Cancer Symbol and Meanings

Updated November 14, 2018
Cancer symbol is the crab

Astrology is a symbolic language that tells a story written in symbols. Astrologers translate these ancient symbols into words. The symbols help decipher, give nuance, reveal some embodiment of an astrological sign, and illuminate its meaning. What do the symbols of Cancer illuminate?

Cancer: The Crab

Cancer: The Crab

The word cancer is Latin for crab. The crab is the most traditional symbol of Cancer and has several distinguishing characteristics that give insight into a Cancer's behavior.

Crabs are:

  • Shy and sensitive creatures of the night whose lives are ruled by the ever-changing Moon
  • Watchful and evasive, they can step backward, one or two steps sideways and then without warning be all over the place
  • Self-protective and quick to retreat into their shells if they feel threatened
  • Have the power to cling with great tenacity and won't quickly or easily let go of anything they get their claws into

Cancer's Glyph

Cancer's Glyph

The astrological glyph that represents Cancer looks like the number 69 set on its side. You could say it's just a simplified drawing of the crab's rounded shape and two big claws, but its meanings are much more vibrant.


Cancer's glyph has varied interpretations, but all say something about the caretaking, nurturing, and protective nature of the astrological sign of Cancer.

  • In astrology, a circle denotes spirit, and a crescent denotes mind. A Circle attached to a crescent symbolizes Cancer's connection to both the spiritual and material world.
  • It's said that the circles in Cancer's glyph represent a mother's breasts and the curved lines represent her protective arms and nurturing nature.
  • Some astrologers believed that the glyph represents the Sun and Moon phases; the two circles represent the new and full moons connected by the two arches of crescent moons.
  • The numerology of the number 69 indicates yin and Yang. It also resonates with the true essence of home and is active in directing and maintaining harmony among family and extended family members.

Cancer Symbols Through Time

Cancer has been symbolized by many types of creatures. Most are water dwellers that are capable of living on land and all have hard exteriors.

  • In 2000 BC Egyptian records Cancer is symbolized by the scarab
  • In Babylonia, the constellation of Cancer was known as MUL.AL.LUL, a name which refers to both a crab and a snapping turtle.
  • In the 12th century, an illustrated astronomical manuscript depicted Cancer as a water beetle
  • A 1488 Latin translation portrays Cancer as a large crayfish
  • In the 17th Century, Cancer was described as a lobster.

Interestingly, in a calendar dating from 2300 BC, the Sumerians called the constellation Cancer DUB, which translates to pincers and tongs.

Constellation Cancer

Constellation Cancer

The astrological zodiac is not the same as the constellation zodiac. However, the constellations are important to astrology. The history and myths of the constellations that touch the Earth's ecliptic help to define astrology's twelve signs.

The Cancer Myth: Hercules and the Crab

In the Greek myth, The 12 Labors of Hercules, Hercules' second labor is to kill the Lernaean Hydra, a monster with the body of a snake and nine heads. As he is battling the Hydra, Zeus' wife Hera, tips the scales against him by sending the giant crab (Carcinus) to nip at his feet. The crab's grasp is so tenacious that even when Heracles crushes its head, it continues to holds onto him. Heracles eventually defeats the Hydra, but Hera is so impressed with the tenacity of the crab that she exalts it into the heavens as the constellation Cancer.

Cancer Symbology

When an astrologer sees Cancer's symbols they translate it into words such as soft, emotional, sensitivity, self-protective, home, family, and heritage, but what these symbols also say about a Cancer is that they are also tough and tenacious, as well as ferocious protectors and defenders, and if riled, they're formidable opponents.

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Cancer Symbol and Meanings