The Hindu swastika means in rough translation, “I have value”. It is still found on Hindu Temples. This makes for some confusion for those who don’t know the history of the swastika.
Rudyard Kipling used this ancient Hindu symbol to emboss his books. A British author who had spent considerable time in India, he felt so strongly about this symbol he had it placed on the inside cover of his books with his signature under it and encased in a circle. It was kind of like his logo, before such things were popular.
Then in the 20th century the Nazi party decided the symbol, slightly modified would be ideal for their new political party. This has forever tainted this fine Hindu symbol in the public eye to this day. Few even notice the slight differences that are distinctive only when someone is observant.
Kipling was a man of his times but in many ways way ahead of his times as well. At a time when many British abroad were of the high status society who did not involve themselves with the lesser cast, particularly in India where casts were well defined, joining a group which “met on the level” and implied equality between members was not always popular. Kipling was a Freemason.
What are Freemasons? They are a fraternal group, who volunteer for charities while holding each other to high moral standards. Kipling often found cleaver ways to put Masonic ideals and symbols into his many books. He enjoyed the membership greatly it is believed.
As a Freemason, he would have known more than most about the importance of symbols. So when I purchased a small set of his older books and saw the symbol I was very surprised to say the least. I as stunned that he would put his name under the symbol in his books. I was also relieved to find out how all the history of the symbol evolved and how he repudiated the use of his “logo” for any future productions of his work.
The insert above shows the books I purchased and my first notice of the history of the swastika. The two books on the right, newer publications do not reflect the symbol. Both later books were gifts from my great grandmother in my youth. She felt that I should at 7 start reading better literature than Tarzan.
I am reviewing this history to reflect the public perception of a symbol which should not be shrouded in such negativity, when it was for centuries so positive. Sometimes good things or even groups can be mislabeled or even demonized. Not all of them deserve such historical memories.
This is true for groups as well. Some gain a reputation over time in the public eye that uninformed people blindly follow. Opus Dei has enjoyed both notoriety and ill public perception ever since Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code. For that matter, The Roman Catholic Church also suffered some stigma but eventually the public seems to have concluded that the book really was fiction, despite the sudden interest in all of the places the book referred to in the many locations for the main character, later played by Tom Hanks in the movie by the same name.
Freemasonry has over the years been subjected to harsh and deceptive treatment too. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) forbid its members from joining for years. More than one Papal Bull was proclaimed with this message. Yet until the Knights of Columbus was created good RCC members joined as they wished and were welcomed.
This is the central point. Freemasonry has a history of not fighting back when confronted with public criticism. The usual path is to let the issue die. Time will heal all things, particularly when replies in public usually are manipulated into further lies. This was the usual pattern for Freemasonry for the first couple of hundred years, though upon reflection with some of the issues many today think this pattern should be discarded.
It seems that any group, even countries if they are around long enough find some peaks and some valleys in the eye of various observers. Sweden wasn’t always neutral for instance, but at one time put forth an army that tramped all over northern Europe.
The RCC has in its past many things which can be seen as both good and bad. The missionaries are seen by Catholics as good, while Native American’s don’t appreciate Columbus Day or the missionary impact on their culture. There is for some the image of Mother Teresa contrasted with the Holy Inquisition responsible for killing thousands and torturing many more! Few things made by man that have any length of history behind them are without this contrast. So it is with volunteer groups and nonprofit groups as well, but on a lesser scale.
Author Allen E. Roberts writes in his book, House Undivided that Freemasons on both sides of the American Civil War fought and died. On some occasions after the day’s battle was done the two sides would gather to conduct a Masonic funeral. This was done on more than one occasion.
Also related in Robert’s book was the well known story about the Grand Master of Iowa Freemasons, Thomas H. Benton, JR. When Benton found himself as the occupation commander of Little Rock, Arkansas during the American Civil War he is said to have placed a guard of Union troops about the home of Albert Pike, a Confederate general, so that the general’s well known Masonic library would not be destroyed. Albert Pike later became famous for Morals and Dogma, a lengthy and somewhat scholarly book on Masonic rituals in the Southern branch of the Scottish Rite.
This is the same book from which many anti-Masonic crusaders have lifted out of context sentences and portions of content for the purpose of misrepresenting Freemasons into some kind of “new world order”. To blunt, it is simply not true that a bunch of volunteers in a group based on the Bible story of King Solomon are trying to take over the world.
Freemasonry, like other human institutions before and likely after has had her moments of ungentlemanly conduct, or at least some of its members have. The famous member of the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold in betraying his Masonic brother George Washington to the British and then fighting with them has forever been remembered poorly by Americans.
Masons are very careful as a group not to be the one to, “Cast the first stone”. The charge of ever Mason is to make himself a better man. The rituals of the three degrees, which are for the uninitiated easy to find in this information age guide and trust that a man will find himself worthy of study and reflection and be a friend to neighbor and society. Freemasons are as the saying goes today, into coexistence and social harmony.
I personally find that a group which makes as its central theme that all good men who believe in a Supreme Being should congregate and assemble in common with one another without any regard for politics or religion a very good and worthy function which I am very proud to associate with. Joining this fraternity was one of the best decision of my life.