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Cancer: The Crab Shell Platform of the Mayan World

The Mayan archaeological site of Tulum with its famous beach by the Caribbean Sea, Quintana Roo state, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

The Crab, which rules the sign of Cancer, has been associated with feminine power and the Divine Mother Goddess via the moon. Many cultures have observed that mother crabs will lay their eggs along the sea in hopes that some will survive. Those who make it are likely being guided by new and full moons, when tidal wave energy is strongest.

But what is the special connection between The Crab and the Maya? Why was the crab shell depicted in so many monuments and artwork? The answer may lie in the mythology and stories told about the great power of resurrection and regeneration associated with ecdysis, the moment when the shell of a crab cracks so that it may grow a new one.

The first few lines of the Genesis of the Popol Vuh read:

These, then, are the first words, the first speech. There is not yet one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree, rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, or forest. All alone the sky exists. The face of the earth has not yet appeared. Alone lies the expanse of the sea, along with the womb of all the sky.

And therein lies the first mystery of the crab’s mythology and importance for the Maya: why is the crab listed among the generic categories of animal, fish, tree, and rock? The only animal to be specifically named at the beginning of the world.

There are many Mayan and Meso-American stories that point to the importance of the Crab and its connection with the divine feminine moon goddess in the mythology of the continents we call the Americas.

The Achi’ tell of how three young maize goddesses escaped the attentions of the greedy demon known as Zipacna by tricking him into chasing a crab they made out of ribbons into a cave, trapping him inside.

The Xinca have a story about a princess who refused to marry the prince she to whom she was betrothed, out of love for her secret companion who had passed away. Because of her refusal, she was stoned to death, and when the stones were lifted after her death, the tears from her eyes gushed into springs. Her body became a river out to sea, and her braids a waterfall. The purse that had held her prince’s dowry for engagement began to scuttle, and from it emerged a giant golden crab, encrusted with jewels and gold filigree, who jumped into the newly formed river for safety.

But the story that most importantly elucidates the importance of the crab in Mayan mythology is the tale of the lovesick Sun from the Mopan. Here, the lovesick Sun wooed the beautiful moon goddess, who left with him by canoe, setting the world into night. Her grandfather, stricken with anger at losing her, sent thunderbolts after the pair, splitting the canoe in two. The Sun turned himself into a turtle in order to escape, and the Moon, a crab.

The crab was hit by a thunderbolt and her shell shattered into 13 pieces, from which 12 animals sprung, the 13th being used by the goddess herself to regenerate and live once again.

For the Maya, the turtle and crab are both representations of the Earth: platforms of creation, from which life springs. In the Popol Vuh, the Maize God rises from the cracked turtle shell after his sons, seen below at the left and right of the turtle shell, avenge his death.

From THE CRAB AS COSMIC YUX: A SYMBOL OF POWER AND CREATION IN COTZUMALHUAPA, redrawn from a photograph of MS1840 (K1892) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

Notice the turtle shell at the center of the image, split open by thunderbolt, from which the Maize God emerges.

The crab is used in similar motif at El Baúl Monument 7, where an elaborately dressed person rises from the cracked crab shell grasping corn cobs and flowers, guiding the foliage to be planted on Earth.

From THE CRAB AS COSMIC YUX: A SYMBOL OF POWER AND CREATION IN COTZUMALHUAPA. El Baúl Monument 7. Drawing by the author after a photograph from Coe 1999

It is clear that to the Maya, the crab represented fertility, regeneration, resurrection, and Pax, the platform from which all life springs.

While the turtle, associated with the Sun god, may represent masculine power and masculine source energy arising on Earth, the Crab represents feminine power and the rise of the Goddess.

For Cancer, and during this Cancer season, we may respect the power of the Goddess by contemplating regeneration and resurrection. The divine power to outgrow old limitations in order to form a new shell is what elevated the crab into the stratosphere of mythological importance for the Maya. It may be the metaphor you can use for outgrowing your own stagnant patterns and shell during this fruitful and powerful season.


Moreira, Fernando A. “THE CRAB AS COSMIC YUX: A SYMBOL OF POWER AND CREATION IN COTZUMALHUAPA.” Ancient Mesoamerica (2019): 1-11. Web

Celia Sagastume

Celia Sagastume is a first generation trans latinx babe living in the in Bay Area, California. With a master's degree in social cognition, and an astrology practice that's been active for 7 years, Sagas combines keen research and scientific inquiry with astrological intuition and resonance. For daily astrology posts, personal readings, or birth chart reports, visit astrosagas.com

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