Cancer, Zenith of the Zodiac, The Starry Crab of the Summer Skies

Photo by stein egil liland on


We go into the zodiac domain of Cancer the Crab Tuesday 21 June 2022 and we sail once again into the zodiac domain of the mysterious and elusive Cancer the Crab, scuttling across the heavens as we arrive at the summer solstice. The word solstice comes from the Latin ‘solstitium’ – meaning the sun stands still. Now the sun appears to move sideways/crabwise as we pass the peak. The North Pole has now hit its maximum angle of tilt to the sun, 23.5 degrees, and now we are on the return journey.

This is the great astronomical event with which we came to associate the zodiac sign of The Crab. But what does it look like in the night sky, and what’s the story behind it? It’s that time of year again.

Common associations

The pincers: Zodiac symbol of Cancer

Ruling planet: Moon (although it is not a planet, it is counted as such in astrology)

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

Flower: Acanthus (prickly)

 Tarot card: The Chariot (see how it is a shell?) Drive, Control, progress, teamwork, and the harmonizing of different elements. If someone asks ‘when? and we draw The Chariot, it could well mean to expect developments in early summer.

The Chariot, Rider-Waite Tarot


Cancer, Latin for crab, is in a dark region of the sky. It 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. Look for it in March about 9 PM . In the Southern Hemisphere, you will see it in the autumn.

It’s almost impossible to see Cancer with the naked eye or even binoculars, looking between Regulus in Leo, the lion, and Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of Gemini. And it doesn’t look much like a crab at all. It’s a faint, upside-down Y shape, more like a crayfish or lobster. It was called the Crayfish in classical astrology, and in Egyptian astrology, The Scarab. But whatever it’s name, 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 when the Sun’s entry into the constellation sky space of Cancer occurs at the summer solstice -or used to, three thousand years ago. These events change over time due to the wobble of the earth, an effect known as the precession or procession of the equinoxes.

Wiki: The constellation of Cancer

Cancer may be faint but it’s got a great 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 modern name is The Beehive Cluster. Seen through the telescope it looks like a swarm of bees. To the naked eye it is a small, fuzzy patch of light -like 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 by the NeoPlatonists was called ‘the Gate of Men’ through which souls descended to Earth to be born.  The opposite constellation, Capricorn was the ‘Gate of the Gods’, where the souls of the departed rose back to heaven under safe escort by Hermes, the messenger of the Gods. 

Cancer also contains a planetary system; 55 Cancri, containing five known planets. It’s 40 light-years away, and is just about visible to the unaided eye. The innermost of its planets is a “super Earth,” several times heavier than Earth – but none of these planets has the right surface conditions for liquid water, or life as we know it.


Cancer is associated with the Twelve Labours of Hercules after he went mad, mistook his wife and children for monsters and killed them all. His labours were performed in token of penance.

The first of his great challenges was to kill the Nemean lion. This being done, he had to deal with the Lernaen Hydra, a terrible water serpent with blood so toxic, it could kill you by inhalation. Hercules is shown here wearing no face mask, but he went off to the swamps of Lerna duly armed with a face covering, a sword to chop off its multiple hissing heads, and a torch to cauterize the deadly poisonous dead necks pronto.

Bur Hercules also had another problem. The goddess Hera was his enemy, despite the fact that his Greek name, Hera-cles/Herakles means ‘the fame or glory of Hera’. But she hated him. There were a number of reasons, starting when he was a baby and was given to her to nurse but he was already and strong, chewed her on the- well, never mind- but she had been ill disposed ever since, not to mention resenting Hercules as an illegitimate son (yet another one) of her gadabout husband, the great god Zeus.

Now she sent a crab to harass Heracles, as if The Hydra was not enough to deal with already. The crab faithfully did its best, nipping Hercules again and again, until Hercules stepped on it and crushed it, or in other versions of the story, killed it with his club.

Look at that heroic crab getting well and truly stuck in there. Hera rewarded its courage, tenacity and loyalty by placing it in the heavens. But she had given this careful consideration. placing the Crab in a dark area of the heavens with only faint stars. Crabs need dark, quiet places to thrive and hunt and be at home. However, its shy, retiring placement is also the highest point in the zodiac, and the humble, unassuming but unexpectedly formidable and faithful crab is the highest herald of the heavens, the unassuming usher of the summer solstice.

It dreams deep but asks little.

Cancer by Pixabay on


Cancer is the fourth sign of the Zodiac and represents those born between June 20 and July 22. It is a cardinal water sign, one of the four cardinal signs, which are the signs indicating the arrival of a new season. The cardinal signs, Cancer, Capricorn, Aries and Libra are instigators.

Cancer is all about the shoreline, and tides, monthly and annual. Cancer is uniquely both 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 corresponding court card in the Tarot is the deity of the shoreline with all its ebb and flow, and its teeming rock-pools, The Queen of Cups,

Ruled by Cancer, the Queen of Cups from the Rider-Waite Tarot


There is no such thing in reality as THE Cancer personality. Your sun sign is the keynote of your astrological portrait but of course it’s not anything like the whole story.

An archetype is a distillation. An essence.

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. Cancer famously adores babies and small animals, all wild things; and struggles with separation. The empty nest can be anathema to the Cancer parent.

The old man is tender with the plants and with the child, But he is a tough man, a former fighting man, wearing the uniform of a Chelsea pensioner.

By Rose Maynard Barton

Cancer is the sign of hearth and home, and expanding this theme, it is the sign that records the stories and artifacts of national tribal and family identity, collating and curating ancestral legacy; historical, cultural and genetic.

Cancer it is the sign of memory, nostalgia, sometimes regrets. It is the bittersweet longing embodied in a Welsh word ‘hiraeth‘.

It is the longing to return to happy childhood haunts. Maybe a rock-pool.

Perhaps for those who did not get to enjoy even such simple delights, The Crab is the zodiac’s Peter Pan of Never Never Land.

Public Domain Painting by Albert Edelfelt, Finnish artist 1854-1905

Famous Cancer subjects in history:

Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Robert the Bruce, Garibaldi, Henry the Eighth, Lord Horatio Kitchener, Emmeline Pankhurst, Alan Turing, Nikola Tesla, George Orwell, Benazir Bhutto, Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel…a few contemporary well known subjects include Prince William, Julian Assange and pop star Ariane Grande.

Commons Wikimedia Mandela voting 1994 By Paul Weinberg – direct donation from Author14 October 2009, 19:07:42 (original upload date), CC BY-SA 3.0,

Cancer sign natives are as we see from this much abbreviated list of its most famous rock-pool denizens – in many ways deeply private, but mighty formidable.

You see in this list of people, the heart of The Crab, the shell -and the giant claws. You can see the longing- the ‘hiraeth’. You see its powers of analysis-and endurance.

Happy Birthday Cancer

Back soon 🙂

Author: Katie-Ellen

Tarot, runes and cartomancy. Reader, consultant and writer.

3 thoughts on “Cancer, Zenith of the Zodiac, The Starry Crab of the Summer Skies”

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Danielle. Rock- pools are wonderful little worlds entire, yet evanescent. And remembering those long childhood afternoons, dabbling at nothing in particular.


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