What It’s Like for a Guy
Ruminations On Sun-Sign Cancer
By Glenn Perry
A while ago I was asked by astrologer Leah Imsiragic to answer a few questions about my personal experience of Sun in Cancer. Other astrologers were asked about their Sun signs, and our responses were eventually published…I can’t remember where, which is embarrassing for a Sun-Cancer as we’re supposed to have good memories. However, since the summer solstice was just last week (start of Cancer), I thought it timely to republish my reflections on this sign. I have taken the liberty to flesh out some ideas that were merely hinted at in my original responses to Leah.
Leah: Why is the Sun’s sign position in the natal horoscope important and what can that tell us?
Glenn: I always say that the Sun performs the same role in the psyche that it does in the solar system. It is the central hub around which everything else revolves; it’s the heart of the matter, the core of the personality, the seat of consciousness. Psychologically, it signifies creative self-expression, intentionality, and will―our capacity to choose and by our choices create an identity.
Underlying our choices and creative self-expression is a wish that others will validate those choices; that they will enjoy and approve of what we express and who we are becoming. Validation and approval support the development of self-esteem, which is one the Sun’s prime objectives.
The sign and house position of the Sun show how (sign) and where (house) the person will attempt to establish his or her own identity. It reveals how and where the person will experience a sense of purpose, play, creativity, enjoyment, and pride―and, we might also say, a sense of honor.
Honor is a somewhat archaic term and a quality we see too little of these days. In brief, honor (or lack thereof) is the summary product of one’s choices. Its attainment implies a concerted effort to act correctly―that is, in ways that demonstrate one’s courage, kindness, trustworthiness, responsibility, and benevolence. Honor implies integrity and purity of motive. And having it assures the respect and esteem that is afforded persons that consistently display nobility of character. Since it feels good to act right, honor is also commensurate with self-esteem.
I love the scene in the film, Rob Roy (1995), when the hero, Robert Roy MacGregor (Liam Neeson), is asked by his son, “Father, what is honor?” MacGregor reflects for a moment and then responds:
All men with honor are kings, but not all kings have honor. Honor is what no man can give you and none can take away. Honor is a man’s gift to himself.
His son replies: “How do you know you have it?” “Never worry on the getting of it,” says MacGregor. “It grows in you and speaks to you. All you need do is listen.”
This is the gift of the Sun, rightly earned. It implies a solar tropism toward honor, such that our inner Sun (king) is always guiding, coaxing, and encouraging the self to make choices that accord with one’s better angels. As Polonius said in Hamlet,
“This above all: to thine own self be true.
And it must follow, as the night the day.
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Surely this is what Macgregor means when he exhorts his son to listen to the voice of honor as it slowly grows within. To thine own self be true. For to do otherwise is to ultimately become dishonorable, which is accompanied by a painful loss of self-esteem.
The Sun sign, of course, is very different from the Sun itself, even though astrologers tend to conflate them. I don’t like to talk about signs as personalities, such as he is a Cancer or she is a Capricorn, because it gives the false impression that signs can be reduced to personality types. It implies that Sun-signs are signs, when, in fact, a sign is expressed differently contingent upon the planet that occupies it.
Essentially, a sign is a motive or drive that seeks fulfillment according to its own nature. Every sign wants something; that is, it symbolizes a need that is universal. And the nature of that need generates behavior appropriate to its ends. If Cancer signifies the need for belonging (to a family, community, and nation), then Cancerian behavior is naturally caring, protective, supportive, devoted, loyal, patriotic, and so on. This underscores that a sign’s behavior is best understood in the context of the need that behavior serves.
The meaning of a Sun-sign is more complex than merely a sign, for it entails a two-variable compound―Sun and sign. Of necessity Sun-signs must be conceptualized in terms of solar functions of self-expression, will, and identity. First, people express themselves in a manner consistent with the nature of their Sun-sign. Second, they make choices – exercise their will – in a way that reflects the psychology of that sign. And third, they tend to identify with that sign’s motivating principle and implicit values. All of this is very abstract, I realize, but it serves to establish the foundation of the matter.
Ultimately, the sign position of the Sun constitutes a path of honor for that individual. It is that principle of life one must fully develop and embody, in its highest sense, in order to actualize his or her potential to become honorable. I am not saying that the Sun-sign is the sole means to honor, but that it is a critical passage of a larger journey that encompasses the self and life as a whole.
Leah: What is the essence of Cancer?
Glenn: This is a good question. Again, it should be noted that it is a different question than “how does the Sun function in Cancer?” I’ll try to address both. The essence of Cancer is the need for closeness, belonging, understanding, nurturing, and unconditional love. This need (or conglomeration of needs) underlies and motivates all Cancerian behavior. It follows that any behavioral trait of Cancer can be understood in the context of the need(s) that behavior serves. Cancerian introspection, caring, and sensitivity to rejection are all in the service of fulfilling Cancer’s primary need for closeness.
It’s worth mentioning that Cancer is semi-sextile Leo, which is the sign the Sun rules. Leo comes immediately after Cancer in the zodiac. It is the Sun’s natural home, the place where it feels most comfortable and can most easily be itself. Signs that are semi-sextile have a compensatory relationship, as if the succeeding sign is pushing away the sign that precedes it by saying, “I am so over you; I define myself by being everything you’re not!” So, when the Sun is placed in Cancer, it’s like going backwards, precisely because Cancer is behind Leo. The urge to differentiate and carve out a personal identity by making choices that express one’s authentic self is inhibited by invisible loyalties to the past. This is the equivalent of having a 13 year old boy balk at the prospect of adolescence. He would prefer to remain close with his family and not have to deal with adolescent angst involving the formation of a personal identity distinct from his family.
This regressive quality of Cancer is interesting in light of the summer solstice, which is the beginning of Cancer. The Sun appears to stop its northern climb, hovers for three days, and then begins to move backwards, lower and lower in the sky until six months later it arrives at the winter solstice and reverses course again. This can be seen as a metaphor of Cancer’s natural reticence, hesitation, and backward quality (Cancer rules the past, ancestry, history). In effect, Cancer restrains the Sun’s natural expression of upward and outward by muting its exuberance. It softens and gentles it, turns it inward, and inclines intentions in the direction of caring for, and protection of, that which has already been established―precedents, traditions, foundations.
Rather than differentiate oneself from others by a strong, clear expression of personal will, the solar function is stifled in Cancer because expression of personal preference may have the unintended consequence of creating distance between oneself and others. By itself, the Sun might spontaneously declare, “I am a Catholic, a Republican, a Yankee fan, and I love country music!” But if in Cancer, the Sun might worry that many people could be alienated by those choices because they cannot identify with them. There are bound to be people who are Protestants, Democrats, Mets fans, and hate country music. This is worrisome to Cancer.
All of this implies that Sun-Cancer cannot readily and naturally be authentic―that is, true to itself, out of fear it might be setting itself up for rejection. “If I don’t belong to the Protestant family, the Mets family…those people won’t like me.” It equally worries that others who make different choices could feel rejected by Sun-Cancer’s non-endorsement of those choices.
Leah: What is the best and strongest quality of the sign of Cancer?
That would be emotional intelligence. Cancer’s ability to tune in, sense, and accept what’s happening on a feeling level gives it an instinctive ability to understand people and situations emotionally. It then adjusts its behavior accordingly.
This is why Cancer is often described as having chameleon-like qualities that enable it to blend in with its environment. Again, the need for closeness and belonging are primary drivers that underlie all Cancerian behavior. We could even say this is what motivates a mother’s love for her child. The maternal instinct to retain closeness entails an innate capacity to understand what the child is feeling and needing at any given moment, to feel in sympathy with the child so that a loving connection can be maintained.
With the Sun in Cancer, there’s an ability to express caring, understanding, sympathy, protection, and so on. It is precisely these attributes with which the person is identified, even heroically invested. Such sentiments extend to all life, especially life-forms in need of protection. For me cruelty to animals is almost unbearable, even when merely imagined. I remember in 1984 I had just gotten out of the movie, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, in which Tarzan’s surrogate ape-father is shot and killed by humans at the end of the film. Feeling naturally protective of animals, I was extremely upset. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, another car entered and tried to force me to back up. I jumped out of my car and was ready to fight. I was so furious with humans I was ready to kill one for what they did to poor Tarzan’s father.
On another occasion when I was 12 years old, some boys I was playing with shot and killed a rabbit with a pellet gun behind a neighbor’s house. I was horrified! How could they be so uncaring, so insensitive! Under threat of violence I forced them to dig a hole, bury the murdered rabbit, and express suitable condolences and regret. I’m sure at that point they harbored secret doubts as to whether I really was a guy.
Leah: What is the weakness of the sign of Cancer?
As with any sign, its strength is also its weakness when carried too far. Simply place the word ‘over’ in front of any Cancerian attribute and one can glimpse the problem―oversensitive, overprotective, or overemotional. Cancer’s sensitivity to rejection and its worry of hurting others can incline it to timidity, shyness, and reticence, especially when the Sun is in this sign.
As the ruler of Leo, the Sun corresponds to play, recreation, and socializing with friends. But with Sun in Cancer, it’s hard for me to initiate social contact and express a desire to play―even something as simple as calling a friend―as I assume it would be an imposition and display a lack of sensitivity. Maybe they’re having dinner, or engaged in a task, or parenting their child. I tend to start every call with an apology, “I’m so sorry to bother you…” I know it is irrational, but it’s instinctive. Conversely, if Sun-Leo calls a friend, they assume it is a compliment to that person, which it actually is.
If my Moon rather than Sun were in Cancer it would obviously work better since Cancer’s strengths would then be utilized in the service of lunar functions that require exactly those traits. There are occasions when listening, understanding, and expressing sympathetic rapport are entirely appropriate. During such times, the Moon is activated. And if it’s in Cancer, then one’s lunar capacity to respond sensitively is strong and natural.
However, since the Sun constitutes its own functions (will, play, self-expression), it requires traits that are distinctly different from Cancer. When a solar situation predominates, such as being at a party, the Sun’s functionality is inhibited by virtue of being in the sign ruled by the Moon. Sun-Cancer is the classic wallflower―shy, hanging back, on the sidelines rather than out front. Imagine at a party it’s your turn to play charades. But you would rather blend in with the furniture or serve the guests some chips than perform in front of strangers!
It should be understood that Cancer’s weakness is not so much an inherent property as a consequence of its lack of integration with other parts of the self. People can express any sign badly – either too much or too little – but that’s not the fault of the sign. When a planet is in a sign that forms a hard aspect to the sign it rules, such as when the Sun is in Cancer, then that planet’s functionality is compromised; it’s more difficult for the planet to be itself. Recall Leo is semi-sextile Cancer. Since the Sun rules Leo, Sun-Cancer is like a Shakespearian actor having to perform the role of Juliet when he would much prefer to play Romeo.
Leah: What have you learned from your Sun-sign?
That I would prefer to have my Sun in Leo. All kidding aside, I’ve learned the importance of knowing how to deal with feelings. Paradoxically, there is tremendous power in the capacity to be emotionally vulnerable and transparent. The willingness to open up and share that side of myself has had unexpected benefits that I could not have foreseen as a child growing up in a family where feelings were shunned. I am fiercely loyal to my feelings now, and regard them as my staunchest ally.
People can disagree with your thinking, but not with your feelings. If I say, “Islam is more a political ideology than a religion,” people can legitimately disagree with me. But if I say, “Islam scares me,” that’s not a statement with which one can disagree. It’s simply how I feel. There’s no right or wrong about it, even if it might serve as a basis for further conversation. When one’s thoughts, values, and decisions are supported by feelings, there is more gravitas to the person, more substance and depth of personality. Feelings are your ground, the rudder of your ship, the roots of your being. Feelings are what enable us to connect with one another.
I remember seeing the Oliver Stone film, Platoon, back in 1986. It was about American soldiers fighting the Vietnam War. After one of the battles, some soldiers were arguing vociferously about right and wrong, about whether America should even be in the war. Tempers were flaring when Big Harold, played by the consummate actor Forest Whitaker, simply said: “I don’t know, brothers, but I’m hurting real bad inside.” In that instant the whole energy shifted, quieted, and calmed. Big Harold had given voice to what everyone was experiencing, and suddenly they were all connected. A simple expression of feeling can do that.
While Cancer (and the Moon) is associated with feelings, this should not imply that the Cancer-Moon archetype is feelings. Sometimes you’ll hear astrologers say, “The Moon is feelings.” But this is misleading. To be sure, Cancer-Moon has its own feelings (tenderness, protectiveness, maternal love), but every sign-planet system is characterized by certain kinds of feelings that when triggered activate the planet to take appropriate action. If a person feels their life is in danger when a stranger rushes towards them with a club, those are Aries feelings―alarm, agitation, aggression―which stimulates the flight or fight response of Mars.
The Cancer-Moon archetype symbolizes one’s capacity to feel the entire panoply of emotions that being human entails, to be receptive to such emotions, and to convey their message to the appropriate planetary function. It does a person little good to have emotions if s/he cannot consciously feel them, understand their meaning, and channel them into an appropriate response. The stronger the Cancer-Moon archetype in a chart, such as having Sun (or any planet) in Cancer, the more likely the native is capable of dealing with feelings. It’s as if their conduit to feelings is wider and deeper than people who are not so blessed.
Leah: What is the Sign(s) you deal the best with and what is the most difficult sign for you and why?
That’s a difficult question, since I think that all signs are equally difficult and equally easy, depending upon the person expressing them. I personally am very attracted to Scorpionic qualities, for that’s the sign on my 7th house cusp and it is also naturally trine Cancer. So there’s a simpatico there. I like the depth, intensity and vulnerability of that sign. And of course everyone loves a Leo, mostly because it’s so adept at loving you―applauding, cheering, and appreciating you for exactly who you are right now. Leo is, after all, a social sign. Its very nature is designed to be liked.
I also enjoy Aries in small doses – it’s so vibrant! – but it can be annoying in its egocentricity, which is a quality that Cancer finds difficult to understand. While Pisces is naturally trine Cancer, I have precisely the opposite problem with that sign when it’s expressed in a dysfunctional, exaggerated way―bleeding heart do-gooders that enable bad behavior rather than allowing people to learn from their mistakes. I suspect my aversion to weepy, no-boundary Piscean feebleness reflects my Sun’s square to Neptune, making the archetype of Pisces-Neptune a bit of a shadow for me.
Leah: What have you learned from other signs?
That would take a book, which it just so happens I’ve written! Check out Chapter 4 in An Introduction to AstroPsychology for my take on zodiacal signs. You see, even a Sun-sign Cancer can indulge in shameless self-promotion!
Leah: What can other signs learn from the sign of Cancer?
That the rest of you are insensitive brutes! (Pisces being the exception, of course, which is low praise to be sure). Okay, I’ll be serious. If there’s something to be learned from Cancer by other signs, it’s the value of understanding, accepting, and honoring personal feelings; and how doing so will invariably strengthen the functionality of every part of the Self.
And now I feel like stopping, so I will! 🙂
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