Mystic Minds
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Mystic Minds

Tarot Birth Cards — Cancer

The Chariot functions as the Major Arcana representation of all Cancerian energies, but what other Tarot cards are associated with Cancer?

For part two of my series on Tarot birth cards, we move from Gemini to Cancer. Cancer is a Latin word that means, literally, “a crab”. Since the ancients (of Western astrology) perceived the constellation as looking like a crab, the word “cancer” was attributed to it.

I mention this because I’ve had several Sun-in-Cancer clients bemoan that their sign is named after a deadly disease.

As a Gemini who once dated a Cancer for a couple of years, I can say without any reservation that the two signs have very little in common.

That doesn’t mean that Geminis and Cancers can’t make a relationship work; it’s just tricky. Plus, I was young and extremely aloof, lacking any desire to comprehend the emotional complexity of a native Cancer. Even now, I find it challenging to connect what Cancer symbolizes as an astrological sign to how those energies are embodied in an individual person.

It’s not unlike how Ron Weasley (in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) expressed similar confusion regarding “girls”: “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”

It’s no mistake that the key phrase most astrologers use to identify Cancer is “I feel” (for comparison, Gemini’s is “I think”; see the potential pitfalls in a Gemini-Cancer relationship now?).

Cancer is the first water sign of the zodiac, and like the ebb and flows of the tides and the cycles of the moon (the planetary ruler of Cancer), Cancer’s emotional expressions fluctuate in ways not even the native Cancer can always adequately navigate.

Because Cancer is a water sign and ruler of the fourth house, it’s easy to stigmatize Cancerian energies as emotional, motherly, protective, nurturing, loving, receptive. While all these are apt descriptors for Cancer, such typically feminine qualities tell only half the story.

It’s easy to forget that Cancer, like Aries and Capricorn, is a cardinal sign. Cardinal signs are initiators with an eye to the future.

Joanna Woolfolk perhaps best describes the complicated relationship between feminine and cardinal energies as expressed in the Cancer archetype: :

“Cancer is a series of contradictions. You prize security above all else, yet love new adventure. You are the soul of caution but you’re also a courageous initiator who goes out of your way to push over obstacles with your driving personality.” (from The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need)

1879 The Chariot Race by Professor Wagner Original Antique print from painting — Roman History

While Woolfolk is describing Cancer, she could just as easily be talking about the energies of the seventh Major Arcana Tarot card, The Chariot.

When one considers what a chariot is, images of old Biblical movies like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus” might come to mind — helmeted soldiers hurling spears in a life-and-death struggle atop a rampaging chariot being pulled by two wildly galloping horses.

Such an image is more in line with aggressive, war-like Aries, and seemingly incompatible with the maternal, domestic, sensitive, sympathetic, emotional traits that generally characterize Cancer. How are we to match these Cancerian characteristics with The Chariot? Is this what Woolfolk meant by calling Cancer a “series of contradictions?”

Yes, and no. Let’s look at the Tarot card as depicted in the Rider-Waite deck (pictured at the top of the article). It’s not exactly rampaging is it? In fact, the chariot is completely at rest, its beasts of burdens not galloping horses, but rather calmly crouching sphinxes.

There is something quite crablike in this image, if you consider how protected the Charioteer is within his stone chariot and his armor, the sphinxes playing the role of claws. Here we have the essential metaphor of Cancer: one who relies on the hard carapace of protection to defend one’s home, family, and self from any would-be aggressors. But for those who are persistent enough to penetrate the hard protective surface, they’ll be relieved to find a soft mushy ball of love and vulnerability, capable of unfathomable compassion and loyalty.

It’s important to note that the Major Arcana cards, as they are associated with their astrological counterparts (the signs and the planets), are meant to represent the essence of the sign they represent. The Chariot is the quintessentially evolved Cancer, the same way that the Lovers card represents the quintessentially evolved Gemini, or the Strength card represents the quintessentially evolved Leo.

In other words, if your sun, moon, or ascendant resides in Cancer, you would do well to study and meditate upon the energies inherent within The Chariot card. That way you would get a much better understanding of what makes you tick and how to most effectively manifest all the beneficent qualities of Cancer.

For a more detailed analysis of The Chariot, I would refer you to such master Hermeticists as Eliphas Levi, Paul Foster Case, and (more recently) Rachel Pollack.

To distill the quintessential teachings into a sentence or two, the challenge of the Cancer native is to attune one’s personal will (or ego) to that of the Primal Will (of divinity, or super consciousness). Triumph (as signified in The Chariot) results. But in order to tune one’s personal will to Primal Will, one must avoid exerting any will at all! Instead, cultivate a state of rest, and be receptive.

Paul Foster Case puts it this way: “The more perfectly we understand the office of human personality is to serve as a vehicle for cosmic forces, the more freely does the Primal Will behind all manifestation find expression through us.”

By meditating on The Chariot, Case says, “We ourselves will learn from our practice that the strength of our volition is measured by the degree of our willingness to let life find unobstructed manifestation through us.”

The more you resist, the more resistance you will face. The more you relax in supreme stillness, the more capable you will be of summoning Divine Will — The Chariot.

For a concrete, practical example, consider an MMA fighter before the big fight. The victory arrives in the stillness before the fight. Whatever nurturing pre-fight ritual the fighter engages in represents his personal Chariot.

Consider such cliche sport’s phrases as “Let the fight come to you”, or “Take what the defense gives you”. While overused, if sincerely understood, these phrases ring with practical wisdom that we can apply not just to sports, but to life as well.

To synthesize the energies of The Chariot even further, down to its simplified essence, consider this phrase:

Victory through self-acceptance.

Furthermore, If you accept yourself unconditionally, you can never lose. Even a fighter who “loses” a match, or a wife who loses a husband, or a child who loses a pet.

If you accept yourself and if you equally accept the circumstances of your life, that acceptance becomes your Chariot, waiting for you to board it for another fight, another partner, another labradoodle. After all, it’s not the fight, the partner, or the labradoodle that you need — it’s self-acceptance, and through self-acceptance, you will more thoroughly engage in life and all it has to offer.

As explained in the first article in the series, the Tarot deck can be divided into three tiers: The Major Arcana, the Court cards, and the Minor Arcana. As such, every Zodiac sign has a Major Arcana, a Court card, and three Minor Arcana cards representing them energetically.

As already stated, The Major Arcana (third tier) represents the quintessential evolved energies of that Zodiac sign — in this instance, that of Cancer.

On the second tier, we have the court cards, and they represent the evolved individual who embodies the Cancer energies. Because Cancer is a water sign in order to determine which court card best represents the second tier of cancer, we first look to the suit of cups.

Secondly, because Cancer is a cardinal sign, and because we know that “cardinal” in this context signifies taking initiation with an eye to the future, we assign the King as the appropriate court representative. Put those two elements together and we get…(drum roll, please…)

The Rider-Waite depiction of the King of Cups

…The King of Cups!

It’s tempting to equate the King of Cups with more of a Piscean energy due to the two fish pictured — one as a necklace and the other jumping from a tumultuous sea. But, as Rachel Pollack notes, the fish here are present as symbols of creativity and the king is one who “has directed his creative powers into socially responsible achievements.” (Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom)

As a birth card, the King of Cups is a reminder to the native Cancer to nurture your creative talents (the churning ocean) through mature discipline (as symbolized by the king upon his throne), mental acuity (the yellow grail), and vision (the king’s far-off, yet decisive gaze).

In other words, the King of Cups represents the masculine energy within Cancer — the cardinal aspect. If the end goal is to be like The Chariot (Victory through self-acceptance), then a major step on the road towards that goal is self-nurturing through creative expression.

Cancers are filled to the brim with churning emotional power. If not channeled via a (or many) creative outlet(s), that emotional power just might express itself in negative ways: rage, over-protection, controlling behavior, self-harm, etc.

There are three Minor Arcana cards to choose from to determine your birth card here. As explained in the first article in this series, these three sections are called “decans” and relate to the dates that make up a respective Zodiac sign. For cancer the three decans are divided thusly:

First decan: June 21-July 1 — Two of Cups — Primary Lesson: To intuit the feelings of others, especially in relationships.

Second Decan: July 2–12 — Three of Cups — Primary Lesson: To expand, amplify, and understand one’s heart’s desires.

Third Decan: July 13–22 — Four of Cups — Primary Lesson: To honor and hone one’s intuitive skills for the purposes of structuring one’s life.

The Five Cancer Birth Cards

There is a kind of progressive evolutionary logic in working with your birth cards. The first (or lower) tier represents the primary challenges and lessons you’ll regularly face as someone churning with the watery energies of Cancer. The second tier represents how you can most effectively manifest Cancerian energies as an everyday/practical human in this world. And the third (highest) tier represents your soul’s goal for this lifetime.

As a first decan Cancer, your regularly (un)scheduled lessons and challenges will often revolve around the feelings and needs of others and how you can accommodate those needs/feelings without giving up on your own. Many first decan Cancers can’t help but (s)mother the ones they love at the expense of their own dreams, or else they do the opposite — they are so emotional, that they forget that other people have feelings too.

The Two of Cups reminds us to find balance and harmony between our own needs and the needs of others in any given situation.

The Three of Cups reminds us that the most effective way to expand our heart’s desires is to be grateful for what we already have.

The Four of Cups reminds us that our intuition (which often communicates with us via bodily sensations like tingling in the chest, or rumbling stomachs, or ringing in the ears, etc.) knows more than the limited capacity of our reasoned mind.

On a higher level, the level of role model, a Cancer can’t get any better than the King of Cups. The King of Cups reminds us that in order to receive the wisdom of our higher self, we must activate our creative talents in order to channel our emotions. Accept who you are and accept the world the way it is, and you will be able to evolve towards the ultimate goal, which is…

The Chariot. The Vehicle of Ultimate Love. Victory.



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Damian Sebouhian

I write Muse Exclusives on topics ranging from metaphysics, meditation, tarot, mythology, poetry, art, humor, and other adventures.