Cancer: The Crab & The Scarab

Cancer the Crab

Cancer the Crab

We are familiar with the sign of Cancer being associated with a crab through the Greek and Roman traditions.  Indeed the Latin word cancer means crab, and this well-known crustacean expresses the Cancerian temperament very well.  It lives on the cusp of earth and sea, scuttles sideways, cautious in its movements and has a protective shell covering the soft vulnerable flesh within.  In order to grow, the crab must periodically shed its shell and grow another.  The crab rocks to and fro with the ebb and flow of the tide, which is itself pulled by the ever waxing and waning moon, just as the typical Moon-ruled Cancerian will tend to be pulled more than most by their lunar moods and cycles.  I had a lovely vision during last year’s Cancerian weekend of the humble crab actually being the unsung conductor of the moon and the tide, dancing its dance, in tune with the inward and outward flow of life.  During our Cancerian Weekend, we actively embody the crab, becoming crab-like in our movements and learning the subtle dance of this unassuming yet symbolically potent creature of the shore.

The Beetle with its Ball of Dung

The Beetle with its Ball of Dung

For the Egyptians, Cancer was represented not by a crab, but by a scarab (or dung) beetle, sacred to the Egyptians as a creature of immortality.  The beetle is clearly linked to the moon’s twenty-eight day cycle. It deposits its ball of eggs, rolled in dung in the earth, for the space of twenty-eight days, which is the time it takes for the moon to complete a full revolution through the twelve zodiacal signs.  The Egyptians considered the twenty-ninth day to be a day of resurrection, and according to lunar markings, there occurs the baptism of the beetle, when the scarabeus casts his ball into the water, opening to give birth to the young beetle.  This immersion and baptism became naturally associated with renewal and regeneration.  In this way, the lunar god was always declared to be self-created, never born.  This symbolism seems to fit very aptly for the sign of Cancer, so seemingly introverted and self-contained.

The Scarabeus

The Scarabeus

The Summer Solstice marks the entry of the sun into Cancer in the tropical zodiac on 21st June and we can find this symbolism highlighted through the behaviour of the scarab beetle.  The creature certainly carries solar symbolism, perhaps on account of its ray-like head and the dung ball representing the Sun.  The scarab-beetle god was known as Khepera and was believed to push the setting sun along the sky in the same manner as the beetle pushes his ball of dung, a scene frequently depicted in various artefacts.  The beetle would, for example, push the dung ball to the top of a sand ridge and then allow it roll down again, a motion that would seem to reflect that of the Sun rising to its zenith in the sky at Summer Solstice before descending again.  The scarab can be seen in various depictions apparently holding the sun aloft, suggestive perhaps of the solstice sun.

Khepera, The Creative Beetle God

Khepera, The Creative Beetle God

Whether as crab or dung beetle, Cancer is always represented as a humble creature, yet one with significant powers, whether as conductor or the moon and tide or as bearer of the Sun. It is easy to overlook the humble being in our quest for success, as Hercules famously did when he crushed the divine crab beneath his clumsy feet as he wrestled with the hydra. The crab was placed in the heavens as a mark of loyalty and service and its placement at the crucial turning point of the Summer Solstice highlights its importance, however unassuming its constellation of stars may be. Its star Acubens is the only one we are ever likely to see in our light-polluted skies. Even in our Glastonbury Zodiac, the Cancer figure is the least prominent and the most easily missed. Represented as a ship (rather than a crab) its shape is drawn by the waterways created when the land upon which it stands was reclaimed from the sea in centuries past. Walking that figure last year, several of us felt that we were actually walking in the sea – the earth, just a few feet above sea level, seeming to bounce with each step – in this low-down liminal sign where the margin between earth and sea is fragile to say the least.

The Cancerian phase of The Alchemical Journey is one of the most profound that we encounter in the wheel. It requires us to drop into a deeper, quieter, more reflective place within ourselves, and to sense the rhythms and cycles that keep us connected to our roots, to our ancestral origins. Cancer is the sign that reminds us of home, and if we are sensitive enough it will help us reconcile our put us powerfully in touch with that eternal longing for return.

Click here for details of our Cancer Workshop: The Alchemy of Memory

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