Cancer, the Crab
Ursa Minor, the Little Bear
Ursa Major, the Great Bear
Argo, the Ship
THE BLESSED POSSESSION
“I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.”
This is part of the oath which God swore unto Abraham after the test of his faith in the offering of his son Isaac. It applied in part to the believing patriarch’s natural seed, but more especially to Christ and the multitudinous seed of faith, who are also “the seed of Abraham.” This is made clear in the writings of St. Paul, who tells us that “to Abraham and his seed were the promises made; not to seeds, as of many, but as of one – thy Seed – which is Christ” (Gal.3:16); “and if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).
We do not therefore strain or misapply the text when we understand it of Christ and the Church, and say that to these the divine promise is to multiply them as the stars of the sky and the sands on the sea-shore, and to give them victory and success to take the gate of their enemies, and possess the same for ever. And the ultimate fulfilment of this promise is what we find symbolized in the stars by the sign of Cancer and the constellations which form its Decans.
THE SIGN OF CANCER
In our planispheres we have here the picture of a gigantic Crab. It is the same in the Parsi, Hindoo, and Chinese Zodiacs, and hence is supposed to have been the same in the Chaldean and original representations; but in the Egyptian sphere the figure is the Scarabæus, or sacred beetle, which some take as having been the original figure. It is difficult to decide which is the most ancient, but either serves well to express the meaning which clearly attaches to this sign.
The crab is an animal born of the water, as the Church is “born of water and of the Spirit.” Its rows of legs, on opposite sides, gives the idea of multitudinous development and numerous members, as the promise here is with regards to the Church, and as is signified in the sign of the Fishes, which is a special symbol of the Church.
In the progress of the crab’s development and growth it undergoes important changes. The most marked of these is the periodic throwing off of its old shells and the taking on of new ones. In its earlier life these changes involve alterations in the whole form and shape of the animal. And so the Church, in the progress of its earthly development and growth, passes from dispensation to dispensation, and each individual saint first puts off the old man with his deeds, and puts on the new man which is renewed after the image of Him that created him, and then lays off “the body of this death” in order to be “clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.”
And these several changes, both general and personal, are all entirely completed by the time the Church comes to occupy the place indicated by this sign.
The crab is also armed with two powerful hands or claws, by which it grasps hold with wonderful force and securely retains whatever it takes. And so it is with the people of God. Having, like Mary, “chosen the good part,” or like the patriarchs, “embraced the promises,” or, like the apostles, “lain hold of the hope set before us,” they come into the possession of the incorruptible and heavenly inheritance, and retain it with a grasp so firm and strong that it “shall not be taken away.”
And so again with the scarabæus. This is a creature whose career exhibits very marked and significant transformations. The first period of its existence is passed in a dark, drear, subterranean abode, where its senses are feeble, its powers circumscribed, ungladdened by pleasant sights, oft terrified by unintelligible voices from the sunlit world above, compelled to eat and live amid filth, and with no worthier employment than to grow and wait for future changes. And so it is with the earthly Church and the children of God in this present life. With all that may be said of us here, we are the slaves of toil and suffering, full of darkness, doubt, and uncertainty, loaded with grovelling cares, the sport of ever-recurring accidents which we cannot explain, pushed and cramped and crowded by others no better off than ourselves – mere knots of incapacities and troubles like earth-born and dirt-fed grubs, though bearing in us the germs and beginnings of eventual glory and blessedness.
Having dragged out the time apportioned to its first condition, the scarabæus is next transformed into quite another. Nature’s hand now swaths it into a chrysalis. Activity ceases. Food can no longer be taken. The avenue of the senses are closed. The functions of life are put in abeyance, though soon to open out into still another form of existence. And so our earthly life terminates in death and passes into the mummy condition – that peculiar middle stage in which our inner being still lives on, but in quiescence and rest, which the Scriptures call “sleep,” which no cares or wants invade, and in which the embalmed body awaits the call of resurrection to reappear with new and augmented powers.
And when this period of peaceful inaction is completed the swathed creature suddenly breaks from its chrysalis, and bursts forth into an exaltation of being which has for ever left behind it every vestige of the low conditions in which its earlier life was spent.
What painfully and gloomily crawled in the filthy earth and darkness now spurns the dust takes wings like a bird, soars at large in the bright sunshine whithersoever it will, and becomes a dweller in air, with the liberties of a free heaven. Filled now with loving affections and marvellous sagacity, it builds a house for its treasure, and holds it fast as it rolls it out with unwearied devotion into the vast unknown. And thus from the mummy form of the sleeping saints there is to come a sudden bursting forth, when bodies terrestrial shall be supplanted by bodies celestial, and what was earthy becomes heavenly, and what was corruptible puts on incorruption, and what was ignoble becomes glorious, and what was natural takes all the attributes and capacities of enfranchised spiritual being, to mount up with wings as eagles, and to enjoy the light and love and liberty of heaven, in no way inferior to the angels. And thus, with the goal of our being reached and the treasure of our hearts in hand, the promise is that we shall hold it secure world without end.
There was scarce a creature on earth which the old Egyptians made so much of as this scarabæus beetle. The stones of their finger-rings and shoe-latchets, the seals of their priests and nobles, the ornaments and amulets worn on their bodies, the tokens of their guilds and orders, the memorials of their marriages, and the last mark put upon the mummies of their dead, were shaped into the form of the scarabæus. Men have wondered why this was, and faulted the taste of people so attached to a filthy bug. It was not on account of its beauty surely, nor on account of any great service rendered by it to their country or their crops. But it was the figure in their Zodiac – the star-sign of perfected being, the progress of which from darkness to light, from death to resurrection, from earthly disability to heavenly glory, from the vicissitudes of time to the secure possession of the treasures of eternity, they could see and trace in this beetle at almost every step throughout all their land, and with which the primitive traditions had taught them to connect the most precious hopes of man. This explains the mystery and tells the story, and helps us greatly in identifying the meaning which the primeval patriarchs understood and intended to express in this eleventh sign of the Zodiacal series.
In the centre of this constellation there is one of the brightest nebulous clusters in the starry sky, and sufficiently luminous to be seen betimes with the naked eye. It looks like the nucleus of a great comet, and has often been taken for one. It is made up of a multitude of little stars, as is often designated in modern astronomy as the Bee-hive.
The ancients called it Præsepe, which, in its Arabic and Hebrew elements, means the Multitude, Offspring, the Young, the Innumerable Seed – the very idea in the text. The Latins understood by it the manger from which the asses were fed, the stall, the stable, the fold, and hence a house of entertainment, the place into which travellers gathered for refreshment and rest. The same idea is expressed by Moses in connection with Issachar, to whom the Jews referred this sign, where he speaks of Issachar as being gathered into tents, called to the mountain, offering the sacrifices of righteousness, and sucking the abundance of the sea and all the hid treasures of its sands (Deut. 33: 18,19). In Jacob’s blessing of his sons we have corresponding allusions and still further identifications with the particulars in this sign. In many of the classic references to the Zodiac the figures here are two asses, particularly represented by the two stars, the one north and the other south of Præsepe. And so Jacob prophesies of the coming Shiloh, that to Him shall the gathering of the people be, and that, having washed His garments in the blood of grapes, as when He treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God, and having accomplished the destruction of His enemies, as when He rides forth on the white horse to destroy all hostile powers, “He shall bind His foal to the vine, and His ass’s colt to the choice vine.” Issachar himself is likened to the great and strong ass which reclines between the two folds or resting-places, seeing that, “the rest is good and the land pleasant,” even that for which he was willing to bow his shoulder to the burden, and to serve and pay tribute to possess (Gen. 49: 10-15).
The Scriptures thus not only give us the imagery found in this sign, but connect the sign itself – which was assigned to Issachar – with the final results of the achievements of the promised Seed of the woman – with the rest that remains for the people of God – with the ultimate home-gathering of the multitudinous seed of faith – with the peaceful and secure entrance of the Church upon the “inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for those who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1: 4-6).
The myths concerning this sign are faint and feeble, but what is given amply conforms to what the Scriptures record in connection with it. The two asses which the Greeks accepted as the figures of Cancer they explained to be the animals by which Jupiter was assisted in his victory over the giants, but in repose now by the side of the celestial crib. They would thus admirable identify with the white horses on which Christ and His heavenly armies rode when they came forth for the destruction of the beasts, kings, and armies that made war with the Lamb.
They would seem, indeed, to stand for the same, but now resting in immortal glory after the victory.
Other myths associate this Crab with the famous contest of Hercules with the dreadful Lernæan monster, and affirm that this was the animal from the sea which Juno’s envy of the hero caused to bite his foot, but which, being quickly despatched, was rewarded by being placed among the heavenly constellations. Hercules was the symbol of the Seed of the woman as the suffering and toiling Deliverer, the great Overcomer and Slayer of the powers of evil, who, for the sake of His people, endured the sting and bruising of His heel; and yet, for all the pains they caused Him, He brings them at last to the enjoyment of eternal rest and glory, having slain their enmity by His cross.
The Egyptians called this sign Klaria, the Folds, the Resting-places. We call it Cancer, which in later vocabularies means the Crab, but which, in its Noetic roots, explains what we are to see in this Crab. Khan means the traveller’s resting-place, and ker or cer means embraced, encircled, held as within encircling arms. And so Can-cer means Rest secured – the object of desire at length reached, compassed, possessed, and inalienably held. Hence also the chief star in this sign is named Acubens, the sheltering, the place of retirement, the good rest. Hence also other names in this sign (Ma’alaph and Al Himarein) mean assembled thousands, the kids or lambs; whilst the whole is called in Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac by a name which signifies holding, possessing, retaining. It is the sign of the saints’ everlasting rest, in which the head of the Serpent is beneath their feet, as under the feet of this Crab.
And what we thus find in the sign itself is further illustrated and fully corroborated in its accompanying Decans.
The first of these is what is now called Ursa Minor, the Lesser Bear. But this was not its original name; nor is it a bear at all.
Those who figure it as a bear are obliged to give it a long uplifted tail, such as no bear ever had. And what is very astonishing, on the supposition that we here have to do with the form of a bear, is, that the most remarkable star in this constellation, and the most observed and rested on by man in all the heavens, is located far out on this unnatural tail. Where is the sense that would lead any astronomer, ancient or modern, to locate the Pole Star of the heavens in an imaginary tail of a feeble little bear? The very idea is absurd, and such an absurdity that we may be sure the great old primeval astronomers are in no wise chargeable with it. It is said that the North American Indians connected the North Star with a bear, and that hence the figure here must have been primitively known as “the Bear;” but it is not proven that these Indians belong to the primitive peoples, whilst they at the same time criticize and ridicule those who name it a bear, as not knowing what a bear is, or they never would have given it a long and lifted tail.
The way in which Ursa Minor and Ursa Major may have come to be called Bears is perhaps from the fact that the ancient name of the principal star in the latter is Dubheh or Dubah, and as Dob is the word for bear, the Greeks and others took the name of that star as meaning the Bear, and so called these two corresponding constellations the Bears.
But Dubheh or Dubah does not mean bear, but a collection of domestic animals, a fold, as the Hebrew word Dober. The evidence is that, according to the original intent, we are to see in these constellations not two long-tailed bears, but two sheepfolds or flocks, the collected and folded sheep of God’s pasture.
The ancient Danes and Icelanders called Ursa Minor the Chair or Chariot of Thor, and the old Britons ascribed the same to Arthur, their great divine hero. This is coming much nearer to the astronomical facts of the case, as also to the original ideas connected with this constellation. It has seven principal stars, often called Septentriones – the seven which turn. The Arabs and the rabins called them Ogilah, going round, as wheels; and hence also they are called Charles’s Wain, the King’s Wagon, or the thing which goes round. These noted seven stars are in themselves sufficient to suggest some connection with “the seven churches” which John saw as “seven stars” in Christ’s right hand. The whole number of stars in this constellation is twenty-four, which suggests connection again between it and the “four-and-twenty elders” whom John beheld “round about the throne, clothed in white raiment, and having on their heads crowns of gold” (Rev. 4), which denote the seniors of the elect Church in heaven.
The ancient names in this constellation are Kochab, the Star, allied perhaps with the promise in Revelation 2:28, otherwise rendered by Rolleston waiting the coming; Al Pherkadain, the Calves, the Young, Hebraically, the Redeemed; Al Gedi, the Kid, the Chosen of the flock; and Al Kaid, the Assembled, the gathered together. These are all applicable to the Church of the first-born, and particularly describe it as it comes to its inheritance.
Aratus says that Jupiter transferred both these bears to the sky from Crete during his concealment in the Idæan cave; but bears were never known in Crete, though it was plentiful enough in flocks and herds. But the story agrees with the scriptural account in this, that Christ mysteriously transfers the Church of the first-born to heaven whilst yet unmanifested to the rest of the world.
The Greeks called Ursa Minor, if not both the Bears, Arcas, or Arktos, a name which Harcourt derives from Arx, the stronghold of the saved. The myth concerning Arcas is, that he was the son of Jupiter and the nymph Callisto, that he built a city on the site of the blasted house of him who was served up as a dish to try Jupiter’s divinity, and that he was the progenitor, teacher, and ruler of the Arcadians; which readily interprets in good measure of what is written of the Church of the first-born, particularly in its offices in the mysterious future.
It is part of the promise of the text that the seed of faith is to “possess the gate of his enemies” – that is, to take the house or possession of the foe – and thenceforward to hold what the enemy previously held.
Now, at the time these constellations were formed, and for a long time afterward, the Pole-Star was the Dragon Star, Alpha Draconis. Thus this central gate, or hinge, or governing-point of the earth’s motion, was then in the enemy’s possession. But that Dragon Star is now far away from the Pole, and cannot again get back to it for ages on ages, whilst the Lesser and higher Sheepfold has come into its place; so that the main star of Arcas is now the Pole-Star. The seed of faith thus gets the enemy’s gate. And understanding Ursa Minor of the Church of the first-born in heaven, instated in the government of the earth, we have in it a striking picture of the old prophecy fulfilled, when once Satan is cast down and the saints reign with their Lord in glory everlasting.
It is also an interesting fact that no traces of these Greek Bears are to be found in the Egyptian, the Persian, or the Indian planispheres, but only what is thoroughly agreeable to the idea that we are here to see the assembly of God’s flocks in their heavenly glory, authority, and dominion, as over against the Serpent and the whole serpent dominion.
And this is made the more evident in the second Decan of Cancer – Ursa Major, the Great Bear, anciently, the Great Sheepfold, the resting-place of the flock. The Arabs still call this constellation Al Naish or Annaish, the ordered or assembled together, as sheep in a fold.
In the centre of the miscalled tail of this so-called Bear we find the name Mizar, which means guarded or enclosed place. The chief star of all is Dubheh, herd or fold; the second is Merach, the flock; another, Cab’d al Asad, multitude of the assembled. Here we also have the names El Acola, the sheepfold; Al Kaiad, the assembled; Alioth, the ewe or mother; El Kaphrah, the protected, the covered, the Redeemed; Dubheh Lachar, the latter herd or flock, as distinguished from a former in Ursa Minor. The book of Job refers to “Arcturus and his sons” – to Ash, or Aish, and “her” progeny. The old Jewish commentators say that Aish here means the seven stars of the Great Bear. The word is often collective, denoting a community, hence the flock, the congregation. And in the so-called tail of this Bear we find the name Benet Naish, the daughters of Aish, part of the flock going out after Boötes, the Shepherd.
The myths say that this Bear is the nymph Callisto, the mother of Arcas, the son of Jupiter, and that she was metamorphosed into a bear by Juno. In the word Callisto we find the Shemitic root which we again meet as Caulæ, a sheepfold, an enclosure.
And with this idea in mind a glance at these “seven stars” shows how well the presentations answer to an enclosure, from which the great flock goes forth from the fold at the corner led by their great Shepherd and Guardian, to whose coming all the ages have been looking from the beginning.
In the Dendera Zodiac this constellation has a great female figure with the head of a swine, the enemy of the Serpent, the tearer of the earth, and holding in her hand a great ploughshare, emblematic of tearing up, bruising, turning under; and the name by which it is called is Fent-Har, the Serpent-bruiser, the Serpent-horrifier. This ploughshare appear in both these constellations, and may have given rise to the association of the plough with these stars; but the whole significance is that of the seed of faith in power and triumph over the Serpent and its progeny.
All this sufficiently shows that we here have to do with the happy sheepfold, the flock of God, in heavenly glory and dominion, and not in the least with the anomalous wild bears of the Greeks and the later Western peoples.
The picture is that of the seed of faith spoken of in the text in its twofoldness – the Church of the first-born round about the throne, signified by the Polar centre, and the Church of the after-born in still ampler numbers, led and guarded by the great Boötes amid the everlasting pastures.
And to make this the clearer, the third Decan of Cancer was framed. This is Argo, the mysterious ship of the mysterious Argonauts returned from their successful expedition to recover the Golden Fleece. Since the time of Homer, and long before Homer lived, the world has been full of noise about this ship and these gods and demigods of the Argonautic Expedition. But that same world till now has been floundering about to find a key to unlock the mystery in which the story is enveloped. Many are the suggestions to explain it, but all as empty of satisfactoriness as they are beneath the importance and significance always and everywhere attached to it. The trouble is, that men have ever persisted in trying to interpret it with reference to the affairs of ordinary human history or of some wild conceits of dreaming poets; whereas it belongs to the mystic, spiritual, and prophetic ideas frescoed on the stars, and to nothing else under heaven.
Taken in these relations, and construed with the rest of these signs as we found their true application to be, we can have no difficulty.
That Golden Fleece was the lost treasure of human innocence and righteousness, of which the subtlety of the Serpent had bereft mankind in the Garden of Eden, and so held and guarded it that no mere man could ever find or recover it. In the grove of Mars, the fierce god of justice, at Colchis, the citadel of atonement, it lay, the Serpent watching it with jealous and ever-wakeful eyes. Nor was there a mortal to be found able to approach it until the true Jason, the Recoverer, the Atoner, the Healer, even JESUS, came, organized His Argo, His company of travellers, made up of heroes under His command and leadership, and went forth through various trials, conflicts, and sufferings, helped by the holy oracles that went along, and sustained by the heavenly ointments and powers to heal the wounds and hurts that had to be encountered, and took the precious prize, and then through varied fortunes brings the heroes back victorious to His own home-shores.
And here, in the constellation of Argo, we have the picture of that return – the ship and the brave travellers come home, with the lost treasure regained, their toils and hazards and battles over, and blessed rest their lasting inheritance. Here the story fits in every part. It is the old ship of Zion landed in the heavenly port. Understand it so, and every feature takes on an evangelic light and a meaning commensurate with its fame. Nor is it possible to contemplate the vivid correspondence without wonderment of the prophetic knowledge and spiritual understanding and anticipations of those primeval sages who framed these signs and gave out their meaning.
And what we thus read in the story of the Argonauts is confirmed by the names in the constellation itself. The brightest star in the group is Canopus or Canobus. And this is the name of the great hero and helmsman, who died from the serpent’s bite, but whom the Egyptians worshipped as a divine being.
The name itself means the possession of Him who cometh, and thus explains why the Egyptians represented Canobus by a great treasure-jar. Other names are also here which tell us what we are to understand. Sephina means multitudinous good, the very abundance of the seas and of treasures referred to by Moses under the sign of Isachar. Tureis means the firm possession in hand, the treasure secured. Asmidiska means the travellers released. And Soheil means what was desired.
In the Dendera Zodiac we have here the figure of a great ox enclosed, with the cross suspended from his neck, the symbol of the great possession marked with the ancient token of immortality and eternal life. And the name of this figure is Shes-en-Fent, rejoicing over the Serpent. All this expresses exactly what I have said is the great subject of Cancer.
In the Persian Zodiac we have here three young women walking at leisure, the same with the daughters of Aish, signifying the Church in its final inheritance.
Thus the whole presentation binds up and links together from all sides to fix upon the sign of Cancer and its Decans the intention to make it the recorded symbol, prophecy, and hope of the heavenly rest for the redeemed which shines so conspicuously in all the scriptural promises. It is the star-picture of the multitudinous seed of faith at length possessing the gate of the enemy, rejoicing over him in life eternal, and going forth in abundant peace and blessedness, with the Serpent’s head effectually trodden beneath their feet.
A SWEET CONSOLATION
It is a blessed consolation to the oft-weary toilers and travellers in this world to know that there does remain a rest for the people of God. With all the trials and hardships to which they are subjected here, there is to come a blessed recompense. Jesus says: “Let not your heart be troubled; in my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you; I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). Isaiah sings: “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (35:10). John in prophetic vision looked over into that other world, and writes: “I beheld, and lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. These are they that came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth upon the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7: 9-17); “And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (21:4). And even from His throne in glory the Saviour sends word to His struggling people: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne” (Rev 3: 21).
Such are the great and precious promises given to us, and such the possession to which we aspire. They are promises also that shall surely be fulfilled. God has pledged himself by His oath to make them good. They are the same that glowed in the hearts of the primeval patriarchs, who saw them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth. On these imperishable stars they hung and pictured their confident belief and anticipations, whereby they, being dead, yet speak – speak across these many thousands of years – speak for our comfort on whom the ends of the world have come. Let us, then, be encouraged to believe as they believed, to hope as they hoped, labouring and looking for entrance into that same holy rest, even the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.