As the sign of the Crab, the psychological traits of Cancer are characterised by the image of a creature with a tough, hardened shell protecting a soft and vulnerable centre. Cancer is ruled by the Moon and belongs to the element of water. Unlike most signs, which share their planetary rulers, Cancer claims exclusive rights to the Moon, both sign and planetary ruler termed 'cold and moist' in nature. Understanding the essence of that phrase reveals a lot about the complex sensitivity that lies beneath the Cancerian's thick, crustaceous shell.
In ancient astrology the condition of 'moistness' was viewed as the capacity to release emotions and connect with other beings. Moisture blurs the boundaries that define us as distinct individuals, allowing empathy, sympathy and a shared experience of personal or collective events. The act of sharing emotions represents an important aspect of forming bonds and unions, so moisture is also a creative condition, which forms the basis of love, fertility and reproduction. When we become too emotional the natural reaction is to release the 'excess of water' through the shedding of tears.
Hence, water as an element relates to the emotions and the world of feelings. It is a passive, absorbing element; receptive and keenly perceptive. The energy of water is fluid, unshaped, lacking consistency in definition and structure, but remarkable in its ability to seep into inaccessible places and change its form - sometimes appearing as vaporous as steam, sometimes as cold and solid as ice. The use of the word cold when applied to this element could never imply that there is insensitivity to feelings or detachment from emotions, but that the energy is passive, not active. Water 'types' are not quickly stirred to heated debate or dynamic, self-assertive action. Their tendency is to wait, reflect and absorb, responding to circumstances and remaining responsive to the needs of others and the changing demands of life's events.
In the water signs of Scorpio and Pisces we see a different expression of this energy. Scorpio symbolises the stillness of the murky depths, areas so deep and dark that no movement occurs without the disturbance of long-accumulated sediment. Pisces, associated with the linear flow of the river, suggests a more immediate response to collective movement, trends and ideals. Lacking the hardened shell of the other water types, Pisces signifies a sensitive energy, easily impressed upon by its immediate environment. But Cancer, taking its habitation on the shore of the ocean, and governed by the Moon, responds to the cyclic and rhythmic rise and fall of life's ebb and flow. This sign is known for its moodiness, so Cancerians can be up one day and down the next, responding to the joys and pains of the world in a pattern that can (superficially) seem to bear little relation to the immediate events around them.
Since Cancer finds its strength in instinctive, emotional responses, Cancerians are known for their remarkable psychic sensitivity, absorption of memories and receptiveness to emotional impressions. This is widely accepted as one of the most psychic signs of the zodiac and there is usually a marked interest in the occult, a vivid recollection of powerful dreams, and strong symbolic appreciation. But such an acute sensitivity to their physical and unconscious environment is a double-edged sword, and awareness of complex psychological factors that underlie apparently simple acts make it difficult for Cancerians to apply their will and foster their own self-interests unfettered by feelings of guilt and torn sympathies. This hesitancy and vulnerability to emotional impacts on themselves and others has given the sign a reputation for weakness, and a lack of ability to apply direct action to direct problems.
In addition, this sign is one that dislikes glares of publicity and is rarely comfortable at the centre of attention. Traditional descriptions of the sign depict it as 'dark' and nocturnal, lacking in vibrancy. The astronomical foundation for this is that the constellation Cancer is a particularly dark and dimly lit region of the sky. It has few distinguishable stars and is mainly notable for a nebulous, cloud-like cluster which ancient astronomers regarded as an area where energies were dissipated. The connection with the element of water and the rulership by the Moon reinforces the ancient foundation of this reputation. The water element relates to the phlegmatic humour, which seeks to retain its energies and inclines towards lethargy, while association with the Moon adds to the sense of inconstancy and irrational or unreasonable behaviour - or behaviour that seems strange when evaluated solely by reason or the rational faculties.
The more negative traits associated with this sign then, are physical weakness, lethargy bordering on laziness, a chaotic and unorganised application of methods (often the cause of associated sloppiness and untidiness in the home and dress), and a moodiness that is hard for others to relate to or fully understand. Cancer generally has a dislike of discipline, aptly symbolised by a creature that lacks an internal skeletal structure, but the Cancerian way of dealing with that is simply to avoid issues; there is little inclination towards rebellious acts or direct and open confrontations.
The symbolism of the celestial crab also gives an insight into the way that Cancerians move through life, react to situations and respond to problems. Cancer is one of the few constellations that rises backwards in the zodiac. The Sun's entry into Cancer occurs at the summer solstice - a term derived from the appearance of the Sun 'standing still' as it approaches this point. The creature itself, of course, is known for its sidewards gait. So the movement associated with Cancer is a strange one, revealing a sense of hesitancy, a sidewards approach to things, and an element of moving forwards whilst not looking squarely at what lies ahead. Despite the intuitive gift that this sign possesses, Cancer is not known as a sign of quick action or immediate response. Cancerians tend to vacillate before deciding on a course of action, and once that course is chosen, the logic that lies beneath it is often convoluted. Decisions are based upon reasoning that is neither obvious nor apparent to other people, but presenting a great skill for lateral thinking, for originating solutions to problems from angles that others have not discovered. When combined with Cancer's natural artistic flair and strongly developed imagination, this can offer advantages in careers such as marketing, where the creative exploration of unconventional approaches can be seen as a real talent.
The backwards gaze of the constellation is also symbolic of the Cancerian interest in the past, a trait that is emphasised by the Moon's rulership of the sign. This manifests on a personal and social level and Cancerians often have a keen interest in history, past cultures and traditions, as well as a high respect for personal history, genealogy, ancestral origins, nationalism, and a desire to preserve and protect family customs. Ruled by the Moon, Cancer relates to tribal instincts and ethnic origins, and there is often a clan-like attitude to one's own community and family structure. Cancerians make very caring parents, but they sometimes suffer from over-protection and 'clinginess' in domestic relationships, becoming too dependent on the need to preserve a tight-knit family unit and failing to recognise when it is appropriate to loosen the bonds. Of course, the function of the Moon is to nurture and protect the young, so maternal and paternal instincts run very strongly through this sign.
Cardinal signs are noted for being changeable, and Cancerians are certainly changeable in their day-to-day views, emotions and opinions. But they find change in their environment and basic life-structure difficult to handle and have a deep need for security in personal relationships. They like to hold on tightly to what they value as near and dear to them. They make great partners for people who appreciate a caring and committed mate, and they enjoy the role of being domestic provider - catering to homely comforts, offering tasty and nourishing food and providing a secure and pleasant family environment. Theirs is a gentle, relaxing and delicate energy; they need warmth, intimacy and emotional closeness and would not be suited to partners that value emotional independence or are inclined towards sexual, spiritual or even intellectual freedom.
Although Cancer is not inherently a materialistic sign, the image of a vice-like grip in their great pinching claws refusing to let go of what they see as rightly theirs, does apply to their material interests as well as their emotional investments. The wordcrabby, which generally means moody but is also taken to mean 'tight with money', originates from the reputation of this sign, in a trait that was recognised in the earliest texts. Manilius, writing in the 1st century AD, remarks of those born under this sign "Of a grasping spirit … and skill in making profits; … His is a shrewd nature, and he is ready to fight for his profits" (Astron. 4.165).
It is within the area of business relationships that the Cancerian is best able to apply the protection of the tough upper casing and let the head rule the heart. Cancerians make good investors and good business managers - what they lack in 'pizzazz' they more than make up for in persistence and tenacity. Often underrated because of the softness of their emotional natures, it has to be remembered that, as the sign of the solstice, Cancer is a cardinal sign that does not give its ground away easily. Their hesitancy to act on first impulse makes them resistant to glib, superficial deals; instead they will circle around all options, vacillating to and fro, before finally settling on the deal that feels right for them. When they do invest financially, it is with caution and shrewdness. When they feel that their real interests - emotional or material - are at stake, they will fight to the bitter end. The irony is the motivation that powers them. They are driven by the need to safe-guard their family and loved ones, they have no real interests in acquiring wealth purely for their own use, but as a legacy of security that they can pass on to others that they care about.
Cancer is a complex sign, capable of offering very different personas depending on the angle that you view them from. They are slow to form intimate relationships, yet unless a close emotional contact exists they are unlikely to expose the soft-underbelly that borders their vulnerable centre. Instead they will maintain a sense of detachment and what you will see from the outside is a hardened, impenetrable shell that gives no hint of where their true values lie.
Planets Dignifed in Cancer:
Planets Debilitated in Cancer:
Small stature, round face, pale complexion, small eyes, heavy breasts (or top half of body generally larger than the lower). All general descriptions are moderated by the location of the Moon and other dominant chart factors.
© Deborah Houlding