Masonic references in Kim

(by George Kieffer)

Masonic Context

Kim is a story with extensive Masonic references and content which the uninitiated may not fully grasp and therefore miss out on the enjoyment of a better understanding of the many strands that run through the book. For a more detailed look at Rudyard Kipling as a Freemason, see Kipling Journal No 303: “A Contrary Man & Mason.”

The reader can develop an understanding of the intelligence world of the Great Game by reading Peter Hopkirk’s excellent history The Great Game (John Murray 1990) and Peter Hopkirk’s own journey in the footsteps of Kim Quest for Kim – In search of Kipling’s Great Game (John Murray 1996).

In essence Kim is a story of multiple journeys, that of the Buddhist lama from his Tibetan monastery to the River of the Arrow, that of Kim from a native urchin to a sahib while seeking to understand his father’s inheritance and from school-boy to secret service agent, as well as the progress of the Mavericks to the field of battle. This all plays in physical peregrinations through India. The progress of a Freemason is often seen as a journey of self-knowledge and discovery and so the Masonic context is in a sense emblematical of Kim’s quest in particular.

It would be wrong to see Kim as a purely masonic tale as it is so much more than that. As Kipling so often does, he draws from a wide range of personal experiences and memories to paint a realistic and complex picture which brings his characters to life. The Masonic allusions are therefore only another layer of paint in that picture.

Freemasonry is one of the oldest secular organisations of men concerned with moral and spiritual values founded on the guiding principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The charitable objectives of Freemasonry are concerned with many spheres of life and are not restricted to helping Freemasons only. The United Grand Lodge of England was one of the principal supporters in the foundation of the Royal College of Surgeons which it continues to support to this day with funding of medical research. Freemasons have an obligation to care for their indigent brethren or their children.

The Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth was founded in 1788 by Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini, who also set up the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls & Boys, to educate the children of Freemasons who were unable to support their families through death, illness or disability. In the story Kim is sent to St Xavier’s in Lucknow – La Martinière College – to be educated at the suggestion of the regimental chaplain who is a Mason, but paid for by the Buddhist lama’s monastery.

English Freemasonry requires a member to profess a belief in a Supreme Being, without being in any way sectarian or specific; it admits Christians in all their denominations, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc (see The Mother Lodge). It should however be noted that Freemasonry is not a religion and does not seek to interfere with the religious practices of its members.

The charitable inclination of the lama and the charity he and Kim receive in turn as they travel along the Great Trunk Road is in many ways an exploration of the motivation of charitable giving both in a locally religious and in a Masonic sense and Kim is not averse to soliciting it under false pretences (e.g. his cunning and conning way of obtaining a ticket to Umballa).

In addition, Freemasonry is regarded in modern parlance as a society with secrets (the signs, tokens and words by which Freemasons are known to each other), rather than a secret society. At the time of writing the book, Freemasonry was regarded much more as a secret society and members would not have declared their adherence as they do today. Kipling’s openness and description of Masonic regalia was unusual for the period and to my knowledge is only matched by the description of an initiation ceremony in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. In this context it is interesting to reflect on the duality of the secret society that provides Kim indirectly with his education and Kim’s recruitment as a result of that education into the Indian Secret Service dedicated to playing the Great Game and obstructing Russian penetration of the Raj. The square and compasses are among the working tools of a chainman of the Indian Survey and are also implements with Masonic symbolism; in the latter sense the square represents square conduct and morality, the compasses teach the Mason the limits of good and evil and the unerring justice of the Supreme Being.

There are several orders in Freemasonry, although we only know of two that Kipling was a member of – Craft Freemasonry (by far the largest), the initial order which any Freemason joins, and Mark Masonry and Royal Ark Mariner, two associated orders, which require a member to be at least a Fellowcraft (2nd Degree) in Craft Masonry as a qualification of membership.

©George Kieffer 2017 All rights reserved