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Fine Distinctions: Cancer, the Moon, and the 4th House

When you’re cruising astrology websites and reading about the sign Cancer, the writers very often refer to “mothering” and “nurturing” as part of the sign’s essential nature. But I have to say that this characterization has been eating at me.

Is Cancer’s deepest, most primal, most essential identity that of mothering and nurturing?

I’m going to say no, and here’s why.

Cancer, The Moon and The Mother

moon sky woman - pexels-photo-556665The maternal observations about Cancer are, for astrologers, pretty natural because the Moon rules the 4th house as well as the sign of Cancer as the 4th sign of the zodiac.

But remember–we all have a basic identity that’s ours for life that goes deeper than our parenthood. So the 4th house’s rulership by the Moon as well as Cancer’s position as the 4th house of the zodiac has a tendency to bleed over onto the sign of Cancer. (Menstrual metaphors are unavoidable when talking about the Moon, I guess.)

Understanding someone’s innate, essential nature gets very clear when you consider the topic of parenthood. I have stepkids, but I’ve never been pregnant. If I’d birthed my own children, I’d still be Tris, first and foremost, long before I was mothering and nurturing children.

Doing parental-looking things doesn’t erase who you are at your deepest core.

And as I was taught, signs are about being (noun, identity). Houses are about doing (verb, action).

There’s More Than One Way to Emote

Part of my difficulty with Cancer/Moon/Mother is also intertwined with the nature of emotions. Mother-love and care and nurturing aren’t the only emotions that exists. Sorrow, pain, anger, indifference, and a host of other so-called negative emotions are equally possible. So how do we effectively accommodate an entire range of emotions in the context of the sign Cancer?

Well, let’s look at asteroid Vesta for some guidance. Stay with me here.

Vesta is a goddess. And, as a goddess, she’s associated with hearth, home, and family. And when you hear the word “goddess,” you automatically think “female.” But as you begin to investigate Vesta’s mythology, you learn that historically, only rarely was she depicted in human form. Instead, Vesta was most often characterized as The Flame itself.

Likewise, the Moon isn’t literally a woman either, obviously. And Cancer isn’t even human at all–it’s a crab.

So I got more clarity about Cancer by “de-humanizing” (temporarily, at least) the Moon’s and the Crab’s maternal and family and nurturing connections to the 4th house.

Also, we need to acknowledge that the nurturing that goes on in the 4th house is NOT just a woman’s/mother’s job. It’s a man’s/father’s job too. It can also be an entire family’s or perhaps a tribe’s job as well. So confining nurturing to “mothering” and to only one gender makes it less useful (for me, anyway) than it could be.

So what is “factual” about the Moon that we might all agree on? It’s that her cycle is the shortest in the zodiac–she makes a complete trip around the zodiac wheel every 28 or so days. And it’s that she’s continually changing. She is dark at the new moon, then she becomes a waxing crescent. She becomes bright and full, and then she wanes to a crescent and then back to the dark moon again. And the cycle repeats, on and on through the eons.

So the one-word descriptor that works better for me to describes the Moon’s cycle is fluctuation. And I’m going to hold that concept lightly in my mind as I consider the crab itself.

A Crab’s Essential Nature

cancer crab -2402372__340 - suju pixabay-min

(Photo: suja@pixabay)

Cancer is visually represented by a Crab. I think what we all tend to notice first about the crab is that it is surrounded by a shell. Unlike mammals, whose bones comprise an inner structure, a crab is a crustacean that wears an exoskeleton.

The crab’s structural support is on the outside of its body rather than on the inside. As mammals, our bones grow inside of us and they grow with us. But it’s different with crustaceans–an immature crab’s body grows, but the shell doesn’t.

So the crab doesn’t wear the same shell for its entire life. When the growing crab’s body begins to outgrow its shell, the crab undergoes a molting process in which it takes some of the material of the existing shell into itself and uses that material to generate a new shell to accommodate its growth.

So after the crab has molted its old shell, the newly grown shell is soft; however, it hardens up with the passage of time. And until the new shell hardens, the crab is for a time more vulnerable to wounding.

Similar to the Moon’s fluctuation cycle, the essential nature of the crab is also keyed to the idea of fluctuation.

So Cancer’s most essential identity (noun, being) is most deeply tied to emotional fluctuation


Do you have planets in Cancer? How do they work in your own chart? Does your own identity shift by putting Cancer’s fluctuations before its mothering/nurturing aspect? Share in the comments!

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