There is, of course, no causal relationship between Cancer the zodiac sign or its namesake constellation and cancer the disease. The existing connection comes from Hippocrates, a physician and astrologer who named carcinoma for its spindly, finger-like growths. The Greek ‘carcinos’ refers to a crab, so both senses of the word do share this creature in common.
Grandma Baker, a retired nurse, isn’t too worried about it. "It’s not what you want to hear of course, but I have a positive outlook," she said to me on the phone the next day. And while it’s a matter of personal belief as much as anything, she has solid reason not to be overly concerned. She’s only 74, very active, highly lucid, wiser than I am. She eats well, juices, reads thirty books a year.
My heart sank when I got that call, especially given my aunt’s ongoing battle with cancer as of late. And it proves to be moving for reasons more nuanced than the harrowing reality itself. See, my grandmother was born a Capricorn with the Moon in Cancer, some hours after its fullness. Each of her grandchildren heard this news under the same lunation seventy-four years later, yet a number of hours before its fullness. She first heard the news herself as Luna waxed towards that same opposition.
What’s more, at the moment my father called me, 11:30pm on the 11th, the Moon in Cancer hung overheard in the 10th house, applying to oppose the Sun and Pluto in Capricorn in the 4th. Astrologers can have some straightforward fun with that.
As many an astrologer will tell you, there’s probably no more grandmotherly axis of the zodiac than the Cancer-Capricorn one. Right, mothers and grandmothers are born under every sign, every day. We all contain each sign and planet, yet certain lights and bodies paint particular stories more vividly than others.
Cancer, the cardinal water sign, in its ‘instigating feeling’ marks the peak of light in the northern hemisphere upon the summer solstice. It is ruled by the Moon itself, that body which reflects the Sun at night. ‘Maternal’ and ‘nurturing’ are common buzzwords with Cancer, and certainly many cancerian types radiate these qualities. But what comes with the territory of holding down ‘family’ territory? Cancer is aggressive and protective, yet pleasant and appreciative of peace. A nostalgic sign, holding life yet the promise of decline.
The Moon is the matriarch, the creatrix, the womb and ground of life. It is instinct — to receive and to feel, to relate and to nurture. Nurture as a core human and mammalian act, yes — and as the engendering of a sense of continuity. Continuity stretching from the tides, stirring sea life among rocks, ages upon ages until they grew legs and walked onto land. Continuity like endless bookshelves, like memories collapsed into the dust-laden character of chapters and record collections.
Capricorn, the cardinal earth sign, in its ‘instigating sensation’ marks the point of least light in the northern hemisphere following its ascent upon the winter solstice. It is ruled by Saturn, the furthest planet still visible to the naked eye, the liminal one, the threshold symbol of limit and hard materiality. The sign of the Goat can be stoic but sensual, indulgent but disciplinarian.
Saturn, in all its complex androgyny, is like an elder statesman of the solar system. The structure and skeleton of the zodiac. The riddle of the great alchemical work, transmuting base matter into everyday magic. Lead into gold, swinging ones will against the sharpening block of every simply moment until great heights are reached.
My grandmother embodies many of these instincts. Certainly the saturnian elder, wise and interested with a touch of overly concerned. Stoic yet lively, quiet but present. A driving force of a family. Cautious and deliberate yet quick to erupt into a delightful laughter. And I’m sure all of these strengths will carry her through these inner and outer trials.
Besides my immediate blood — mother, father, full brother and sister — I waited a long time to look up the natal charts of my family. I’d already examined hundreds of friends’ charts before I looked up those of my grandparents, my two young half-sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on.
I wanted only to feel the planets and stars living and breathing through my family, without knowing in a more ‘definite’ sense. And it was both my Grandma Baker and sister Ava, both Capricorn Sun like me, whose Moon signs I always knew before I ever looked. Cancer Moon and Aries Moon respectively, I felt the stretch of octaves from my own Capricorn Moon. My grandmother’s in the ways I’ve described, Ava’s in her mix of boldness and shyness, her love of animals and complex approach to playfulness and thrill-seeking.
I’m reminded of the youth and ease that is bound up in the soulful reality of death. Warmth cools like magma into foundational rock, built upon for ages, life cycle after life cycle.
No matter the rise and decline, no matter the undulating waves, there are always symbols, transcendent in their meanings yet empirical in their realities, singing us softly unto our next phases.
[ Artwork by Augustine Dunn ]