June 22 – July 22
…circumambulates for a while,
and when it grabs the prize with its pincers,
you have to virtually kill it to get it to let go.
From the book “Astrology for Lovers” written by Liz Green.
‘Don’t throw out that old plastic bottle,’ said a Cancer friend to me once. ‘It might come in useful sometime.’ This piece of advice is a paradigm (a miniature replica of a much larger reality) of Cancer. Whether it’s an old plastic bottle, an old lover, an old house, an old belief, an old bit of string, an old memory…Hang on to it, says Cancer. You never know when you might need it again. Not that Cancer is a particularly ‘practical’ sign in the way we have met practicality in the element of earth. Cancer is much too imaginative, too immersed in a world of dreams and longings and subtle currents of emotion, to treat everything in the literal terms of how much it’s worth. But one of the strongest urges in this watery sign is the urge for security. For what’s known and familiar, comforting and safe. It is an emotional motivation, not a practical one. I once knew a Cancer man who kept an old shoebox locked in a desk drawer. In it was the most bizarre assortment of objects gathered together that I have ever seen: old chewing-gum wrappers (thankfully the gum was missing), pieces of rope, old photographs, bits of lace, nuts and screws and used bent nails, fragments of magazine articles, a dried flower of unknown origin, and most difficult to believe, an old (and used) French letter. At this point, being familiar with astrology, I didn’t even bother to ask why. I knew the answer.
Now this rather extreme example of Cancer’s penchant for saving things is a little pathological. But you can be sure that every Cancer has a metaphorical shoebox somewhere, where things from the past linger. Beneath the Crab’s peculiar and often disconcerting penchant for not letting go – of anything – lies one of the most sensitive and vulnerable of all the zodiacal signs. Cancer is ruled by the moon, and the moon’s phases, constantly shifting and changing, are an apt image of the constant ebb and flow of moods, desires, feelings, fears and intuitions that wash through this apparently solid and conservative temperament. Yes, conservative. Think about what the word means. Cancer knows all about conservation. Waste not, want not. With all the canniness of a Scot (Scotland, in fact, is said to be ruled by Cancer), the Cancerian will carefully nurture and protect those tender feelings beneath a bristling fortified wall of souvenirs, mementoes, stock certificates, insurance policies, old photographs, family support, tradition, and a strong tendency toward preserving the status quo. That is, as long as the status quo protects ‘me and mine.’
Cancer is traditionally the sign of the family. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every Cancer wants, or should have, a family in the conventional sense. Lots of Cancers, contrary to popular conception, are not domestic. They needn’t have ties of blood. But the feeling of continuity with the past is terribly important to Cancer. The past is often more real to Cancer than the present, because it’s known and therefore safe. Cancer’s roots sink deep into the earth. Where there is a past, there could be a secure future. With his roots firm in the ground, Cancer can indulge in his love of exploration, his wandering instinct, his changeability. A Cancer who is cut off from his roots is a very sorry creature – until he learns to grow new roots, either a new family or a group of friends or a work project. Something. Without these things, the Crab withdraws ever more tightly into his shell until he is imprisoned by his own fear of the future and his terror of the unknown.
The Crab is an instructive animal to watch if you want to learn about Cancer. Firstly, it never moves directly towards something it wants. It always circumambulates, to make it look as though it is actually heading off into a completely different direction. ‘What me? Interested in that? Don’t be silly. It’s the last thing on my mind.’ But when it grabs for the prize, and those pincers close, you have to virtually kill it to get it to let go. It won’t fight; crabs are non-aggressive animals. It will take pummeling, pushing, shoving, any treatment you care to give it. It simply hangs on, until you get tired and go away.
Watch a Cancer woman at a party, when she spots a man she is attracted to. Move straight in and begin a conversation? Never. She will circle around the room, studiously ignoring the desired object. She will chat brightly to everyone within range. She will somehow contrive to join a group standing nearby. She might succeed in spilling her drink an inch from his trouser leg, and probably not even be aware of what she is doing, in any calculating way. Cancer is an instinctive sign, doesn’t like to analyse its own motives. But take the initiative directly? Never. That exposes her to possible rejection, humiliation or looking ridiculous. If you really want to see a Cancer terrified, threaten him with those things: rejection, humiliation, loss of face. Cancer is so sensitive, so vulnerable to other people’s opinions of himself. That is, unless he absolutely trusts everyone present. Then anything might happen.
It’s been said that Cancers are manipulative. This is absolutely true. But let’s explore this trait of manipulativeness. It has some rather complex sources. Cancer is a water sign. His great gift is his capacity to subtly work with feeling – his own and those of others. He doesn’t plan this out, as a strategy, the way an air sign would. He operates with a marvelous instinctual grace that adapts itself to the immediate situation. Rather than go after a goal aggressively and in the open – remember the fear of rejection and humiliation – he would rather work on the atmosphere and the feelings of other people, to orientate them toward his own objectives. Whatever one may think of President Jimmy Carter’s political or religious sympathies, one must concede that he is a good conciliator. He is a Cancer. This facility for working to smooth quarrels and bring people together is a wonderful gift when dealing with children. Cancer will never bully a child or use unjustified ‘heavy authority’. The ‘do it because I say so’ approach isn’t one of Cancer’s tools, as it is of Scorpio and Aries and Leo. Cancer gently guides, so that half the time you think the idea came from you. Subtlety is one of the chief qualities of Cancer.
This like every other gift in human nature, is double-edged. The nastier edge appears when the Cancer applies the gentle pressure of emotional blackmail to get you to do things his way. Most people in our culture are terribly vulnerable to guilt. It’s ingrained in our Judeo-Christian heritage. Being selfish is a sin, almost as bad as Original Sin. And Cancer is a past master at the art of stimulating a sense of guilt. An insecure Cancer, anxious to hang on to the person or situation which gives him his safety, will often use this deadly implement to get his way. We might call this role the Martyr. It goes something like this:
ADOLESCENT TO CANCER MOTHER: Well Mum, I’ve finally decided what I’m going to do next year. I’m going to travel abroad, go to Paris, and study languages at the Sorbonne.
CANCER MOTHER: (after some silence, during which she digests (a) that her child is ‘leaving her’, (b) what she can do to stop him.) Paris? Yes, I suppose Paris is a lovely place. I’ve never been to Paris myself. I never had the time, or the money. (A sad, martyred look crosses her face. The suffering of the world is upon her.) That will be wonderful for you. I wish I could have gone to Paris when I was your age. But I had to bring up all you children, and work a job at the same time. And your father never made much money, and wouldn’t take me anywhere. I worked my fingers to the bone, supporting you children and taking care of the house. Then there was the war, and all that. I would have loved to go to Paris.
CHILD: (beginning to feel vaguely guilty about being happy and having a future, although unsure just why) Well, when I’m settled over there, I’ll have you come for a visit.
CANCER MOTHER: Visit Paris? Oh no, I couldn’t. I have nothing to wear, and I’m so tired these days, keeping the house in order and washing and ironing the clothes. Of course, if you waited another year, Julie would be old enough to get a job. But of course you must go next year. Still, it would have been nice. But I’ll stay here and take care of your father. (Long sigh, recognizable as the Cancer Sigh.) It’ll be terribly lonely here. But I suppose life is all about sacrifice, isn’t it? If you really love, then you have to sacrifice.
CHILD: (feeling even guiltier) Don’t you want me to go?
CANCER MOTHER: (in great protest) Of course I do! How can you ask me that? I think it’s wonderful that you young people can have that freedom and the money to do what you like. It isn’t like when I was young and your parents came first. I suppose people are just more selfish these days. I was just thinking of those lonely evenings at home, you know the phone always rings for you these days, all my friends have moved out of town, and I never have time to see them, being so busy with the cleaning and shopping….
Needless to say, the end of this scenario is not a trip to Paris. Not next year, or even the year after that. If foiled yet again, this kind of Cancer will not hesitate to develop a bad heart, migraine headaches, or the old-time-honoured phrase, ‘Do you want to kill me?’ Once upon a time this was also known as the Jewish Mother Syndrome. Now perceptive people will have noticed that you don’t have to be either Jewish or a mother to play this game. Husbands play it, children play it, wives play it, boyfriends and girlfriends play it, even employers play it. When Cancers are threatened with isolation of the loss of loved ones – through independence, distance, or any other means – they will often resort to the martyr. Not a pretty device.
The thing is, Cancer does not need to be needed. And to love and nurture and cherish. And to apply the role of Mother, in some shape or form. (This means Cancer men as well.) The important thing is to find the Child on levels other than the purely biological one. Once the children have grown, Cancer needs other outlets, preferably creative ones. The sensitivity, the gentleness, the delicate touch of this deep and subtle sign can be as usefully and productively placed on a project, a business, a home, a work of art, a piece of poetry, an animal, a garden. If it is all poured wholly into the beloved person, it is pretty natural for that person to either rebel or to turn inward in seething resentment, without fully understanding why. Cancer pays a tragic price for his emotional blackmail: the enmity of a loved one, in the end.
We should observe two more things about the crab, to complete our initial portrait of Cancer. The crab develops in a cyclical way. This is true too of Cancer people. I once had a pair of hermit crabs as pets. These creatures are practically fascinating because, rather than having hard shells of their own, they wear the shells of dead mollusks, and camouflage them. There is a kind of Cancer whose shell is culled from others, as well as a kind who grows his own. Now when a hermit crab outgrows his shell – which he inevitably does – he must find a bigger one, and make the move in total safety. Underneath the shell, the crab is a defenceless, completely vulnerable creature. There is a period of time when crabs must hide in the sand while the new shell grows hard. They have to remain hidden, or they will be instant dinner for the nearest seagull without so much as a by-your-leave. Cancer people too have these cycles, where they must withdraw after a change and a period of new growth. Surprise them or intrude upon them when they are going through their quiet private time, and you can damage them irrevocably. Damage them in childhood, and they will retreat into a too-small shell, sometimes never to emerge. It takes a long time for the Crab to forget, once he has been wounded.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly, since it leads into our discussion of Cancer myth – is the Crab’s natural environment. He is neither a creature of water, nor of land; he inhabits the border between the two. Let’s translate this into human terms. On one side is the dry land of the real world – bills, real estate, responsibilities, commitments, facts. That’s one of Cancer’s needs. The other is the fathomless depths of the ocean of his imagination. Cancer belongs to both worlds. He must have time to give to each – time to nurture his secret dreams and longings in the shifting waters of his deep inner nature, and time to build a place of shelter and security in the world. A complex sign, Cancer. And a complex personality. It is almost impossible to get a Cancer to analyse himself, or to trot out his deepest secrets. Popular astrology usually considers Scorpio to be the most secretive of the signs. But Scorpio is secretive on purpose. He knows his safety lies in smokescreens. Cancer is secretive by second nature. He is full of half-germinated seeds that need the darkness and the safety of quiet and privacy. His retreat is natural, not thought out. It must be respected. The creative fruit he brings forth is worth waiting for.
The Cancer Lover
In a true Cancerian, love has a lot to do with security. It also has a lot to do with affection and kindness and sympathy. And it has a lot to do with Mother.
Cancer is as capable of intense passion as Scorpio. But because it is a more vulnerable sign, Cancer tends to be more discriminating about where that passion is expressed. And very slow to commit it, because trust is terribly important for all the water signs.
Initially, people in love tend to behave in similar ways. But if Cancer becomes truly involved, the myth of the mother is likely to begin to enter. This may mean needing to be mothered – and this can apply to women as well as men. Many Cancer women look for rather maternal men – men who will be kind and gentle with them. Equally often, it means Cancer wants to do the mothering. Show your pain, your helplessness, your weakness, your need, and you have won Cancer where your strengths might interest him much less. Remember that Cancer needs to be needed. And don’t expect everything to be spoken. It’s a rare Cancer who wears his or her heart in full view on the sleeve. You have to learn to read signals, if you’re involved with Cancer. And become a gifted interpreter of moods. Sullen sulkiness means he feels rejected. Clinginess means he needs reassurance. Whining means he’s feeling sorry for himself today. Crabbiness means he’s feeling unappreciated. And so on. But try to confront the issue, and the Crab will slide away from you. Usually he doesn’t understand himself what’s going on. It’s just a stray mood.
Cancer tends to be loyal in relationships. This is because security is important. But is a changeable sign; and that loyalty may take a lot of buffering on the surface. Cancer is notorious for keeping the home base and collecting thrills on the journey. On the other hand, if he is sufficiently secure, he will usually be aware of his priorities. Anything that jeopardizes the security of the relationship isn’t on.
Divorce is often a horrific experience for Cancer. Many Cancerians will remain uncommitted because they sense the grueling experience a separation would entail. The disruption of the nest is a true trauma for Cancer, where a Sagittarian might happily pack one bag and go, or a Virgo wrap up the financial affairs tidily before exiting. No separation is easy for Cancer, even if he deeply longs for freedom. Once again, you must learn to read the signs. Gradual withdrawal emotionally, sexual coolness or impotence, are Cancer’s way of saying, ‘Get me out of here’. But Cancer will rarely be the one to make the decision to go. First of all, the emotional confrontation is too terrifying. Secondly, other people’s opinions are too terrifying. Cancer would much rather become quietly, progressively, more unpleasant until you’re the one to throw him out. Then he doesn’t have to feel guilty.
It does take a lot, though. It takes trampling on his feelings, being insensitive or cold, shattering his dreams, bullying him, expecting him to be strong when his strength lies in camouflage and tenacity. Betrayal of trust goes deep with the water signs. Rationally they may excuse it. Emotionally, they never do.
The nest is naturally important to Cancer. It is a sign of habit. Even an unsettled Cancer, maintaining a casual affair, will usually collapse in the same chair in the living room, and indulge in the same rituals and drink. Permanent the liaison may not be; but that need for roots and security can give the feeling of continuity to even the briefest, most casual of Cancerian relationships.
It is very easy to love Cancer for his gentleness, his sensitivity, his imagination, his subtlety, his peculiar brand of courage when what he loves is threatened. It is more difficult to endure the moods, and the innate egocentricity of the child which is always present in this complex sign. Whether mother or child, whichever role the Cancer plays – or both – the constant need for affection and reassurance is always present. If you have one of those emotional natures which is coolly self-sufficient and resents giving affection – particularly when it might not be returned due to a mood – then it’s best to stay away from Cancer. If you have a warm heart, and an understanding of what life is like from the inside of this alternatively fragile and tough dreamer, you may be surprised. Cancer’s greatest offering in relationships is his profound, instinctual understanding of human nature and human pain. And that isn’t often to be found in the marketplace these days.
The Cancer Man
‘Never think,’ wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘that there is more in life than can be packed into childhood.’ We might say, with more accuracy for Cancer, that there is not more in life than can’t be packed into Mother. And here you have the greatest strength and also the greatest weakness of the Cancer man in love relationships. This man is tied, one way or another – in love or in hate, and often in both – to Mother.
It may sound simplistic to say that all Cancer men are mother-bound. But it would come close to the truth. Remember what we said about the myths connected with Cancer? And in particular the myth of the Great Mother? Well, there is a test that confronts every Cancer man, and he runs up against it sooner or later in life. Our world being what it is, with so little attention paid to people’s inner lives and motivations, most Cancer men take the latter road.
If you think about it, you’ll see it’s natural. Cancer is a sign of feeling and of deep emotional needs and often dependency. It clings. It doesn’t like to stand alone. In childhood, this need for attachment and warmth will naturally focus on the mother. The trouble is once adult, Cancer men are often still looking for that nurturing, protecting woman who will always forgive them, always understand them, care for them, shelter them. You might say, why not? But Cancer, which is a feminine sign, gels oddly with the masculine psyche. In each man’s consciousness, buried deep within him, is the myth of the Hero. How can a hero keep running back to Mummy for comfort and understanding? Psychology postulates that the mother-son tie is one of the most difficult things a man must contend with in life. If he doesn’t deal with it – as many Cancer men don’t – then his relationships will suffer for it.
There is usually a scenario which follows this theme, and which is pretty common in Cancer marriages. For one thing, Cancer men usually marry young. That is, if they aren’t mother-haters. The mother-haters usually marry very late, if at all. They don’t know they hate their mothers. They’re afraid of women – hence the lack of commitment. But this is a distorted kind of Cancer, a Cancer on the run from his own emotional dependency. You can see a lot of those running about with extra-hard shells on, never really letting you see the vulnerable person underneath. If you probe, they snap at you like good crabs.
The more open Cancer man will, then, usually have a family by the time he’s twenty-five. Because of their gentleness, they make excellent fathers, so long as they’re not jealous of the mothering their own children receive. But later on, in the thirties or perhaps forties, the pattern that Cancer sets tends to go awry. He will usually be attracted to a strong woman – one of those capable types, often intellectual, who either overtly or subtly must carry the emotional strength for the relationship. His moodiness, changeability, snappishness, fears – all must be understood and coddled. But it is natural for any adolescent boy to kick butt against mother. It’s part of the growing-up process. Eventually Cancer must too, because he’s a man. You can imagine what happens then. Who gets kicked? Well, the surrogate mother, of course. If that happens to you, it’s not pleasant. Although Cancer is not a divorce-prone sign – after all, marriage is a form of security, isn’t it? – Cancer men can be wanderers par excellence. They always come back again. But the question is whether you want them when they do.
This is a sign with a lot of in-built conflict for a man. For one thing, the sensitivity and imagination don’t mix well with society’s macho expectations of men. Did I hear you say times have changed, women are liberated, etc.? Maybe in London, Amsterdam, New York. But most of the rest of the world lies between. Sophisticated, cosmopolitan cities excluded, it’s still a little difficult for a moody, sensitive, introverted, imaginative man to get away with being himself. He must learn camouflage. Cancer’s two most common camouflages, as we have seen, are the hard shell and the ‘good drinking companion’ jolly extrovert face. But these things take their toll on the person inside, unless he’s pretty confident himself. How many people you know are that?
For another thing, the mother problem isn’t an easy one to solve. Motherhood is both sacred and profane; it is both a biological fact, with little glamour attached, and an archetypal experience. To toe the line between the berating woman – and the maternal side of woman – and overglamorizing it so your mother can do no wrong, is a hard task. To live within the shadow of the Mother, so in touch with the forces of the currents that wash the shores of ordinary life, is a great and harrowing task psychologically for a Cancer man. Most would rather not even think about it. But the deep creativity of this sign cannot really emerge without some understanding of its myth and its task. The Cancer man is never an easy lover or husband. For one thing, he’s too complex, and defies the stereotyped image of the masculine with which our society is imbued. For another, he’s evasive and indirect, and the deeper the feeling or the problem, the less likely you are to hear about it. He can be sulky and crabby one moment, effusively sentimental and affectionate the next. But most of all he has feeling, he’s alive. Curious about just about everything, he will rarely be rigidly intellectual, but will more likely store what interests him in his extraordinarily attentive memory and draw it out to tell an anecdote or illustrate a point.
Donald Sutherland is a typical Cancerian actor. He is notorious for disliking interviews, for his evasiveness, his versatility, his moodiness. Yet he is extremely masculine, in his own fashion. Not the Burt Reynolds type, maybe. But the loveliest quality in the Cancer man is tenderness and gentleness. They are short-changed these days. Invest your trust, and you draw it out. Who wants Burt Reynolds, anyway?
The Cancer Woman
There are two types of Cancer women. Those who are Mothers. And those who are Eternal Children. Often they cross, and you find both in one. Cancer is often the epitome of the feminine – moody, non-rational, alternately loving and cruel, unpredictable, gentle, soft, capable of surprising ruthlessness, and ultimately enigmatic and full of mystery.
Don’t think because she can cook, that she’s domesticated. Or that, because she likes children, she’s docile and has no ambitions of her own. Cancer women can be intensely possessive, driving, ambitious people. It’s just that they tend to live it through someone else: the husband, the lover, or the child.
Many Cancer women choose deliberately to play the role of Mother. They have a wonderful gift for making a home, for creating a warm, loving atmosphere, for dealing with gentleness with all the bruises – physical or emotional – which their loved ones incur. But don’t forget that the Mother Goddess, in the myth, has more than one face. Her domestic face heals, nurtures, supports. Her dark face is wild like the maenads who dance the sacred dance of Dionysus on the mountaintop and dismember the faun they catch. There are secret depths of emotional storms and a strange, matriarchal consciousness in the Cancer woman. Some Cancer women show this archaic attitude by seeing men essentially as sources to beget children. They hark back to the old days when the Mother ruled and the king was sacrificed every five years. For this kind of Cancer, all men are essentially children, to be cosseted, loved, and made pregnant by.
A relationship with this kind of Cancer is both frightening and a great challenge. Frightening because it can castrate a man. If you are always treated like a boy, you remain one; and if you weren’t before, you become one. On the other hand, meeting it with the challenge of masculinity can lead to a wonderfully dynamic, passionately, constantly stimulating love. In the ancient myths, it is the hero who challenges the power of the Mother – not by demeaning or subjugation or denial of her rights, but simply by affirmation of his manhood and his own destiny – who is truly the hero. There is a fascinating quality about many Cancer women because of this dark aspect to the sign, which is much in evidence in Cancer women. It beckons, it fascinates, it attracts, it repels. But safe and domesticated, it isn’t. Think again. The cooking may be great. But you need to understand the woman.
The Cancer woman, too, must create. Usually her creativity is expressed through the bearing of children. But at mid-life, when the children have begun to grow away and need a friend more than a Mother, many Cancerian women suffer a deep crisis of identity. Who am I? What is my own life about? This is the greatest challenge that can befall a Cancer woman. In a sense, Cancer women’s real life doesn’t begin until this stage of the journey. The first part of life is often bound up with the home and family, the natural and right and instinctual expression of all the femininity and creativity of the sign. But later on the world must become larger, and the family bigger – the reason, perhaps, why many Cancer women make such excellent teachers, counselors and therapists. The creativity must be shifted on to levels other than the biological – perhaps why so many Cancer women make such excellent painters, novelists, actresses with depth and subtlety in mid-life. The depth and richness of the Cancer woman shows itself most truly after thirty-five. It is a slow-maturing sign. Crabs don’t race like greyhounds. But the Cancer woman, often more oyster-like than crab-like, may take half a lifetime to grow her pearl – her wisdom about human nature, and the depth of her love for people and life. Perhaps this is the most mysterious of all the faces of the Mother: Sophia, which means, in Greek wisdom. And wisdom comes from the heart, not the intellect.