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by W. Graham Brown
Among the many symbols and veiled verbal references which occur in ceremonies of Entering, Passing and Raising there are some which are less easy of interpretation than others. Of some it may be said that it can be interpreted by a child, but such an interpretation is likely to be incorrect and it is probably true to say the real symbolism lies much deeper than would at first sight appear. The Cable-tow is one of these symbols. In the Entered Apprentice Degree the aspirant is taught the useful lesson that he who has once felt within him the impulses of Light, and been moved to seek it, should never retreat from his quest, and, indeed, cannot do so without doing violence to the highest within him, a violence equivalent to moral suicide.
At the same time he is also enjoined not to be unduly precipitate, not ignorantly and rashly rush forward in an unprepared inward state to grasp the secrets of his own being, in which case peril of another kind threatens him; but to proceed humbly, meekly, cautiously and under instructed guidance. The ancient maxim 'Know thyself', was coupled with another, Ne quid nimis, 'Nothing in Excess'; for the science can only be learned and applied gradually. It will unfold itself more and more as it is diligently studied and pursued.
The foregoing explanation of the cable-tow is but a very partial one, and inculcates a salutary, but purely moral, piece of advice. The deeper significance is a psycho-physiological one, and has to do with the mysteries of the human organism. It should not be overlooked that the cable-tow is given prominence not only in the first degree. It is again mentioned in the obligation in the third degree, whilst it appears under another guise in the working-tool of the Master Mason which acts upon a centre pin. And finally it reappears in the Royal Arch Degree as a cord or life line. It is requisite to understand what is involved in something to which such recurring prominence is given.
Let us first recall what has been already stated about the human organism being a composite structure of several natures or bodies (physical, etheric, emotional, and mental), fixated in a unity or synthesis; each of such bodies being constituted of gross or subtle matter, of differing density and vibratory rate, and the whole Coordinated by the central divine principle (which may or may not yet have come forward into the formal conscious mind, although there are few in whose awareness it is not lurkingly present and more or less active as 'conscience').
Thus the human constitution may be likened to a number of glass tumblers placed one within the other and with, say, a night light (representing the central Principle) inserted in the inmost one. The glass of the tumblers may be imagined as of progressive thickness and coarseness, from within outwards, and some of them as coloured, dirty, or not closely fitting in with the others. The coarser, dirtier. and more opaque the glasses, the less able will be the central Light to shine through them; a single glass may be so opaque as to prevent the passage of the light through all the rest. Here, then, is an object lesson, in the need for the inward purification of our various constituent sheaths, and for becoming perfect in all our parts'. As William Blake said very truly: 'If the gates of human perception were thoroughly cleansed, we should perceive everything as it is - infinite; but man has closed himself up till he sees all things only through the narrow chinks of his own cavern. '
Another illustration. Human compositeness may be compared with the concentric skins or sheaths of a vegetable bulb (an onion, or hyacinth). Here the sheaths are all equally pure and Coordinated; and because the bulb is perfect in all its parts of sheaths, and, when planted, fulfils the whole law of its nature, its life-force bursts its natural bonds, throws up a self-built superstructure into the air, and there effloresces into the bloom which is its 'crown of life' or fulness of development. Man should do this, and, as we have shown, this is what the Mason is taught to do. But man having (what the bulb has not), freedom of will to fulfil or to violate the law of his nature, has chosen the latter course, and consequently by indulgence in perverse desire and wrongly directed thought, has fouled and disorganized his sheaths. Hence his spiritual darkness and his liability to all forms of disease. The central Principle cannot shine through this opacity, lighting up his mind and governing his desires and actions. It remains imprisoned within him. He sees, thinks and knows only from his self darkened outer sheaths, and is misguided and deluded accordingly.
For a final example, let us return to the instructive familiar episode in the Gospels of the storm overtaking a boat containing a number of men, of whom the Chief was 'asleep in the hinder part of the boat'. The boat typifies the human organism; its occupants, its various parts and faculties, including the as yet unawakened Master Principle resident in its depths or 'hinder part'. An emotional upheaval occurs; the rough waves of passion threaten to wreck the whole party. A brain storm arises; intemperate gusts of fright, wrong-headedness, and mental un-control, make the position still worse. The extremity is sufficiently acute to awaken the Master Principle into activity whose beneficent power is able instantly to still those unruly winds and waves, which suddenly are reduced to a great peace.
Every Master Mason, who is a real and not merely a titular one, is able to perform this 'miracle' in himself; perhaps in others also. There is nothing supernatural about it to him. It is possible to him because he 'has the Mason Word and second sight'; he both understands the composite structure of the human organism, can visually discern the disordered part or parts and can apply healing, harmonising, vibratory power from his own corresponding part to the seat of the mischief, saying to this disordered mental part or that unruly emotional sheath. 'Peace, be still'. Every Master Mason is therefore also a Master Physician, able to benefit patients in a medical sense, and also to visualise the inner condition of those who look to him for instruction and initiation in a Masonic sense, to advise upon their interior needs and moral ailments, and help them to purify and align their disordered natures. But this is not possible save to one who himself has become pure and rectified in all his parts; the physician must first heal himself before he can communicate either physical or moral health to others.
This promise about the compositeness of the human structure and the existence in us of a series of independent, yet Coordinated 'parts' or sheaths, has been necessary before we can speak directly of the cable-tow. What is it that connects these parts? And are these parts dissociable from one another?
We know that they are normally in close association and to this association applies the enjoinder that what God hath joined, man shall not put asunder. What the age-long process of evolution has built up with infinite patience and care is not to be tampered with for improper purposes, or even by well-meaning but, as yet, unenlightened experiment in the supposed interests of science; a point upon which the old masters and teachers of our science are specially insistent, for reasons which now need not to be entered upon.
Nevertheless, a measure of dissociation does occur naturally in even the most healthy and well-organised people (and of cases of abnormal psychic looseness of constitution we need not speak). It occurs in sleep, when the consciousness may be vividly active, whether in an orderly or disorderly manner; people 'travel' in their sleep. It occurs at times of illness or violent shock. It may be induced by alcohol or drugs; the 'anaesthetic revelation' is a well recognised phenomenon. Under any of these conditions there may be a complete ekstasis, or conscious standing out or away of the ego from the physical body. Apparitions and even action at a distance are well accredited facts. Such phenomena are explicable only upon the suppositions of the existence of a subtler vehicle than the gross body, of the fact that consciousness becomes temporarily transferred from the latter to the former, and that the two are capable of conjoint function in complete independence of the physical brain and body.
What preserves the connection between the two parts thus disjoined, and makes possible their subsequent recoalescence, is the 'cable-tow'. It is a connecting thread of matter of extreme tenuousness and elasticity issuing from the physical abdominal region and maintaining the same kind of connection with the extended subtle body as the string with which a boy flies a kite. As the boy can pull in the kite by the string, so does the extruded subtle body become drawn back to its physical base. Were the kite string severed during the kite's flight, the kite would collapse or be blown away. Similarly, were the human 'cable-tow' permanently severed, death would ensue and each of the severed parts go to its own place.
Biblically this human 'cable-tow' is called the silver cord in the well-known passage, 'or ever the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl is broken; then shall the body return to the earth and the spirit to God who gave it'. 'Silver' is the technical esoteric term for psychical substance. as gold is for spiritual, and iron or brass for physical. Its physiological correspondence is the umbilical cord connecting the child with its mother. Its analogue in ecclesiastical vestments is the girdle worn by the high priests of the Hebrew and by the priests and monastics of the Christian Church.
Everyone unconsciously possesses the cable-tow, and it comes into use during sleep, when a less or greater measure of involuntary dissociation of our parts occurs. A Master, however, is one who has outgrown the incapacities to which the undeveloped average man is subject. Unlike the latter, he is in full knowledge and control of all his parts; whether his physical body be awake or wrapped in sleep, he maintains unbroken consciousness. He is able at will to shut off consciousness of temporal affairs and apply it to supra-physical ones. He can thus function at a distance from his physical body, whether upon the mundane or upon higher planes of the cosmic ladder. His cable-tow, of infinite expansiveness, unwinds from his centre pin and, stretching like the kite string, enables him to travel where he will in his subtle body and to rejoin and reanimate his physical one at will. Hence it is that the Master Mason is pledged to answer and obey all signs and summonses from any Master Mason's lodge if within the reach of his cable-tow; and such assemblies, it should be remembered, are contemplated therefore as taking place not at any physical location, but upon an ethereal plane. For corroboration of what is possible in this respect to a Master, one should reflect upon the instances of bilocation, passing through closed walls, and manifesting at a distance, recorded of the Great Exemplar in the Gospels. These are representative of what is feasible to anyone attaining Mastership.
The cable-tow, therefore, is given prominence to the reflective Craftsman as a help towards understanding his own constitution, and to foreshadow to him work that lies before him when he is fitted to undertake it - work which now may seem to him impossible and incredible. For as the skirret (which is the cable-tow in another form) is intended for the skilful architect to draw forth a line to mark out the ground for the intended structure, so the competent builder of the spiritual body will unwind his own 'silver cord' when he learns how to function consciously on the ascending ladder of supra-physical planes, and to perceive the nature of the superstructure he himself is intended to construct.
Further importance attaches to the significance of the cable-tow from the fact testified to at the admission to our Order of every new candidate for ceremonial initiation. For all real Initiation involves the use of the actual 'silver cord' or life-line; since such Initiation always occurs when the physical body is in a state of trance or sleep, and when the temporarily liberated consciousness has been transferred to a higher level. Thence it subsequently is brought back to the physical organism, the cerebral and nerve centres of which become illumined, revitalised and raised to a higher pitch of faculty than was previously possible. The perspicacious Royal Arch Mason will not fail to perceive how this truth is dramatically exemplified in that degree.
This subject might be considerably extended, for whilst in a ceremonial system like freemasonry, only one initiation is portrayed (or rather where initiation only occurs once), yet in the actual experience of soul-architecture Initiation succeeds Initiation upon increasingly higher levels of the ladder as the individual becomes correspondingly ripe for them, able to bear their strain and to assimilate their revelations. What the Craft teaching and symbols inculcate is a principle common to every degree of real Initiation that one may prove worthy to attain. For each upward step, the candidate for the heights must be prepared as he is in the Entered Apprentice degree; at each there will be the same peril in turning back, and at each the same menace directed against rashly rushing forward.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014