Zodiac Decans ~ Use & History


In this article, I will go into a brief history of the decans, what they actually are and explain how to use them in your own horoscope. I have finally finished all 36 decans eBooks now, a project that has taken me 5 years! The collection is now available as a single eBook and I’m calling it Wheel Of Stars. (Scroll down for the link). 

The history of the decans begins in ancient Egypt around 3000 BC. It was based on the set of stars that appeared over the horizon as the sunset. Although the stars are a nightly phenomena this Egyptian stellar calendar was actually a solar one. Early calendars were lunar, dividing the months into 13 with each having 29.3 days.

The decans fit neatly into 360 degrees of the circle, which were divided into 36 sets of 10 which is almost a perfect year. However, we were left with 5/6 days extra. The Egyptians said these extra days were outside of time and separated the old year from the new. Saturnalia of the Romans would carry on a similar line of thinking in that these were “other” times.

Since all the decans were under the jurisdiction of some god or other, we could say that those extra days were godless ones. You can see why the rules were turned upside down for Saturnalia with the Romans. For the Egyptians on the other hand, those extra days were actually considered to be more holy.

Over time, different gods have presided over each decans so there are no hard and fast rules over who rules them. Austin Coppock in his book the 36 Faces lists all the various Gods and Goddesses. In the past, the main star within the given 10 degrees was given the rulership of it. Of course with precession, after 720 years a decan would begin a whole 10 days later so assigning a star complete rulership of a whole decan was not a good long-term plan.

It is interesting though that if you look at the lunar mansions which come to us from the Arabs, you can see that they work on a similar principle. There are 18 Lunar mansions and their meanings come from the main star of that sector. Again we suffer from precession where the constellations have moved with time.

These Lunar mansions were very popular with Medieval and Renaissance astrologers and in the use of making astrological talismans. Some astrologers like Christopher Warnock still practice these traditions today.

The History Of The Decans

Back in the West, Hellenistic astrology changed the way the decans were used. The Egyptians had assigned meaning to the decan from the influence given by either a god or spirit. This was replaced by the Ptolemaic order of dignity assignment where rulership was given by the seven planets in order of slowest to fastest. So we go backwards from Saturn to Jupiter, Mars and so on.

Wheel Of Stars

Wheel Of Stars

The Ultimate Guide To All 36 Decans

eBOOK $36

Interestingly, the year for this system (Also known as the Chaldean system) starts at 0º Leo and we work backwards from there. The decans were referred to as Faces in medieval texts and the Ptolemaic order of the planets was also used for the planetary hours and planetary days

“The 4th century Sicilian astrologer, Firmicus Maternus, is among many who placed great emphasis on (the Decan’s) use, saying that a planet in its own decan is as good as in its own sign.” ~ Skyscript

Often there is some confusion about who are the rulers of the decans. I prefer to use the Ptolemaic order, but a case can be made for the sign system. This was also a method used by Hellenistic astrologer Marcus Manilius. 

In his system the signs are the rulers of the decans so Aries rules Aries decan 1, Taurus rules Aries decan 2, Gemini rules Aries decan 3 and so on. A similar system is popular today but I can’t for the life of me find out where this one originates.

Modern astrology does not use Manilus’s order but keeps fire signs with fire, earth with earth etc. This is called the triplicity system. So Aries rules Aries decan 1, Leo rules Aries decan 2 and Sagittarius rules Aries decan 3. To me, this does make more sense than Manilus’s model and gives another dimension to the decans so I have added the modern rulers to the final version of my decan eBooks.

The decans get a little lost in time as does astrology in general during the Dark ages. (500 AD to 1500 AD. This time period covers the fall of the Roman empire to the rise of the Ottoman Empire.) The decans become “Drekkanas” in the Vedic system and then we have the translations from the Greek to Arabic and then back to the Latin.

Finally, the decans are revived by Renaissance Astrologers, alchemists and magicians. It is here that the notion of pictorial representation of the decans for the use of talismans comes into use. There are some very amusing and evocative verses that describe each decan. These descriptions turn up in grimoires and various occult books.

Here is an example found in one of my favourite magic books The Picatrix. (Latin translation) My rising sign Gemini Decan 2. “A man whose face is like an eagle and his head is covered with linen cloth; he is clothed and protected by a coat of leaden mail, and on his head is iron helmet above which is a silk crown, and in his hand he has a bow and arrows. This is a face of oppression, evils and subtlety” At some point, I would love to illustrate each decan using these evocative paragraphs. But for now, we will have to do with the verses.

Research & Inspiration For Wheel Of Stars

You will find there are many different descriptions of the decans that have evolved over time and Austin Coppock in his book “The 36 Faces” lists all of them in the appendix. It looks like Coppock was inspired to title his individual decans after these decan’s imagery which is why his book is called “The 36 Faces”.

My approach was to use the fixed stars in a similar way to astrologer Diana K Rosenberg only she divides her zodiac into star sets that are 3 degrees wide. Her book is very interesting from a fixed star point of view, it is very detailed and had great references for the constellations. However, I found I couldn’t see the wood for the trees with each starset, as dividing them into such small divisions meant there was no clear distinction between them. For beginners, you can get quite swamped by the information, but for advanced it is a great resource all the same.

When I started writing the decans for the website back in 2013 Austin Coppock’s book had not yet come out and I was writing just the general meaning for the decan as a whole without the planets and angles specific meanings. I started adding the Sun and the Moon meanings due to my use of the decans in my Moon reports. Bernadette Brady also had a book which inspired me to add the planetary meanings also called “Star & Planet Combinations”.

Egyptian Decans

The eagerly awaited for ” The 36 faces” The History, Astrology and Magic of The decans by Austin Coppock came out in 2014 and I was further inspired to add the individual planetary meanings to my version. We must not forget 1930’s astrologer Vivian Robson has also the planetary meanings for most of the major Fixed stars individually in his book “The Fixed Stars And Constellations In Astrology” which helped me build up my own interpretations.

Many find Robson’s interpretations a little too harsh and old-fashioned. The guy certainly didn’t mince words, but I find them amusing and rather quaint. You can get his material free online as part of the superb site Constellation Of Words. That sight was a huge influence on my work on the fixed stars in general as well as my decans book.

With Austin Coppock’s book, although we come from different directions in defining the meaning of the decans, we do overlap in terms of planetary dignity and rulership within a decan. While I was researching and writing the book I would define my meaning first and then check Coppock’s planet in decan meaning afterwards. I would find we had derived pretty much similar meanings which was gratifying.

Now that I have finished all the decans I realise that in another 100 years the boundaries of them will blur as the stars precess, but at least the planetary strengths will remain the same. In November 2011 Regulus moved from the end of Leo decan 3 into Virgo decan 1.

The Zodiac & Precession

In case you don’t know about precession. The earth’s wobble creates this phenomenon which means the constellations will slip back about 1 degree every 72 years. Anyone who has studied Vedic astrology which uses the sidereal system will know the difference between Eastern and the Western astrology means that their signs are 24 degrees behind ours.

If one decides to take account of the fixed stars in one’s work, as traditional astrologers did, then you cannot ignore the phenomenon of precession. I will have to hope that another astrologer will update my work in the very distant future! But for this generation at least, my interpretations will hold strong and I do like the thought that the meanings are not set in stone and can evolve over time.

Now as far as using the decans to understand your own chart I need to explain a few things. The fixed star interpretations in certain areas of the zodiac are far more dramatic and dark than other areas. Some stars are considered downright unfortunate and there are those that are branded as “Evil”. But astrology like the tarot and the iChing contain all colours of the rainbow and all seasons.

The decans are a book of archetypes and they are multi-faceted. In writing this book I had to honour the traditional interpretations of the fixed stars, but I also tried to update them for use in the 21st century. I also hope I have shown that with each negative star there is always the option of a positive transmutation. In the same way, an overly successful and fortunate star can also flip into debauchery and excess.

Astrology is not that much different than the Bible or other religious works in that if it is read too literally, it becomes dogma. It is up to the individual to use these tools and maps, and not let the tools use you. As the saying goes, a bad workman always blames his tools. You could also say a bad soul always blames his Saturn rising!

How To Use The Decans

Nobody really knows how astrology works, but I have been doing this long enough to recognise patterns when I see them. History repeats, cycles repeat, but we aim not to keep going around in circles but to spiral forward.

A decan can be practised at a very base level, ie; at the root chakra, survival level depending on the stage of evolution of the individual. A difficult decan can be a gift in disguise. It can be challenging like Saturn, but the universe always rewards hard work.

Another problem with traditional astrology seen through the eyes of modern astrology is that the whole chart becomes YOU. So, therefore, all the negative/unfortunate stars are also you.

This “chart-is-all-me” astrology could actually be considered quite narcissistic. The way I read a chart follows the traditional approach in which your rising decan is the only point of the chart that describes you personally. The ascendant is your persona and vehicle for this lifetime. The position and decan of the ascendant ruler is also descriptive of your personality.

The Moon’s decan describes your karma, genetic memory, your mother, how you experience the divine feminine and challenges you will face in whatever house the moon rules. The Sun’s decan describes your dharma, higher-self, your father, how you experience the divine masculine and the challenges you will face in whatever house the Sun rules.

We are essentially a trinity and the signs come in trines of elements too. 3 signs for air, earth etc.. So many religions also have this triad. The father, son and holy spirit of Christianity, Brahma in Hinduism, Mind, body & spirit of the new ager, or the triple moon goddess in the maiden, mother and crone for the pagans.

The Problem Of Dark Stars!

Horoscopes are a gateway drug to the psychedelia that is astrology. I’m not a fan of mind-altering drugs but it is quite a good analogy because it can be just as dangerous to absorb knowledge if you don’t understand the fundamentals of natural law. Astrology novices can become fearful of the power of the planets and that fear can generate a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With the internet and technology, there is easy access to drawing up your own chart and finding the meanings yourself. This is all great and can be empowering, but like looking up illness symptoms online you can also convince yourself you are doomed by your decans!

The problem is there are no longer the great universities of the past, where astrology was studied as part of a wider curriculum of philosophy, medicine, alchemy and astronomy. Knowledge was far more holistic. Nowadays most people come to astrology via sun sign columns and women’s magazines which are seen as light-hearted, harmless entertainment.

Astrology also falls under the realms of self-help/psychology too which means its supposed to make you feel better about yourself. It’s no wonder then, that a novice coming from that kind of environment balks when they read their Sun falls in Taurus decan 3 which contains scary fixed star...ALGOL!! This beauty ” causes misfortune, violence, decapitation, hanging, electrocution and mob violence, and gives a dogged and violent nature that causes death to the native or others. It is the most evil star in the heavens.” ~ Vivian Robson.

I picked Algol as my example because it is the most famous of the nasties. So… how do we deal with this? First of all, this is a general interpretation of the star. Not specific for Sun or any other planet that aligns with Algol. The most negative manifestations of this star tend to appear in event charts or in horary question charts as they describe a moment in time.

How to Overcome ‘Bad Stars’

In a natal chart, we are talking a whole lifespan so these energies could erupt only at a certain time when triggered by a planetary transit or eclipse for example. Then there is a question of what that Algol planet even represents. It may describe your partner or enemies (7th house ruler) or a parent, or your boss (10th house ruler.) Maybe it is for you to need to slay this Algol potential.

When you look at the whole of Taurus decan 3 you see there are other influences. Some planets do better here than others and it is one of many other stars here. The interpretation then is far more complex than just that one star. The tarot card for the decan must also be considered and in this case, it is not a negative card.

This decan does happen to be ruled by the greater malefic Saturn in both Chaldean and triplicity systems so you can see then that it is double dark. But Saturn is representative of Winter and in the West nothing grows much in the winter times so in that sense it is not a sunny, growth time but a resting, hibernation time.

These times can be melancholic and lonely. The point I am making is that we cannot isolate any decan and brand it unfortunate. We have to see it in context with the wheel of the year. Just like the wheel of fortune card in the tarot, luck ebbs and flows. Nature is constantly in flux and in the process of birthing and dying.

Fighting The Monster

So when we look at our own charts then, that wheel is always turning. We all have to fight the monster in the basement at some point and each time we do it makes us stronger. Someone with Taurus decan 3 as their rising decan will relish in slaying demons and will love to play devil’s advocate.

The decan’s potential may be switched on mostly when its ruler is under an outer planet transit. So with this example of Taurus, Taurus will be switched on when it is your ascendant in the solar return or by profection or when Taurus is activated as a period by zodiacal releasing. The last two are advanced techniques, but I am trying to indicate that even if you DO happen to have a somewhat challenging decan as your rising one, it still isn’t going to be active ALL the time.

Wheel Of Stars

There are other decans like Taurus decan 3 that some might regard as equally challenging. So, for those of you that have them in prominent places you need to consider they are really just one 12th of the pie of life! Yes as the ascendant they will affect you the most as it is the most personal point of the chart, but it is NOT your core being. It is the incarnation, the vehicle that you have been given.

Think of it as an acting role you have been given to play. So in the case of Taurus decan 3, you can play out both the demon slayer and the demon! A lot of us love to play the baddie anyway, and you get the most interesting lines!

The Ascendant is not the soul since we build our soul over many lifetimes. The most challenging acting parts, like these decans, just give us more grist from which to carve our diamond self. You also have the opportunity to try out other roles too during your lifetime as your ascendant also progresses through the chart.

Every 10 years we get a role change and a new decan to play with. Our root chart is always there in the background though, which is why it is called the Radix. It’s kind of our default position when we can’t be bothered to try anything new or our soul has had too much change via transits to cope with.

Now for those of us that have super-lucky rising decans don’t think you can rest on your laurels! One can easily get complacent and approach the world with an air of entitlement. Again when the chart progresses you might have to work on maintaining the decan you were born with, rather like working out at the gym to keep your figure!

As a starting point, I would place the rising decan as the most important one, followed by the decan and house position of the chart’s ruler. Traditional astrologers regard the ascendant ruler as the steersman and the chart the ship. Next in importance comes the Sun and then the Moon. The decan of your descendant should describe the sort of partner you are attracted to or tend to attract! Again look at the descendant’s ruler position for more information. Your MC decan and its ruler’s decan will describe your career. Your IC and its ruler will describe your family of origin.

Structure of Ebook

You will see as you go through the decans that some have more fixed stars than others. Not all stars have specific interpretations for the planets in them either. Therefore, some individual decan eBooks will have more pages to them. That is just how the constellations have arranged themselves and they are not uniform.

Taurus/Gemini and Scorpio/Sagittarius, in particular, seem to be the most jam-packed and this probably because they fall across the milky way. The so-called 13th sign Ophiuchus falls across latter Scorpio and Sagittarius and I found I had a lot to say about these decans. The whole book consists of 18000k words and 348 pages.

The decan eBooks start with a general meaning section followed by a list of the fixed stars in that decan and their meanings. Every 10 days I post the “Weekly Fixed Stars” which lists the fixed stars that the Sun connects with during that time. You can look at that post to get an idea of the fixed stars section. The Sun moves 1º a day.

A larger, closer to earth star will more mythology attached to it with influence over more days than a smaller, distant star. You can read more about the fixed stars themselves in the article: Using Fixed stars. After that, in the eBooks, I have listed the meanings for the Sun, Moon, Ascendant, Midheaven, Mercury, Venus and Mars within the decans.

There are also lists of famous people and events with those planets in that decan. In time I want to add Jupiter and Saturn meanings which work better on a mundane level. I possibly will add Uranus and Neptune too as Robson does actually include their meanings in his interpretations. But for now, I will give this project a rest and release the outer planet meanings as a volume 2 at some point in the future.

Until then I hope this article has given you a better idea of how to use the decans and help remove any fears of their sometimes severe interpretations. Astrology is a part of an array of divination tools, that you can use to ignite your intuition, weed out demons and know thyself. But a toolbox would not be an effective toolbox if it didn’t contain any sharp blades.

Image references. The astronomical ceiling of the tomb of Senenmut. Western Thebes. Egypt
Medieval Horoscope Wheel. Unknown origin