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'Diagonal star table' from the late 11th Dynasty coffin lid; found at Asyut, Egypt. Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim

The decans (/ˈdɛkənz/; Egyptian bꜣktw or baktiu, "[those] connected with work"[1]) are 36 groups of stars (small constellations) used in the ancient Egyptian astronomy to conveniently divide the 360 degree ecliptic into 36 parts of 10 degrees each, both for theurgical and helialical horological purposes. The decans each appeared, geocentrically, to rise consecutively on the horizon throughout each daily earth rotation. The rising of each decan marked the beginning of a new decanal "hour" (Greek hōra) of the night for the ancient Egyptians, and they were used as a sidereal star clock beginning by at least the 9th or 10th Dynasty (c. 2100 BCE).

Because a new decan also appears heliacally every ten days (that is, every ten days, a new decanic star group reappears in the eastern sky at dawn right before the Sun rises, after a period of being obscured by the Sun's light), the ancient Greeks called them dekanoi (δεκανοί; pl. of δεκανός dekanos) or "tenths".

Decans gave way to a lunar division of 27 or 28 lunar stations, also known as manzil, lunar mansions or nakshatras and thence to a zodiac of 12 signs, based on an anthropomorphic pattern of constellations,[2] and their use can be seen in the Dendera zodiac dated to circa 50 BCE.[3]

Decans continued to be used in astrology in medieval Islam, Renaissance, 17-century astrology, 19-century Theosophy, and in cosmology, astrology, theurgy, and hermeticism, as well as in religion and magic.[citation needed]

Era: Middle Kingdom
(2055–1650 BC)
Egyptian hieroglyphs

Ancient Egyptian origins[edit]

Astronomical ceiling of Senemut Tomb showing various decans, as well as the personified representations of stars and constellations

Decans first appeared in the 10th Dynasty (2100 BCE) on coffin lids.[4] The sequence of these star patterns began with Sothis (Sirius), and each decan contained a set of stars and corresponding divinities. As measures of time, the rising and setting of decans marked 'hours' and groups of 10 days which comprised an Egyptian year. The ancient Book of Nut covers the subject of the decans.

There were 36[5] decans (36 × 10 = 360 days), plus five added days to compose the 365 days of a solar based year. Decans measure sidereal time and the solar year is six hours longer; the Sothic and solar years in the Egyptian calendar realign every 1460 years. Decans represented on coffins from later dynasties (such as King Seti I) compared with earlier decan images demonstrate the Sothic-solar shift.

According to Sarah Symons

Although we know the names of the decans, and in some cases can translate the names (ḥry-ỉb wỉꜣ means 'in the centre of the boat') the locations of the decanal stars and their relationships to modern star names and constellations are not known. This is due to many factors, but key problems are the uncertainty surrounding the observation methods used to develop and populate the diagonal star tables, and the criteria used to select decans (brightness, position, relationship with other stars, and so on).[6]

Later developments[edit]

These predictable heliacal re-appearances by the decans were eventually used by the Egyptians to mark the divisions of their annual solar calendar. Thus the heliacal rising of Sirius marked the annual flooding of the Nile.

This method led to a system of 12 daytime hours and 12 nighttime hours, varying in length according to the season. Later,[when?] a system of 24 "equinoctial" hours was used.[7]

After Hellenistic astrology arose in Alexandria, recorded principally in the work of Claudius Ptolemy and Vettius Valens, various systems attributing symbolic significance to decans arose and linked these to the "wandering stars" and the "Lights": the Sun, Moon, Mercury Venus, Mars as well as Jupiter and Saturn. Decans were connected, for example, with the winds, the four directions, the sect (day or night,) male and female, as well as the four humours (elements;) also these were hermetically considered linked with various diseases and with the timing for the engraving of talismans for curing them;[8] with decanic "faces" (or "phases"), a system where three decans are assigned to each zodiacal sign, each covering 10° of the zodiac, and each ruled by a planetary ruler (see Decan (astrology)); and correlated with astrological signs.[9]

Descriptions of the decans[edit]

Decans are named in various Greco-Egyptian sources, many Hermetic writings, the Testament of Solomon,[10] and the writings of Aristobulus of Paneas.[11] Julius Firmicus Maternus, Cosmas of Maiuma, Joseph Justus Scaliger, and Athanasius Kircher.[10]

Images of the decans are described in Hermetic writings, by the Indian astrologer Varāhamihira, in the Picatrix, and in Japanese writings.[12] Varāhamihira's images of the decans was influenced by Greco-Egyptian, if not Hermetic, depictions of the decans by way of the Yavanajataka.[13] Their role in Japanese astrology may have derived from an earlier Chinese[14] or Indian form[15] possibly from adding the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac to a list of twenty-four hour stars.[14] They were most common between the Kamakura and Edo periods.[15]

The first original decan position due to the precession in ancient times started at 0° of Cancer when the heliacal rising of Sirius (Egyptian Sepdet; Greco-Egyptian: Sothis) on sunset like Jewish and Islamic calendars marking the Egyptian New Year and now the 1st decan falls on 0° of Leo at July 20 in the Julian calendar, that is July 22/23 on the Gregorian calendar.[citation needed]

Names of the Decans
Western Zodiac Decan Original Decan Position due to the Precession in Ancient Times Ancient Egyptian Transliteration [Ptolemaic Variant Transliteration][16] Greco-Egyptian[10] Testament of Solomon[10][17][18] Aristobulus's names[11] Greek Hermeticism[10][19][20] Latin Hermeticism[10][20][21] Firmicus[10] Cosmas[10][22] Scalinger[10] Kircher[10]
Aries 1 28 Χont-har Rhyax or Ruax Bendonc Chenlachori Aulathamas Senator or Asiccan Aidoneus Asiccan Arueris
2 29 Sasaqed


Si-ket Barsafael Mensour Chontaret Sabaoth Senacher or Asenter Persephone Senacher Anubis
3 30 Xont-χre Artosael or Arôtosael Carexon Siket Disornafais Sentacher or Asentacer Eros Acentacer Horus
Taurus 4 31 Khau

[Erō, Aro'ou]

Xau Horopel Gisan Soou Jaus Suo or Asicat Charis Asicath Serapis
5 32 Ārt


Arat Kairoxanondalon or Iudal Tourtour Aron Sarnotois Aryo or Ason die Horen Viroaso Helitomenos
6 33 Remen-Ḥeru-An-Saḥ


Remen-hare Sphendonael Ballat Rhomenos Erchmubris Romanae or Arfa Litai Aharph Apophis
Gemini 7 34 Mesdjer-Saḥ


Θosalk Sphandor Farsan Xocha Manuchos Thesogar or Tensogar Thetys Thesogar Tautus
8 35 Remen-Kher-Saḥ


Uaret Belbel Vaspan Ouari Samurois Ver or Asuae Kybele Verasua Cyclops
9 36 A-Saḥ


Phu-hor Kourtael or Kurtaêl Parquia Pepisoth Azuel Tepis or Atosoae Praxidike Tepisatosoa Titan
Cancer 10 1 (= 0' Cancer) Sepdet


Sopdet Metathiax Panem Sotheir Seneptois Sothis or Socius Nike Sothis Apollun
11 2 Depā-Kenmut


Seta Katanikotael Catarno Ouphisit Somachalmais Sith Herakles Syth Hecate
12 3 Kenmut


Knum Saphthorael or Saphathoraél Hellors Chnouphos Charmine Thiumis or Thumus Hekate Thuimis Mercophta
Leo 13 4 Kher-Khept-Kenmut


Χar-Knum Phobothel or Bobêl Jarea Chnoumos Zaloias Craumonis or Afruicois Hephaistos Aphruimis Typhon
14 5 Ḥā-Djat


Ha-tet Leroel or Kumeatêl Effraa Ipi Zachor Sic Isis Sithacer Peroeus
15 6 Peḥui-Djat


Phu-Tet Soubetti Hayas Phatiti Frich Futile or Eisie Sarapis Phuonisie Nepenthe
Virgo 16 7 Tjemat-Ḥert


Tom Katrax or Atrax Angaf Athoum Zamendres Thumis or Thinnis Themis Thumi Isis
17 8 Tjemat-Khert


Uste-bikot Jeropa or Ieropaêl Bethapen Brysous Magois Tophicus or Tropicus Moirai Thopitus Pi-Osiris
18 9 Ustji


Aposot Modobel or Buldumêch Baroche Amphatham Michulais Afut or Asuth Hestia Aphut Cronus
Libra 19 10 Bekatji


Sob‿χos Madero or Naôth Zercuris Sphoukou Psineus Seuichut or Senichut Erinys Serucuth Zeuda
20 11 Depā-Khentet


Tpa-χont Nathotho or Marderô Baham Nephthimes Chusthisis Sepisent or Atebenus Kairos Aterechinis Omphta
21 12 Xont-har Alath Pieret Phou Psamiatois Senta or Atepiten Loimos Arpien Ophionius
Scorpio 22 13 Sapt-Khennu


Spt-χne Audameoth Haziza Name Necbeuos Sentacer or Asente Nymphs Sentacer Arimanius
23 14 Sesme Nefthada Nacy Oustichos Turmantis Tepsisen or Asentatir Leto Tepiseuth Merota
24 15 Si-sesme Akton Alleinac Aphebis Psermes Sentineu or Aterceni(-cem) Kairos (repeated) Senicer Panotragus
Sagittarius 25 16 Ḥer-Ab-Uia


Hre-ua Anatreth Ortusa Sebos Clinothois Eregbuo or Ergbuo Loimos (repeated) Eregbuo Tolmophta
26 17 Sesme Enautha or Enenuth Daha Teuchmos Thursois Sagon Kore Sagen Tomras
27 18 Kenmu


Konime Axesbyth or Phêth Satan Chthisar Renethis Chenene or Chenem Ananke Chenen Teraph
Capricorn 28 19 Semdet


Smat Hapax or Harpax Eracto Tair Renpsois Themeso Asklepios Themeso Soda
29 20 Sert


Srat Anoster Salac Epitek Manethois Epiemu or Epimen Hygieia Epima Riruphta
30 21 Sasa-Sert


Si-srat Physikoreth or Alleborith Seros Epichnaus Marcois Omot Tolma Homoth Monuphta
Aquarius 31 22 Khukhu


Tpa-χu Aleureth or Hephesimireth Tonghel Isi Ularis Oro or Asoer Dike Oroasoer Brondeus
32 23 Baba


Xu Ichthion Anafa Sosomo Luxois Cratero or Astiro Phobos Astiro Vucula
33 24 Tpa-Biu Achoneoth or Agchoniôn Simos Chonoumous Crauxes Tepis or Amasiero Osiris Tepisatras Proteus
Pisces 34 25 Biu Autoth or Autothith Achaf Tetimo Fambais Acha or Atapiac Okeanos Archatapias Rephan
35 26 Xont-Har Phtheneoth or Phthenoth Larvata Sopphi Flugmois Tepibui or Tepabiu Dolos Thopibui Sourut
36 27 Tpi-biu Bianakith Ajaras Syro Piatris Uiu or Aatexbui Elpis Atembui Phallophorus

In astrology[edit]

Ancient cosmology and astronomy were inextricably bound up with omen lore and hence astrology. Within the many different traditions of astrology that principally arose ― more formally out of Alexandria ― there are several systems of decans linked to both the traditional Hellenistic five "wandering stars" (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and to the two "lights": the Sun and Moon; as well as, more recently, the inclusion of the trans Saturnians: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto).[citation needed] The use of these decans are described in Decan (astrology).

East Asian zodiac[edit]

The East Asian zodiac features decans in the form of thirty-six calendar animals (Sanjūroku Kingyōzō 三十六禽形像; alternatively known as the Chikusan Reiki 畜産暦). The group originated in China, wherein the 36 were divided into four clusters, with each cluster made up of nine animal-deity pairs. The four clusters represent the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west). The animals are also grouped in triads—three animals are combined under one of 12 zodiac signs. In Japan, the group appeared in the Nichū Reki 二中暦, a Japanese calendar from the second half of the 14th century. Eight of the 36 appear “fox like”—almost identical in physical attributes. These eight include the tanuki, mujna, fox, wolf, jackal, wild cat, and wild male-female dogs. The mujina, fox and rabbit are combined under the zodiacal sign of the rabbit. The tanuki, leopard, and tiger are combined under the zodiacal sign of the tiger.[23][24]

East Asian Zodiac[24]
Zodiac First animal Second animal Third animal
Rat Cat ()[note 1] Rat () Bat (伏翼)
Ox Cattle () Crab () Turtle ()
Tiger Raccoon dog ()[note 2] Leopard () Tiger ()
Rabbit Fox ()[note 3] Rabbit () Badger ()[note 4]
Dragon Dragon () Shark () Fish ()
Snake Cicada () Carp () Snake ()
Horse Deer (鹿) Horse () Roebuck ()
Goat Sheep () Goose () Hawk or falcon ()
Monkey Gibbon ()[note 5][25][26] Ape ()[note 6][26] Monkey ()[note 7][26]
Rooster Raven () Chicken () Pheasant ()
Dog Dog (, see Inugami) Wolf () Ch. Dhole, Ja. Honshu wolf ()
Pig Pig ()[note 8][23] Domestic pig ( )[note 9][23] Wild boar ()[note 10][23]

Ancient India[edit]

In India, the division of the zodiac into 36 ten degree portions is called either the drekkana (drekkāṇa),the dreshkana (dreṣkāṇa), or the drikana (dṛkāṇa).[27]

The iconography and use of the drekkanas is mention earliest by Sphujidhvaja in Yavanajataka (269-70 CE), and given detailed treatment by Varahamihira in his Brihat-Samhita (550 CE). Modern scholars believe the decans were imported into India through the Greeks, who learned about them from the Egyptians.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Bakeneko
  2. ^ See Bake-danuki
  3. ^ See Huli Jing and Kitsune
  4. ^ See Mujina
  5. ^ See "You"
  6. ^ See "Yuan"
  7. ^ See "Hou"
  8. ^ Gundel swaps this with the next entry
  9. ^ Gundel lists this as "Tier Yu" or "Yu animal," describing it as a wolf-like
  10. ^ Gundel gives Swallow


  1. ^ Keyser, Paul; Scarborough, With John (26 June 2018). The Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World. ISBN 9780190878832.
  2. ^ Ptolemy (1940). Tetrabiblos. Book I Part 18. Translated by Frank Egleston Robbins. Cambridge, MA: Loeb. Retrieved 2021-07-05.
  3. ^ Priskin, Gyula (2016). "The Astral Myth of Osiris: the Decans of Taurus and Libra" (PDF). ENiM (9): 79–111. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  4. ^ Symons, S. L., Cockcroft, R., Bettencourt, J. and Koykka, C. (2013). Ancient Egyptian Astronomy [Online database] Diagonal Star Tables
  5. ^ von Bomhard, Dr. A. S., The Egyptian Calendar: A Work for Eternity, London, 1999, page 51
  6. ^ Symons, S. L. "A Star's Year: The Annual Cycle in the Ancient Egyptian Sky". Archived 2013-06-15 at the Wayback Machine. In: Steele, J. M. (ed.), Calendars and Years: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient World. Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp. 1–33.
  7. ^ Neugebauer, Otto (1983) [1955]. "The Egyptian "Decans"". Astronomy and History: Selected Essays. New York: Springer. pp. 205–209. doi:10.1007/978-1-4612-5559-8. ISBN 978-0-387-90844-1. Neugebauer, Otto (1969) [1957]. The Exact Sciences in Antiquity (2 ed.). Dover Publications. pp. 81–88. ISBN 978-0-486-22332-2.
  8. ^ see for example, RUELLE, C. E., on the pseudepigraphical Hermès Trismégiste, Le livre sacré sur les décans. Texte, variantes et traduction française, Revue de philologie, de littérature et d'histoire anciennes, n.s.:32:4 (1908:oct.) p .247
  9. ^ Julius Firmicus Maternus, Matheseos IV/22.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Dekane und Dekansterbilder by Wilhelm Gundel, pub. J.J. Augustin, Glückstadt und Hamburg, 1936, p.77-81
  11. ^ a b Gundel, p. 406-408
  12. ^ Gundel, p.223-225
  13. ^ "The Indian Iconography of the Decans and Horâs" by David Pingree, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 26, no. 3/4 (1963), p. 223-254
  14. ^ a b Gundel, p. 217-221
  15. ^ a b "Bukkyō tenbugaku-senseijutsu no zuzō gakuteki junmen: sanjū rokkin to Dekan" by Yano Michio, Dōshisha daigaku rikō kenkyū hōkoku, 48, no 4 (2008), 1-6.
  16. ^ Budge, E. A. Wallis (Ernest Alfred Wallis) (1904-01-01). The gods of the Egyptians; or, Studies in Egyptian mythology. Chicago : Open Court Publishing Co.
  17. ^ Gundel, p.49-62
  18. ^ The Testament of Solomon, translated by Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare, Jewish Quarterly Review, October, 1898. Ed. Joseph Peterson, 1997, Esoteric Archives
  19. ^ "Hermès Trismégiste: Le Livré Sacre sur les Décans: Texte, variantes et traduction française" by C.E. Ruelle, Revue de Philologie October 1908, p.247-277
  20. ^ a b Gundel, p.374-383
  21. ^ "Hermes Trismegistus: Liber Hermetis, Book I" trans. Robert Zoller, ed. Robert Hand, p.iii-12
  22. ^ Gundel, p.353-354
  23. ^ a b c d Gundel, p. 216-221, 225
  24. ^ a b "三十六禽" [Thirty-Six Animals]. Buddhist Dictionary. Buddhistdoor International. Archived from the original on 2015-02-18. Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  25. ^ The gibbon in China: an essay in Chinese animal lore by Robert van Gulik, Brill Publishers, 1967, p.31
  26. ^ a b c Bencao Gangmu: Compendium of Materia Medica, tr. Luo Xiwen, Foreign Languages Press, 2003, p.4124
  27. ^ Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary
  28. ^ Pingree, David (1963). "The Indian Iconography of the decans and Horas". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 26 (3/4): 223–254. doi:10.2307/750493. JSTOR 750493.

Further reading[edit]

  • Christian, Paul. "The Thirty-Six Decans". The History and Practice of Magic. pp. 476–478 – via
  • Symons, Sarah (2014). "Egyptian 'Star Clocks'". In Ruggles, Clive L.N. (ed.). Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy. New York: Springer. pp. 1495–1500. ISBN 978-1-4614-6140-1.
  • van der Waerden, B. L. (January 1949). "Babylonian Astronomy. II. The Thirty-Six Stars". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 8 (1): 6–26. doi:10.1086/370901. JSTOR 542436. S2CID 222443741. The property of the Chaldean Decans that one of them rose every ten days made them fit to be assimilated to the Egyptian decans. This assimilation was performed in the decan lists of Hellenistic astrology.

External links[edit]