Greetings, and welcome back to another month of Journeys! Today I’m sharing with you an article on the constellation and zodiac sign of Cancer. Another article in this journal connected to Saturn in Cancer is also currently available.
Song of the Wave
The strong shore is my beloved
And I am his sweetheart.
We are at last united by love, and
Then the moon draws me from him.
I go to him in haste and depart
Reluctantly, with many
I steal swiftly from behind the
Blue horizon to cast the silver of
My foam upon the gold of his sand, and
We blend in melted brilliance.
I quench his thirst and submerge his
Heart; he softens my voice and subdues
At dawn I recite the rules of love upon
His ears, and he embraces me longingly.
At eventide I sing to him the song of
Hope, and then print smooth kisses upon
His face; I am swift and fearful, but he
Is quiet, patient, and thoughtful. His
Broad bosom soothes my restlessness.
As the tide comes we caress each other,
When it withdraws, I drop to his feet in
Many times have I danced around mermaids
As they rose from the depths and rested
Upon my crest to watch the stars;
Many times have I heard lovers complain
Of their smallness, and I helped them to sigh.
Many times have I teased the great rocks
And fondled them with a smile, but never
Have I received laughter from them;
Many times have I lifted drowning souls
And carried them tenderly to my beloved
Shore. He gives them strength as he
Many times have I stolen gems from the
Depths and presented them to my beloved
Shore. He takes them in silence, but still
I give for he welcomes me ever.
In the heaviness of night, when all
Creatures seek the ghost of Slumber, I
Sit up, singing at one time and sighing
At another. I am awake always.
Alas! Sleeplessness has weakened me!
But I am a lover, and the truth of love
I may be weary, but I shall never die.
The magic of the shoreline is something almost all people can relate to. There is something deeply primal and satisfying for the soul in standing before the vast ocean and watching, listening and feeling it wash up against the skin of the land and body, something akin to coming home. Perhaps it is an evolutionary memory, deeply embedded in every living soul that dwells upon the land, or perhaps it is the spirit of the ocean itself playing with our senses. Whatever it is, we feel something vast and comforting, even nurturing from contact with the ocean, and the shoreline is the place where this magic lives.
Cancer is the supreme master of this domain, the only creature in the zodiacal pantheon truly equipped to navigate between both the realm of the ocean and dry land. It’s counterpart sign Capricorn also has a form which enables it to move between both of these realms but it is far less practical being a hybridised form while the form of the crab is naturally suited to both without needing modification of a base form. Additionally the crab is able to sink below the waves while the sea-goat can only navigate their surfaces.
In modern astrology which lacks an emphasis on the magical that astrology once had the sign of Cancer is largely concerned with family matters and parental instincts as well as experiences connected with establishing a home or a base of safety and retreat. As with all zodiac signs today, however, once we stop paddling and begin wading into the sea, the wonderland is found hidden away beneath the surface, not just a memory but a living thing.
Perhaps surprisingly for a Water sign the history of the constellation Cancer is connected with the northern hemisphere summer solstice, the heart of summer. About 6,000 years ago the stars which were seen to rise just before the dawn at the (northern hemisphere) summer solstice were the stars of the constellations Hydra and Leo, as they had been for centuries, but it became gradually apparent to observers that a new set of stars were appearing, and by 2,000 BCE the faint and somewhat dim stars of Cancer had replaced those of Hydra and Leo as the solstice heliacal rising stars. As far as we can tell the constellation was officially linked to the shape of a crab by the Chaldeans, who had noted the sideways movement of the Sun as it enters this constellation. In other words, surviving records show that the stars were given to the form of a crab at least 4,000 years ago by the way the solstice Sun moved into them as it rose. About this time texts appear in Egyptian culture connecting these stars with the sacred Scarab Beetle and the deity Khepri, signifying it as a place where Ra the solar deity was reborn – the solstice occurs as the Sun enters Cancer – a Scarab to the Egyptians – upon which the Nile flooded and the land was made fertile. Thus early connotations relate to both the power of light and the Sun and a flooding of water that brings life. Without this water, ancient Egyptian culture could not have existed at all.
Khepri literally means ‘He Who is Coming into Being’ and the deity is known as one that miraculously gives birth to itself. The hatching of the young dung beetle was akin to this self creation. Several telling connections emerge when we look into the significance and meaning of this name and the hieroglyph for ‘scarab’ in ancient Egyptian. It has the phonetic value of (k)hpr (the adopted pronunciation with vowels being Kheper) and it acts as an ideogram for the dung beetle insect itself but also stands as a verb which expresses the notion of finding ones home or role within the cyclical nature of life. Phonetically (i.e. by the sound of the word) it not only lends itself to Khepri, deity of the risen or dawn Sun, but also to the noun for the ball of dung the scarab beetle rolls and a verb which describes the shaping or molding of something on a potters wheel. These important and fascinating details touch upon much of the core magic and mystery of Cancer, today very much shrouded deeply in forgotten ancient history.
Elsewhere in the ancient world the traditions and stories of a Mother Turtle and a World Turtle – present in North and South America and throughout Asia but particularly in India and China, among others – are also connecting with these same notions. In Cheyenne tradition, the great creator spirit Maheo kneads some mud he takes from a birds beak until it expands so much that only Old Grandmother Turtle can support it on her back. In Mohawk tradition, earthquakes and tremors are thought of as a sign that the World Turtle is stretching beneath the great weight that she carries. Similar beliefs appear all over the ancient world.
Centuries after Khepri the Greeks tell a tale of Hercules fighting the Hydra and being attacked by a crab, who had been sent by jealous Hera to distract him in battle. Hercules either kicks crab into the heavens or Hera sets crab there as a reward for its loyalty and bravery after it tenaciously pinches his toe. It seems likely that the figure of crab was inserted into the tale of the 12 labors of Hercules much later to make them coincide with the zodiac, and it also seems likely that the tale of the Hydra and Hercules, with the Hydra being slain and the crab then set in the heavens, is a reference to the precession drama mentioned earlier, with Cancer displacing Hydra as the heliacal stars of the dawn at summer solstice. If so, this would roughly date the Hercules story to about 2,000 BC. However, there is an earlier Mesopotamian myth concerning Ninurta in which Ninurta battles with a giant turtle, concerning which we do not know the complete story because the tablets are broken, but this may well form an earlier version of the Hercules story which was simply reinvented later by the ancient Greeks.
The Greeks also tell another story related to Cancer, a tale involving Dionysus that is probably far older than the Hercules story. Dionysus places two donkeys in this constellation (two stars) for the favour of carrying him through marshland. Later, the tale of Dionysus and the donkeys is reiterated by Christian theology as the constellation of Cancer is identified as a manger and two donkeys. Another Greek legend carries a significant resonance with Cancer and provides an alternative creation myth. According to this myth an immortal and immensely strong giant crab named Crios was set to guard the sea nymphs by Poseidon, considered by him to be his daughters. During the assault by Typhon (the god of monsters) on the gods of Olympus, Poseidon flees into hiding and Crios sets to zealously defending the nymphs, whom he will not let out of his grasp. The nymphs become restless and convince themselves that they are in no danger, and some escape into the ocean. Crios is trapped by a dilemma, since he cannot leave the other nymphs but must pursue his duty, so he calls on the help of an ally, a giant squid named Vamari. But Vamari, whose name means ‘vampire squid’, can only betray Crios. After devouring them Vamari tells Crios he could not find them, but Crios is too astute and sees the truth in the beak, as it were. Crios attacks Vamari and an epic undersea battle ensues in which Vamari is killed and Crios is horrifically crippled. As with Chiron, immortality becomes a curse of unending pain, a curse which Poseidon frees him from by placing him in the night sky.
As the history of human cultures developed the concept of life-giving waters popular in Egyptian times seems to have flowed into later medieval and middle age notions connected with Cancer. As a walker between the worlds, a creature inhabiting the shoreline between the ocean and the land, Chaldean and Platonist philosophy labeled Cancer as the “Gates of Men”, an esoteric portal in the sky through which souls were delivered to be born upon the world. Its opposite sign, Capricorn, was similarly labeled the “Gate of Gods” and supposed to be the place where souls were delivered to heaven after their death. This concept linking Cancer to divine birthplaces may have been influenced by the notion of the constellation being a baby born in a manger. It is additionally worth noting in this respect that when the Sun entered Cancer at the solstice it was at its highest point in the sky while at the winter solstice of Capricorn it was at the lowest point in the sky. Additionally, although it may be purely coincidental, it is also interesting to note how this resonates with the hermetic philosophy of the spheres, wherein the sphere neighboring our earthly plane is that of the Moon (the ruler of Cancer), a sphere which acts as the final destination of souls preparing to incarnate upon the Earth, while the sphere furthest from our earthly plane and thus the final sphere which the soul passes through after death is that of Saturn (the ruler of Capricorn).
So the stars of Cancer are anciently connected with the Egyptian deity Khepri and the principle of rebirth and immortality, especially of the solar principle at the summer solstice. By the time of the Greeks they are connected to the concepts of tenacity, stubbornness and determination, as the legend of the crab attacking the toe of Hercules while it combats the Hydra demonstrate, and the Chaldeans and Platonic thinkers begin describing it as the ‘Gates of Man’ through which souls are incarnated. From these mythic associations modern day zodiacal Cancer draws its significance with mothers, birthing, nurturing and caring for life. The myths and lore make clear that Cancer therefore represents the emergence of being from the primordial ocean, not just physically in terms of biological evolution but also esoterically in terms of life itself. In many mystery schools the magic of Cancer was concerned with understanding the mysteries of birth, midwifery, the umbilical cord, and everything connected with motherhood, not just from a physical point of view but from a spiritual one as well, and it’s inner sanctum mysteries touch upon immortality and the eternal nature of life cycles. In modern times we have learned that Cancer contains at least 10 star systems with planets, and so it may yet nurture extraterrestrial life waiting to be discovered.
Cancer is ruled by the Moon and as such is the nurturing light of nature which plays a role in the earliest family bonds (the zodiacal sign resembles a mothers arms and breasts, and a fathers sperm), it represents a parental instinct that incubates and protects all vulnerable living things while they are young, a state of peace and comfort that many later aspire to return to or simulate. It is the memory of nest and womb. Watery realms of caring, sympathy, devotion, protectiveness, cautious empathy and the family of humanity which connects us to our ancient and wise ancestors are its domain.
The powerful but subtle Magnetic forces of the Moon connect it to all rhythms and tides, such as those of the sea and those of moods. Cancer is also Active or Cardinal Water, which has the qualities of being strongly focused on newly emerging and youthful (childlike) feelings. It is by nature among the most naive and vulnerable of signs, like a child splashing around barefoot near a pretty coral. Early traumas stimulate the hardening of the external carapace and are thus a necessary growth stage. As a Cardinal or Active expression of Water it carries and expresses the essential qualities of Water gushing forwards and then pulling back – it is fluctuating, rhythmic, magnetic, fluidic, tidal and reflective. Cancer is by nature also conservative, cautious and a general master of defensive tactics. When forced into direct confrontation its attitude is to grip and squeeze its prey with all its considerable might until the threat retreats, but this is generally a last resort in desperate circumstances where the only other option is death. Cancer is also an acquisitive and retentive sign being very shrewd and often careful about paying or incurring debt (of all kinds).
Hard shells or external skeletons have always been associated with this creature, whatever form it has taken – scarab to the Egyptians, crab to the Chaldeans, tortoise to the Babylonians and Chinese, lobsters, crayfish and other shore dwellers elsewhere in the world. So one of its essential qualities is armour and protective defensive tactics, which leads to the concept of being a home-loving person, since homes are where we feel most safe and protected, and thus also we are led to the concepts of family and parenthood – a form of continual or everlasting life. So where these stars were once symbols for immortality acquired through alchemical rebirth as an eternal being (Khepri) their concepts have now been watered down to represent the immortality of having children.
Cancer is the sign of the nurturing spirit, the parent and the child within embracing one another, the natural feeling of wanting to protect and shield the vulnerable. It radiates its spirit with intuitive nurturing and protective empathy and is essentially passive, feeling, reserved, prone to changing moods, sensitive and gentle, instinctively backing away from confrontation. This sign is the zodiacal master of defence for a reason – like the crab, it will surround its part of the chart in a bony shell-like exterior but within it is a softer, wet white heart that can be easily and mercilessly squished by others. So it instinctively avoids quarrels and prefers to scuttle sideways to confuse predators (being a Jedi master of evasive tactics) or buries itself in the sand (hides away) if truly threatened.
This brings up the important theme of the nature of this creature’s movement – the sideways motion of crab as well as its instinct to bury itself and hide away in crevices is often interpreted to mean that Cancer is evasive and indirect, too timid to approach things head on. This is only a partial truth and not the real quality being described by the movement. The real quality being signified here is that of lateral tactical thinking, the ability to come up with completely new approaches by coming at things from a strange and unanticipated direction. Cancer is a Cardinal sign, born to lead, but its leadership is via Water and Luna which means it is based on gut instincts and feelings – hunches – thus the Cancerian leadership is not in knowing why it must go in a certain direction, only in knowing that it must. It cannot explain why it wants to lead its devoted and beloved clutch this way, along this current, it only knows that the mysterious Moon pulls it there and its soul trusts in Her nurturing light, always. For She is Mother, and She is provider, protector and nurturer. She is Cancer. The Cancerian way can therefore be very difficult and alienating for anything but other Water signs to understand because it requires sensitivity to the most subtle and mysterious shifts within the vast and invisible astral sea that surrounds us. Like fish in an ocean we see it not but we depend on it for life, and Cancer knows this by instinct and seeks to care for those close to it as a way of protecting them from that which they cannot fathom. More than any other sign, Cancer is cognizant of predators – that is why it is so defensively equipped. Even the eyes are retractable into the shell, but the design is also made extendable and rotates so that they can survey a greater area. The slightest whiff of a bad smelling current sends them scurrying off on preprogrammed defense routines. Hesitation here can mean death, so the safest course is to assume the worst, at least in the crabs world. That giant Megalodon hunter from a bygone age may be bygone and that may just be a pacifistic whale over there, but best not wait around to find out.
We must also note the crabs ability to exist in contrasting environments, being able to exist on land or on the ocean floor, and its behaviour in both which involves finding a cave or a rock pool to hide away in, much like another shell. The crab that survives for long is also inevitably forced to shed and migrate its shell for an upgrade when it outgrows it, a moment of supreme but absolutely necessary vulnerability. This raises two important points, one being the ability to walk between disparate worlds and another being about what is adequate protection for that navigation. This really goes to a core dilemma of the sign – how to explore the depths of the astral world while remaining safe and protected from its pressures and denizens, but without sacrificing too much of the ability to sense the environment.
Most important of all, however, is the signs ability to empathise and sympathise through the medium of Active or Cardinal Water, which is supremely developed, along with its incredible connection to the imagination and roaming through the faerie lands in wistful reverie – the creature is deeply connected to the Dreamtime. Think on the way the crab presses its belly to the ground like a reptile, feeling all the vibrations through sand as well as sea. Only a serpent has greater connection to the pulse of the worlds heart. This is the source of the signs widely reputed psychic gifts, its uncanny sense of unseen currents which are in a continuous flux, yet somehow Cancer maintains in step with them. The waxing and waning magic of the Moon provides many benefits for them, even when the soul is largely unconscious of its nature. The more mundanely focused Cancerian entity is usually renowned for a cunning and inexplicably canny business sense.
This Dreamtime connection influences all of the crabs habits. For example, as explained in the section on lore, when the Sun enters zodiacal (tropical) Cancer on the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere it marks the beginning of the high point of the solar year, the time of fertilization, a time when the powers of light and life are at a peak of strength. In Egypt this was the time when the heliacal rising of Sirius heralded the flooding of the Nile delta, without which civilization would perish. Similar ceremonies have been conducted at this time of year in all countries across the world, and so this is a magically charged sign with an ancient and ritualized history. This suits its zodiacal nature which is focused on all the riches and treasures of the past, including traditions, forgotten history and imaginings of what it was like to live through certain times. This gives them an impressive emotional memory, lacking in granular details but able to evoke the feelings of the past with supreme ease. This evocation is fueled by the Dreamtime connection the sign has. The outer world pales in comparison to the inner world the crab truly dwells within, but as a consummate walker between worlds Cancer knows that it must live in both. The worries of mundane things pull it out of the fantasy realm and back to the feathering of the nest and the maintenance of the perimeter defenses.
Given a love of comfort and introspection Cancer likes to stay at home. It is a private sign and loves its own space because it is not only safest but also most comfortable. Comfort is almost an aphrodisiac for Cancer – warm slippers, a cosy fire, perhaps some mulled whiskey and a box of chocolates or something like it will always melt their hearts, but they more often tend to be the ones offering such things to those in their nest and so make devoted and caring lovers. However, they develop a vice like grip over these things that can crush the life out of them and generate anxiety over losing them – the sign is very much aware of the cyclical nature of life and thus worries about losing the things it is devoted to protecting.
The vice like grip of this creature also extends to material matters, although this is not for material purposes but rather it is driven by the need to safe guard what is treasured, loved and cared about. The motivation is to accrue a legacy which will serve as a nest egg or insurance for the family or closest associates. To this end, Cancerians are amazingly shrewd and cautious investors and will not let go of what they feel is rightfully theirs. So there is a pinching, grasping nature and a willingness to fight for profits not for personal material gain but for personal astral gain and the hesitancy with which things are considered lends a resistance to scams and superficial agreements. Cancer is not at all hasty – it has Treebeard syndrome – and so not an easy sign to persuade into big risks, it prefers to absorb, reflect and cogitate, blowing bubbles up to see where they lead before making a move. And yet who can love without taking extreme risk? Thus the Cancerian in us must learn to trust in order to find the fulfillment it seeks.
While generally lacking or disliking discipline having no interior skeleton and thus tending to ignore problems until they are unavoidable Cancer does display great emotional self control at times. As already noted, Cancer is also not a sign that is easily provoked – the restraint towards taking hasty actions is near perfect and great consideration is given to personal matters before moving ahead, and even then the course will be somewhat convoluted and indirect; the crab moves sideways and does not face into its course head on. In addition, it finds great strength in intuitive reasoning, sensing the currents and movements in both the water and the air with an impressive sensory array. This affords it a unique and somewhat strange perspective, a capacity to see courses of action that others cannot fathom at all and the ability to ken things from a more intuitive and lateral perspective that can make the reasoning involved in their eventual course of action mystifying to others. Yet the vacillation and hesitancy can be crippling under extreme pressures of time when decisions have to be made quickly, especially when they affect the people it cares about. Under these circumstances there is a real potential for some kind of paralysis followed by a breakdown. When such decisions are made they are always felt to be unhappy ones because it is the consideration of the course that makes it feel safe. An unplanned and uncharted journey into strange and mysterious lands is the antithesis of the Cancerian idea of a good time – it is a hobbit, and it really has no business with wizards and strange rings. Life of course, may have other ideas, as other factors in astrology may indicate a more adventurous streak or shake things up.
This could arise from the square Cancer makes with Aries, the clash between making a direct punch to your enemies face and coming up underneath them through the sand, the problem of having to make a snap decision under adrenaline charged events when every instinct of the crab calls it to retreat, to hide, to dodge the bullet. The square with Libra is more concerned with the inability to come to agreements and decisions, as well as different ways of showing care and affection. The problems there also often have to do with a problematic child/parent dynamic in relationships. Capricorn, the opposite sign, is simply opposed to Cancer in its methods, wherein the Cancerian method is to nurture and protect through emotional bonding (building a nest), the Capricorn tactic is instead material and practical (to build a castle). As I have mentioned the sea-goat is, however, a hybrid with the ability to traverse the ocean and land, its just not able to do so below the surface level. It does not know the ocean floor, or what is below it. Conversely, a crab on a mountain top is in dire straights. The moisture of the ocean is vital to its life.
With Scorpio, Cancer finds an ally who not only knows the deeps without being subjected to their fluctuating rhythms but is also ready to face the darkness and the predators on its behalf. Scorpio, in turn, finds an entity it can trust and instinctively wants to protect, something the crab deeply appreciates. With Pisces the alliance is different – the fish and the crab share the same evasive instincts and vulnerabilities, but the crab is much better equipped to deal with threats and lends Pisces some of its armour in terms of forewarning and caution, while Cancer gains initiation into its mystical side and opens itself to perceive more of the vast ocean of feelings. Taurus and Virgo both stimulate Cancer with the awareness that its defenses rest on collecting and maintaining its resources and also reinforce and stimulate the prudent, passive and cautious qualities of the sign. Cancer keeps both of these Earth signs from drying up by becoming too detached from the world of feelings.
Along with Capricorn, its external counterpart, Cancer is what I call a constructive sign meaning that it is involved in constructing forms out of its Element, in this case Water. Yet unlike Saturnine, Earthy Capricorn, which is focused on constructing an external order of form (rules) for its reality to often stubbornly adhere to, Cancer is ruled by the Moon and represents an internal, supremely Magnetic expression which draws the soul inwards, into itself, constructing a capsule, a shell, a rhythmic shield or cloak of moods and feelings (habits) and adhering often stubbornly to them. Cancer is therefore exceptionally introspective and self reflecting.
Cancer is classified in traditional astrological writings as being ‘cold and moist’, attributes which lend it to the phlegmatic or melancholic humour. The coldness has nothing to do with being remote and aloof, it is instead about not making any hasty moves and being very slow to rouse to anger. Its heavy armour keeps most people (i.e. gulls looking to get at its soft parts) at a safe distance, and a somewhat gelid inner nature which makes it resistant to change. Fundamental to this sign is the awareness that the forming of close bonds depends upon sharing emotions and feelings and so Cancer encourages others to form communities based on a shared emotional experience. It is the architect of shared emotional experience because it understands that when we remember something together the feelings we have from those memories bond us closer together. It is therefore a sign fond of asking if people remember this or that – a person, a place, an encounter, a song – anything that evokes a shared emotional reaction, especially a sentimental one. This focus on forming and maintaining emotional bonds is why I refer to Cancer as a sign of constructive processes. It is forever building and caring for its family, its clan, its tribe, whoever they may be, not primarily on a physical level but on an astral one, frequently by reinforcing or invoking the significance of the past. The clan frequently becomes the very centre of existence, the life nucleus that must be ritually nursed and protected at all costs, the treasured heart of the story. So Cancer/Capricorn is the pair of signs which I call the constructive processes, signs which are concerned with ways to protect, preserve and sustain things in time and space.
Cancer hearkens to the past and has a vivid memory whilst also being attached to the objects of the past, particularly those with an antique or sentimental value such as an old but comfortable pair of slippers, a family heirloom, a valuable antique, or an old photograph collection. It is not the material value of old objects that appeals to Cancer but the link they have to the past which makes such things treasures. The primal and supremely formative significance of the past is the special forte of Cancer, giving rise to a rich, deep and often sentimental devotion to history and nostalgia and inviting the dangers of historical inertia, resistance to moving forwards in motion through time. Likewise, family ties are a valued link to the past and Cancer is often interested in the ancestry of things. Planets in Cancer are nostalgic and often have powerful roots in the experiences of childhood and early family situations; many modern astrologers see a link with Cancer and the principles of genetics, wherein selected characteristics are passed down through time and family lineage. Those with Cancer strong may be the inheritors of potent genetic strands, codes which link their lives with those of distant historical relatives, which may also explain their love of their family and of the past, at least biologically. However a single sign like Cancer will never be the only indicator of such a thing.
The many sympathies and analogies of Cancer in nature (some of which are borrowed from the Moon) include the pearl and the moonstone, the creatures of the shoreline, opals, dung beetles, oysters, silver, quartz, shells which have been inhabited, mother of pearl, lobsters, shellfish, snails, turtles, tortoises, nest builders, mammals, merfolk, sea nymphs, water lilies, fossils, watermelon, barnacles, kelp, algae and creatures which keep their young close, especially if this is throughout life. It is analogous to moonlight, rock pools, nests and animal lairs, hermitages and cottages, the sea and rivers, grottos, fresh water, to places where caring and nurturing take place (hospitals, nurseries, schools, family estates), and inside a home to the kitchen, cellar, and places near water like the pond, bathroom and faucets. In the bodies of people it relates to the sensations of wet and cold, the stomach meridian, externally in the body to the breasts and chest and elbows, internally it connects to the stomach, digestive organs and womb (Cancer is a fruitful sign giving potential for easy pregnancy), and structurally to the ribcage, to emotional security of the soul and so thereby to the Svadhistana chakra (sacral wheel, as receptivity to oceans of feeling and fertility). Its colouring is discrete or pale shades of milky, sea green and creamy white or silver, it is analogous to the direction due north, all foods from the sea and the culinary art of cooking in general. Its alchemical process is dissolution (dissolving or transforming of a substance into a liquid) and its astrological processes are constructive, internalizing and form building. In the Gra Kabbalistic Tree it is the Path from Binah to Tiphareth and thus the 9th Path of Wisdom (‘Pure Consciousness, which ‘purifies the essence of the Sephirot. It provides and adapts the design of their patterns and establishes their unity. They remain united, without diminution or division’. Its magic is represented in the Tarot by the Chariot, by the Hebrew letter Cheth (‘Corral, Fence’) and the musical tone D#, and includes the integration of form and consciousness, magic of the translocation of consciousness from one form or vessel to another, the magic of time, magical enlightenment and the mysteries of initiation. In mundane astrology there is a Cancer Sun in the charts for Thailand (1932), Mozambique (1975), Croatia (1991), Slovenia (1991), Madagascar (1960), Seychelles (1976), Somalia (1960), Djibouti (1977), Canada (1867), Vietnam (1976), Zaire (1960), USA (1776), Philippines (1946), Cape Verde Islands (1975), Solomon Islands (1978), Bahamas (1973), Iraq (1958) and Afghanistan (1973). Well known faces with Cancer in emphasis include Ross Perot (Sun, Moon and ascendant), Harrison Ford (Sun and Moon), Cecil Rhodes (Sun and Moon), Giorgio Armani (Sun and Moon), Camilla Parker Bowles (Sun and Moon), Louis XII of France (“Father of the People”, Sun and Moon), George Michael (Sun and ascendant), Ingmar Bergman (Sun and ascendant), John Inman (Sun and ascendant), Merv Griffin (Sun and ascendant), Jeffrey Archer (Moon and ascendant), Farrah Fawcett (Moon and ascendant), William Blake (Moon and ascendant), Rembrandt (Sun), Nikola Tesla (Sun), Rubens (Sun), Willem Dafoe (Sun), Louis Armstrong (Sun), John Dee (Sun), James I of England (Sun), Louis XI of France (Sun), Sylvester Stallone (Sun), Richard Branson (Sun), Robin Williams (Sun), Earnest Hemingway (Sun), Robert Hooke (Sun), Diana Princess of Wales (Sun), 14th Dalai Lama (Sun), Barbara Cartland (Sun), Bill Haley (Sun), Ernest Hemingway (Sun), Frida Kahlo (Sun), Julian Assange (Sun), George W. Bush (Sun), Kathy Bates (Sun), Meryl Streep (Sun) and Ringo Starr (Sun).
Crabs are influenced by the phases of the Moon and the tides which are generated by the rhythmic waxing and waning, pulling and pushing of the Moon. Their behaviour – and their sensory array – is extremely subtle (or obtuse) and finely calibrated (or oversensitive). They are flawed as highly habitual creatures – one habit crabs have which I witnessed as a young child with my parents and sister (when we used to catch them and then let them go for a race back to the ocean) is when they are put in a container and one tries to escape the others will pull him back down, giving rise to the term “crabs in a barrel”, which relates to those who envy another’s success and go out of their way to do things to hold them back and drag them down. The expression is generally applied to those who are from the same clan or background (such as class, race or job) that do not like to see others of their kind achieve more than they have. I have found this behaviour in the Cancerians I have known, generally fueled by fear of missing out or being left behind, along with a tenacious grip on things that they should let go of for their own good – if you know how to be gentle crabs are extremely easy to catch, since so long as you draw the line up slowly so that they do not fall off they have an innate instinct not to let go of the bait.
Cancer displays a degree of sensitivity overall and a sentimental attachment to the past, our parents or family, a dependence on them or our own need to care or be taken care of. Frequently a powerful emotional bond with one or both parents will lie at the root of what Cancer is doing in our lives and the influence will be nuanced and murky. Deep down inside we all have an instinctive fear of letting go of their protection, and even if they have long died some form of bondage to their influence persists and it falls to us to transform it into something less compulsive and deeply felt.
Cancer can be suffocatingly protective, ridiculously defensive, infuriatingly difficult to pin down, fatally and irrationally tenacious, horribly moody, utterly unwilling to let go, completely timid, stubborn, evasive, shy and as reclusive as a hermit crab. The sign can be too evasive, smothering, stubborn, paranoid and anxious and in romantic and sexual encounters it has to drop its shields and make itself vulnerable to rejection and loss so that it can experience love at all. To avoid this entirely Cancer can end up sealing itself into a suit of armour that limits its mobility and imprisons its soul, all because it is so sensitive to the currents that ripple through the astral sea. It sinks to the ocean floor and crawls into a cave, never to be seen again, hidden away behind ruses and sand. On the other hand, not enough protection will cause the shells to rupture under the pressures or turn crab into a tasty meal for someone else. So the dilemma is in finding the right balance between feeling our sensitivity, allowing it to direct our actions, and on the other claw pinching it off so that is not threatened or leads to harm. This innate sensitivity brings out the sometimes severe vulnerability to the feelings of other people and things, particularly those which are defenseless, like children. It can also contribute to the worrisome and fretful nature of the sign, because sensitivity to tiny ripples in the current of the environment can hint at larger things moving in the murkier depths.
Indecisiveness is not really a part of Active sign behaviour – they are the initiators of action – but in Cancer it finds a curious expression in all matters other than those in which it has a strong instinct – in other words, when the matter is one for the head and not the heart or when there is a threat it does not understand Cancer is indecisive because of its sensitivity. It does not want to choose an unsafe direction, and without the guidance of its inner Moon (which typically is not entirely punctual and does not present until it is absolutely necessary) it cannot fathom which way to turn, especially when there is a time pressure involved (Cancer lies opposite to Capricorn, which knows just how to handle such time pressures but has no clue about the world of feelings). It will vacillate and circle the decision, ramping up its anxiety with all the fretting about it. On top of this Cancer is also at times paralyzed by too many ripples in the ocean happening at once, a situation it interprets as pure chaos and will often attempt to retreat from. So much of this creature’s behaviour is instinctual and also devoted, not least to its own safety.
Cancer emphasizes passive defenses but is far from defenseless when it comes to a tussle – those claws have powerful muscles and can really squeeze hard. Jagged, powerful pincers are primarily a food utensil and serve as a deterrent more than an actual weapon, though they can be used to draw blood and crush bones in an attack if necessary, and once they have a hold of someone’s toe they can be a devil to shake off. This kind of possessiveness is often an instinctive response when Cancer grows sentimentally attached to someone or thing, because like a child relies upon its parents for emotional support it has come to rely on loved ones and loved things, or they upon it, or both. It goes both ways, with parents finding it naturally hard to watch their children grow up and leave them. This ignites the signs yearning for a rosier, dreamlike past. There is usually an unreasonable fear of what will happen if it does let go of the people or things that make it feel safe, or of what might go wrong if it stops fussing so much over everything its loved ones do.
Devotion and tenacity, then, are a significant characteristic of the Cancerian spirit which can be put to good use or useless use – if the Active Water in us allows fear and anxiety to take too great a role in our life then we will ultimately tenaciously cling too tightly to things we love and squeeze them painfully, perhaps causing them to shake us loose, hopefully before we crush them. Mothering easily becomes smothering. But if fear and anxiety over the future are faced head on they can be transformed into a more sensible approach to shielding and insuring our life and the lives of those we care about and the Cancerian tenacity can find a more productive outlet, especially when times do actually become unsettled. If the fear of the future is transformed so too is the tendency to smother with our care. Worry and anxiety can become stubborn habits that we must break so that our powerful intuitive nature can manifest its true potential. The resolve to take care of others must be kept swept free of the fear of failing them, a fear which is entwined with the sentimental affection we feel for them – the deeper our feelings, the more likely we are to worry about someone.
The root of these complex anxieties must be dealt with if we are to properly care for the people we love – including and especially ourselves. We must work with obstinate determination towards a state where our desire to nurture another does not cause us to feel distress and anxiety, as these feelings prevent us from seeing ourselves clearly on many basic levels and when you cannot see yourself you lose your way and cannot protect anyone. Cancer must understand, probably the hard way, that sometimes we need to just watch people we really care about make awful mistakes and just prepare ourselves to be there for them later rather than getting directly involved at the time. This is far easier said than done, and sometimes there is real danger involved, sometimes your baby brother thinks he can fly away from the nest just after he emerges from the egg. These are true trials for the astrological Cancerian within us, because often the line between where we should intervene and where we should not is unclear. Sometimes it’s even worse – sometimes you wake up to find your baby brother turned into a serial killer, and now you have to live with deeply conflicted feelings that could tear your life apart. The entanglements and dark emotional complications of blood and kin are classic shadows of this sign. So too are fascistic regimes, xenophobia, isolationism and racism born of a clannish and tribal national identity. As an example this dark side of Cancer is very much a part of what the United States, born on July 4th, is currently wrestling with – its external ‘mothering’ of the world seems long to have become the meddlesome smothering of free nations and at the same time internal issues of racism and bigotry left over from the colonial era, the slave trade and even further back than this in history with the genocide of the tribes – all these dark manifestations of zodiacal Cancer are graphically emerging as Pluto in Capricorn approaches the place it was in when the US was formed (Pluto return), aspecting its Cancer Sun by opposition along the way.
Cancer may also need to learn that the best way to care for the people we love is to nurture ourself first so that there is something of quality to give. The empathy and sympathy of the sign can lay traps – by being so understanding, so easygoing and nurturing towards others we can very quickly lose sight of our own inner needs, and when they become invisible to the Cancerian in us we often then expect others to notice and nurture us back, which they invariably fail to do since our inner needs are invisible to them too. This can be particularly true if there is a void where our parents unconditional love should be. In this respect during times of great pressure or uncertainty Cancer is a sign of supreme self neglect, and in such situations can throw itself frantically and desperately into a Herculean task of tackling everyones problems, too many foes or an adversary far beyond its power to budge, taking on too many worries in the process and potentially bringing about catastrophic health consequences. In fact many of the Cancerian health problems can be traced back to this kind of reactionary behaviour or to two other root causes.
The first is vitality: Cancer may be a fertile sign but it is a sluggish creature that lacks a consistent and rich connection to vital life force making it slow, prone to laziness and tidal – the vital life animating its existence ebbs and flows and is swished and swayed by the astral wind so that it is always in flux and always either coming in or going out, rising or sinking, welling or draining. The cycle of temporal life is in continuous flux – this is one of the inner mysteries of the sign – and so the cycle of our temporally bound vitality must be investigated so that we can start to put a picture together of the influences which cause it to wax and wane. Once we understand the tidal rhythm of our own life energy our vitality will synchronise more harmoniously and smoothly with events and circumstances, our overall health will improve (fewer colds, quicker recovery etc.) and we will have more energy. Pay close attention to how your moods are tied in with the temple the Moon is in as well as the temple key Cancer controls and learn how to navigate your own oceans.
The tendency to laziness leads into the third major cause of health problems that arise from a Cancer Sun – a potentially fatal fondness for coziness and comfort, coupled with a fantasy prone imagination that tends to both daydream through life and fret about things it cannot control or which do not really call for alarm. Continuously. They can be an incredible drain on everyone around them with this behaviour. Cancer is a sign that fusses to make everything snug and homely, and will form sentimental attachments to many things and people in the course of its life. The attachment to living a comfortable and cozy life may not seem all that threatening to health, but here we have to broaden our minds to encompass a broader definition of health and what it is. Living in comfort zones all the time inevitably leads to an unhealthy situation because it imprisons the circumstances of life and prevents new patterns from emerging. This has serious health consequences! Additionally the love of comfort and lethargy can lead to habits which cause the belly to round out, sometimes with alarming eagerness, and to the complications of weight and retention of liquids (beer and/or cake belly).
Cancer is such an easygoing, kindly and concerned sign but it is private and reserves invitations into its inner sanctum for only the most trusted of its inner circle and so can become edgy and suspicious when strangers arrive on its doorstep. There is a tendency to prepare for the worst because it is better to be prepared for that than it is to expect the best and be crushed. Vulnerable sensitivity and an uncertain trust in the wider world tend to keep Cancerian zones somewhat islanded, orbited by the same people and situations (stores, brands etc.) because there is greater reliability in what you know. In this way Cancerian situations (like Capricorn ones) become bogged down and static and need some kind of injection of chaos and change before they will move on, which often results in unnecessary pain when they stubbornly cling to driftwood, things that are long spent in terms of shelf life. The need to have a stable and comfortable base of operations is paramount as without it there is felt to be no security in life, but this need must not equate to being adversarial to change or dormant, stuck in place like a barnacle on a rock. As frightening as it may be at some point or another the bird must flee the nest for life in order to give meaning to the gift of life, and so at times we must cast our lot in with the great ocean and see where the tidal change leads.
As noted above Cancerians have oceanic memories – vast but more than a little murky and unclear on the details – and are often highly nostalgic, especially with regard to the era of childhood. This is partly because the past and especially childhood offers a form of security that, through Cancerian eyes, is distinctly lacking in the future. Thus, Cancerians must learn to have trust in the future, and worry less about the unknown possibilities which lurk there. The wistful fondness for a more innocent and sentimentalized past is only one manifestation of one of the biggest demons facing the sign of Cancer, that of total subjectivity. Lost in a world of responses and reactions the crab is cast adrift in the dream ocean, left to conjure its realities through thought and feeling and forever unsure of objective realities. They must often do battle with their own subjectivity as it clouds the facts and leads them to utterly erroneous paranoid conclusions, conclusions they will often cling to with an insane degree of insistence against all reason and common sense, so the work often involves clearing the past, clearing the subjective bias it has imprinted upon the astral awareness, as well as building an emotional sanctuary of true inner peace for protective purposes.
MAGIC & MYSTERIES
The magic and mysteries of Cancer are those of childbirth, nature and nurture, the cycle of life, protection, time and immortality. These are not minor mysteries, they are very complex matters indeed. The crab is also a symbol of powerful gripping and holding power and its magical essence yields a potent shield or defence against any attack. That is why you see so many talismanic scarabs.
In ancient times objects like forceps, scissors, weighing scales and other items used during childbirth were considered highly mysterious and sacred magical tools only understood by the women priests who used them, and this comprises a large part of the most ancient mysteries of the sign. This early magic is, like much of the inner magic of Cancer, aptly represented on the Tree of Life as the life giving Waters of the Great Mother, Binah, pouring into Tiphareth and thus giving birth to the mental plane of existence, to individual being.
Image by R. Clark
The magic here is that of the holistic reflection of the Understanding of the Greater Self realm as the Beauty of the infinite individual spirits in the Mental realm. It is thus the sign of the primal Mother in the act of giving birth to life and children, a sign of fecundity, nurturing and protection. In this placement we can easily see explanations for many of the signs qualities, including its natural psychic abilities, its concern with time and the past, its focus on family and nurture, its focus on providing an enclosure or fence within which it can nest safely, its innate sense of hidden currents within the Akasha and its empathy and caring nature.
Whereas Taurus gives rise to the realm of Form the sign of Cancer gives rise to the realm of individual spirits through the birth channel from Binah into Tiphareth. At the conceptual point halfway between these two Sephira time comes into existence, as individual spirits (Tiphareth entities) are beings with a temporal lifespan (no matter how long or short it may be), they exist in a cyclical sequence of existence. The Greater Self exists beyond this sequence of existence, transcending time and space entirely by existing in an eternal state of awareness. So when the Greater Self gives birth to a specific individual incarnation of itself as a temporal spirit, it inserts itself into the ocean of time and space by manifesting its unified essence into an individual strand or pulse, a wave that flows towards the shore of material life. Every individual incarnation of a given Greater Self manifests itself in this way and just as the entire ocean is present within each wave each Greater Self is fully present with each of its individual expressions in every moment at all times, simultaneously. It provides for their needs and nurtures these spirits in exactly the way they need and it can do so precisely because its perspective transcends time and space. It’s individual expressions may not even be aware of their Greater Self parent protecting and nurturing them throughout every moment of existence in every way they need, but the Greater Self is never absent because it is always fully and completely aware of its individual expressions. Since this connection involves bridging the seeming abyss between time and sequence and the realm of the eternal and unending and unbeginning, but is in reality a mere shift in awareness, time and individual consciousness arise together and are intimately connected. The “fencing” or “corralling” of the Greater awareness within an individual enclosure does not diminish or divide them, for in the way of fractals the individual part contains the whole and becomes an expression of it. In the same way, the dipping of the Greater awareness into the ocean of time as individuals does not separate the individual spirit from the Greater but instead provides a vehicle for it to emerge sequentially.
The imagery of the tarot card The Chariot communicates this in the form of a vehicle (pulled by two beasts) being driven by an individual. A canopy of stars is often depicted on top of the Chariot (Binah) which is being driven forwards towards the viewer along a path. If we imagine this scene three dimensionally and animate it, the scenery in the background and the path that the charioteer has already traversed becomes the past, while the position the viewer is standing in is sometime in the future. The chariot itself is the enclosure or bubble of now-time in which the individual is always located, no matter how fast they are moving. Reflection upon this moment of now–time quickly reveals that like the memory of the past and the unknown of the future, the now moment also cannot be located and pinpointed because it is in a continuous state of flux. The wave of the individual self moving through and across sequential time is how the great ocean of the Self is made manifest. This illusory nature of all time in a continuous state of infinite flux is the product of the eternal awareness of the Greater realm impressing itself into temporal sequence. It is simply a more complicated and perhaps less easy to decode symbolism for what the Egyptians described as a dung beetle pushing the dung from which its children will hatch and be nourished.
Given these association it is easier to understand why this signs magic is connected not only with childbirth but also with immortality and (for example in Mesopotamia), the mysteries of the afterlife. The cyclical nature of life, its rhythms, ebbs and flows, and many other qualities attributed to Cancer also gain clarity when placed in this context. Magical union with the Greater Self permits focusing of awareness into any time period the Greater Self incarnates into – any past or future now relative to Earths eternal now moment which we have experienced is opened to awareness. Thus Cancer is a sign whose magic is connected not only with the remembrance of past incarnations but also glimpses of future ones and the magicians ability to project their awareness through time by translocating it from one stream of incarnation to another simply by communing with the Greater Self. In this way a trained magician can gain knowledge of multiple timelines and the paths which lead to them as well as a multifaceted perspective on their own experiences.
In terms of initiation then Cancerian planets can lead to a rebirth or an encounter with immortality, and given that its forte is the significance of the past Cancer is also often gifted with an awareness and understanding of the workings of karma and the Akasha. Ultimately, Cancerian entities are instinctively driven to give birth to something and then to nurture it and will do so using the other astrological factors at their disposal, but the ultimate point of this process is to make choices and take actions that individually express the Greater Self within, effectively giving birth to that which has forever birthed us.