Sept 2018 Masters Message
What is a Cable Tow?
We hear about it from Day one as a member of the fraternity. Why is it on me? What do I do with it? You can obtain a basic understanding of a cable tow and its use from listening and watching initiations, but what is it? Why do we incorporate it into our work? Does it have a fraternal meaning as well?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a cable length as “about 100 fathoms: in marine charts 605.56 feet, or one tenth of a sea mile.” It is interesting to note that this idea of burial from shore appears in our earliest ritual documents, though the actual use of the words cable length came later. The first use of the term appears in the Wilkinson MS., c 1710.
In Medieval days the cable tow, or rope noose, was worn when taking an obligation, as a symbol of submission, inferring that it could be used to inflict the penalty if a breach of that contract was committed. The usage probably stemmed from the fact that Medieval Masons were required to attend their annual or triennial “assemblies” except in case of sickness or “in peril of death”. Others have said that certain assemblies specified what that distance was, ranging from 3 to 50 miles. What is interesting is the term is used as “my cable tow”, implying that it is an individual thing, and hence unique. If so, many have said that the length of one’s cable tow, and hence the ability to attend Lodge, depends on the individuals circumstances, like work obligations, family, distance and the like
In a literal sense the cable-tow is a cable or cord by which something is towed or drawn. For Masons, particularly in the E.A. degree the cable-tow is an apt symbol of those forces and influences which conduct not only the individual, but the human race out of a condition of ignorance or darkness into one of light and knowledge. In speculative Masonry it is symbolic of our obligations and teaches restraint, self-discipline, prudence, temperance, etc.
It is doubtful that in Speculative Masonry the cable tow was ever intended to have any physical length but is utilized purely as a means of impressing the individual Mason that he was committed to fulfill his obligation to his Lodge and his Brethren, regarding his attendance, to the utmost of his ability and not to let trivial things prevent him from discharging his responsibility.
The compilers of our ritual were men who saw that it was only by attendance of our Lodge that we as Master Masons can be instructed in the spiritual and symbolical teaching of our Craft, a fuller realization of the Fatherhood of God and the universal Brotherhood of man, a greater understanding of the principles of Brotherly love, relief and truth. By emulating the virtues displayed in the Five Points of Fellowship we will find that although our duties and obligations have increased, that which was once a tie is now no longer a length or distance. Instead it was a commitment we obligated ourselves that is now lost in the satisfying reward of love, peace and harmony in fraternal nearness and fellowship.
How do you honor YOUR cable-tow?