THE CABLETOW LENGTH
Grand Lodge of British Columbia Bulletin - December 1976
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,
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
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 fathoms.
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
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 apprenticeship obligations.
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
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 fifty miles.
Three miles was generally recognized as a reasonable walking
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
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 and fellowship.
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 obligation.
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
It goes as far as charity's dollar
It can travel as far as goodwill
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 his influences.
Worshipful Brother W.A. Rattray, The Ashlar.
The United Grand Lodge of Queensland.
to Salem Lodge