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The Labors of Hercules - Labor IV - Part 2

The Capture of the Doe or Hind - Part 2
(Cancer, June 21st - July 21st)

Qualities of the Sign

Cancer is called the Crab and the Greeks tell us that it was the crab that was sent by Hera to bite the foot of Hercules. (Again we meet this symbol in the vulnerable "heel of Achilles".) This is an interesting way of expressing the liabilities of the incarnation process and of illustrating the handicaps which beset the soul as it travels along the path of evolution. It symbolizes the limitations of all physical incarnation, for Cancer is one of the two great gates of the zodiac. It is the gate into the world of forms, into physical incarnation, and the sign wherein the duality of form and of soul is unified in the physical body.

The opposite sign to Cancer is Capricorn, and these two constitute the two gates, one being the gate into form life, and the other into spiritual life; one opening the door into the mass form of the human family, and the other into the universal state of consciousness, which is the Kingdom of spirit. One marks the beginning of human experience on the physical plane, the other marks its climax. One signifies potentiality, and the other consummation.

We are told that Christ gave to Saint Peter the keys of heaven and earth; He gave to him, therefore, the keys of these two gates. We read:

"Jesus gives to Peter ... the keys to the two principal gates of the zodiac, which are the two solsticial points, the zodiacal signs Cancer and Capricorn, called the gates of the sun. Through Cancer, or the 'gate of man', the soul descends upon earth (to unite with the body), which is its spiritual death. Through Capricorn, the 'gate [86] of the gods', it reascends to heaven." (E. Valentia Straiton, The Celestial Ship of the North Vol. II, p. 206).

In the zodiac of Denderah, the sign Cancer is represented by a beetle, called in Egypt, the scarab. The word "scarab" means "only begotten"; it stands, therefore, for birth into incarnation, or, in relation to the aspirant, for the new birth. The month of June, in ancient Egypt was called "meore", which again means rebirth", and thus both the sign and the name hold steadily before us the thought of the taking of form and of coming in physical incarnation. In an ancient zodiac in India, dated about 400 B.C., the sign is represented again by a beetle.

The Chinese called this sign "the red bird", for red is the symbol of desire, and the bird is the symbol of that flashing forth into incarnation and of appearance in time and space. The bird appears quite frequently in the zodiac and mythological stories, Hamsa, the bird of the Hindu tradition, "the bird out of time and space", stands equally for the manifestation of God and of man. Out of the darkness flashes the bird and flies across the horizon in the light of the day, disappearing again into the darkness. Our word, "goose", comes from the same Sanskrit root, through the Icelandic, and when we say, "What a goose you are", we are really making a most esoteric affirmation; we are saying to another human being: "You are, the bird out of time and space, you are the soul taking form; you are God in incarnation!"

The crab lives half on the earth, and half in the water. It the sign, therefore, of the soul dwelling in the physical body but predominantly living in the water, which is the symbol of the emotional, feeling nature.

Exoterically Cancer is ruled by the moon, which is always the mother of form, controlling the waters and the tides. Therefore, in this sign the form is dominant, and constitutes a handicap. The crab builds its house or shell and carries it upon its back, and people born in this sign are always conscious of that which they have built; they are usually over-sensitive, [87] over-emotional, ever seeking to hide away. The Cancer native is so sensitive that he is difficult to handle and so elusive and sometimes so indefinite, that it is hard to understand him or to pin him down.

The Cardinal Cross

Cancer is one of the arms of the cardinal cross. One arm is Aries, the sign of beginning, of commencement, of subjective life, of the prenatal stage, or involution, and of the first step, either towards form-taking, or towards spiritual liberation. A third arm of the cross is Libra, the balance, the choosing between, the beginning of the treading of the "narrow razor-edged path", to which the Buddha so frequently refers. Capricorn, the fourth arm, again is birth, the birth of the world savior, birth into the spiritual kingdom, birth out of the world of matter into the world of being. Involution, incarnation, expression, inspiration, are the four words that express the story of the cardinal cross in the heavens. (The cross of the initiate.)

The Stars

There are no bright stars at all in Cancer, no conspicuous or brilliant star, because Cancer is a sign of hiding, of retreat behind that which has been constructed. It is not a striking constellation. It is interesting to note that there is no Hebrew word for "crab". It was regarded as unclean and not mentioned. So is the material form regarded from the standpoint of spirit, and esotericists tell us that the physical body is not a principle.

(The substitution of the Egyptian sacred scarab for the crab seems a recognition of the quality of Cancer in its higher aspects when the native is an aspirant or disciple, for we go round the zodiac many times.)

There are eighty-three stars in this sign, the brightest of which is of the third magnitude, and in the very center of the constellation there is a cluster of stars; Praesepe, the manger, [88] called by modern astronomers, "the beehive". The latter is a marvellous symbol of the collective organization of the human family, and is one of the reasons why this is always regarded as a mass sign. In the mass, instinct rules; therefore, Cancer is the sign of instinct, of herd life, of mass reaction. It represents the subconscious mind, hereditary instinct, and the collective imagination. It stands, individually, for the totality of the life and the consciousness of the cells in the body, and of that instinctive, collective life, which is largely subconscious in man, but which always influences his physical body and, subjectively, his lower mind and emotional being.

The unevolved Cancer native is immersed in the mass; he is an unconscious part of the great whole, and therein lies the problem; for the average Cancer person, as well as for the aspirant who is performing the labor of this sign, is subjected to the urge to lift himself up out of the mass to which he is held, by his instinct, and to develop instead the intuition, which will enable him so to rise. This sign is sometimes called "the coffin", by the Hebrews, because it marks loss of identity, whilst, the early Christians called it "the grave of Lazarus", who was raised from the dead. In these words, "coffin", "grave", "crab", and in the reference which we sometimes find to Cancer as "the womb", we have the thought of hidden life, of a veiling form, of potentiality, and of that struggle with circumstances which will eventually produce, in Leo, the emergence of the individual and, in Capricorn, the birth of a world savior. Definitely, therefore, it portrays the struggle that goes on in the life of the aspirant so that instinct can give place eventually to intuition.

At-one-ment with Capricorn

It is interesting to contrast the two signs, Cancer and Capricorn, for that which is indicated in Cancer is consummated in Capricorn. Cancer represents the home, the mother. It is personal and emotional, whilst Capricorn represents the group [89] which the unit consciously enters, and also "the father of all that is". The gate of Cancer is entered through the process of transference out of the animal state of consciousness into the human, whilst the gate of Capricorn is entered through initiation. One is inevitable, subconscious and potential; the other is self-initiated, self-conscious and potent. Cancer represents the mass form, the collective animal soul; Capricorn represents the group, the universal soul.

Cancer was originally called the birth month of Jesus. Capricorn is, as we know, the birth month of the Christ, and on the twenty-fifth of December down the centuries the birth of the world savior has been celebrated; but in very ancient days, the birthday of the infant sun gods was in Cancer. We are told:

"The birthday of the infant Jesus, being arbitrarily set by the priests, produces a serious discrepancy, as we are told he was born in a manger. The manger is found in the sign of the summer solstice, the constellation Cancer, which was called the gate of the sun through which souls were said to descend from their heavenly home to earth, just as at the winter solstice in December, they were said to return to their heavenly or celestial home, the constellation Capricorn, the other gate of the sun. Capricorn was the sign from which sungods were said to the born at the winter solstice and made sacred to the sons of light."
(E. Valentia Straiton, The Celestial Ship of the North, Vol. II, p. 205).

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