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The Cable Tow

The Cable Tow is a symbol of the First Degree and represents the candidates bond to his guide. In some esoteric circles it represents the umbilical cord.

- Source: MasonicDictionary.com


CABLE TOW'S LENGTH

Gädieke says that, "according to the ancient laws of Freemasonry, every brother must attend his Lodge if he is within the length of his cable tow." The old writers define the length of a cable tow, which they sometimes called a cable's length, to be three miles for an Entered Apprentice. But the expression is really symbolic, and as it was defined by the Baltimore Convention in 1842, means the scope of a man's reasonable ability.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry


Articles On The Cable Tow On This Page


The Cable Tow

The Cable Tow is explained as follows:

"I drew them with the cords of a man, with bonds of love."

Hosea, xi 4.

The Cable Tow is thus a symbol of the cord of bond of Love, which should unite the whole fraternity. Its length or the length of your Cable Tow is the sacrifice you are willing to make on behalf of your brethren. It is in your heart, not to be measured by miles. It is not gauged by distances, but by deed. It should correspond to the immensity of the monitorial lodge, and to do so should span the earth, touching wherever there is sorrow or distress.

In Masonry we have many symbols for the few grand principles upon which it is founded - Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. As we get away from the letter and discern the spirit, which lies behind, we have unfolded to us a new and intensely interesting science, and as we mould our lives upon our new understanding of Masonry, we become better Masons, and as a consequence better men.

- Source: Wm. W. Vickers - The Canadian Craftsman, June 1898


CABLE TOW

The word tow signifies, properly, a line wherewith to draw. Richardson (Dictionary) defines it as "The word is purely Masonic, and in some writings of the early part of the eighteenth century we find the expression cable rope. Prichard so uses it in 1730. The German word for a cable or rope is kabeltauw, and thence our cable tow is probably derived.

In its first inception, the cable tow seems to have been used only as a physical means of controlling the candidate, and such an interpretation is still given in the Entered Apprentice's Degree. But in the Second and Third Degrees a more modern symbolism has been introduced, and the cable tow is in these grades supposed to symbolize the covenant by which all Freemasons are tied, thus reminding us of the passage in Hosea (xi, 4), "1 drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love."

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry


THE CABLE-TOW

Brother Editor: - May I not call the attention of the Brethren to the following history of the Cable-tow as found in "The Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man," by Albert Churchward? No doubt you are familiar with it, but it will interest many by showing how far back he traces the Cable-tow, and also as suggesting that we have not considered the meaning of what is one of the first things we meet in Masonry. You surely have begun at the beginning, and your discussion of the Cable-tow makes one realize how much there is of interest and importance in the first simple things of the craft. The Passage from Churchward is as follows:

"How many of our Fraternity know the real import and meaning of the Cable-tow? Originally it was a chain or rope of some kind, worn by the initiate, or those about to be initiated, to signify their belief in God and their dependence on Him, and their solemn obligations to submit and devote themselves to His will and service; and the fact that he is neither naked nor clothed is an emblem that he is untutored - a mere child of nature - unregenerate and destitute of any knowledge of the tree God, as well as being destitute of the comforts of life. This is the state in which we find ourselves as candidates. The chain was used by the Druids and Egyptians as a symbolism, as above stated. Also that he was being led from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge of the one true and living God, Creator and Judge of all. That the fope appears around the neck of more than one in these picture scenes - seven in some - is only a symbol of 'the seven powers' - as 'the seven ropes,' and each one of the weavers of these represents one of the seven attributes of Horus I. in their sacerdotal duties. Originally it was one only which was associated with Horus I. and Amsu - the risen Horus or Horus of the Spirit. Horus, having been led or passed through dangers, difficulties, darkness and death in the underworld, emerged as Amsu, the first risen man-god, and attached to his crown of two feathers - denoting the two lives, earthly and spiritual - is this cable-tow or rope, as a symbol that it is a 'power' which has led him through from earthly to spiritual life."

- Source: David Duncan, California.
The Builder - November 1915


THE CABLE TOW

By R.W.Bro. S. Clifton Bingham, P. M.

It has been said, and I think well said, that "Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Whilst I have heard many other definitions, and so probably have you, I think all will agree that it correctly conveys to all our minds in the fewest possible words the aim and object of our fraternity. Some doubtless look upon it as a convivial organisation only, but I rejoice to be able to say that the number of those amongst us are steadily diminishing.

If we would understand the sublime teachings of Freemasonry it is absolutely necessary that we should study the meaning conveyed to us by the symbols brought forcibly before us at every meeting. By such means alone can we hope to attain perfection and qualify to become a stone in "that eternal mansion, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

A symbol has been defined as a visible sign by or with which a spiritual feeling, emotion, or idea, is conveyed. Is not the level to us always a symbol of equality? the plumb, of uprightness? the square, of rectitude?

If we carry ourselves back to the earlier years, when our system was probably of a much simpler character than it is today, and when comparatively few people had any degree of education, the only method of conveying ideas to the large mass of people would be by the use of symbols. The crown is to us a symbol of royalty; the sceptre, of power. Indeed, what is our alphabet but a system of symbols, the letters of which, combined in different ways, convey to us different meanings. The symbol to which I intend particularly to refer this evening is apparently in universal use amongst Freemasons, viz., the cable tow. In the earliest rituals extant, and the pretended exposures which were so numerous in the first part of the eighteenth century, this symbol was invariably used in preparation of candidates for our Order.

What is a cable tow? The word "tow" signifies, properly, a line wherewith to draw. One dictionary I consulted defines it as "that which tuggeth, or with which we tug to draw." A cable tow, therefore, is a rope or line for drawing or leading. In one of the earliest so-called exposures it is called "cable rope." In its first inception the cable tow seems to have been used only as a physical means of controlling the candidate, and such interpretation is given in the E. A. degree. One writer says it is emblematical of the dangers which surround us in this life, especially if we should rashly stray from the paths of duty. It will also remind the initiated to submit, while he is in ignorance, to being guided by those whom he knows to be enlightened.

In the United States this symbol is used in each of the three Craft degrees. In the E. A. exactly as we do; in the F. C. it is coiled twice around his waist; and in the M. M. three times. This seems a symbolic use of the symbol. I might here mention that my ignorance of this use of the cable tow evidently caused me some doubt in the mind of the worthy brother testing me at the door of a Lodge in the States. The monitors says that the variation in the second and third degrees are to symbolise the covenant with which all Freemasons are tied, thus reminding us of the passage in the writings of the prophet Hosea, "I drew them with cords of a man, with bonds of love." Some of the brethren will recollect the use of this symbol in other degrees.

Whence came the cable tow? That is a question somewhat difficult to answer. Fellows, author of an interesting work on the mysteries, says:--"The necks of the Druidical priests were decorated with gold chains in the performance of their religious rites." In these is to be seen the arch type of the cable tow or tow rope, worn about the neck of the aspirant to Masonic secrets, which is the subject of much ridicule amongst the uninitiated. Indeed, the fraternity themselves do not seem to be aware of its true import. They are not conscious that this humble badge is a testimony of their belief in God, their dependence on Him, and their solemn obligations to devote themselves to His will and service.

How long is it? How many of us have troubled to find out, and yet if we carry our minds back to the solemn obligation we took as M. Ms. we cannot overlook the point contained therein, "if within the reach of my cable tow." Gadicke, a German writer on Freemasonry, defines the length as three miles for an Entered Apprentice. I am not in a position to argue this point, nor I expect are you. In ancient times every adult had to present himself yearly before the sheriff or chief authority of the county to renew his oath of fealty to his liege lord and the King, nor were any excused from this service except they were a considerable distance away; some writers say over fifty miles, a very considerable journey in those days.

The subject of the length of a cable tow was one of the questions for discussion at a National Masonic Convention held in the City of Baltimore, U. S. A., in the year 1842. Mackey says that after considerable discussion on the matter of definition of "within the scope of man's reasonable ability" was arrived at.

History tells us that the burghers of Calais, when that city was besieged by the English under Edward, the Black Prince, came out in procession with ropes round their necks in token of their submission.

According to Grimm, quoted by Gould in his History of Freemasonry, a cord about the neck was used symbolically in criminal courts to denote that the accused submitted his life to the judgment of the court. When used upon the person of a freeman it signified a slight degree of subjection or servitude. You will remember also that when Benhadad's servants after his defeat by Ahab approached the latter King, asking for mercy, "they girded sackcloths on their loins and put ropes on their heads." This with the remaining portion of the verses, has been used by many Freemasons to prove the existence of our Fraternity in those days. If we accept the reasoning, we could hardly mistake the meaning of the ropes.

Its use amongst our operative brethren is referred to by Bro. W. J. Shaw as follows:--"As a poetic symbol it has a special reference to the idea of rescue and assistance, and as a form of expression it has that significance in our Masonic rites. Upon the cable depended the safety of the ship riding at anchor, the salvation of the man overboard and in peril. On land it was also a means of aid and rescue upon mountain and plain, and especially so in the use that operative masons made of it in the construction of those magnificent buildings with which they adorned Europe. Doubtless from every great structure, in their work of decoration, men dangled by ropes from dizzy heights, and were rescued from perilous situations by means of the cable tow of some fellow workman.

Our obligation, therefore, simply is that, as the length of the Freemason's cable tow, or long rope, is the measure of his means and ability to aid and rescue, it is his aid and rescue his fellow if within the reach of his means and ability.

We are told that the timber of the building of King Solomon's Temple was felled in the forest of Lebanon and sent down in floats by sea to Joppa. Necessarily these floats or rafts of timber must have been towed and connected to the boats used for that purpose by strong ropes or cables. The use to which such a cable would be put would cause it to be known as a cable tow. Hence, possibly, the expression "the length of my cable tow."

When the floats reached Joppa they would be released from the boats and secured to the shore (which we are told was very precipitous) by the same cables with which they had been towed. The expression so familiar to us, "a cable tow's length from the shore," will be brought to our thoughts at once.

In this connection the cable tow may be considered an apt symbol of obedience--that is of obedience to the requirements of the ceremonies of our Institution and the principles of morality and virtue inculcated thereby. Obedience to the dictates of our Masonic duty, which must be performed even under the most adverse circumstances, and if need be without fee or reward, except that gratifying test of a good conscience.

As the float by aid of the cable tow follows unduratingly the course intended by those who row the boat, so should the seeker for light attend to the truths revealed to him and faithfully follow the instructions and heed the solemn admonition of those who are guiding him into the Temple of Light and Truth.

Let us remember that while candidates are asked to yield a mere blind obedience for the time, no unreasonable demands or unintelligible requirements are made.

Does not the cable tow, by which metaphorically we lead our candidates into the Temple, remind us that we too have duties to fulfil? Let it be to us a symbol of that love and affection with which the Masonic Brotherhood seeks to draw the initiates from the darkness of ignorance to the glorious light and liberty of our Fraternity. In humble imitation of the Divine plan, let us endeavour to draw our brethren by the tenderest chords of affection, and bind them to us forever more by the sweetest bonds of love.

You have heard the phrase used occasionally in one of our ceremonies--"a two-fold cord is strong, but a three-fold cord is not easily broken." I do not know if a cable tow is composed of three principal strands or not, but if so the reference in both instances surely is the three great principles of our Institution-- Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.--Transactions of the Masters' and Past Masters' Lodge, No. 130, New Zealand.

- Source: The Builder December 1917


THE CABLE TOW

Probably the first reference to the cable tow is in I Kings, xx-31. The noose was commonly used in Brahminical initiation, and the removal of it was symbolical of freedom attained, as an escape from death. The word religion comes from "religio," meaning to "bind anew," while Webster says it "seems originally to have signified an oath or vow to the gods, or the obligation of such an oath or vow which was held very sacred by the Romans."

The Abyssinian Christians receive at their baptism a blue cord which they wear round the neck and in some cases a ring or cross attached.

The derivation of the word cable is doubtless from the Hebrew, as their word for cord or rope is chebel.

In the initiation of the Cabiri they were given a purple ribbon which they wore about their bodies to preserve them from the perils of the sea.

It may not be a far cry to the use of the stole in the Roman and Anglican church, worn by the clergy, which has never been very satisfactorily explained.

- Rob Morris Bulletin.

- Source: The Builder December 1918


The Cable Tow

By Bro. Henry Taylor, Missouri

IN the far off days before what we call civilization began to be man had to combat the forces of nature with a slender outfit of tools, instruments, and weapons. Each and every one of the few things he had wherewith to work meant more to him, far more, than any tool or implement can possibly mean to us. That may be one of the reasons for the symbolical meaning which came to be attached to so many of the familiar every-day things used by primitive man. It may be the explanation of the fact that the fibre or leather rope which was used for countless purposes came to have so great a significance. Some anthropologists believe that in the long period during which man was gradually learning to domesticate animals the rope was almost the only means whereby he was able to control them; accordingly that rope became for him the very symbol of his mastery of brute nature, and often it stood between him and starvation. Be this as it may - the theory is reasonable enough - the rope, or cable, or thong, very early came to have symbolic and mystical meanings, proving that men could use it with their imagination as well as with their hands.

Ropes, cords, halters, etc., meant many things in ancient religions and secret cults. In several of the religious cults of Nearer Asia, the region from which radiated so many of the religious forces that profoundly influenced our own religion, the center of the cult was a god, usually the sun under a thin disguise, who was once a year hanged to a tree, there to die for the sake of his people; for that reason the hanging rope became a sacred thing. When a candidate was initiated in several of the mystery secret cults he was led into the temple, often a dark cave, with a rope, and, in case he fainted away from fright, as frequently happened, was dragged out by it. Druid priests often wore a chain about the neck. Among some Brahmin cults members wore a cord, either about the waist or the neck, to symbolize their spiritual rebirth. In some of the medieval courts it was the custom to place a rope about the neck or middle of an accused person to make him realize that he was at the mercy of the court.

It is probable, judging from the very slender array of facts available, that in nearly all the secret religions and fraternities of the ancient and medieval world the rope was used for a more or less practical purpose, though that practical use inevitably came to be associated with symbolical meanings. Initiation has always been an ordeal, and must be, and consequently it has usually been necessary to keep the candidate under absolute control.

There has been much dispute among our scholars as to the origin of the word "Cable Tow." Some trace it to a German root, others to Dutch, a few to French and a few to a Hebrew term. Thus far there has been no general agreement among them except that the term means some kind of a rope that is used for drawing something, as when a scow is drawn along behind a tug, or a canal boat is dragged by a horse. It is a cable by which a thing is towed along.

There has been an equal division of opinion as to the meaning and use of the Cable Tow in Freemasonry. (It never appeared in any dictionary until the Standard was issued, where it is given as a Masonic term, and even so is erroneously described.) Albert Pike saw in it nothing but a physical device for managing the candidate. Dr. Mackey seems to have agreed with Pike. Lawrence saw in it a symbol of the Mystic Tie. Rowbottom made it to mean Masonic duty, which is the moral tie. Others give it a quite geometrical meaning and there are others still, as one would guess, who find in it a thousand occult meanings.

The safest way to work one's self into the meaning of a Masonic symbol is to trace the history of its use by the fraternity. I believe it is a safe canon of Masonic interpretation that every symbol is interpreted by its use. In English Masonry of two hundred years ago the Cable Tow appeared only in the First Degree and then with no symbolical meaning at all. This would indicate that in the older system of Operative Masonry it had nothing more than a physical use. This surmise is strengthened by the fact that in English Speculative Masonry of today the rope appears only in the Entered Apprentice Degree, and is there explained as being a means for controlling the body of the candidate.

When we pass over to our American system we discover a significant fact. In the First Degree the Cable Tow is described in the same way as in the corresponding section of that degree as worked by our English brethren; but, and this is the significant matter, it also appears in the Second and Third Degrees, in both of which it is given a quite symbolical meaning. This appears to prove that the symbolical use of the Cable Tow grew up among American lodges. Why it grew up there it is probably impossible to discover, seeing that no records are made of such things, but we may guess that our brethren added the Cable Tow to the two latter degrees in order to make the work more symmetrical; that they gave to it such a symbolical meaning as most naturally occurred to them, and that they let it remain in the First Degree as it had been in order not to change things more than necessary.

What our brethren had in mind when they gave the Cable Tow a place in our system of symbols is made perfectly clear, it seems to me, by the few words of interpretation which are given in each of the two latter degrees. The Cable Tow is the symbol of all those forces and compulsions which regulate a man's conduct from without; it is not removed until the man is able to control and govern himself from within. As a physical thing it is set over in opposition to that Mystic Tie which isn't a physical thing at all, but inward disposition of the mind and heart. This, if we will consider it aright, is a summons to examine into certain truths which it is of the utmost importance to us that we clearly understand.

It is self-evident that men, being as they are, cannot be held together in an orderly society without the systematic use of force, understanding by force those secular methods whereby the law enforces itself - police, courts, penitentiaries, fines and the military system. It is an unfortunate thing that this should be so, for it is the most barbarous side of social life, but it seems unavoidable, for there are so many men and women of an unsocial nature who, without the restraint of force, would soon throw the whole social system into anarchy.

Tolstoy held this to be a fallacy. He believed that if we would do away with policemen, constables, marshals, courts, armies and navies there might ensue, a period of disorder but that after a while the normal commonsense of the majority would reassert itself to restore peace and order. Force degrades our nature. The law's methods make more criminals than they cure. Armies lead to war. Not to fight the devil with fire, not to return blow for blow, but to practice non-resistance, that, so it seemed to him, would lead us all after a time to live a more neighbourly existence. Many agree with Tolstoy, and more agree with him up to a point, the pacifists for example; and there is no question but that force does, in a certain way, degrade our nature, but it must be remembered that social force exists not only to punish crime but also to regulate the actions of men in a world which is so complicated that no individual can find his way about in it undirected. Tax laws, for example, are not penal in their nature but they are necessary, and the great majority would pay no taxes were they not compelled; and as much may be said of many other matters. Furthermore, if laws were laid aside, and policemen dismissed, it would not be long before men, women and children would be kept in control by some other similar social force so that in the long run little would be gained.

Men must wear the Cable Tow.

But it is all-important in this connection to note that the uses of external force, though necessary, are very limited, and that because it has no method whatever for penetrating into the hidden springs of human conduct. It can't get at our motives. It has no way of controlling our private characters, or of moving the heart. A man may keep the public laws, at least he may very successfully escape all punishments by law and yet know nothing of those other laws which wield a different kind of compulsion and have no power of inflicting punishment of a physical character - the law of kindliness, of brotherliness, of forgiveness, of love, of purity and righteousness. The whole system of social force is at best a cumbersome thing which touches life at few points. It is easily evaded and avoided, and there are whole regions of life where it cannot come at all.

The man who knows no other law of conduct than that which backs the policeman and the penitentiary is an inferior man. In the eyes of Freemasonry he is a profane, one who has never been initiated into the secrets of manhood. Those secrets are in the heart. They belong to thoughts, ideals, feelings, motives, impulses, aspirations, hopes and all that world which is hidden away in the soul from which a man's walk and character are determined. If a man is controlled from without, and doesn't steal from us merely because the law watches, how are we to know that he will not break into the house when he thinks the law does not see him? If he tells the truth only to escape losing his business or his reputation, how are we to believe him when these things are absent? If his conduct is regulated by forces outside himself, will he be or do, how are we to know what he will be or do, when he chances to come into some place, those external forces are not operative? Such a man is one who is led about by a Cable Tow. But the Master Man, as Freemasonry depicts him, is one whose conduct is regulated from within. He has the law in his heart. There is a court in his conscience, a government in his soul. Wherever he is, and under what ever circumstances, he will remain an upright man because his rectitude is a thing of his nature. The Cable Tow which binds him to the social and moral order, and which holds him to his duty, has passed inward and become a mystical thing of the spirit.

So also with his love. Many there are who know how to be very brotherly and sociable when they find themselves in a brotherly atmosphere, but whose kindliness withers up outside that air; he who is truly a Master Mason will have love in his heart, and from his heart it will flow to his brethren wherever and whatever they may be. A Cable Tow of affection reaches to them, nothing can break it, nothing can loosen its, hold.

What is the length of this Cable Tow? It is as long as the arm that stretches out a helping hand. It reaches as far as a brother's cheering voice. It goes as far as charity's dollar can go. It can travel as far as good will can travel. Wherever the mails can carry a letter it can be carried. The length of a Master Mason's Cable Tow is precisely equal to the extent of his influences.

- Source: The Builder - November 1923


THE CABLE-TOW

The Cable-Tow, we are told, is purely Masonic in its meaning and use. It is so defined in the dictionary, but not always accurately, which shows that we ought not depend upon the ordinary dictionary for the truth about Masonic terms. Masonry has its own vocabulary and uses it in its own ways. Nor can our words always be defined for the benefit of the profane.

Even in Masonic lore the word cable-tow varies in form and use. In an early pamphlet by Pritard, issued in 1730, and meant to be an exposure of Masonry, the cable-tow is a called a "Cable-Rope," and in another edition a "Tow-Line." The same word "Tow-Line" is used in a pamphlet called "A Defense of Masonry," written, it is believed, by Anderson as a reply to Pritchard about the same time. In neither pamphlet is the word used in exactly the form and sense in which it is used today; and in a note Pritchard, wishing to make everything Masonic absurd, explains it as meaning "The Roof of the Mouth!" In English lodges, the Cable-Tow, like the hoodwink, is used only in the first degree, and has no symbolical meaning at all, apparently. In American lodges it is used in all three degrees, and has almost too many meanings. Some of our American teachers - Pike among them - see no meaning in the cable-tow beyond its obvious use in leading an initiate into the lodge, and the possible use of withdrawing him from it should he be unwilling or unworthy to advance.

To some of us this non-symbolical idea and use of the cable-tow is very strange, in view of what Masonry is in general, and particularly in its ceremonies of initiation. For Masonry is a chamber of imagery. The whole Lodge is a symbol. Every object, every act is symbolical. The whole fits together into a system of symbolism by which Masonry veils, and yet reveals, the truth it seeks to teach to such as have eyes to see and are ready to receive it.

As far back as we can go in the history of initiation, we find the cable-two, or something like it, used very much as it is used in a Masonic Lodge today. No matter what the origin and form of the word as we employ it may be - whether from the Hebrew "Khabel," or the Dutch "cabel," both meaning a rope - the fact is the same. In India, in Egypt and in most of the ancient Mysteries, a cord or cable was used in the same way and for the same purpose.

In the meaning, so far as we can make it out, seems to have been some kind of pledge - a vow in which a man pledged his life. Even outside initiatory rites we find it employed, as, for example, in a striking scene recorded in the Bible (I Kings 20:31,32), the description of which is almost Masonic. The King of Syria, Ben-hada, had been defeated in battle by the King of Israel and his servants are making a plea for his life. They approach the King of Israel "with ropes upon their heads," and speak of his "Brother, Ben-hadad." Why did they wear ropes, or nouses, on their heads?

Evidently to symbolize a pledge of some sort, given in a Lodge or otherwise, between the two Kings, of which they wished to remind the King of Israel. The King of Israel asked: "Is he yet alive? He is my brother." Then we read that the servants of the Syrian King watched to see if the King of Israel made any sign, and, catching his sign, they brought the captive King of Syria before him. Not only was the life of the King of Syria spared, but a new pledge was made between the two men.

The cable-tow, then, is the outward and visible symbol of a vow in which a man has pledged his life, or has pledged himself to save another life at the risk of his own. Its length and strength are measured by the ability of the man to fulfill his obligation and his sense of the moral sanctity of his obligation - a test, that is, both of his capacity and of his character.

If a lodge is a symbol of the world, and initiation is our birth into the world of Masonry, the cable-tow is not unlike the cord which unites a child to its mother at birth; and so it is usually interpreted. Just as the physical cord, when cut, is replaced by a tie of love and obligation between mother and child, so, in one of the most impressive moments of initiation, the cable-tow is removed, because the brother, by his oath at the Altar of Obligation, is bound by a tie stronger than any physical cable. What before was an outward physical restraint has become a inward moral constraint. That is to say, force is replaced by love - outer authority by inner obligation - and that is the secret of security and the only basis of brotherhood.

The cable-tow is the sign of the pledge of the life of a man. As in his oath he agrees to forfeit his life if his vow is violated, so, positively, he pledges his life to the service of the Craft. He agrees to go to the aid of a Brother, using all his power in his behalf, "if within the length of his cable-tow," which means, if within the reach of his power. How strange that any one should fail to see symbolical meaning in the cable-tow. It is, indeed, the great symbol of the mystic tie which Masonry spins and weaves between men, making them Brothers and helpers one of another.

But, let us remember that a cable-tow has two ends. If it binds a Mason to the Fraternity, by the same fact it binds the Fraternity to each man in it. The one obligation needs to be emphasized as much as the other. Happily, in our day we are beginning to see the other side of the obligation - that the Fraternity is under vows to its members to guide, instruct and train them for the effective service of the Craft and of humanity. Control, obedience, direction or guidance - these are the three meanings of the cable-tow, as it is interpreted by the best insight of the Craft.

Of course, by Control we do not mean that Masonry commands us in the same sense that it uses force. Not at all. Masonry rules men as beauty rules an artist, as love rules a lover. It does not drive; it draws. It controls us, shapes us through its human touch and its moral nobility. By the same method, by the same power it wins obedience and gives guidance and direction to our lives. At the Altar we take vows to follow and obey its high principles and ideals; and Masonic vows are not empty obligations - they are vows in which a man pledges his life and his sacred honor.

The old writers define the length of a cable-tow, which they sometimes call a "cables length," variously. Some say it is seven hundred and twenty feet, or twice the measure of a circle. Others say that the length of the cable-tow is three miles. But such figures are merely symbolical, since in one man it may be three miles and in another it may easily be three thousand miles - or to the end of the earth. For each Mason the cable-tow reaches as far as his moral principles go and his material conditions will allow. Of that distance each must be his own judge, and indeed each does pass judgment upon himself accordingly, by his own acts in aid of others.

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Mar. 1926
Masonic Service Association of North America


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