The cabletow length
Worshipful Brother W.A. Rattray
The word 'cabletow' is purely Masonic and not heard of in general use outside
of the Lodge Room.
In Medieval days the cabletow 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.
In speculative Masonry it is symbolic of our obligations and teaches
restraint, self discipline, prudence, temperance, etc.
Elsewhere in the ritual 'cable's length' is mentioned. The term 'cable's length'
is a measure of length used at sea defined as being 200 yards.
A ship's cable can vary according to prevailing conditions of sea, wind, size of
ship, weight of vessel to be towed and the length is given as 100, 120, 130
The trade guilds of the middle ages were leaders of s(xial life and laws to
protect their crafts and skills. They assisted the needy, sick and aged, and
generally promoted goodwill and fellowship and encouraged church attendance.
Our Freemasonry of today has a strong resemblance to those guilds, and has made
symbolic adoption of their trade customs and skills for moral instruction, and
in some respects, there is a close relation to the wording of their
Indentures of Apprenticeship which no doubt some present will possess have a
clause giving the apprentice the right to cancel his Indenture should his
employer go out of business and cannot place him with another employer within a
distance of three miles, in some, in others five miles.
According to ancient laws of Freemasonry every brother must attend if he be
within the length of his cabletow.
Old writers define the length of a cable length as three miles, others five to
Three miles was generally recognized as a reasonable walking distance.
The Master Mason promises to obey all signs and summons sent to him if with in
the length of 'my cabletow'.
When we take the full sentence the word My' in this phrase is very important. It
is personal, it represents the individual. So the length of each of our
cabletows can vary according to each of our own personal commitments - sickness
of self or family, work obligations, transport problems.
It is doubtful that in Speculative Masonry the cabletow was ever intended to
have any physical length but purely as a means of impressing the individual
Mason that he was committed to fulfill his obligation to his Lodge and the
Brethren, in regard to 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 has now no longer length or distance
lost in the satisfying reward of love, peace and harmony in fraternal nearness
Symbolically the length of the cabletow is the scope of Freeman's responsibility
to God, his neighbour and himself in the light of his ability to discharge that
This is summed up briefly in the words of an American Brother:
"It is as long as the arm that stretches out a helping hand.
It reaches as far as the Brother's cheering voice.
It goes as far as charity's dollar can go.
It can travel as far as goodwill can travel.
Wherever the mails can carry a letter, it can be carried".
The length of a Master Mason's cabletow is precisely equal to the extent of
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