Cancer, the Crab

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This is the Eurythmy gesture for Cancer. To watch the video follow this link: (in this video, student Karen G. is demonstrating the movements)


“Thou resting gleam of light!”

Sidereal Dates: July 17-August 16   Tropical Dates June 20-July 21

Cultural Epoch: Ancient India


The glyph used to signify Cancer in astrology is the sign of two interlocking spirals. Resembling the dynamic form of galaxies, Cancer bears the image of “in-volution and e-volution.” It shows the forces of the periphery spiraling inwards together to create a central point, and the answering movement from the center to create a new universe.

            The significant central point of the double-spiral lies between the two curling shapes, where a space of emptiness arises. The in-winding spiral speaks of the path of the soul’s incarnation into matter. There, in the free space of “emptiness,” the ego is born in, in fire and in light. It then flames forth with the second, outwinding spiral.

            Cancer speaks thus of the inmost home of the spirit.

Ancient India as a Cultural Epoch

            To understand the spiritual age that bears the sign of Cancer, we must look backwards in time, to what is known esoterically as the age of Ancient India, when the sun at the Spring Equinox (March 21) was in Cancer. This takes us back to (approximately) 7227 BCE, at the dawn of civilization.

            In the ages even before this, spiritual science teaches that humanity was not yet a rational, fully material being. Human beings, still more lightly incarnated than we are now, lived in a different relationship to the living world of the etheric. They could draw upon the living forces of nature to build a different kind of society on the earth, one which has left few traces in archeological history because it did not impact the physical world as deeply as we do now, in the age of densest materialism.

            This was the phase known by many traditions as “Atlantis.” Even such a lofty philosopher as Plato taught that the age of Atlantis ended not long before this date mentioned (7227 BCE). The passing from Atlantis to the post-Atlantean epochs is marked by the “Great Flood,” stories of which appear in the legends of many ancient civilization.

            Rudolf Steiner wrote that great migrations of people happened at the end of Atlantis, trekking eastward until somewhere around what is now China (possibly Tibet). From there, the seeds for a new thrust of human evolution appeared in a sequence of civilizations, working from east to west. The first of these was in Ancient India, which is known as the Age of Cancer. To be sure, this civilization peaked long before the current Indian culture. Indeed, this was long before the development of writing, of geometry and astronomy and philosophy. This was an age when humans were first “getting use to being people of the earth.” These were, perhaps, hunters and gatherers, who roamed upon the earth as nomads, accepting from her the gifts of food and shelter even while making little impact upon her.

            It can be imagined that people of that cultural epoch were not interested in being attached to earthly things. To them, the earth was maya, an illusion of sensory inputs that veiled the true, spiritual nature of reality. And yet, these were the people who took the first “plunge” into the world of matter, which we know live in. They began the journey that we are on now.

            In trying to picture the condition of these early people, we can imagine how much needed to be accomplished in order that we could become the upright, thinking-feeling-and willing people that we are now. Perhaps one can imagine that these people of Ancient India were like a new-born infant is today, needing to find a way to connect their spiritual selves to their life-forces and thus to their new little bodies. So did these early humans need to activate in themselves their etheric (qi) forces, so they could grow, metabolize, excrete, reproduce. Life was the experience of connecting oneself with matter, penetrating it, an then letting it fall away at the time of death. And because life was an illusion, so also was death a mere passage, through a doorway and on to another dimension.

            This is the picture symbolized in the glyph for Cancer. The free space in the middle of the two spirals signifies the descent of spirit into matter, its self-realization, and its eventual ascent into spirit.


Cancer in the Body: The Ribcage

            As we have seen in previous essays, the human body bears the imprint of the 12 signs of the zodiac in its different parts. Thus, Aries forces have shaped the head; Taurus forces have been concentrated at the neck to create the forces of speech; Gemini forces have created bilateral symmetry below the neck..

            We find Cancer forces one step lower. There, below the shoulders, is the chest. There, in the central part of the spinal column, are the twelve thoracic vertebrae, from which extend the twelve ribs that curl around to the front of the body. The upper rib-pairs converge in the center of the chest to meet in the sternum, a breastplate protecting the heart. The lower ribs do not extend as far forwards: they hold the space for the lungs, and frame the solar plexus.

            It is significant to notice that the chest is encased in a solid mass of bones: bones alternate with free spaces, creating both form and freedom of movement.

            This is the home of the rhythmic system. In anthroposophical medicine, we attribute tremendous importance to this middle realm of the human being, as it constantly mediates between fixed and freed forms. The fixed forms are exemplified in the hard shell of the skull, while limbs manifest freedom of movement so we can act and create. Head forces are centripetal: limb forces are centrifugal.

            The bones of the ribs, fixed and freed, surround the vital organs of rhythm—heart and lungs. These two organ systems, in a never-ceasing dynamic interplay, alternate between contraction and expansion.. In rhythmic interaction, these two organs pulse throughout the days and years of our lives. Here we find the domain of Cancer, where we breathe the world into ourselves, and release it back to the world.

            Inhaling, we take the world into ourselves. We warm it with our blood, and are nurtured and enlivened by it. As it streams through our body, it penetrates into our physical-etheric essence, and we imprint ourselves onto the air. Exhaling, we return our own essence to the world, where it merges with the astral essence of countless other beings. Truly, we are in most intimate contact with the world through the air we breathe, which has been breathed by billions of other people over the course of untold time. The breath has been imprinted by the presence of others, and flowed back into the world. It is taken up into the world of nature, and there healed and re-enlivened by the plant world. The air-element, bearer of world-astrality, connects us all.

            Through spiritual science, we learn that by the end of the Atlantean period, humanity was poised to take its next step of development. This would be created by strengthening the rhythmic system, where the forces of love and understanding were to be cultivated. There, in the dynamic middle between form and movement, the human can find the fulcrum point of freedom.


Cancer and Eurythmy

            The eurythmy gesture for Cancer perfectly indicates the strength of the chest, and the rhythmic organs of breath and blood.

            To begin, stand quietly and feel your breath. Imagine that in the center of your chest there shines a quiet, sacred space. Neither full, nor empty, it is the quiet at the center of the storm.

            Lift your arms to the sides, into the etheric space around your chest—not above your shoulders—and imagine a clockwise rotating spiral around you. Let your left arm curl in front of you, and rest it lightly on your chest, while you let your right arm curl behind you and rest it (palm facing out, if possible) on your back. Feel the connection between the movements of both arms the whole time.

            Becoming aware of the sacred space within you, awaken the dim consciousness of your breath in harmony with rhythms of the world.

            The sound that corresponds to Cancer is “F.”

            When we create F in eurythmy, we feel the power of fire in us, and send it out into the world on the wings of the air element. We pull our arms back, and draw power from the invisible world behind us. This can also feel as if we are pulling the string of a bow backwards, preparing to let an arrow fly. Then the tension releases, and we send a fiery arrow flying forwards. We often let the “flying arrow” pulse two or three times as it shoots forward.

            As the power of the fire flies, we feel the spirit flame in our own heart and lungs: fire and air unite.

            Rudolf Steiner presented a powerful picture for the sound F. There must have been a time in the distant past when humans first began to be conscious of their own consciousness. The initiates, great teachers of humanity, were the first to realize the power of mind, and they taught their students that they, too, needed to learn to think. Furthermore, this thinking needs to rise not only from the head, but also from the heart.

With the power of F, the teacher showed to their students: “Know, that I know.” “Become aware that the human being carried the fire of knowledge in their heart and lungs: be aware of this in all your deeds.”


Color: green

Element: water

Sound: F

Element of Sound: Fire


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