To be born under the sign of Cancer (June 21st – July 22nd) is to be marked out as the most sensitive of souls. In my recently published book, Real Life Astrology: Planets, Signs & Houses, I wrote about this sign – and as I did so, it brought back memories of the past. That is, of course, to be expected. Cancer, ruled by the Moon, acts as a repository for our emotions, feelings, moods, memories and deep attachments. I first published this post in 2022 – but it’s timeless. The following is an extract from my book (in draft as this was originally published prior to publication). I hope it evokes some pleasant memories for you.

From Planets, Signs & Houses: Cancer

With Cancer we encounter the first of the water signs. Symbolised by the crab, my mental image of Cancer reminds me of my own origins. I grew up next to the sea and spent my free time beach-combing and fishing in rock pools. Catching crabs and trying to avoid being pinched by their claws was a formative childhood experience. As I now live far from the coast, it’s a time I recall with fondness and nostalgia.

All of these recollections and wistful feelings have transported me back in time and that’s appropriate when writing about the celestial crab. Feelings, memories and our earliest roots belong to the sign of Cancer. When we are in need of comfort or need to touch base with ourselves, we crawl under the nearest available rock and refuse to come out until the coast is clear. 

Staying under the rock until danger has passed is an appropriate image for Cancer, as it’s one of the signs with a gift for ‘reading the room’. Of course, the human crab doesn’t live under a rock in the corner of the sitting room, but those who have a heavy dose of this sign in their make-up will often have a place they go to    in order to feel safe and they will emerge from it only if, and when, they are satisfied that all is well. Those with Cancer planets sense the atmosphere and carry out a risk analysis on the basis of what they feel.

Their ‘place of safety’ is unlikely to be visible to the casual bystander, to people around the table in a business meeting or at a drinks party at their neighbours house – but it is real all the same. Cancer will not emerge from that place until things ‘feel right’ – and even then Cancer will still be wearing a shell. You never know when you may need full defensive capability so, as far as Cancer is concerned, the shell stays. 

The sensitivity and defensiveness associated with Cancer often leads to the assumption that Cancer influenced people are timid and shy creatures. I recall that the late Princess Diana was a solar Cancer and her sideways glance, partially hiding her face from the cameras, led the UK press to label her as ‘shy Di’. For many people she seemed to embody the raw vulnerability associated with this sign and as her life in the spotlight grew in intensity (surely an uncomfortable place for any crab to be) her stature as the archetypal Cancer subject seemed to increase too. 

When we examine any archetypal figure, we tend to see their surface characteristics rather than the person underneath. Though it’s now many years since Princess Diana passed away in tragic circumstances, she remains the vulnerable, defensive, kind and maternal Cancer archetype to many – yet her detractors would claim she embodied the hyper-emotional, subjective, moody and manipulative Cancer archetype too.

In truth, the late Princess may have been all of those things but, as most of us saw her more as a symbol than a person, who are we to assume that we knew the real woman underneath the image? Perhaps presenting herself as a Cancer archetype was the best defence of all.

I have known a fair number of real-life Cancer subjects and, though they share the traits you would expect from this sign, they have always seemed to me to be the usual mix of good, normal everyday folk. Once I was able to get to know them. That’s the thing with Cancer energy. Like its natural element of water, it is impossible to hold that energy in your hands.

When we deal with planets in Cancer or those heavily influenced by this sign, we are often dealing with intangibles or things that have no material basis because they seem to rely on the senses for their existence. Cancer-influenced people share a love of the products of the imagination with their watery Pisces cousins. However, where Pisces swims in a sea of dreams, Cancer holds on to memories and, in so doing, becomes the repository of all that we hold dear.

The tenacious crab, clinging to life and holding fast to its protective rock – and the prey it has captured in its claws – lets go of nothing. Cancer’s influence in our natal chart is to remind us that there are things that are too sacred and precious to release because they remind us of who we are and where we came from. Palaeontologists remind us that all life came from the sea, and the crab’s reluctance to stray far from the shore keeps us connected to the origin of life itself.

This association with history, and the past in general, reminds me of one of my dearest friends – a lady of ‘a certain age’ who has the Sun in Cancer. At the time of writing, we have known each other for forty years. We met on our first day at college and discovered we had grown up in nearby towns less than twenty miles apart. Life has moved us on in different ways.

I’m sitting here writing this book and my friend has become an architectural historian and an expert in her field. She is a prime example of a Cancer subject growing into her sign. However, what comes to mind when I think of her is her gift for knowing what to do and what to say – and when to be still and silent. Cancer energy, like that of all the water signs, is instinctive and highly intuitive. 

I feel that it’s important to make the distinction between those two qualities. Our instincts are hard-wired. They are the animalistic responses that we are born with, and they enable us to react to our circumstances in the present. For example, when you feel the hairs rise up on the back of your neck, your biological instincts are telling you to get out of there – and fast.

However, intuition is more of a psychological phenomenon based on accumulated knowledge. Intuitive knowledge is not the kind of stuff they teach you in school.  It’s based on subliminal observations and the set of experiences you have built up over a lifetime. Cancer the great collector of everything, deploys its intuition through the senses and senses, with uncanny accuracy, when to stay and when to go.

When you have planets in this sign, you will often possess intuitive knowledge about the parts of your life associated with the planet in question. For example, Mars and Venus in this sign are often intuitive in the field of personal, emotional and sexual relationships as they sense what another person needs. This gift of anticipation and sensitivity often gives those with planets in Cancer a kind and sympathetic nature.

I have experienced this firsthand from friends with Cancer planets during difficult times in my life. Cancer is one of the nurturing signs as there is a maternal element to Cancer energy. At its best, Cancer energy can be comforting and emotionally supportive while enabling you process your feelings, but at its worst it can be clinging, smothering and emotionally demanding. It’s not for nothing that Cancer is the sign most associated with passive aggression. Those with Mars in this sign take note.

With such an emphasis on the crab’s soft, caring and emotional side, it’s easy to forget that Cancer is a cardinal sign and has a drive and ambition that are a match for the more conspicuously driven signs of Aries and Capricorn. A deep need for emotional security drives the kind of ambition that often results in financial security. Cancer energy, though never directly or outwardly expressed, brings us the successful person who hides their prowess under a veil of modesty or privacy.

This makes Cancer an effective operator. Mercury in Cancer will know exactly what to say to advance their cause but will do so quietly. That’s not to say that they won’t be capable of an emotionally barbed comment from time to time. The Moon in its own sign will intuit the most effective way of securing a deal, particularly if that deal enables the person with this placement to reinforce their shell. A secure home base is of primary importance when you have an emphasis on this sign in your natal chart.

Many of you reading this may not have a planet in Cancer, but you will have Cancer present in your natal chart; some of you will have a house cusp in that sign. In any house with Cancer on the cusp, you will tend to be private, defensive or attached to the affairs of the house. On the cusp of the fourth house, with its synergies between the Moon and this sign, the effect will be rather pronounced.

Home, homeland and family matters will be of great concern to you, and you may have a pronounced maternal (or parental) attitude. Parents and parenting may also be a big issue in your life. You may guard your privacy more than most people. In the ninth house, you may study Cancer related subjects at college, such as nursing, agriculture, horticulture or real estate.

You may travel widely but prefer to visit places close to the sea. You may even purchase a home overseas. In the eleventh house? You may prefer the company of women. Or be involved in women’s issues as an activist or campaigner. The Cancer ruled house will always have a woman’s touch regardless of your gender and you may find that attachments are more of an issue in the house of the crab.

If you have the Sun in Cancer, you may be interested in the following post, The Sun in Cancer: Stranger on the Shore.

This post is an extract from my recent book, Real Life Astrology: Planets, Signs & Houses, available at many online bookstores (Amazon, Scribd, Apple, Google, Kobo, and many others) and in print from

Real Life Astrology: Planets, Signs & Houses is also available as a download from this website.

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© Sara Shipman – updated 2023

Picture credit: Image by Rebecca Scholz from Pixabay 

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