Crab with sunset

Cancer the Crab keeps watch over your feelings, needs, bonding and sense of belonging, like family. Ruled by the Moon, the Cancer part of you is intuitive, moody, sensitive and nurturing.

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Cancer glyphBefore we gaze at the zodiac sign Cancer, let's look back at the past for a moment... In the three previous zodiac sign articles, we explored and examined the cycles of the Sun and Moon as they trace circles around the Earth.

Of course, the Earth really orbits the Sun, but from our perspective, we see an illusion in which the Sun seems to travel around our centre.

Lunar phases

As the Sun travels through the zodiac, the Moon travels around the Earth (this time it's for real). As the Moon circles toward and away from the Sun side of the Earth, our view of the Sun's light reflecting on the Moon's surface changes (see diagram below).

We see these changes as the waxing and waning of the Moon's phases. This brings an important point: the Moon has no light of her own. She can only reflect the light that's given to her. This quality of reflection is a central factor in the Cancer archetype.

The rational Gemini self-awareness leads readily into Cancer's intuitive self-reflection and its personalized, feeling-based assessment of life.

To Laugh, To Cry

In the zodiac sign of Cancer, we enter the world of emotions and feelings as well as needs, intuition and the ability to bond with another human being. After the rational world of Gemini, we now enter the realm of the non-rational not necessarily irrational, but that which does not adhere to conventional logic or cause-and-effect.

It is said that feelings can be boiled down to four basic emotions: Mad, Sad, Glad and Afraid. Think of a feeling and you'll be able to fit it into at least one of these four basic categories. Feeling splendiferous? Another word for Glad. Feeling apprehensive? Kind of like Afraid. Feeling depressed? Sad. Feeling frustrated? Sounds like Mad.


This feeling stuff sounds pretty straightforward and simple, right? Not! To many of us, feelings are uncharted territory or a treacherous obstacle course! Like the ebb and flow of the tides, feelings can sometimes make us feel cast adrift through inner space. It may be easier to avoid feelings and approach life from a rational perspective, disdaining feelings as weak, unimportant or illusionary.

On the other hand, to someone fluent in the language of feeling, it is the stuff of poetry, song, art and love. Feelings connect us to our world in a very personal, creative way. Deny an emotionally-based person (e.g., a Cancerian) the ability to feel, and you remove all connection to their personal centre.

Add Water and Stir...

From Aries through Cancer, we experience all four elements: Fire (Aries), Earth (Taurus), Air (Gemini) and now Water (Cancer). These constitute the four basic realms of human experience: inspiration (Fire), physical reality (Earth), the mind (Air) and the heart (Water).

In nature, water has no shape of its own, no taste or colour. It needs other materials to be observed. Pour it into a container (like a bowl or a lake bed) and it takes on a shape. Flavour it with a substance, and it can be tasted. Toss a rock into it or reflect light off it, and it can be seen.

Feelings and emotions are like invisible forces made perceptible by external events that cause internal ripples. Our feeling state can be affected by internal psychological dynamics (like water flowing over a rock in its own stream). Our feeling state includes emotions, but also includes the intuitive senses. You can have a "feeling" about something without necessarily having an emotional response to it.

In Water, we have both intuitive and emotional feelings. As children, we are very open. We freely express our emotions, from delight to contentment to primal rage. We learn to consciously identify our feelings by observing how we react to various situations and sensations. Does this taste good? Does that hurt? As we mature, we develop a more complex repertoire of feelings.

Our first experience of being emotionally affected by others is our family-of-origin, initially by the mother or mother-figure. Whether we experienced our childhood as nurturing, supportive and safe, or as painful, erratic and dysfunctional, our internal emotional growth tends to take on the shape of the environment in which it grew (like water).

It is here we first learn how to nurture and be nurtured, to bond and be separate, to be an individual and yet be part of a larger whole (the family)—for better or for worse! Unconscious dynamics which are passed down from generation to generation also have their roots in Cancer and the 4th house.

Hence, Cancer also governs family, childhood, mother, our ancestry, and the past in general. I believe Cancer also contains the most basic dynamics of the Inner Child (shared with Leo; more about that in the Leo article).

The Significant Other

Our childhood family also furnishes our first relationship with "The Other." As infants, we learn to bond with another person (usually the mother first) and later begin to distinguish between where we stop and others begin. Our initial symbiosis with the mother-figure, combined with our subsequent ability to separate ourselves, matures into a capacity for empathy.

Many of us had childhood experiences which blocked the full growth of these skills, resulting in difficulty with boundaries and over- or under-extending ourselves in adult relationships. The roots of our needs and behaviours in adult relationships are found deep in our Cancerian past.

The archetypes of Aries, Taurus and Gemini form the foundation of the Self in its own right. Although Gemini brings us a conceptual experience of others (through information and environment), Cancer involves an experiential, deeply personal encounter with others. In the progression through the signs of Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius, we will further explore our encounter with "The Other."

For now, in Cancer, it is enough to return to our roots and past to discover the dynamics which enabled us to grow into the person we are today. If we try to go forward without knowing where we came from, we risk becoming aimless, reckless and disconnected.



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