occasionally they do. Even more disturbing is that the former Pope Ratzinger was a member of the Bilderberg Group and took part allegedly in their rituals of child sacrifice. When this was revealed he became one of the few popes to retire while in office. Catholics too have a pyramidal Secret Society structure through Opus Dei.

  • Mary

    Represented in modern day Israel.

    http://www.freemasonry.org.il/

    Rabbi Jonathan Romain gives it the OK.
    http://news.reformjudaism.org.uk/assembly-of-rabbis/are-the-freemasons-kosher.html

    ~~

    A load of outdated mumbo jumbo IMHO which surely will not survive in the internet age when more and more eyes are being opened. Membership of any secret society is at odds in a so called democracy. Women are excluded and in this country, it is headed by the Queen’s cousin. What more is there to be said?

  • Ba'al Zevul (Moving Up And Down Again)

    Absolutely spot on, Craig. Damn good post. Respect. No quibbles. I associates myself with them sentiments. And I’m not a Mason, though Kipling is one of my literary heroes. Viewed by today’s PC standards, he’s probably completely unacceptable. By the standards of his time he was pretty liberal, and embarrassingly likely to see the POV of the Army ranker and the Indian in the street…

    Mark D has a good point re Kipling’s Masonic short stories.

    OTOH, probably not all Masonic lodges function like Kipling’s these days (the local constabulary are likely to be well represented). Masonry, after all, is about social networking as much as anything else. The only religious criterion, btw, is the belief in God. Catholics are as eligible as anyone else – their absence is due more to Catholic dogma than anything in Masonry.

  • John Goss

    Mary, Dr Jonathan Romain is either not aware of the connection between the Kabbalah and Freemasonry or chooses to ignore it. When I first looked into Freemasonry in the seventies and eighties I came across a pro-masonic book called “A treasury of Masonic Thought” which contained epithets from famous Masons. At that time information was not so freely available and books like this were kept in the stack. On the dust jacket there were a number of Masonic symbols all of which I knew about anyway. However on a subsequent visit I was served the book but it came without the dust-jacket. To this day I do not know why. Perhaps somebody had stolen it, or more likely, I thought then, an overprotective librarian had removed it to protect the ‘secrets’.

  • KingofWelshNoir

    When I was a teenager I had a part-time job washing up in the Marine Hotel, Aberystwyth. The local masons used to hold their annual dinner there. They took great pains to exclude all hotel staff when the time came to making their speeches, including posting ‘sentries’ at all the doors, and covering up the glass portholes in the serving doors, but a resourceful teenage boy can easily outwit such low rent security measures. So I used to hide behind the curtains on the stage and listen to the speeches. And I can tell you straight, they may have been a bunch of small time small town businessmen but they spent the whole night discussing crazy, sub-Blofeldian schemes for world domination. If you need any help with your research, Craig, just let me know.

  • Sofia Kibo Noh

    Another Psaki PR triumph!

    “LEE: Right, but you do accept that there are people who live under Israeli administration, live under Israeli authority right now, who do not have equal rights, correct?

    PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to analyze this further.

    LEE: Well, I mean, look, the secretary is getting it from both sides here. The pro-Israel people are furious that he would even deign to utter the word — the “A” word even if it was referring to something happening in the future, or possibly happening in the future. The other side is upset that the secretary is not using it — using the “A” word to describe how Israel is right now. Given that — given that circumstance — you acknowledge that that’s the situation, right?

    PSAKI: Mmm hmm.”

    Unless she’s a man, how can the appointment of this person as official State Dept spokesperson be rationally explained?

    Four more minutes of this stuff… https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=YVGFNAGDwZA#t=0

    John. 12 53am (Corruption and Fear thread)

    Re Masons, “No jokes now about why I’m not one.”

    It is well known that masons, young and old, human and canine, post on the relevant thread.

  • John Goss

    “And I can tell you straight, they may have been a bunch of small time small town businessmen but they spent the whole night discussing crazy, sub-Blofeldian schemes for world domination.”

    KOWN, it sounds more like a Louie Knight episode to me.

    But yes lodges, and members, are kept in darkness and many of the inner sanctums have no portholes to cover up. Lodge ceremonies are more boring and repetitious than religious services, with archaic language like “So mote it be” and other curiosities.

    Freemasonry may have originated in the eighteenth century but it had precursory secret societies which also took people in. Francis Bacon belonged to a secret society. Christopher Marlowe was a secret government spy.

    The phrase “I’ve been hoodwinked” has its roots in masonry as does “a conspiracy of silence”. Yep, another conspiracy theory.

  • Ba'al Zevul (Moving Up And Down Again)

    The relationship in West Scotland between freemasons and Orange lodges seems to be a unique bit of unpleasantness. But I wonder if the extent of the links between the two is exaggerated?

    Part of the perception must be because the Orange Lodges are clearly modelled on the Masonic setup, including the vestments and hierarchies. There are probably people who are members of both, and it may be relevant to note that the nominal high heid yins in UK Masonry are royals: no secret…the Hanoverian interest is undoubted, and Butcher Cumberland was probably a member, so some historical angst is deducible;

    http://freemasonry.london.museum/os/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/English-Royal-Freemasons.pdf

    http://www.freemasonrytoday.com/features/item/813-the-royal-connection-john-hamill-examines-the-connection-between-masonry-and-royalty

  • Bugger (the Panda)

    Craig, as far as I am aware there no connection ML and the OO in West Central Scotland. There may be individuals who are members of both organisations but I would guess very few.

    I am though, aware of Roman Catholics and Priests who are members as are many Jews and maybe nowadays, Muslims.

    There are hundreds of Masonic Lodges still active throughout the former Empire and in a harmonius relationship with Scottish Freemasonry. The World looks to Scotland as the foundation of modern speculative Fremasonry, not England although they try very hard to pretend it is their “possession.

  • nevermind

    Craid studiously steered around onbe very important fact, that the freemason is an all male society that professes to know best, that is embedded in our society today, officers of councils, the police represent an unnatural and odious lot making decisions that are based on split loyalties and their gender blinkered views since they were founded, a male cabal.

    In Burnes times women might have been less inclined to stop hubby doing funny rituals and business decisions, pining for his late night return, but today, Freemasonry is, imho, the arch feminsit cause, an all male club that lords it ‘ueber alles’, makes decisions that come from a male only perspective and which make decisions based on their split loyalties, deals they have already done in the lodge, that have implications for females in society.

    Should there be a ban on freemasonry in public services? Should we trust that those who wheel and deal, man to man, can make decisions that are best for all of society, that they do not let their split loyalties come to the fore?

    never, freemasonry is detrimental to society as it has evolved and no nice words about 18th. century innocence and cultural seeking for ever more exotic deities that might have existed can change the fact that freemasons are a secretive male only club that have no rights to influence and contravene societies drive for a more genderbalanced world today.

    Freemasons, most likely, were responsible for the gender disabilities that have plagued society, a testosterone laden distortion which should not exist anymore today.

    Smash Freemasonry, outlaw it, sack freemasons in the public sector and replace them with women, that should somewhat readress the gender disbalance they’d caused!

  • nevermind

    sorry for the mistrakes, its ever so easy to pressx go and an edit button would help this blog to grammatical excellence, indeed, academy status will be just around the corner.

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