Author Archives: Allen Hamilton

The Multiple Meanings of the Cable-Tow

By Bro. Ron Craft, Senior Deacon

The candidate is introduced to the cable-tow while being prepared to receive the degrees in Freemasonry, but to some noteworthy brethren, the symbol was never clearly explained. The cable-tow has an outward meaning, which stems from the degrees of Masonry but is also part of our daily Masonic vernacular. The first meaning seems obvious to Masons, as all of us have seen the cable-tow in use and heard its purpose explained in a degree lecture, but we also tell each other not to go further than the length of it, meaning only to do what we can according to our ability. Is there a deeper or esoteric meaning to the cable-tow? A check of the many sources will yield a variety of answers, however, there are some common themes. One concise definition of the cable-tow is given by A.E. Waite, who says:

Most generally, the binding covenant of Masonry, and the length of the cable tow is the reasonable limit of obligation. In a particular sense the length signifies the extent of a Mason’s ability to attend meetings. The Cable Tow has another meaning in the first degree. (Waite, 1970, p. xiv)

The definition appears very simple, and could easily be accepted with little afterthought. I contend, however, that the cable-tow, like most Masonic symbols, has multiple meanings and our common use of the word merely conceals the inward meanings.

First, it is necessary to clear up one common misconception; is “cable-tow” an English word at all? A contemporary Masonic scholar, Henry Coil in his Masonic Encyclopedia defines cable-tow as “A heavy rope or hawser by which a mass, especially a ship, may be hauled, pulled, or towed” (Coil, 1996, p. 115). Albert Mackey, on the other hand says that a “cable tow is a rope or line for drawing or leading” and then writes that “The word is purely Masonic” (Mackey, 1929, pp. 168-169). If one is to search for the word “cable-tow” in either the Oxford or Webster’s dictionary he will find that there are zero results. Because cable-tow is not defined in the English language, it is unclear where Coil found his particular definition, but it appears that Mackey is correct, when he stated that the word is “purely Masonic.” Mackey also wrote that “cable-tow” may have derived from a similarly pronounced German word, however that is beyond the scope of this discussion. For now, we will stipulate that “cable-tow” appears to be strictly a Masonic word, created for a Masonic purpose.

Next, I would like to call attention to Waite’s definition where he noted that the cable-tow has another meaning in the Entered Apprentices degree. Here, Mackey expands on this point and says that:

In its first inception, the cable tow seems to have been used only as a physical means of controlling the candidate, and such an interpretation is still given in the Entered Apprentice’s Degree. But in the Second and Third Degrees a more modern symbolism has been introduced, and the cable tow is in these grades supposed to symbolize the covenant by which all Freemasons are tied, thus reminding us of the passage in Hosea (xi, 4), “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” (Mackey, 1929, pp. 168-69)

The Old Charges, exposures, and written rituals indicate that in England, Scotland and France, the cable-tow was used in the Apprentice or Entered Apprentice degree only, and it is likely that, for a time, ritual in the United States followed this same pattern. The appearance of the cable-tow in the second and third degrees possibly came about in the 1840’s with the meeting of the Baltimore Convention where it was defined as “the scope of a man’s reasonable ability” (Coil, 1996, p. 115). Therefore, if the cable-tow was traditionally used in the first degree only, it is here we can uncover some of its more esoteric meanings.

On the inward meaning of the cable-tow, Masonic writers have come to varied conclusions. Joseph Fort Newton believed that a rope or cable anciently represented a pledge, or a vow in which a man pledged his life. This pledge was used in earlier initiation societies as well as in the Bible. Newton cites 1 Kings 20:31,32 when the Syrian King was defeated in battle, his servants approached the victorious Israeli King “with ropes upon their heads,” in order to remind him about a pledge (Newton, 1969, p. 77). Newton further elaborates on the bond:

If a Lodge is a symbol of the world, and initiation is our birth into Masonry, the cable tow is not unlike the umbilical cord, uniting a child with his mother. When the umbilical cord is cut, it is replaced by a stronger, invisible bond between mother and child. The candidate is released from his cable tow at the altar following his obligation, and is bound to a stronger, invisible bond (Newton, 1969, p. 77).

Newton has beautifully laid out a symbolic meaning for the cable-tow, which rings true as being released from the cable-tow coincides with the moment that the initiate becomes a brother, instantly forming a bond with the men of his Lodge.

Albert Pike’s thoughts on the cable-tow do not fundamentally disagree with those of Newton. However, he expands on the definition by offering a view of the state of the man who is wearing the cable-tow. Pike writes:

The Cable-Tow, therefore, is the Hieroglyphic of a Pledge or Obligation, and it not only means the Candidate’s pledge and obligation, which, to become a Neophyte, he must take to the Order and to every individual Brother; but that, wearing it, he represents men and nations, all whose rights of property, liberty, conscience and life, and they themselves, chattels in the form of human creatures and peoples, are pledged to their masters, as an article of clothing or of furniture is to the pawnbroker (Pike, 2008, p. 280).

Pike’s definition is puzzling, so in order to understand his meaning, we must look to other writings. Pike was dissatisfied with the standard explanation concerning the length of the cable-tow, because in his opinion, it was supposed to bring a feeling of degradation to the candidate. According to Pike, the candidate represents a man deprived of light, knowledge of reason, of God, nature, or even himself and the cable-tow is a symbol of a man in bondage (Pike, 2008, pp. 98-99). When the cable-tow is lifted, the candidate receives light, both physically and symbolically, and he becomes bound to his brethren by a stronger obligation. As many veterans can attest, basic training works much the same way. You begin as a “pathetic recruit” but you leave with esoteric knowledge of the service, as well as a bond with the men and women of the uniform.

Like many Masonic symbols, the cable-tow has multiple meanings. However, they can be boiled down to length, obligation and reasonable limitations. The outward symbol is used in our degrees and our everyday communications. The inward and original meaning may be lost to time, as we will never know exactly why the cable-tow was selected. Masons like Newton and Pike, however, believed that the cable-tow was purposely and symbolically used in the initiation of an Entered Apprentice. Regardless, the symbol is worthy of your contemplation, particularly as students and mentors in the Craft.


Works Cited

Coil, H. W. (1996). Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia. Richmond: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply CO., INC.

Mackey, A. G. (1929). Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and Kindred Sciences (Vol. I). Chicago: The Masonic History Company.

Newton, J. F. (1969). Short Talks on Masonry. Richmond: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Company, INC.

Pike, A. (2008). Esoterika: The Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry. Washington D.C.: The Scottish Rite Reseach Society.

Waite, A. E. (1970). A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry. New York: Weathervane Books.




Building Greater Union Through Virtue

Remarks by Wor. Hamilton at the Wreath Laying Ceremony at Mount Vernon

Serving as Worshipful Master in the Lodge of Washington is truly humbling. As we gather here today to celebrate Illustrious Brother Washington’s 292nd birthday, I am reminded of the two centuries of Masonic ancestors who have completed the same ritual. As in any family, our chosen Masonic family is strengthened by our annual returns to tradition and ritual. Just as a family is reunited around a Thanksgiving table, Masons in Alexandria – Washington Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Virginia are reunited annually in our commitment to our obligations through honoring one of our greatest exemplars. On his birthday, we are reminded of Washington’s lifelong pursuit and significant sacrifice to create union, liberated from oppression and committed to equality. These Masonic ideals are our legacy and our mandate and we honor Washington’s memory through our commitment to them.

This year in particular, in this sacred place, I think about the special relationship that a 19-year-old French aristocrat forged with a 45-year-old revolutionary leader. The Marquie de Lafayette looked to Washington as a father figure, and on his return to the United States in 1824, the accounts of him kneeling and weeping before the sarcophagus of Washington underscore the depth and importance of this relationship. We empathize as we remember our own passed fathers, grandfathers, and Masonic brothers. We recognize that mourning is, in its own right, a celebration of light that once shown brightly. Lafayette said, “In my idea General Washington is the greatest man; for I look upon him as the most virtuous.” These sage words are a charge for us to also strive to emulate Washington’s virtue.

There is little doubt that 2024 will be a turbulent year in the United States and around the globe. We are challenged to draw upon the lessons we have learned in the Craft and Washington’s example of building greater union through virtue. We are challenged to subdue our passions and commit to understanding those perspectives that we question. We are challenged to be good Freemasons, brokering greater civility and ensuring the potential of the country Washington envisioned might be more closely achieved. As I lay a wreath today on behalf of Alexandria – Washington Lodge, in commemoration of this most esteemed Masonic family tradition, I do so in hope that we can be men who would make Washington proud and who might live into Lafayette’s assertion that, “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights.”

Symbolisms of the Level

By Bro. Adam Smartt, Senior Warden

We meet upon the Level, though from every station come,
The king from out his palace, and the poor man from his home;
For the one must leave his diadem outside the mason’s door,
And the other finds his true respect upon the chequered floor

                – MW Robert Morris. The Level and the Square.” 1854.

In perhaps his most well-known work, nineteenth century poet and Freemason Robert Morris lauded the symbolic importance of the three jewels worn by the stationed officers of a Craft lodge. Arguably only surpassed in Masonic prominence by the square and compasses, the plumb, level and square offer a similar admonishment in how we are to conduct ourselves as just and upright Masons. While the square and compasses offer an inward instruction to temper our passions, show reverent and faithful obedience to our Creator and always seek to act in a just and upright manner, the plumb, level and square offer guidance on how we are to act towards our fellow man, more especially if he be a Mason.

As the jewel of the Senior Warden, I’ve reflected on the tremendous duty that is commanded by the symbolic meaning of the level. As the Tiler protects the room of the Lodge from all cowans, eavesdroppers and uninvited interlopers, the level symbolically guards the body of the Lodge from everything that must remain without the door in order for peace and harmony to prevail within. By it, we are charged to leave behind all politics, piques and prejudices, divest ourselves of any rank, title and professional prestige we so often seek in external life, eschew the dogmatic divisions that have fractured societies from time immemorial, and thereby be enabled to truly embrace our brethren as equals.

In The Craft and Its Symbols, Allen Roberts notes the mild confusion many new Entered Apprentices may experience when they learn the plumb, level and square are defined as “immovable” jewels. Why, then, are they worn by those who are constantly standing and sitting during a meeting, to say nothing of the complex choreography of degree work? The short answer is that each is only ever worn by a specific officer, all of whom must be present for a lodge to open. Therefore, if a lodge is at labor you will always find the immovable jewels present. However, this is Freemasonry, so a short answer will never suffice.

Much like our working tools which have both operative and speculative uses, Roberts offers a second, more symbolic definition for what arguably makes the level “immovable.” He suggests that the guidance it offers and the lesson it imparts is of such great moral and Masonic importance, the level that is worn over our heart must also be symbolically deposited within it, and never removed.

Early in my Masonic career, I struggled with memorizing the vast array of titles and styles of address I would hear exchanged in the lodge room or, inducing even greater anxiety, when Grand Lodge Officers were present. Manners maketh man, after all. In nervously stealing furtive glances at regalia as someone approached or straining to overhear how another had addressed them, it seemed that all Masons are equal, but some are more equal than others. It was a kind Past Master – or perhaps one who had simply tired of my frequent inquiries – who quickly, correctly and charitably disabused me of the notion. “If you aren’t sure how to greet me,” he said, “you can never go wrong with ‘brother.’”

With all due respect our beautiful ritual, excellent lectures and the tomes of scholarly work that fill Masonic libraries, it was in that simple moment that I truly understood the meaning of the level.

Wor. David Bella’s Remarks at Mount Vernon

Each year, our lodge hosts a wreath laying at the tomb of our Illustrious Brother and Past Master, George Washington, on the anniversary of his death on December 14, 1799. We have led this every year, rain or shine, for 224 years. Earlier today, Wor. David Bella gave the following remarks

This is the last major event in my tenure as Worshipful Master of the Lodge. We elect my successor tonight and words cannot express how much of an honor it is to be here speaking to you today, and to have been chosen to serve this year. Washington served many organizations and held many titles in his lifetime. General of the Armies: 2 other men served and achieved that rank. President of the United States: only 44 other men have served in that position. Worshipful Master of this Lodge: 161 and I am one of them. What an honor.

As many of you know, the Lodge lays a wreath every year in February in addition to today to celebrate Washington’s birthday. February 22nd is straightforward: we celebrate the birth of the father of our nation. Today isn’t so jovial. Today is a bit more somber and I believe more nuanced. So I was asking myself why we continue to be here every year, rain or shine.

Even after 224 years, I see several reasons why we continue to make this pilgrimage. I see the reasons as being highly Masonic.

The first is our commitment and bond to each other. This is a public demonstration and reinforcement of the concept of Brotherly Love. We are here for each other, even after 224 years.

The second is our commitment to honoring the past. Community institutions are built and maintained by titans like George Wasington. Without men like Washington and the other 159 Past

Masters, our Lodge, our community, and country would not be the same without them.

The third is the ritualistic nature of doing this year after year. This is what makes our communities strong. This shared experience throughout history binds generations together and keeps current ones engaged with one another. What a strong Lodge and institution we are to be here no matter what. Just think if we decided that it was too rainy or cold one year. Does that sound like a strong institution? Picking and choosing when we want to participate? We are strong because of our traditions. This is who we are. And I hope in 224 years from now, our distant successors will be here speaking of our most beloved and distinguished Brother. I know I will do my part.


Giving Tuesday – AW22 Foundation, Inc.

Brethren and Friends,

2023 has been a fantastic year for the Alexandria – Washington Lodge, No. 22, Foundation, Inc.

We held our first gala to celebrate George Washington’s Birthday and Virginia hosting the Conference of Grand Masters of North America. Former Governor and Brother Jim Gilmore truly made it a memorable evening with his keynote speech. It started the year off right! We completed our Charter Member Campaign, assisted the Lodge in honoring Alexandria Legend Marion Moon, and hosted our first Books and Breakfast event for Bro. Chris Ruli’s new book, The Whitehouse and the Freemasons.

We went into the year with a challenge from Wor. Bella to double the Foundation’s giving. We are just a $8,000 away from hitting our $50,000 goal. That is because of your generosity. Thank you. If you have the capacity for one more gift to round out 2023, we are hopeful of getting across Wor. Bella’s finish line before December 31. Visit our updated website and give by clicking the link below (and remember every gift helps!).

Click Here to Donate

The Foundation Board and the Lodge’s Stationed Officers enlisted the professional support of Executive Coach Karen Shrum to layout a thoughtful path forward. Mrs. Shrum donated her time and expertise to support the Foundation. We now have a defined plan for 2024 and strategic goals for five and ten years out. We are committed to the preservation of the Lodge’s collection and to spreading the Light of Masonry. However, we need you, our brothers and friends, Masons and non-Masons, to help us in our efforts.

On this Giving Tuesday, I ask that you help us wrap up 2023 by hitting our $50,000 goal and preparing us for a strong 2024. Thank you for your support. Thank you for getting the Lodge’s museum collection out into the world to educate and inspire. Thank you!

Wor. Nik Nikolov, PM
Foundation Chair

The AW22 Fellowcraft Tracing Board

Written by Bro. Robert Swanson, Lodge Education Officer

Last month we took a quick trip through the history & origins of Tracing Boards. We also introduced the three Tracing boards within the Lodge room of Alexandria-Washington 22 and provided a brief summation of the symbols to be found in the Entered Apprentice Tracing board. Let us now look more deeply into the Fellowcraft Tracing board and the symbols to be found within. If you see any other symbols of relevance or import, please share!

The Different Lessons Represented in the Fellowcraft Tracing Board

The Two Pillars, surmounted by the Globes – Celestial and terrestrial.

What is exquisite about this particular frame which can be seen in the Tracing board bottom right are actually the Two Pillars surmounted  by the Globes that exist in the AW-22 Lodge room as seen from the West-Gate whence the candidate enters the Lodge room. However, at AW22 when not enacting the FC Degree they are stationed around the Junior Warden’s station.

“Next, the doctrine of the Spheres as illustrated in the Sciences of Astronomy and Geography by the Globes of Celestial and Terrestrial”[i]

“the newly-obligated Fellow Craft is conducted to a site representing the porch of K-S-T. Thereupon, the first objects to which his attention is drawn are the Brazen Pillars, Jachin and Boaz, which are said to be representations of those that stood on the porch, flanking the entrance to the Temple. The word Jachin is said to denote establishment, and Boaz signifying strength. Taken together, they may be interpreted as “In strength shall this house be established.” [ii]

The Winding Staircase

“we are now about to make an ascent through a porch, by a flight of winding stairs, consisting of three, five and, seven steps, to a place representing the Middle Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple, there to receive instructions relative to the wages due, and the jewels of a Fellow Craft”[iii] “Symbolically, the Winding Staircase represents a journey- it implies motion, evolution and transformation. That the staircase winds is symbolic of the time, effort and dedication required of the Fellow Craft in his pursuit of knowledge”[iv]

“As a Fellow Craft, he has advanced another step, and as the degree is emblematic of youth, so it is here that the intellectual education of the candidate begins. And therefore, here, at the very spot which separates the porch from the sanctuary, where childhood ends and manhood begins, he finds stretching out before him a Winding Stair which invites him, as it were, to ascend, and which, as the symbol of discipline and instruction, teaches him that here must commence his Masonic labor – here he must enter upon those glorious though difficult researches, the end of which is to be the possession of Divine Truth.”[v]

The Middle Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple 

“This journey to the Middle Chamber, like many of the ceremonies of Freemasonry, is based upon one of the legends connected with the building of King Solomon’s Temple…On the evening of the sixth day those who had proved themselves worthy by a strict attention to their duties, were entrusted with certain mysterious words, signs, and grips, by  means of which they were enabled to work their way to the Middle Chamber of the Temple to receive their wages”[vi]

“The so-called Middle Chamber is believed to have been in fact the middle story, extending around the main building as far as the second floor extended, as was used, it is supposed, for the priests and their vessels…used in sacrificial and other ceremonies. For ritualistic purposes, the Middle Chamber is appropriated to the Fellow Crafts.”[vii]

The Five Orders of Architecture – Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite.

However only three are depicted in the painting: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

“The ancient and original Orders of Architecture revered by Masons. Are no more than three – the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, which were invented by the Grecians”[viii]




The Five Senses

“The Five Senses of Human Nature, to-wit: Hearing, Seeing, Feeling, Smelling, and Tasting, come next in order-the first three of which are most revered by Masons, for reasons which must be apparent to every enlightened Craftsman”[ix]

Though the Lambskin apron is not discussed in the 2nd Degree in Masonry Albert Mackey makes a wonderful allusion to the 5 senses compared with how an Entered Apprentice wears their Apron.

Mackey notes than as an EA “we wear it with the flap raised, forming a “five cornered badge” which is an allusion to our five senses that we use in relation to this physical world. When we combine the triangular flap with the quadrangular portion below it, it symbolizes a connection between the soul and body.[x]

The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences

“the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, to-wit: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Passing Over most of these, each of which affords a large field for the accomplished Scholar and Mason to dilate upon, we are arrested by the fifth Science, or Geometry, which treats of the powers and properties of Magnitudes in general, where length, breadth and thickness are concerned, from a point to a line, from a line to a superfice, and from a superfice to solid.”[xi]

The Mosaic Pavement

“The Mosaic Pavement is a representation of the ground floor of King Solomon’s Temple; the indented Tessel, of that beautiful border or skirting which surrounded it; and the Blazing Star is an emblem of Deity or an overruling Providence…The Mosaic Pavement is emblematical of human life, checkered with good and evil; the beautiful border which surrounds it, of the manifold blessings and comforts which surround us, and which we hope to enjoy by a faithful reliance on Divine Providence, which is hieroglyphically represented by the Blazing Star in the center”[xii]

The symbol of the sheaf of wheat or ear of Corn, suspended at or near a Water-ford

Orientation on the wall


The lessons of the Corn, Wine and Oil

“You have now arrived at the Middle Chamber where you are received and recorded a Fellow Craft. You are now entitled to wages, as such; which are, the Corn of nourishment, the Wine of refreshment, and the Oil of joy, which denote peace, harmony, and strength”[xiii]

“Corn, meaning “seed of a cereal plant”…was used to refer to oats, wheat, barley, and others generally”[xiv]

“Corn, Wine, and Oil are the Masonic elements of consecration. The adoption of these symbols is supported by the highest antiquity. Corn, Wine and Oil were the most important productions of Eastern counties; they constituted the wealth of the people, and were esteemed as the supports of life and the means of refreshment David enumerates them among the greatest blessings that we enjoy, and speaks of them as “wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth mans heart” (Psalm civ.,15)”[xv]


[i] Presentation Volume Grand Lodge of A F & AM of the Commonwealth of Virginia page 80

[ii] Jamie Paul Lamb Approaching the Middle Chamber page 50

[iii] IBID page 69

[iv] Ibid page 69

[v] Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume II page 1108

[vi] Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume II page 665

[vii] Coils Masonic Encyclopedia page 416

[viii] Presentation Volume Grand Lodge of A F & AM of the Commonwealth of Virginia page 81

[ix] IBID 83

[x] Wilmshurst’s “Meaning of Masonry” Page 31

[xi] Presentation Volume Grand Lodge of A F & AM of the Commonwealth of Virginia page 82

[xii] Presentation Volume Grand Lodge of A F & AM of the Commonwealth of Virginia page 66

[xiii] Jamie Paul Lamb Approaching the Middle Chamber page 387

[xiv] Ibid page 388

[xv] Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume I page 245

What is a Tracing Board?

Written by Bro. Robert Swanson, Lodge Education Officer

The Tracing Board

The genesis of the Tracing Board is at the heart of Freemasonry’s humble beginnings.  Before our structures and places of meeting became more permanent, lodges would meet in Taverns and other public places.

“so it was the practice to draw the lodge on the floor, that is, to mark it off on the floor with chalk or charcoal showing the various stations, representation of furniture , and symbols necessary to illustrate the lecture.”[i]

The symbolic drawings which once were drawn every meeting to “create” the lodge became works of art that evolved into the “Floor-Cloth” and then later became “Tracing Boards.”

What is a Tracing Board? According to Mackey a Tracing Board, otherwise known as Floor-Cloth[ii] is:

“A framework of board or canvas on which the emblems of any particular Degree are inscribed, for the assistance of the Master in giving a lecture. It is so called because formerly it was the custom to inscribe these designs on the floor of the Lodge-room in chalk, which were  wiped out when the Lodge was closed. It is the same as the Carpet or Tracing-Board” [iii] 

Brother Dimitar Gueorguiev Mavrov was commissioned in 2008 by the Brothers of AW-22 for the production of 3 Tracing boards, in accordance to traditions and customs of our Craft. In total the creation of these beautiful works of art by Brother Dimitar Mavrov took 9 months. However, in 2022 all three of the Tracing Boards were given improvements, and/or redesigns including additional “Masonic Symbols, Virtues and Knowledge.”[iv]

Entered Apprentice Tracing Board

“This tracing board is designed with the idea to ignite spiritual seekers in their quest for Knowledge and Light. The young apprentice will learn the symbols of the First Degree, building the foundation for further improvement. The Four Cardinal Virtues, the mysterious Ladder of Jacob, the lights and furniture of the Lodge, the Holy Saints John, and various tenets are shown.”[v] Designed on a Medium of “Oil on Canvas”[vi]



[i] Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia page 119

[ii] Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Volume 2 Page 1045

[iii] Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Volume 1 Page 359

[iv] Mavrov-Tracing-Boards

[v] IBID

[vi] IBID