The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.
—Henry Ward Beecher
Psychological Nurturing and Support of Self and Others; Feeling; Caring; Healing; Nesting
Positive Archetypes—the Essential Nature of Cancer
The… Parent, Nurturer; Mother/Father/ Matriarch/Patriarch; Midwife/Doula; Sensitive; Healer; Family/Clan Member; Blood or Spiritual Kin; Caretaker/Homemaker; Moral Support/ Emotional Mainstay;
Psychotherapist; Life Coach; Trusted Neighbor; Myth Weaver
Negative Archetypes—Learning Experiences for Cancer
The…Over-protective Parent/Smothering Mother/Father; Backstage Mom/Dad; Parasitic Parent/Invisible Person/Enabler; Crybaby; Abandoning Parent; Predatory Therapist; Sleep Walker/Walking Dead; Hypersensitive/Crybaby
Summer arrived as it does each year, and as we do many summers, we went on a backpacking trip in one of our favourite places. I took off from camp one fine morning, vaguely wandering, searching for an animal with whom I might become better acquainted. I took a long walk along the river, making my best effort to relax and tune in. I was anticipating something very magical happening. I could easily imagine taking on the lope of a wolf or a coyote and was very excited at the idea of experiencing such a sensation; but as I went along I didn’t seem to be making much headway. In fact, I seemed to be going slower and slower and finally I decided to climb up onto a big rock for a rest by a quiet pool. As I did, I caught sight and heard the sound of a turtle plopping into the water.
“Stupid!” I thought, “Should have been quieter and I’d have gotten to sit and sunbathe with a turtle.”
Then it suddenly occurred to me why I might have been walking so slowly. Maybe slow Turtle was communicating with me… I wanted to find a special song to sing so I listened in my mind to see if a song about a turtle would come to me—and it did! But I was filled with doubts… this was all just a little too easy. I must be making it up…
A year later I came back to the same area for another camping trip and tried the whole exercise over again—with the same results! But my doubts still got the better of me and by the time I got back to camp and tried to share my song with Kris, my husband, I had forgotten it!
I wracked my brain and finally decided to look for some sticks to beat out the rhythm to see if that would help the song come back to me. I strolled over near the water’s edge looking for some sticks that would have been rubbed nice and smooth in the spring floods. As I stooped over to pick one up, something in the river caught my eye. There was a turtle swimming directly toward me—not away from me as you would think—and the song began to come back into my mind.
I continued to have experiences like these with turtles for the rest of my trip and by the time we headed home, was finally convinced that people and animals truly can communicate. I think that is one reason why most of the twelve astrological archetypes use the symbolism of animals. It comes from human beings’ long time association with them—thousands and thousands of years—in a time before doubt about our relationships crept into our minds and when people and animals were not so different…
So, back to the sign of Cancer, which has been at times in the past represented by the Turtle, or nowadays, the Crab. Both are creatures with a hard, protective shell and a soft, sensitive interior. They’re both sought after for their tasty meat. So they have to be able to protect themselves. Turtle carries its home on its back. And home is very much the issue here.
Taking time to slow down and reflect within a supportive environment, taking care of myself and my partner, being aware of the Earth and our place on it as the outer reflection of the Inner Source; thinking about ways to clothe, shelter and feed ourselves so as to be in accord with nature, these things were very much things that we became aware of on those camping trips.
They are all Cancerian types of concerns.
Coming very much into focus after those camping trips was knowing to take the time I needed for myself (a major Cancerian concern) before giving to others. And, the importance of respecting and being in good relationship with the entire woodland family became much more obvious. (Extended family is another important concern for Cancer.)
The sign of Cancer is all about plumbing the depths one’s hidden emotional world. It is taking time to reflect on who we are or want to become and simultaneously reflecting on who else we share our inner as well as outer world with. It has to do with finding our own personal story.
This involves reaching out with heightened senses, engaging with life through the clearest feelings possible. Not doing so in the woods, could have resulted in, for example, stepping on a Rattler, becoming food for a Mountain lion, or leaving our food where other animals would get it—or missing the tender moments of seeing a Doe suckling her twin fawns, the River otters playing in the water, the Merganser paddling upstream with her brood, or a pair of young Bucks settling down for a nap on the beach just a few yards away from us… After all, we were travelling two-legged, rather than on four wheels, and carrying our food and shelter on our backs, a little more on equal terms with others.
For the greater part of human history, what our ancestors knew as “home” was vastly simpler than what we’ve come to know as “home” in more recent times. We appear to have gained greater security by building ourselves an impenetrable “shell” — the permanent dwellings we live in now. But have we chosen to live on the downside of Cancerian energy? Are we missing out on the exhilarating sensations available from walking in the sunlight—or moonlight? Could we say that our defenses have become our prison?
We tend to carelessly overstep our boundaries with others or conversely, get lost in the melodrama of needing more than we give or giving more than we should in relationships. Our families are fragmented, our sense of support from a close-knit, it seems that reliable community is all but non-existent most of the time. The idea that we could converse with a plant or animal, consider them a brother or a sister—much less learn from one of them—seems absurd, even laughable to us.
The natural effervescence of feelings that flow and shift with sun and shade, with running brooks and still, quiet pools, the wind in the leaves, is replaced with the screaming hype of machines and commercials, and along with that the blocked emotions/sensitivity that leads us to consume our way into obesity. It seems we’ve forgotten what food is really supposed to taste like or how to take care of ourselves. It seems most people don’t get enough sleep. We pump ourselves full of synthetic drugs and caffeine so we can boot ourselves out the door to go to school or work even when we feel lousy.
This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!
Fully functional Cancerian people and the things they represent—inner emotional awareness and the work of nurturing and healing—are rare commodities these days. You might say Cancer is an endangered species. Is it any surprise that the disease of cancer is so prevalent, reflecting the negative aspect of the sign? Facing buried emotions has been a big part of being able to heal this disease for many people.
To many First Nations people, Turtle is the oldest symbol for planet Earth, our Mother, our home. Within nature it’s very easy to find stillness to tune into our spirit to find inner as well as outer nourishment. When we’re tuned in we know how to receive, Earth the Provider, does just that. This is the way it’s meant to be!
Here’s one of my favourite poems that explores the world of inner sensitivity.
[somewhere i have never travelled]
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me,i and
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain, has such small hands
“…the power of your intense fragility…” That in a crab shell, or a turtle shell, for me sums up the feeling of the sign of Cancer.
Did I say “feeling?” Well, in a way, that word sums it up too. Cancer is all about letting ourselves in on what we really feel and learning how to shelter and protect that sensitivity.
Here’s another poem that I think conveys some of the experience of the sign of Cancer.
Lost in the forest…
Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.
Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.
Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind
as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood---
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.
— Pablo Neruda