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Read Cancer the Crab for meanings and traits of the sun-sign Cancer.


Star Lore of the Constellations: Cancer the Crab - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Cancer: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
07 Le. 20 Praesepe Mars/Moon 5 Breast of Crab 01N 20N
07 Le. 32 North Asellus Mars/Sun 4 Body of Crab 03N 21N
08 Le. 43 South Asellus Mars/Sun 4 Body of Crab 00N 18N
13 Le. 38 Acubens Saturn/Mercury 4 Southern Claw of Crab 05S 12N

The figure of the Crab originated in Babylon, where its ancient name was Al Lul or Bulag, 'the Wicked One', an early reference to a lasting reputation that its stars are of an unfortunate nature. In Greek myth, the story of the Crab is not a tale of heroic glory, but rather a celebration of loyalty, persistence and determination. Classical legend claims its place in the heavens was secured when it bit Hercules's toes during his contest with the Hydra, (whose constellation lies below), and in so doing sacrificed its life. Juno was so impressed by the creature's loyalty and refusal to submit before death that she set it among the stars.

There seems to have been a universal association between this constellation and hard shelled animals, frequently with lobsters, crayfish and shore inhabiting creatures. It has also been recognised as a Tortoise by the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks, while later Egyptians knew it as a Scarab Beetle, a sacred emblem of immortality - an idea which also infiltrated the Greek world and appears in medieval astrology as late as the 12th century.

This 'shore inhabiting' theme, when viewed as a symbol of the emergence of life from the ocean (physically) or primeval depths (philosophically), bears an interesting reflection upon ancient Chaldean and Platonist philosophy. As the sign of the Sun's greatest elevation, Cancer was considered nearest to the highest point of heaven - thus the constellation was recognised as 'the Gate of Men' through which souls descended to Earth from heaven. [1] The opposite constellation, Capricorn, represented the 'Gate of the Gods', where souls of the departed ascended back to heaven. This ties neatly with Hermetic Philosophy, which regards the sphere of the Moon, the planetary ruler of Cancer, as the final realm in which incarnating souls acquire shape and form in birth. Similarly, the sphere of Saturn, the planetary ruler of Capricorn, is seen as the final realm in which ascending souls free themselves from earthly trappings upon death. Whether this parallel in symbolism is coincidental or designed is open to question.

Cancer is a constellation with few stars, none brighter than 4th magnitude. It was known as the 'dark sign', its most distinguishing feature being a great cloud-like cluster of stars in the breast of the Crab known as Praesepe, ('a multitude'), though usually termed 'the Beehive' today. This is regarded as a dark, feminine area and like all nebulous clusters its influence is associated with weakness, blindness and sickness, especially when the luminaries or malefics fall upon them. Ptolemy notes the influence of Praesepe as like Mars and the Moon but adds that the two stars on either side, which are more distinct, are like Mars and the Sun. These are the North and South Aselli, The Asses, representing the asses ridden by Vulcan and Bacchus whose braying terrified the Titans. Praesepe is sometimes depicted as their manger. Robson states that the Asses can show a charitable nature and caring responsibility, but with a danger of violent death, serious accidents and burns. Lilly noted a great danger of accidents, burns, violent death, afflicted eyesight and lawsuits when the Sun was directed to these stars.[2]

Pliny used this group of stars as an indicator of wet weather, saying that when Praesepe is not visible in a clear sky, there is the likelihood of a violent storm to come. Rain was expected from the South if North Asellus was concealed, and from the North if South Asellus was concealed. [3] Ptolemy also added that the stars in the claws of the Crab are like Saturn and Mercury. These include Acubens, the Alpha star of Cancer whose name comes from the Arabic Al Zubanah, 'the Claws'.

Acubens, (also known as Sertan or Sartan meaning 'crab'), is a double star on the southern claw, white and red in its appearance. Robson states that it gives "malevolence and poison" and makes its natives "liars and criminals".[4] Dr Eric Morse, in his Living Stars appears to draw from the classical myth when he writes of this star:

One significance of Acubens is the enforced use of applied intelligence when finding oneself in combat at someone else's behest. But a generally more positive quality to read from Acubens is that of a sharp intellect and ease of coming to grips with problems, for which one might earn public renown. But, again there is the note of doing this under pressure of others demanding 'from behind'.

The best time to view Cancer is in late January and early February. The star cluster Praesepe appears as a beautiful object when viewed with binoculars.
The Sun crosses Praesepe and the Aselli around July 30th - August 1st each year. It crosses Acubens around August 6th.

Notes & References:
  1 ] R.H. Allen, Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning; 1899, Dover Publications, pp. 107-108
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  2 ] William Lilly, Christian Astrology, 1647, pp.690-691.
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  3 ] Pliny, Natural History, II. A reproduction of Pliny's 1st century text is available online at Bill Thayer's site external link

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  4 ] Robson, Fixed Stars and Constellations, 1923, p.116.
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© Deborah Houlding

Stars & Constellations