Cancer Symbol

The origin and meaning of the Cancer Symbol

Cancer Symbol
Cancer Symbol

The Cancer symbol is a Crab. The sign of Cancer is associated with home, and crabs are known for carrying their home (their shell) wherever they go, but there is much more to the sign of Cancer than this. The symbology of a protective shell also indicates that there is something very precious hidden within a container. Indeed the theme of keeping something ‘hidden’ is very important in Cancer, because it represents the deepest mysteries of Life, which are always hidden from the unenlightened simply because we don’t yet have the capacity to perceive them.

The constellation of Cancer is the ‘quietest’ in the Zodiac, in that there are no bright stars to attract attention. The sign of Cancer is also strongly associated with nurturing and birth and esoterically Cancer is associated with incarnation into a human life. Our human journey into this Earthly Life begins in the protective safety and nurturing waters of our Mother’s womb. Esoterically, as the cardinal water sign, the sign of Cancer provides a vital realm of experience in the human Soul journey through the Cardinal Cross: creation (Aries); manifestation (Cancer); legislation (Libra) and initiation (Capricorn) (see Esoteric Astrology). Deep within the symbology of Cancer, the deepest mysteries of Life itself lie hidden, awaiting our discovery: the actual process of how sentient beings, particularly human beings, manifest into physical Life forms.

Scarab, Crayfish, Crab

Image of dung beetle
Scarab or Dung Beetle Image ©Laurent

Our modern symbol of a crab for Cancer is relatively recent. In medieval times Cancer was represented by a crayfish, and in ancient Egypt, a scarab (dung beetle). All three creatures have a hard outer shell, within which the delicate processes of Life unfold, undisturbed. The scarab or dung beetle was regarded with great reverence by the ancient Egyptians as it’s vital role in the continuation of Life was recognized. The sign of Cancer represents the most sacred processes of Life and therefore had a sacred animal as it’s symbol. Later in history the scarab fell out of favor as it’s association with dung was regarded as unclean by the Hebrews. Only recently, as our knowledge of the vital importance of soil and the role of the microbiome grows, are we understanding the true role of the dung beetle in providing vital nourishment, for the health of the planet and the continuation of Life on Earth. The significance of Cancer cannot be underestimated and the symbol of the Scarab, the sacred dung beetle, should be emblazoned in our minds as a symbol of rebirth and Earth’s healing.

Medieval Cancer crayfish symbol

By medieval times the symbol for Cancer had been replaced with a crayfish, and later by our modern symbol of a crab, but nevertheless both animals are known to be scavengers and therefore play an important role in cleaning up their environment by removing debris and transforming it into precious Life. All the symbols for Cancer therefore play a vital role in the cycle of Life.

Image of Crab
Cancer Symbol – The Crab. Image ©Kevin David Pointon

Emotional Intelligence and Mandala Principle

Hidden deep within the Cancer symbol is the esoteric mystery of how forms (particularly human beings) actually exist. As the cardinal water sign, Cancer is associated with emotions and emotional intelligence, and yet is ruled by The Moon, known esoterically as ‘the Mother of all forms‘. Here we have a hint at the connection between emotions and form. In his book “Never Turn Away” Buddhist Lama Rigzin Shikpo describes the Mandala principle, where he explains how everything in existence, exists by way of Mandalas (realms of experience). He says that human emotions form the boundaries of human mandalas. So therein lies a deep esoteric principle: human mandalas (realms of human experience and existence) are held together by human emotions. In order to understand that we need a much deeper awareness of emotions than is commonly understood.

Information is Light

Emotions are information, and information is carried on Light. So our emotional tendencies can be carried forward, in the Light of our being, to our next rebirth, and thereby shape our experience. This is why the sign of Cancer is associated with mothers, birth, and the mysterious processes of gestation and embryology: the mysterious process of how all forms come to be birthed into existence in order to be a vehicle for a specific realm of experience. The simple crab with it’s precious cargo of Life-force energy encased within a protective shell is the symbol for this entire mysterious process of existence. To fully understand the symbolism of the crab we need to fully understand what Rigdzin Shikpo calls mandala principle.

The Great Mystery of Existence

Hidden deep within the mysteries of Cancer, is the mystery of Life itself: the Great Mystery of how living things manifest into physical form. The signs of Cancer and Capricorn are known esoterically as The Great Gates, of which Cancer is the Gate into physical existence and Capricorn is the Gate into Spiritual existence. (This is in contrast to the portal in Gemini which is an orientation of mind rather than a physical manifestation).

The Cancer Glyph

Cancer Glyph

We can see a similarity in the Cancer glyph, or sigil, to two embryonic Life forms. For mammals in general, and humans in particular, Life begins as an embryo in the safety of a womb, the precious container within which the mysteries of life unfold.

Cancer glyph compared with embryos
The Cancer glyph may represent two embryonic life-forms

The Journey of Light into Form

At a deeper level the Cancer glyph could also be symbolic of the journey of Light into form. Esoterically it is said that we are beings of light. Modern research is now supporting this fact with the discovery that we have our own innate light, and that our DNA emits light. It is now thought that messages are transmitted throughout our body, via the nervous system, with light. In effect our nervous system is like a fiber optic network for the reception and transmission of light. In early embryonic development, this ‘network of Light’ (our nervous system) begins as a tiny tube of light called the neural tube. Neurobiologists tell us that this tube becomes our spinal cord and that one end of the tube bulges to form our brain. The Cancer glyph could also represent this early stage of embryonic development, where the brain is emerging from the spinal cord and, as such, could symbolize the beginning of the journey of Light into form.

Many of the activities associated with the Cancer symbol are those that involve the process of manifesting, nurturing, and supporting, Life on Earth. This includes gestation and birth: the development of a ‘home’ or container (womb), nurturing and nourishing the growth of an embryo; keeping the environment safe and free from harm; immersion in water; and eventual birth.

When we fully understand the secrets of the Cancer symbol we will know the deep hidden mysteries of the womb; how beings come into existence in physical form; how human realms of experience exist by way of Mandala Principle; what determines birth into the human realm and the entire mandala of human experience. To truly realize the deepest symbology of Cancer is to know the mystery of Life itself.

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Learn about the Soul Path and Purpose of Cancer in “Astrology: Cancer Rising The Cancer Soul” by Ruth Hadikin and in the video “Cancer Rising: The Cancer Soul” 

Ruth Hadikin

Ruth Hadikin BSc. is an author and teacher of Soul Astrology. She specializes in teaching how to use Soul Astrology as a map to guide your own inner journey of Self-exploration.

Her defining talent is bringing deep insight, clarity and simplicity to complex subjects - in particular Esoteric Astrology and the teachings of The Tibetan through the work of Alice Bailey.

Ruth has traveled extensively in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, USA, Australia, Kenya, Egypt, India, Nepal and Tibet. She has lived in England, Scotland, Spain and the USA.

Ruth is author of:
Soul Astrology: How Your Rising Sign Reveals Your Soul Path and Life Purpose
The Foundations of Soul Astrology Series
and the Astrology [YOUR SIGN] Rising series

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