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added June 29

The Gateways to Life
by Eric Francis

AS THE SUN makes its annual apparent trip around the ecliptic, I check in with a book I often mention, called Esoteric Astrology by Alice A. Bailey. I review her notes about the significance of the astrological signs, and then take a few other excursions as curiosity leads -- such as the trusty horoscope.

E.A. presents something other than what you would call a widely accepted set of ideas, but apart from how anyone feels about the book, it's been one of the most influential philosophies behind the movement to recreate astrology as something psychologically relevant and spiritually aware. Bailey's work, her ideas and her influences on other writers are lurking in the background of much of what we consider to be sensible modern astrology today.

For astrology, it's been a heck of a long road from, 'This is what's going to happen to you' to, 'This is a map of your potential, and here is some information about how to develop it'. Bailey was involved in this development, as was her friend and colleague Dane Rudhyar, and a colleague of Rudhyar's named Marc Edmund Jones (both are mentioned this week in my Q/A column on Jonathan's site, with links to biographies included). These and a few other people began the movement to see astrology as a system that involves itself with spiritual growth, with psychological metaphors, and with relationships.

When I was first studying astrology, getting a feel for what was out there, it seemed that there were two kinds of authors -- ones in affinity with Esoteric Astrology and ones not. It was so clear to see that it was a little shocking. And, it turns out that some of my favorite astrologers have spent a lot of time with the book (Melanie Reinhart and Isabel Hickey, to give two examples).

When I turned to AAB's [oops, Bailey's] chapter on "Cancer, The Crab" this morning, I found a few notes to myself, in pencil on little yellow stickies, left behind from some previous time I worked with the material. It was a bit of psychological time travel, but I also clearly left the notes for some future version of myself.

"Revise [your] agenda many times, till you slowly feel you're getting it right," one said.

"Take your space, and your time. Be subtle, but not with yourself," said another.

The third one said, "Breathe life into your creations & watch what happens."

I have no idea when I wrote these. It could be anywhere between 1998 and 2003.

The feeling I get from reading these notes was like I was coaxing myself into existence. One way to look at going from a less creative (or more restricted) state of being to a more loving and creative one is like gradually materializing in the world.

Visually, it looks to me a little like the Star Trek people getting beamed in to the surface of the planet, but very slowly, and we're the ones doing the beaming (and getting beamed). Imagine that we're walking around the world just partly formed, like a bunch of vibrating particles of who we are, but which have not quite fully coalesced. It's that feeling of 'I can sense who I am, but I can't quite bring it all the way in' that so many people experience, and which I seemed to be talking my way through in these notes at the beginning of the chapter.

I think this is what Alice Bailey is getting at in her discussion of the sign Cancer when she describes it as a gateway to incarnation. She describes Cancer and its opposite sign Capricorn as the portals through which humanity flows; Cancer is the entrance, and Capricorn is a kind of exit to the next reality. (Saturn, the ruler of Capricorn, is sometimes depicted as death personified, which has not made particularly good public relations for this planet -- but it does help us understand some of the esoteric meaning involved, and how it might be misinterpreted.)

Here is how Bailey states it, in somewhat religious terms (with me substituting the word "humanity" for her word "man"): "In Cancer, God breathed into [humanity's] nostrils the breath of life and [humanity] became a living soul. In these words, you have established the relation which exists in the mind of God between spirit (the breath of life), the soul (consciousness) and [humanity] (the form)."

If you take this in personal terms, you could say that those who feel themselves awakening as spirit -- that is, awakening at all -- can use that energy to become aware and exist as a soul, and to allow that soul energy to take form in the world. In this way, what we think of as a spiritual journey, the process of ensoulment and the experience of becoming self-actualized, is really like living from the inside out.

When we express that inner energy in the outer world, as a materialized process, we're talking about Capricorn, which is opposite Cancer. One of the big themes of Esoteric Astrology is the way that opposite signs function as a unified process, with each supporting, defining, and contrasting with the other in a way that is helpful to observe.

Of Capricorn, she says (among other things) that the breath of spirit works "with full awareness and properly fulfilled organization, so that form is a perfect expression of the soul and the soul is sensitive and responds to the pulsations of the One Life."

Through its activity, that life reveals "the perfect will of the Logos."

She is saying it's possible to get your shit together. You need what to express (your soul, for example) and a structure in which to express it. You need to feel who you are (Cancer) and express yourself in a somewhat organized or methodical way over time (Capricorn).

Cancers of whatever stripe or species have obviously been noticing that Saturn is in their sign now, and has been since this time in 2003. You could say that Saturn has clearly helped with the materialization process I'm describing, which is precisely what Saturn is for. It may not have been comfortable; it may not have been easy, but please tell me if something else is true: those with Saturn in Cancer acting on them in a significant way have made strides toward coalescing and forming their lives in the past two years.

Saturn in Cancer has, in part, been so good for Cancers because it's offering an opportunity to see and feel life from the perspective of the other -- the ruler of your opposite sign.

(Cancers who are pissed off about Saturn are likely the ones where Saturn has done its wrecking ball number, but the ground should soon be clear to start over. And start over you will.)

Cancer is the sign of the family. For nearly a year, I've been wrestling with the idea of writing about the astrology of family and children, and it's proven to be more challenging than I imagined. But a discussion of Cancer and Capricorn is a good place to continue. Both of these signs are about containment and structure. One of the metaphors of Cancer is the shell of the crab, who appears to be a self-contained individual.

The term "Cancer" is from the Latin word "carcer," which is the root of "incarcerate" and also "carcinogenic." Many have wondered about the relationship between the astrological concept Cancer, and the medical one. The disease cancer often has a crab-like appearance, such as the shape that a tumor system takes hold in tissue and spreads. In the metaphoric sense, I believe that isolation and loneliness that come with holding oneself in all the time have a lot to do with the cancer we see in society.

The crab has always been a lonely metaphor. Remember that T.S. Eliot line, "I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas"? So we have this image of the soul who is trapped inside of this body (or psychic shell) and then trying to express itself in the world. It's interesting that the genus of arthropods, of which crabs and insects are a part, are the ones that survive from the lowest ocean depths where life exists, to the highest mountains. I have read that they constitute more than 90% of the animal kingdom.

On this planet, anyway, it helps to have a shell. And it can be lonely in there. Much of growing involves the letting go of that crusty, spiny layer and allowing our more vulnerable inner side to be available to ourselves and the world. Or using another crab metaphor, when we grow too big for our shell, we need to molt (shed the shell) and grow a new one.

The containment power of Cancer (the sign) is helpful when it comes time to create a space for ourselves and our families: a container like a sense of protectiveness, a house, a financial structure, a company, a sense that we belong together -- and also some boundaries within the family community so everyone knows who is who. These boundaries include basic respect for one another's space and time, one another's role, and also regarding one another as individuals. Most of the trouble we see in families comes from avoiding these basic needs.

For individuals within that structure, there needs to be some level of participation in creating that collective sense of security that everyone benefits from. If you come in late, make sure all the doors are locked. If you see your sister has left a candle burning, blow it out. If dad's dinner is about to turn to char in the oven, take it out for him. Cancer is an inherently protective energy; it's a little defensive; and the feeling is, well, it's a big ocean out there, I better have a little space of my own. (I was quite surprised the first time I went scuba diving to see how many fish live in little holes in rocks, and look out at you like a pair of eyes in the shadows. And Pisces and Cancer do have quite a bit in common, they just do it their own way.)

So what is it about Cancers, these moody, deeply caring, sideways walking, ultra sensitive people with the big claws and lots of antennas?

Their sign is ruled by the Moon, so in terms of how they change and grow, you'll have a fast-moving cycle with the rapid orbit of this not-quite-a-planet. This is more the tempo of the day-to-day life.

Then you'll have a slower moving one that may be connected with the eclipses (six month cycle), or with the nodes of the Moon (nine or 18 year cycle). The Moon, the nodes and eclipses are all astrological factors that join the individual and the greater society, so with Cancers, there's often an intense or overwhelming sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

For this reason, everyone around them needs to get together and make a conspiracy to support the need for private space for people with strong Cancer signatures in their chart (whether Sun, Moon, Rising, Saturn or Chiron; or a strong 4th house of some kind). I think when it comes to kids born with this sign prominent, special care must be taken to ensure that they have their space, where they can retreat at any time -- and which is not subject to the invasions of others. Adults have some ability to do this for themselves, but where children are concerned, it needs to be done for them.

They need to be protected from siblings born with more assertive, aggressive or feisty charts. They are less likely to defend themselves and more likely to respond by retreating psychically.

Cancers have a need to care for people, critters and/or plants. They also need to care for organizations. This is their way of participating in the larger world of which they know they are a part, and in which they surely have a place -- somewhere.

There's the need for a tangible security base of some kind. The sense that they can participate in the larger whole, or the system of the family, community, or group, is intuitively part of that security. Often this participation comes through nurturing others. Cancers do have a need to be alone when it suits them, but there's also the fear that they may wind up being alone. Many figure out that one way not to be alone is to take care of people, and to contribute to the needs of the world. Feeding people qualifies. People are hungry, and rare is the Cancer who does not prepare food with dedication and love, as if it were a genuinely spiritual expression.

So get your Cancer child going baking and learning the basics of cooking. Help them take care of their space; work it out so they have somewhere to call their own. And if they really don't feel like joining the family for dinner (do families still eat dinner?) I suggest you let them stay in their room and work it out. This 'working it out' process is like this invisible oxygen that Cancerian types breathe. It is not to be disturbed. It goes in its own time. Leave these people alone around the Full Moon and New Moon.

But returning to food, make sure they have a place of their own in the kitchen. Rick Levine, the StarIQ astrologer, has a Cancer Moon, and I happen to know that he makes a habit of preparing one elaborate meal each day. He's a feisty, funny, argumentative genius type, but he stops and makes that meal, and his kitchen looks and smells like something you'd find in a health food restaurant that's been in business 20 years.

As I mentioned, you also need to keep an eye on the 4th house for clues. Ursula Frugger, who runs Astrology Toronto and has a 4th house Sun-Moon conjunction in Aquarius, surprised me the other day when at the lunch break for my lecture here, she morphed into a caterer. I noticed plug-in coolers, proper chef's knives, and enough lunch for everyone, with a true "make yourself at home" attitude to go with the grilled vegetables in a library conference room. She made sure I had a supply of gluten-free snacks, too and oxygenated water. I felt like Britney Spears.

I have Cancer in my ascendant. My first business was running a little bakery out of my family's kitchen as a child. After many years of working in restaurant kitchens and dining rooms, I was accepted to be a student at the Culinary Institute of America, but instead chose to be a writer. I do feel that if I can't save the world, at least I can help protect it. When I show up at some kind of event, look for me in the kitchen. Or near the photocopier (same idea). I don't cook so much any more, but during those long winter months, it always helps to put up a big pot of vegetable soup -- then I figure out who to invite over to have some.

The shadow side of all this caring, nurturing and safety is an obsession with security. It can be a vague to troubling sense of insecurity; a need to protect everyone and everything; or a defensive posture in life that gets in the way of being forward-moving. The crab shell does not work well in bed.

It can also plunge into delusional stupidity and paranoia. We have George W. Bush as the prime suspect -- oops, prime example -- of this aspect of Cancer. Like the Pluto in Cancer generation before him, he feels that the way to make the world a safer place is to make it much more dangerous. Does he know what it means to actually feel safe? I kind of doubt it, but he seems to be having a good time, and at least he's finally making some money and lives in some decent government housing.

Pearl S. Buck, who has the Sun, Mercury and Venus in Cancer, sums up the complexities of this sign better than anyone I've heard before. She once wrote, "I love people. I love my family, my children . . . but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up."++

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