ancer resonates with the element of Water and is a cardinal from June 20th through July 21st. Cancer is the 4th sign in the zodiacal wheel, marking the point of the beginning of Summer (Summer Solstice) and moving into deep Summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the Winter Solstice moving into early Spring in the Southern Hemisphere. Represented by the Crab, Cancer speaks to safety, nourishment, sensitivity, and dreams. As the sign of the Crab, Scarab, and other beings with shells, Cancer, reminds us that we do not have to forgo our tenderness, only learn to protect it.
The Crab as Cancer
Within legend the crab is closely associated with Hydra a many-headed beast raised by Hera to kill the hero Heracles. The story goes that Heracles was driven mad by Hera and as a result murdered his wife and son. After committing this deed Heracles deeply regretted what had happened as he regained his sanity and sought out purification and redemption from the Oracle at Delphi.
Already we can see one of the first themes of Cancer makes itself known. For the celestial Crab, family is of extreme importance. This does not always mean that Cancer natives or those with strong Cancer in their chart always have a good relationship with their families; certainly, they can but like any other sign they may also have their own wounds around the concepts of home and family. The difference is the for Cancer issues with family tend to take front and center stage in a powerful way. It is not coincidental that the myth cycle within which Cancer appears begins with the devastating loss of family.
In order to redeem himself, Heracles was given 12 tasks by King Eurystheus and the second of these labors was to kill the Hydra. But this task proved difficult. For every time one of its venomous heads was cut off two new heads took its place. During Heracles’ struggle, a large crab named Karikos emerged from the Underworld sent by Hera and attacked his foot. In some versions of the story Heracles crushes the crab under his heel at which point Hera takes it and places it among the stars while in other versions, Heracles kicks it so far into the sky that it comes to a cluster of stars.
This aspect of the story too gives us vital clues about the way that the Crab works. Emerging from the underworld, emerging literally from the deep waters where the Hydra lived, Cancer also is able to occupy in-between spaces – at home in the depths but also able to come to the surface. Just as the Crab pulled and pinched at Heracles’ foot, doing as its “mother” Hera commanded, so Cancer can show us where we tend to get tripped up, especially when we are so engaged in a single task.
So that is the official story but when it comes to the Crab what we often find is that what is on the outside does not necessarily indicate what is within. For just as crabs in real life have tough outer shells protecting tender insides so the story of Cancer the crab holds more mystery within it. Within the tale, we see that there is a battle raging between Heracles who is depicted as a strong and mighty hero and half God, but who is also seen (even by sympathetic storytellers) as a prideful and arrogant hero, and Hera, the chief Goddess of Olympia and consort of Zeus. Often when we see this set up of tension between Hera and a hero, what we are also seeing is a tension playing out between two different kinds of powers.
While it might be easy to shorthand this as a conflict between men and women or old and new, it is not quite that. Hercules has men and women, old and young who come to his aid and Hera has the same on her side. Rather, what we see are two different ways of exerting power. How does one rule is one of the core questions brought about by the 12 labors of Heracles? And this is an essential question for Cancer, for as the cardinal water sign, the Crab has much to teach about wielding power and influence in a manner that is also healing and receptive in alignment with its natural element: water.
Within the tale, Hera vies for power by working in the background. She creates traps that Heracles must navigate by using not only his mighty arm but his head. Heracles on the other hand relies overly much on his natural strength; a feature that, after the death of his family by his own hand, becomes both blessing and curse. His arrogance is his undoing time and again, and while he begins with 10 labors he adds on two more because he does not follow the prescription laid out by the King to which he owes fealty. And the issue of arrogance is one where Cancer speaks strongly. For the emphasis that this sign places on home, family, and tribe flies in the face of arrogant self-assertion. While other signs might say “but what about me?” Cancer asks, “but what about all of us?”
Hera is one of the great mother figures within the Olympian tales and this too speaks to an aspect of Moon-ruled Cancer as this sign has a strong affinity for mothers, motherhood, and is concerned with the question of what it means to be a mother – to oneself as well as to others. Nourishment is another theme that comes up strongly with this sign and Cancer is often found asking: what needs to happen to make it easier, to make it possible, to support someone deeply?
Long before the Greek story of Heracles and Hera and Karikos the Crab, the Sumerians and Babylonians saw Cancer as the window of the dark sun, it was a point in the sky associated with Summer Solstice as well as the Moon and it was understood to be one of the points in the zodiac that could assist one in “seeing in the dark.” This too is Cancer, for as a water sign, Cancer is deeply liminal – able to move from water to land, from one world to another and back again. The seeing that comes with such liminal work is not illuminated by the sun, logical thought or analysis, but rather by deep feeling, feelings which have the power to leave Cancer especially vulnerable, thus the tough exterior.
In closing, I will note that Karikos, the ancient Greek word for Crab and proper name for Cancer, is a word that has cognates in many languages around the world – even languages that do not fall under the Proto Indic-European family have similar words for Crab. This small fact reminds me of another aspect of the Crab, the notion that even though we do have different tribes and family, at the deepest level we are linked to each other. It also tells me that there is much more to the story of the Crab than we are fully aware of, and that is appropriate for Cancer, for this sign innately understands that a little mystery is essential.
The Crab as Animal: By Sara Magnuson
Ruled by the Moon and the element of Water, Crab is an unlikely representative of the bright and fiery summer solstice and teaches us about awareness of, and reactivity to, movement, both literal and figurative.
Crabs are similar to insects in many ways and we have seen that correlation exemplified in mythology and folklore. Biologically, they are similar in that their body is divided into sections, they have several pairs of legs, and are found on every continent and ocean. Even their circulatory systems are similar, but symbolically it is their exoskeleton that brings out the qualities they share. Hard on the outside and soft on the inside. They are covered in armor and protected from the outside world. While the Crab does not have ears, a nose, or skin in the way we can relate to as mammals, they have extraordinarily keen perceptions. Their hard-shell bodies are covered with delicate receptive hairs that pick up on vibrations, including sound waves (their version of “hearing”). These hairs also allow them to “smell” the pheromones of other creatures. Crabs don’t vocalize, but they create their own vibrations by drumming their legs or claws against a hard surface. They will also snap their claws to create a sound that is picked up by the hairs on the bodies of other Crabs. The ability to detect the movement of vibrations, in the water, in the ground, and in the air, gives Crab a sensitivity that betrays its hard exterior.
In order to grow Crab must molt its shell, which is a very delicate affair. They have to pull themselves, bit by bit, ever so carefully, out of their shell, and then wait while the new one hardens. It is part of the farmer’s folklore that Crabs molt during the full moon. This is not without some truth, as many common Crabs have a molting cycle of about 30 days. It is in this way that Crab follows the movement of the Moon and the pull of the tides, going through regular cycles of extreme vulnerability.
Crabs in general are not seen as wholly social or solitary creatures, although individual species will have their unique behaviors, rather they are social or solitary as it seems to suit their needs. They will migrate to the shore together in enormous groups and will also defend their mates and burrows (places of singular connection or solitude) to the bitter end. In human personality terms, they can be extroverted or introverted as needed. Crab’s ability to flow with the movement of a situation is admirable!
Of course, we can’t talk about Crab without talking about its literal movement. Crab’s eyes appear to face forward on its body, yet they walk in a sideways manner, not looking in the direction they’re going. Crab’s are able to walk forward and backward, but the orientation of their legs makes sideways locomotion more efficient. Their almost 360° vision allows them to walk in any direction and still see what’s going on. Crab teaches that approaching things “sideways” can be helpful and provide a new point of view. Crab asks us to remember that the path that leads to your desires may not be a straight line.
The energy of Crab may manifest in those born under this sign in many ways – they may be very perceptive to the energy of other people, especially those close to them, and can equally give off a lot of energy themselves. It can also manifest in using the “sideways” aspect of Crab in a manipulative manner; always looking for an alternate way into a situation to suit their own purpose. Ruled by the element of water, Crab can have a tendency to make things into something they are not; remember that Water can create illusions. The darkness of the Moon, the flare of the Sun, the pull of the tides, the movement of cycles, and vibrations – Crab is extraordinarily sensitive to these influences.
Call on The Crab When…
- You want to re-connect to your sense of home and sanctuary.
- You desire the protection of family, close friends, and tribe.
- You are ready for deep and abiding nourishment; including changing your dietary habits or becoming clearer on nutritional needs.
- You wish to explore the various roles of the mother in your life.
- You need more moonlight!
- You wish to nurture yourself or others.
- You are taking a retreat.
- You are working to increase peace and tranquility in your home or family life.
- You need more poetry in your life.
- You would like to pay more attention and/or remember your dreams.
- You want to develop a divination skill.
- You are increasing your privacy and protection.
Be Wary Of
- Dependency – relationships are awesome but sometimes Cancer-strong people can take their love of family to a truly intense level. The attitude here becomes one of a “smother mother” or a dependent child. There is a difference between associating with family because you love your people and like to be with them, versus never leaving home because you are afraid that you cannot stand on your own.
- Passive-Aggression – Cancer-strong people do not like conflict and so will do their best to steer clear of disagreements. But they can manifest their displeasure through subtle emotional manipulation or passive aggressive behaviors that undermine others. Cancer is the cardinal sign of water which means that it does like to take on a leadership role; part of leading is being comfortable with your voice and using it, do that and the passive-ag tendencies will just float away.
- Buying into Illusions – Cancer-strong types are illuminated by the light of the moon. They love to peer into the shadows and frolic in the oceans. While this liminal space is wonderful for dreams, depth, and sacred arts work of all kinds; it can have a hard time with the real world, here and now. Cancer has to learn how to create solid foundations under their aerial castles – when they do there is nothing that can stop them!
Questions to Ponder for Cancer:
Cancer, the Crab, shows up in everyone’s chart – there is no such thing as “I don’t have Cancer” because it is a cluster of stars in the sky and it is always there. Wherever Cancer occurs in your chart these questions will help you get to know it better.
- What is my relationship to home and family?
- What does sanctuary mean to me? What makes a place a sanctuary?
- How can I best nourish myself and others?
- Where am I overly protective?
- Where does privacy really matter to me? What do I do to maintain privacy?
- What have I learned from my relationship with my mother?
- What are my dreams telling me?
- What actions do I take that allows me to connect with the Moon?
Meditation/Active Imagination Journey:
Ground, Center, and Anchor in the ways that feel good and right to you.
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel that you are standing at the shoreline where the sand meets the sea. It is night time and the stars twinkle high above your head while a gorgeous Moon shines down illuminating everything with her brilliant light.
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel the taste of the tangy salt air on your tongue, the sea breeze whipping through your hair, and your feet curled up and sinking deeper into the sand as the tide comes up and pools around your ankles. Soon, you feel little legs scurry across your foot and a tiny little pinch…not hard at all, grab your big toe.
Bending down, cup your hands together and as you do so a crab crawls into them surrounded by seawater and foam. Affirm and acknowledge that you are safe holding this little being in the palm of your hand, no harm will come to you and no harm will come to it.
Affirm and acknowledge that you have come to this place at this time to learn a new teaching about your life, one that is gifted to you from the stars; you have come to encounter the celestial Crab, Cancer.
Acknowledge that it does not matter where Cancer occurs in your chart or whether you were born under this Sun sign or not – we all have this constellation present in some portion of our natal chart and so we can all learn from it.
As you are ready, close your eyes and take a deep breath inward. See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel, the crab dancing across the skin of your palm. Affirm that this dance is the way that the crab communicates – sending you messages through vibration across your skin. Note what this initial message might be.
Breathe in a blessing on yourself and your Crab familiar, exhaling in gratitude.
Then, as you are ready, ask the little Crab what you need to know about true home and nourishment right now.
Listen to the answers you receive as it tip, tap, taps into the palm of your hand.
Affirm and acknowledge the answers and, as you are ready, ask the Crab any other questions you have at this time.
Take time to listen with care.
Then, as you are ready, bend back down, letting your hands drift into the ocean water as the Crab scuttles away from your palms and back into the depths of the sea. Affirm and acknowledge the blessing you have received.
As you are ready, bring awareness back to your present place here and now, and then set about your work of returning to true home once more.
PERSONAL EGG CLEANSING RITUAL
First, obtain a chicken egg. If you can get a fresh chicken egg, great, but going to the grocery store is fine. We advise you to buy the most free-range, well-fed, happy-life chicken eggs you can.
Place the egg on your altar and light a white candle. Sit with it for a while and focus on cleansing yourself of any negative thoughts or energies to make space for balance between your wants and your needs. Focus on the desire for clarity in distinguishing the difference between what you need to be whole and what you wish to be true; clarity in distinguishing the illusions of the watery darkness from the daylight of reality and the ability to balance their messages.
While the candle is still burning, pick up the egg. Beginning at the crown of your head, gently roll or brush the egg over your body. You can lightly touch the egg to your skin if you like, or you can brush the egg against your aura, a few inches above your skin, but be mindful of the delicate object you’re holding. Remember – hard on the outside, soft on the inside.
If you are holding the egg against your skin, roll it gently over your body. If you are brushing your aura, think of it as sweeping yourself off, using several brush strokes over each area, as you would a broom. Gently and slowly move the egg over your entire body in a downward motion, moving away what you want to be rid of toward the ground. Be sure to go over each shoulder, arm, and hand, your torso, and pelvis, each leg and foot.
When you are finished, put the egg in a brown paper bag. Take it outside and throw it as hard as you can to break the egg, thus releasing what you want to be rid of. You can do this at a crossroads or against an old sturdy tree. I have also done this behind a dumpster, where my worries, troubles, and struggles would be “taken out with the trash.” The goal is to let go of and release that which is not serving you to make room for balance.
About my Co-Author:
Sara Magnuson was the co-founder of Candlesmoke Chapel, a purveyor of spiritual supplies and provider of various spiritual services that were in business from 2009-2019. Her personal practice is eclectic, animistic, ancestral, and based in the messages of Nature and its role in how we move through this world.