ASTERIA & ARTEMIS | Cancer, the Crab

Cancer, urania's Mirror star chart cards (1824)

Cancer, urania's Mirror star chart cards (1824)

The Crab as Cancer

The mythology of Cancer is a complicated one -- like her crustacean counterpart, her story has a familiar outer shell and a hidden inner viscera.

The most widely known origin myth for this constellation is found in Hercules's Twelve Labors. In short, Hercules was the product of one of Zeus's many trysts with a mortal woman, so Hera made it her mission to lay tricks in his path. During his battle with the Hydra, Hera sent Karkinos, a great crab, to distract him. Some say Hercules kicked Karkinos with such great force that he landed among the stars. Others hold that after being handily defeated by Hercules, Hera pitied the crab and gave it a permanent place in the sky.

However, other civilizations varied in their explanations. The ancient Egyptians identified Cancer as the scarab, one of their many sacred symbols of immortality. In Coptic Egypt one of Cancer's epithets was the Power of Darkness, a title also held by jackal-headed god and underworld guide Anubis. Because she doesn't shine as brightly as other constellations, ancient astrologers referred to Cancer as "the dark sign". This also refers to her position at the lowest point in the horoscope. It may also refer to the scarab's practice of laying eggs underground. They gestate within the earth for 28 days, after which they emerge. This connects them to the cycle of the moon and femininity, both associated with Cancer.

In Ancient Babylonian languages, the word for Cancer meant both "crab" and "snapping turtle". Their traditional "boundary stones" feature images of turtles or tortoises, so this may have been a more familiar animal spirit or idea to them. The Babylonian concept of Cancer had connections to the Underworld, which may explain the link to Hercules and the Hydra.
Medieval illustrated manuscripts depict Cancer as a water beetle, while Latin, Germanic, Enlightenment-era European manuscripts illustrate the constellation as a crayfish or lobster. This is significant, as a crayfish, was later featured on The Moon tarot card.

What remains among all examples is the idea of a rigid exoskeleton and a soft center, as well as protective (in the case of the turtle or crayfish) and regenerative (in the case of the beetle) abilities. That's not to say that the connection to the Greek mythos isn't significant. It's interesting that Hera is a major player in the Cancer origin story, as her qualities are sometimes projected onto Cancer  individuals. People with strong Cancer influences in their chart are praised for being selfless givers, but Hera's motive is deeply selfish and manipulative. The key here is the awareness of self that comes from having healthy boundaries, like the Crab. At the heart of Cancer lies the ability to keep others out, as well as the desire to allow others in. May we all use it wisely.

PS- For the "astro-fiends" out there: Sanskrit and Greek share a common ancestor, and the Sanskrit name for Cancer is "Kataka" -- hence Mystic Medusa's clever nickname for those who don't favor being called after a disease.



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 the mythology and folklore. Biologically, they are similar in that their body is divided in 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 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 moult 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 moult during the full moon. This is not without some truth, as many common Crabs have a moutling cyce 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 it's 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 Crab when...

  • You need to protect your boundaries or allow someone into your sacred space.
  • You want to have a healthy awareness of self.


Be wary of...

  • Being too rigid or overprotective in your interactions with your loved ones and community.
  • Using "sideways" motives to get what you want.


Rituals for Cancer

Shielding Meditation

Sit, stand, or lie down in a place where you know you will not be disturbed for at least three minutes. You can close your eyes, or leave them open, gently gazing at whatever is in front of you. Start by taking a few breaths deep into your belly, in and out, in and out. Slowly, slowly. Acknowledge your intention to shield yourself from any negativity or chaotic feelings around you. Breathe in and out, slowly. Hold in your mind exactly what it is you want to remove from your auric field, your personal space. Breathe in and out, slowly.

Imagine a great shield being placed around you, enveloping you like an egg. Feel the shield. How does it feel to you? What color is the shield? What is it made of? Is it metal? Mirrored? Fire? Some other material? Take a moment to breathe in and out, slowly, feeling and seeing and knowing exactly what the nature of your personal shield is. You are safe. You are protected. Breathe in and out, slowly. Ask yourself, what do the feelings, colors, and materials of my shield tell me about my connection to the world around me? As you breathe in and out, slowly, open your eyes and go about your day, empowered with the knowledge that your shield will go with you wherever you do. If you desire, write down any insights or ideas in a journal before leaving this meditation.


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.

*Please make sure to practice proper fire safety during this ritual. Common sense, y'all!



About Asteria & Artemis

Named for the Greek goddesses of the stars and nature, respectively, this joint blog series with Candlesmoke Chapel's Sara Magnuson investigates the magic and mythology behind each astrological sign.

Sara is a crafter of spiritual supplies, a reader of cards, a diviner of animals, and the co-founder of Candlesmoke Chapel. Her personal practice is eclectic, animistic, and ancestral. The guidance she provides is based in the messages of Nature and its role in how we move through this world.

Connect with Sara via Candlesmoke Chapel:

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