Ropes and cords were used in several
ancient religious ceremonies. The candidate
would be led into the temple by a rope, and
if he fainted from fright he was dragged out
by it! Druid priests wore either a cord or a
chain about their neck or waist to symbolise
In some of the medieval courts, a rope or
cord was tied about the neck or middle of
the accused person to show that he was at
the mercy of the courts.
The ancient Egyptians used a remarkable
and ingenious system to create right-angles
when measuring their fields after the annual
Nile floods that always washed away their
boundaries. If you take a length of string and
tie knots in it to accurately divide it into 12
divisions, with the two ends joining, the
divisions must be equal and correct.
Get three thin sticks just strong enough
to stick into the soil. Stab one stick into the
ground and arrange a knot at the stick,
stretch three divisions away from it in any
direction, and insert the second stick into
the ground against the knot.
Now place the third stick, so that it falls on
the knot between the fourth part and the fifth
part – or division – and this creates a 3:4:5
right-angled triangle. The angle between the
third and fourth divisions is of necessity a
right-angle or a square. So there you have it!
Freemasonry has nothing in common with
the ancient and savage superstitions regarding
knots. In Rome, the human embodiment of
the sky spirit Jupiter was not allowed to have
a knot in any part of his garments.
Moslem pilgrims to Mecca may not
Savage tribes believed that knots in the
clothing of a bride prevented a true marriage,
that it prevented childbirth. Some believed
that a knot prevented a proper passage of the
spirit of one in the throes of death.
Freemasonry has preserved ancient
symbolism in the cable tow of a pledge,
promise or obligation, and a submission
to the laws of character building.
Much has been written about how long is
a cable tow? But if the question is rephrased
to asking what is a cable’s length, then the
answer is a matter of fact, not opinion.
Consider, for example, William Falconer’s
Maritime Dictionary: Cable’s length – a
measure of 120 fathoms – or of the usual
length of the cable.
The last eight words are something of
a let-out clause, but by simple arithmetic a
fathom is six feet or 1.8 metres. Therefore,
a cable’s length will be 120 x 6’ i.e., 720’
or 216 metres.
I cannot resist the mischievous thought
of apprehending the next candidate
immediately after his initiation to ask him:
“By the way, can you tell me – what was the
length of the cable tow?”
Brother Arthur Powell wrote something
which I consider to be a fitting conclusion
to this subject:
What is it that strand that tugs at our hearts,
taut when so many threads are broken in the
rough ways of the world. He asks the question:
ask what it is in the wild that calls to the little
What sacred secret things do the mountains
whisper to the hill men, so silently yet so
surely that they can be heard above the din
and clatter of the world?
What mysteries does the sea tell to the sailor?
The desert to the Arab? The Arctic ice to the
explorer? The stars to the astronomer?
When we have answered these questions,
maybe – just maybe – we can divine the
magic of Masonry. Who knows what it is?
Or how? Or why?
Unless of course it be ‘the long cable tow
of God running from heart to heart.
With acknowledgement to MSANA Ref: 09-50
Ray Hollins is the author of A Daily Advancement
in Masonic Knowledge: One Hundred Short Talks
on the Craft.
For further information contact The Freemason Ltd on
0870 922 0352 or go to: www.masonicshortalks.com
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