Cancer: The Alchemy of Memory

Re-Membering Where We Come From

As the ever turning wheel of the Zodiac now enters the phase of Cancer, I like to remind myself of what really nurtures, nourishes and supports me, of what is sacred in my life. Considered in many spiritual traditions to be the gateway through which the soul enters incarnation, this is the sign that beckons us to reconnect to our roots. Cancer is immortalised in the heavens as the Crab whose once nipped the ankles of Hercules to remind him of his origins. Somewhat lacking in sensitivity, that great brute of a hero simply crushed that divinely sent creature beneath his feet. In thinking about this myth, it struck me how our own modern Herculean egos can act in a similarly insensitive way towards our own past, our heritage and ancestral lineage. In striving for individuality and independence we may all too easily over-rule our soul’s irreconcilable need for belonging and continuity as a kind of childish homesickness. So I always welcome this phase of the wheel, as it draws me back to the source, to the wellspring, where I can drink deep of Memory’s healing waters, remember where I come from and re-vision what I may have come here for.

Mnemosyne the Memory Weaver

Cancer is the sign that evokes Memory. The Greeks knew her as Mnemosyne (mother of the Muses so beloved of poets and artists) and she is no mere archivist or record keeper. Rather, she is pregnant with imaginative potency, a spinner of yarns, a falsifier of facts and a literalizer of fictions. So it is with our own memories, which are never just factual accounts of what has happened to us, but rather a collection of mythic strands woven through events and circumstances, conjuring images of the past which our minds quickly assemble into a convincing order. So in the Cancer phase of the wheel, I court Mnemosyne with care, re-weaving the stories that feed my soul and reconnect me to the ancestors.

Solstice Crab

The Sun reaches its zenith at Summer Solstice as it enters Cancer, and with tentative, crab-like caution, appears to pause, stand still, before descending. In many traditions, this is the time when the Sun God begins his descent into the underworld. So the energy of the Sun succumbs to that of the Moon, Queen of the Night, whose ebb and flow might echo in our moods, making us more psychically sensitive and closer to our emotions. For here we are, deep in the belly of summer, the trees pregnant with their fruit, their roots drawing deep for water and sustenance.

The Imaginal Memory Theatre

The Greek philosopher Plotinus coined the term epistrophe, to describe the desire inherent in all things to “turn back” toward their original guiding principles or root metaphors, their archai (archetypes). The movement of the crab and the rhythms of moon and tide seem to embody this quality of turning back, as they echo an instinctual longing for home, for roots. One of the most compelling characteristics of the zodiacal wheel, the centrepiece of most western mystery traditions, is that it seems to preserve the integrity of those root metaphors. So when people come to learn astrology, it often feels more like remembering, exposing a tacit knowledge of its imagery and symbolism that already exists within us. I always take care to foster this quality of remembering in my courses through experiential work as it enlivens the learning process. As we enter the Zodiac, I remind people that we entering an imaginal temple, a theatre of archaic memory, through which we may release the alchemical potency of its images and symbols.

Finding the Source

Here in Glastonbury, of course, we are privileged to have those zodiacal images inscribed in the landscape, courtesy of the extraordinary imaginings of Katherine Maltwood in the 1930s. Each month Anthony Thorley and myself ritually journey along the pathways that delineate each sign in the Glastonbury Zodiac, and we are continually met with profound synchronicities. In preparing this month’s workshop, we quietly mused over how exactly we should approach the Cancer figure, it being the least visited in the wheel, located on relatively featureless low-lying land. Seen from above, the figure appears to cradle the divine child in the Gemini figure in a quite remarkable way. Guidance came in the form of a ‘chance’ meeting with a fellow zodiac enthusiast, who took us to see the recently uncapped wellspring on the land adjoining her house near Compton Dundon. Around the spring, this very special lady has created a beautiful sanctuary garden, and, it just so happens, this spring actually feeds the waterways which draw the Cancer figure in the landscape. Not only had we been shown the way in which we should approach the figure, we had actually been taken to the source of it!

Next Workshop…

Our next Alchemical Journey workshop is Leo: The Alchemy of The Heart on Sat 25th & Sun 26th July. It will be held at Meadway Hall, Compton Dundon (about 3 miles south of Glastonbury). On Sun 26th July, we will walk in the Leo figure of the zodiac, which is one of the most dramatic figures in the wheel, and the first that Katherine Maltwood discovered. The price is £125 for the weekend (some concessions available).

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