Photo illustration of the Cancer zodiac symbol surrounded by stars

Astrology with Alice: All About Cancer, a truly misunderstood sign

This month, Alice dives into all things Cancerian, busting myths and stereotypes of the emotional sign

As a water sign, Cancers are often misunderstood and underestimated.

Photo illustration by Ryan Quan

Words by Alice Smith

Astrology with Alice: Welcome to Astrology with Alice, a monthly astrology column aimed at helping readers understand the vibes of the month ahead in plain English. As a Taiwanese immigrant who grew up in Los Angeles, I specialize in combining western astrology with eastern philosophy. I’ve taught modern astrology through the lens of Buddhism and Taoism, and I also draw from the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Knowing the movements of the planets can help us make decisions around our careers, relationships, family. As the planets move around in the sky, they shift the energetic vibes we experience on Earth, and I believe in flowing with energy instead of fighting it—to work smarter, not harder. So join me on our monthly planetary lowdowns and learn how you, too, can ride the cosmic waves!

Cancers have a reputation for being the cry-babies of the zodiac, and, as an Aries whose own sign often gets reduced to a raging toddler, I feel for them. In the absence of big astrological movements this month, I thought that we could honor Cancer season by clearing the air about this wondrous sign.

Along with Pisces and Scorpio, Cancer is a water sign. As water is associated with emotions, so Cancer is a sign with big feelings. While all water signs are concerned with relationships, Cancer is particularly relationship oriented because the sign’s nature is to nurture and is associated with mothering. The moon rules Cancer, and many cultures—such as the Norse, Greeks, Chinese, Mayans, and more—associate the moon with women. The waxing and waning cycles of the moon and its relationship with the female menstruation cycle probably also had something to do with it. (There are, of course, exceptions to moon goddesses such as the male Hindu moon god, Chandra, and the Egyptian moon god, Khonsu.) This is not to say that only women have Cancer energy or that only women have moons in their birth charts. It means that the moon and Cancer represent the side of us that’s traditionally been associated with the feminine, but, thankfully, in modern times, everybody is encouraged to increase their capacity to nurture and give care.

Since the moon also affects the tides, the type of water associated with Cancer is tidal water that comes and goes. Full and bulging one moment, receding the next. And that aligns with one of the chief complaints about Cancer: they’re moody. Their feelings can seem like they’re in a state of constant flux. They’re also accused of being passive-aggressive, seeming to avoid getting straight to the heart of issues. This MO is reminiscent of the movement of the crab, which is Cancer’s symbol. Crabs, like Cancer, would rather hide and be safe, but when they do have to come out, they strafe side-to-side with pincers and claws out, ready to defend themselves.

And like its fellow water sign Scorpio’s scorpion, Cancer’s hard-shelled, armored symbol tells us that they’re hard nuts who are difficult to crack. But where Scorpio just puts up an impenetrable wall, Cancer deflects attempts to get to know them through caring and nurturing for others. Ask a Cancer how they are, and they might answer vaguely and immediately turn it around on you. Then, before you know it, they’re playing therapist while you spill your guts out to them, and you walk away not having learned much at all.

Because of this tendency to prioritize others over themselves, I include Cancer along with Pisces and Virgo in what I call “the triangle of martyrdom.” But when it comes to making others feel safe and heard, it’s Cancer who truly excels. (I wouldn’t be surprised if a Cancer first came up with the term “safe space.”) In fact, I often find strong Cancer placements in the charts of professional cooks (Cancer loves to feed as a way of nurturing) and I’ve come across a lot of therapists and counselors whose Mercury sign is Cancer (Mercury is the talker, and when it’s in the sign of Cancer, these people literally want to talk about how you feel).

Cancers are also underestimated on the job. Without getting too much into the nerdy details, Aries—the sign of the warrior—rules Cancer’s tenth house of career, so Cancers can truly hustle like the god of war himself at work.

While the stereotype paints Cancer out to be a weeping willow, constantly victimized by their subjective worldview, Cancers who can master their inner world and make peace with their emotions become incredibly steady, brave, and wise people.

While the stereotype paints Cancer out to be a weeping willow, constantly victimized by their subjective worldview, Cancers who can master their inner world and make peace with their emotions become incredibly steady, brave, and wise people. The current Dalai Lama is a double Cancer with a Cancer sun and Cancer rising. The current pope, Pope Francis, is also a Cancer rising. I’m not saying they’re right about religion, but one led his people into exile while the other has bucked against the Catholic Church’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues. And in true Cancerian fashion, they’ve both done so in a caretaking, nonviolent manner.

It’s important to note that our modern world prioritizes the other elements—the intellect of air, the pragmatism of earth, and the verve of fire. We’re often taught to dismiss our feelings. We treat our emotions with suspicion. We even pathologize them and try to use intellect and science to “solve” them and “fix” them. (Disclaimer: I am not doubting that mental illness exists or that there is a need for medication. My point is that society isn’t traditionally well equipped when it comes to teaching us how to honor our feelings.) The water signs suffer more in this world, and among them, water sign men suffer the most because they’re taught even less about healthy emotional processing. It’s like they have to create their own language to understand their feelings.

My advice to Cancers who struggle with their moods and feelings is to acknowledge them, grant permission to truly sit with them, feel them without judgment, then—here’s the hard part—let go of them. Like the ocean tides associated with their sign, Cancers must accept the coming and the going of feelings without trying to hold onto them. And since this sign is symbolically associated with cycles—lunar cycles, tidal cycles—Cancers fare better when they adopt a spiralic approach to life rather than a linear one. See life as a spiralic cycle where there’s a season for everything, and don’t beat yourself up for not being able to make everything happen all the time. Life is not always summer, and it’s okay to experience autumn and winter, and question if you truly have to do something you really don’t want to do.

Since the energy of all 12 zodiac signs live within us, there is an area in your life that would benefit from cultivating the tender touch and gentle care of Cancer. Find your sign in the list below to see where your inner nurturer naturally shines.

The astrological sign for aries.Aries

Make your home a safe space and sanctuary for your friends and family. If you work from home, make sure that your work space is clearly delineated from the rest of the areas.

The astrological sign for taurusTaurus

You have a natural ability to see what people need in a situation, and your words have the power to put people at ease.

The astrological sign for geminiGemini

You provide material comfort to your friends and loved ones, and that’s often through food!

The astrological sign for cancer.Cancer

You bring a safe space for people to be themselves wherever you go.

The astrological sign for leo.Leo

Your approach to spiritual life is one of nurturing and gentle tending to the soul.

The astrological sign for virgo.Virgo

You’re often the caregiver in your community and friend group.

The astrological sign for libra.Libra

You bring a sense of safety to the workplace, and you’re someone that your coworkers can confide in.

The astrological sign for scorpio.Scorpio

You can be a thoughtful teacher with the ability to make students feel safe and protected.

The astrological sign for sagittarius.Sagittarius

You bring tenderness to people when they encounter the darker side of life. When friends go through grief and trauma, you can bring them great comfort.

The astrological sign for capricorn.Capricorn

You are a doting, attentive, and nurturing partner, and your partner in turn teaches you how to better take care of yourself.

The astrological sign for aquarius.Aquarius

You have a caring touch when it comes to health matters, and you’re surprisingly good at nurturing others through illness.

The astrological sign for pisces.Pisces

You are a delight around children, and you are someone whom your creative friends can feel safe sharing their art with.

Published on June 6, 2024

Words by Alice Smith

Alice Smith has loved astrology ever since she read her first horoscope as a kid. She’s a certified, professional astrologer who reads birth charts for clients all over the world and has spoken at events throughout the Pacific Northwest. Alice learned to write horoscopes from her mentor Rebecca Gordon who was herself mentored by the grande dame of horoscope writing, Susan Miller. Alice has a degree in sociology from the University of Washington and is (too) obsessed with her “Furgo” (furry Virgo) cat, whose birth chart she often interprets on social media.

Art by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.