It was the ancient Assyrians who first designated the crab as the symbol for Cancer, because they believed the crab to carry its home on its back. In fact, it's merely his skeleton. They were right in associating Cancers with being attached to their homes, however.

The primary reason they chose the crab is because the sun enters Cancer on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. The next day, it begins its backward motion towards the equator. Therefore, as it moves forward through time, it's moving backwards in the sky. This apparent paradox is perfectly symbolized by the crab, which must move backwards in order to move forwards.

The word itself is derived from the Arabic "khan," which means resting place, and "keras," which refers to encircling arms. Put the two together, and you have a picture of a person who places a high value on his home life, and who is extremely caring.

Cancer is ruled by the moon, which presides over emotions (the tidal forces within us), home life, fertility, and maternal qualities. It is a water sign, so Cancerians tend to reside near an ocean, lake, or river. And it's the fourth house of the zodiac, which is physically represented by the breast and stomach, whose most pervasive quality is tenacity.

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