It is time to say farewell to the season of the Zodiac Crab for another year, ushering in the season of the Lion.
But what does Cancer look like in the night sky, and what is its seasonal significance?
Ruling celestial body: Moon (and I pray it is never industrialized, to be despoiled, for in doing so we will despoil something in ourselves that could never be quantified until it was lost forever, repository of mankind’s dreams.)
Key phrase: I feel
Body: The chest, breast, heart
Birth Stone: Stones and metals fall under the rule of planets, not signs, but through its association with the Moon, Cancer has affinity with pearls, silver and crystals.
Colour: White, silver
Tree: all trees rich in sap
Tarot card: The Chariot (see how it is like a shell?) Control, progress, teamwork, and the harmonizing of different elements.
Public Domain: The Chariot, Rider-Waite
Wikipedia: Cancer and its stars, via Free Clipart
Decapoda is the head and it’s actually a double-star. Acubens means ‘claw’ in Arabic, and the star Al Tarf is the foot of the Crab.
And if you think it looks more like a lobster, you’re not far wrong. It was also seen as a crayfish by the Greeks, and in ancient Egypt, a dung beetle.
Cancer, Latin for crab, is in a dark region of the sky, and is the faintest constellation in the Zodiac, with only two stars above the fourth magnitude: Acubens (The Claw) and Al Tarf (The foot). Cancer is visible in the Northern Hemisphere in the early spring, during March at 9 PM and can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere during autumn.
It’s almost impossible to see Cancer with the naked eye or even binoculars, looking between Leo, the lion, and Gemini, the twins. And it doesn’t look much like a crab at all. It looks more like a faint, upside-down Y and it’s often remarked that it’s more like the shape of a crayfish or lobster. It was also called the Crayfish in classical astrology, and in Egyptian astrology, The Scarab. But it’s always been seen a creature with an exoskeleton; an arthropod, and Cancer appears to rise crab-wise; not sideways, but backwards in the zodiac. The Sun’s entry into Cancer occurs at the summer solstice,
‘Solstice,’ Latin sol -stice means the Sun seems to be ‘standing still’ as it approaches this point.
Cancer’s faint but it’s got a lovely star cluster glowing at its centre. Praesepe, or ‘The Manger’ is one of two Messier objects in Cancer, identified in 1771 by French astronomer Charles Messier. Its newest name is The Beehive Cluster because seen through the telescope it looks like a swarm of bees, but to the naked eye it looks like a small, fuzzy patch of light -or a tiny cloud floating through the stars.
Public Domain: The Beehive Cluster
As the sign of the Sun’s greatest elevation, Cancer was considered nearest to the highest point of heaven – and was called ‘the Gate of Men’ through which, it was thought, souls descended to Earth to be born. The opposite constellation, Capricornm was the ‘Gate of the Gods’, where souls of the departed rose back to heaven.
The stars of the Beehive were all formed at the same time, from the same cloud of gas and dust around 600 million to 700 million years ago, making them four billion years younger than the Sun. Pliny used this group of stars as an indicator of wet weather, and said that when Praesepe was not visible in a clear sky, snow or heavy rain or even violent storms were on the way. The outer edges of an approaching weather disturbance consist of very thin/high cirriform clouds, which might otherwise not be noticed under a dark, moonless night sky. These are just opaque enough to block out the light of the Beehive.
Cancer’s other Messier object: M67 is much older, about the same as the age of the Sun. Most clusters don’t survive more than a few trips around the centre of the galaxy because the gravity of other stars and giant clouds of gas and dust pull them apart. But M67 has survived for four or five billion years because it’s in the outer part of the galaxy with fewer stars and gas clouds to disturb it.
Cancer also contains a planetary system; 55 Cancri, containing five known planets, with possibly more awaiting discovery. 55 Cancri is about 40 light-years away, and is just about visible to the unaided eye, although you need help to find it. The innermost of its planets is a “super Earth,” a few times heavier than Earth – but none of these planets has the right surface conditions for liquid water, and life there isn’t considered likely.
Cancer is associated with the Twelve Labours of Hercules after he went mad, mistook his wife and children for monsters and tragically killed them. His twelve great labours were performed in token of penance. The second of his great challenges was to kill the Hydra, a terrible water serpent but his enemy, Hera, who had always hated him as an illegitimate son (yet another one) of her husband Zeus, sent a crab to harass him while he fought the serpent. The crab faithfully did its best, nipping Hercules again and again, but he stepped on it and crushed it, or in other versions of the story killed it with his club.
Public Domain: Hercules fights the hideous Hydra, and is dutifully harassed by The Crab
Hera rewarded its loyalty and tenacity by placing it in the heavens, but she placed it in a dark portion of the heavens, and gave it only faint stars. Crabs like dark, quiet places to feel safe and at home. However, its placement is as spiritually significant as it is shy and retiring, both as the highest point in the zodiac, nearest to heaven, and the messenger of the summer solstice.
Public Domain: Enoch’s Constellation
Cancer is the fourth sign of the Zodiac and represents those born between June 20 and July 22. It is considered a water sign, and is one of the four cardinal signs, which are the signs indicating a change of season when the sun makes its annual passage into them.
Cancer is all about the shoreline, and tides, monthly and annual, the moon and the sun. The sign of Cancer, ruled by The Moon, is a cardinal sign, herald of the seasons, announcing the arrival of summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere.
The Cancer Personality
Of course there is no such thing in reality as THE Cancer personality. This is simply an archetype. Your sun sign is the keynote but it’s not ‘The Story.’
The archetype of the Cancer personality is complex, elusive and riddled with contradictions.
Cancer stands for both mother and father. It is the zodiac sign of the nurturing parent. Tough outside. Off spring must be defended, dangers must be driven back. Ruled by the Moon, moody and ‘crabby’ they may seem more easy going than they actually are, but there is a softness inside. Cancer typically relates well to babies and small animals, all wild things. The empty nest is rarely easy for any parent but can be total anathema to the Cancer parent.
Public Domain: Grandfather and granddaughter in garden; Rose Maynard Barton
Cancer is the sign of hearth and home, and expanding this; tribal identity and ancestral legacy, historical, cultural and genetic. It is the sign of memory, nostalgia, sometimes regrets, and a longing to return to happy childhood haunts- maybe even a rock-pool.
Cancer is highly intuitive, sensitive, receptive, and keeps its cards close to its chest, not so much deliberately, and as a matter of strategy, but because reserve, reticence and secrecy is what comes naturally to the Cancer subject, just as it does to the living creature. Still waters run deep. Cancer sees and hears, but does not speak. Verbal communication is not Cancer’s number one operating mode.
Decisions may be based on reasoning that is neither obvious nor apparent to other people, but is driven by a gift for lateral thinking, originating solutions to problems from angles that others have not considered.
Cancer is an enigma. But what would be a shoreline or a rock-pool without a crab?
Till next time 🙂