by: X. Helia Allegra
1. CANCER, AS VIEWED IN THE EVENING SKY
The constellation of the crab is the least conspicuous in the zodiac. Its brightest star, called Acubens, is only a fourth magnitude binary system (The magnitude of a star is judged by its perceived brightness from the earth. In this case, only a faint glimmer can be seen). Although Cancer is not as obviously radiant as its neighbors, it does have several unique and interesting stellar components.
The Crab contains a bright, open cluster of stars known as the "Praesaepe", (the Manger, or Crib), which is easily seen with the naked eye. It is a rather loose grouping of about 50-100 stars, best observed with binoculars. Praesaepe is one of the closest, most brilliant, and largest of the galactic clusters. According to legend, it was used as a weather indicator. The invisibility of this nebula in an otherwise clear sky forecasted violent storms. The Beehive, another name for Praesaepe, was the only widely known nebula before the invention of the telescope. Chinese astrologers/astronomers were quite familiar with it, but believed it contained many malefic characteristics and named it Tseih She Ke, or the "Exhalation of Piled-Up Corpses".
The Manger, located in Cancer's head, is flanked on either side by its animals, the Aselli (Asses). The Aselli glow with a faint yellow hue. Aside from the Crib, Cancer contains only five or six stars and appears partially submerged in the celestial waters of deep space. The Crab also rises backward, able to evade confrontation or escape conflict easily.
The constellation lies on the ecliptic between Gemini on the west and Leo on the east. It is best viewed during the month of February.
2. THE SYMBOLOGY OF THE CRAB
Cancer's governing celestial body is the moon, which astrologically represents emotions and intuitive behaviors. Those born under this sign, also known as Children of the Moon, are receptive, sensitive, imaginative, sympathetic, kind, and naturally full of emotions. Moonchildren possess alert, keen, and intuitive minds, but tend to keep these attributes hidden behind a shell of reserve (which makes sense, given that the crab is a crustacean with an exoskeleton).
The pictograph of the Crab has multiple meanings. Its most obvious depiction is of the claws of the crab. It is also the human breasts, the part of the body ruled by the Crab. On more abstract terms, the glyph represents the union of the male spermatozoon with the female ovum, the process of human fertilization, which is the initial merging of the vital, dual energies necessary to create new life. The pulse of the life-force is very potent in this sign, which makes it one of the most powerful in the zodiac. On a spiritual level, the symbol shows two circles of the sun connected by two crescent moons. The moons become Cancer's desire to store memories and possessions, while the circles bound to the moons represent the spiritual force and energy expressed through emotions and imagination.
Cancer is also the sign of the Earth Mother, who is pregnant with all life. She represents the growth of the soul through the sustaining, enriching efforts of the vital forces. With the grace of the lunar goddess, Cancerians personify tenacity. They are frequently occupied with gathering resources to physically and emotionally nourish their family, and yet remain very generous towards others with their feelings and possessions.
3. MYTHOLOGY OF THE SIGN: HERACLES, HERA, AND CARCINUS
Heracles was the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmena. Zeus' wife, Hera, had always despised the boy. As a young man, he was hexed by her with a fit of rage and madness in which he killed his own wife and young sons. The gods decreed that although he was not directly responsible for the crime, he must spend several years in atonement for these acts. They placed him in service of his brother, Eurystheus, who was eager to send him on endless tasks, each more difficult than the last, all seemingly impossible to accomplish successfully.
Heracles was an extraordinary man, who withstood the challenges, and in the duration of his labors, he gained glory, fame, and regained honor among most of the Olympians. Hera was even more furious when she learned of his heightened popularity, and her hatred could not be appeased.
One of Heracles' Twelve Labors was to slay the Lemean Hydra; a giant, fire-breathing serpent with many heads. Each time he cut off a head, another grew back to replace it. Hera had a devious plan: she would finally dispose of Heracles permanently by distracting him during this fierce battle. She sent a giant crab (originally called "Carcinus", the crayfish) to attack him. Hera hoped that the combination of Hydra and Crab would prove to be Heracles' downfall. The crab bit Heracles' foot, but he crushed Carcinus easily. The taste of victory gave the hero strength to finish off the Hydra without further difficulty.
Hera watched the entire struggle, and did not forget the animal that fought and died at her command. In tribute, she placed Carcinus in the heavens as the constellation of Cancer.