This New Moon in Cancer calls us home.
The first time I travelled to the UK, as a 16-year-old in 2004, it was the 4th of July. Tickets were cheap for that date, as many travellers anticipated another attack, a follow-up to 9/11 on a date significant to Americans, and generally avoided flying to or from the US on Independence Day. I do not remember harboring a tremendous amount of anxiety about this; rather, a secret amusement surrounding the irony that I was spending the anniversary of American independence travelling to the nation from which our ancestors had fought so hard to secure autonomous statehood.
Little did I know that in fewer than ten years following this initial trip I would come to the UK for graduate school and call this country my home for 7+ years.
The New Moon in Cancer is born out of the womb of itself, as the Moon is Cancer’s ruling planet. This year, if you happened to be in the South Pacific or parts of South America, you might have seen the New Moon, usually invisible at this stage in its cycle due to its proximity to the sun from our vantage point, directly pass over the sun in a solar eclipse.
This New Moon in eclipse will not be invisible. It will not be ignored. It calls you home, to revisit that place, that community, or that internal set of circumstances that allow you to feel safe, nurtured, valued, rejuvenated, and connected to the ancestors, the roots of your being. To honor the wisdom of your body, the most immediate physical home that contains you.
Whenever I am not feeling very much at home in my external circumstances, I come back to my yoga practice, my mindfulness practice, the practices of dance and song and braiding my hair and walking outside to feel the grass underfoot, the mindful practices of inhabiting my body.
I went back to my hometown in California to do my first 200-hour yoga teacher training, around the time when the New Moon was in Capricorn and it was time for conscious goal-setting, for dedicating myself to the climb, placing myself at the mercy of the rocky wilderness to achieve a goal, the procurement of a qualification of teaching in yoga, in movement that I can use in my working life. And boy, was the trail rocky at times. I found splendour and calm. I found the wickedest parts of myself. I found the teachers I needed. I trusted and mistrusted them and trusted and mistrusted myself time and time again, and vacillated between meekness and assertiveness, and defended some of my crude, uncharitable ways of perceiving myself and others with brutal, unpitying rationality. And then I would release these convictions and breathe into parts of my body from which I had dissociated, and I allowed the problems in my mind, all the contradictions in myself and in the teachings I had been trying to resolve to unstick themselves.
By the end of the training I felt a burgeoning strength within myself, a vigor that I had not felt in years. I felt like I had a place in the community, both at the studio and among friends and family old and new, a place as an adult in the city of my birth. I did home improvement work on the house I grew up in. I resumed my lectureship at the university where I had completed my undergraduate degree, working alongside my former teachers as a colleague. I taught yoga to the graduate students in the department. I supported my mom’s recovery from major surgery. I felt like I was of service from start to finish, within and beyond the training. It felt right and providential.
It felt Hesiodic, like the life of the proverbial farmer in the 8th/7th-century BCE Greek poet Hesiod’s Works and Days, the farmer who knows the people with whom he shares his village and knows his place within it. It felt like the full spectrum of my humanity could find itself reflected in the experiences of that city and the people and the ocean and the hillsides that I had seen in the past year undergo death and devastation, literal fires and floods, and emerge resilient and self-sustaining. This is the place where I could live and die and decompose and come back as wild mustard.
Bindweed: The roots of ourselves, the roots of our stories
When I returned to the UK, my affect shifted into uncertainty and rootlessness, as the voice of self-talk that I had just taught to draw its material from a deep well of insight began to stammer, and a psychic fog settled in.
But when I do embodied meditations, and when I write, it begins to clear.
This is the place where I have lived, loved, learned, tried and tested myself, met rejection upon rejection and still struck gold, until I didn’t, and then I decided to write a book on women in Greek tragedy, and found that in their company I could no longer hold myself in the combined shape of measured cleverness, poise, and the caricature of Californian hippie sensibilities I had learned to manifest because it was wishy-washy, non-threatening, and cute.
But the tales of tragic women, all their transgressive, violent acts of desperation to reclaim their agency in their lives fly with leathery, infernal wings in the face of cuteness. They demand our awakening to the diminished parts of ourselves that need to be witnessed and integrated, given a voice early enough so that they can use their powers for healing rather than destruction. The tragic women demand you look at the things hiding in the shadows you cast over them. All the stuff that looms bigger the longer it’s left alone.
In the yoga teacher training, it was taken for granted that we had all been relegating tender parts of ourselves to the shadows, had created a hulking repository of psychic stuff. My stuff just intermingled with everyone else’s stuff, and we could grieve and laugh, or do a movement practice and jostle these awkward pieces around inside our bodies that were gracious enough to hold them without judgement. I felt that I could begin to illuminate this stuff, untangle it, make friends with it. I started to talk about this process, and how the tragic women for me, and perhaps for others are the knowers and the keepers of the stuff, and people listened.
Then I went back to the UK, and I stopped talking, because I felt for the container and couldn’t find it. Instead I got caught up with visions of stunted growing things, exposed roots with remnants of dark earth beginning to dry up around them. The day after I returned to Oxford, I was walking into Christ Church Meadows and several people passing commented on the state of an old willow tree. “That willow makes me so sad. Why did they do that to it?” “I know, couldn’t they have left it alone?” And another, wielding typical British sarcasm, “Well, one of the College dons has a better view now – that’s what’s important”.
I looked around to view the willow, a quiet witness of those passing from the street into the Meadows. Its upper branches had been cut. I cried, as I did later when my husband began to uproot the ivy in the back garden. I asked him what he wanted to grow instead, and he said, “Wildflowers”. I stayed my mind that chomped at the bit to weave interpretations of the prospect of replacing Dionysus’ plant with those the maiden Persephone was picking before the earth opened up and Death abducted her to be his bride.
We live in a world of meanings and projections, some of which are helpful and some not-so-helpful.
The willow may well have needed cutting due to disease, or circumstances other than the dons’ wishes for a wider view of the meadows. And as my googling has revealed, my husband’s instincts were in keeping with most gardeners’ approaches to what grows in our back garden: not ivy, but bindweed, a form of morning glory that according to the Royal Horticulture Society (“Inspiring everyone to grow”), “Twine[s] around other plant stems, smothering them in the process…These weeds are difficult to eradicate by cultural methods as their roots can extend deep into the soil”. Although the website says that the society does not endorse chemical methods of weed-killing, they tell you exactly how to use chemical weed-killers to get rid of bindweed. Not inspiring everyone to grow, then…
Those like me who have a tendency to see the world as a kind of Joseph Campbellesque jungle of story themes and archetypal encounters can catch ourselves in the bindweed of one interpretation that smothers all other readings of a situation. Yet sometimes we receive the guidance, the message we need to hear from these old stories, which have an eerie way of foretelling the cycles of behavior, relationship, and belief we hurtle through over and over again, often unconsciously. We can find truth and liberation in the telling, as well as falsity, just as our friend Hesiod insinuated at the beginning of his Theogony, his account of the genealogy of the gods.
The Muses can tell lies as well as the truth.
So, if we can avoid determinism and look to the New Moon in Cancer as a general thematic inspiration for contemplation of home and what it means for us, we can unleash innumerable, often contradictory associations, all of which strike us hard in the breast. They strike hard and close because they remind us of how we have lived the seasons of our lives and tended to the physical and emotional ground that sustains us.
Twin Homes: My associations with the New Moon
Before I left California to study at Oxford, back in 2011, I attended a seminar on world astrology with the great Rick Tarnas, and was experiencing the intensity of Pluto in Capricorn crossing over my Saturn/Uranus conjunction, a “vice-grip” (in Rick’s words) of urgent necessity to craft new institutional and cultural structures out of the remains of old, obsolete ones – something everyone born within a couple of years of me was undergoing. I told Rick of the feeling of scarcity (and its reflection in the wake of the Great Recession) that attended this transit through Capricorn, the sign that teaches us the art of resourcefulness, and that it reminded me of Hesiod’s insistence in his Works and Days that the resourcelessness, the amechanie (ἀμηχανίη) (WD, 496) be the farmer’s great teacher in the winter season, the season that is the proof of the efficacy of planning, sowing the seeds, harvesting the crops, storing them away, and shoring up one’s house against the elements.
And now Pluto, still in Capricorn, has passed in opposition over my Moon in Cancer, and propelled me into an arena of self-discovery and reconciliation of internal opposites, inconsistencies, and divisions that fostered me to draw from my well of emotional resources rather than rely on outside influences. And Saturn, the ruler of Capricorn is now opposing the Moon for the remainder of 2019. A call for buttoning down the hatches and waiting out the winter. A call for taking inventory of what I have stored away. A wintry chill in the heat of summer. A need for reckoning, acknowledgement of the consequences of my tendency to plant the seeds on one side of the ocean, and not come back in time to harvest them. The fruit ripened, dropped, and rotted away on the ground, and if I was lucky I could pluck the late ones. The consequences of splitting my energy between continents, of shadow side of the privilege of two beautiful, fulfilling places to call home.
Twin homes, two lives in two places. You can’t ride two horses with one hiny, as my mother would say.
And now for your example…
New Moon in Cancer: An exercise
So what is calling you home? How can you be fed and nurtured? How can you feed and nurture others? If your mind (thinking brain, pre-frontal cortex) is the first one to catapult ideas and stories into your consciousness, see if you can let that run its course before asking for other embodied perspectives in the following meditation.
One of the most valuable tools I learned in the teacher training was that significant wisdom lies in the solar-plexus, the “gut-brain”, containing over 100 million nerve cells. Known widely in popular culture as the seat of intuition and willpower, the scientific community (at Johns Hopkins medicine at least) acknowledges the gut’s significant capacity for intelligence, although the types of intelligence and mechanisms for delivering them are largely unknown and unstudied.
But in meditation practices working with the chakras (energy centers, associated with the Tantric branch of yogic philosophy) that are linked to areas of the body, and certainly in disciplines such as craniosacral therapy, you can look to your gut as well as other body parts, including the heart space, pelvis, throat, hip creases, and bones as places of knowing, and they have their own stories to tell.
But for this exercise I invite you to look to the gut and the heart space, parts of the body close to those associated with the sign of Cancer in the western zodiac, as places of insight into the question, What is calling me home?
- Find a quiet space and a comfortable seat, where you can settle your sitting bones into the ground or a chair and you can extend your spine and the crown of your head toward the sky, stacking each vertebra on top of the one below.
- Observe the natural flow of your breath, without altering it, just to arrive. Observe your mental and emotional landscape, as you would observe clouds crossing over the sky, without trying to change them. Maintain this gentle observation for 10 breaths.
- Breathe into your belly, from the lower abdomen through the solar plexus. You can place your hands on your belly, side ribs, or lower back and feel the breath travel freely through these areas, drawing your awareness further inwards so that you can begin to hear the whispers of this wisdom region. What is calling me home? How can I be fed and nurtured? How can I feed and nurture others?
- Now breathe into your heart space, your upper chest, placing your fingers at your collarbones and feeling your hands rise and fall with the breath. What is calling me home? How can I be fed and nurtured? How can I feed and nurture others?
- Be patient and receptive, keep breathing, and wait for the answers to come. Be gentle with yourself, and drop the practice if it feels physically or emotionally untenable or overwhelming.
- Write down the responses you get. Compare them. Be amazed, grateful, curious, underwhelmed, sad, anxious, inspired, angry – can you allow whatever emotions attend this exercise to be?
- Then put what you have written aside, take a walk, feel the ground under your feet, listen to the soundscape that surrounds you, to integrate the knowledge gained. And thank all of yourself for navigating some of these hidden, labyrinthine paths to inner guidance.
Remember that this exercise in itself is a form of homecoming.
Or, a suspension of the gripping of the bindweed of interpretations in which we might find ourselves caught through reliance on one knowledge center for guidance.
Or even (pardon the tenuous link here) a “declaration of independence” from the influence of narratives that no longer serve.
Wherever you are called home, near or far, let the knowledge of it serve you well today and this month!
 The breasts, pectoral muscles, stomach, and womb are associated with Cancer.