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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 bakiu) are 36 groups of stars (small constellations) used in the Ancient Egyptian astronomy. They rose consecutively on the horizon throughout each 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" (and when the concept of decans reached northern India, they were called drekkana in Sanskrit.)

Decans continued to be used throughout the Renaissance in astrology and in magic, but modern astrologers almost entirely ignore them.

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.[1] 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[2] decans (36 X 10 = 360 days), plus 5 added days to compose the 365 days of a solar based year. Decans measure sidereal time and the solar year is 6 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 (Hry-ib wiA 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).[3]

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.

Eventually this system led to a system of 12 daytime hours and 12 nighttime hours, varying in length according to the season. Later, a system of 24 "equinoctial" hours was used.[4]

After astrology was introduced to Egypt, various systems attributing astrological significance to decans arose. Decans were connected, for example, with various diseases and with the timing for the engraving of talismans for curing them;[5] 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 below); and correlated with astrological signs.[6]

Descriptions of the decans[edit]

Decans are named in various Greco-Egyptian sources, many Hermetic writings, the Testament of Solomon,[7] and the writings of Aristobulus of Paneas.[8] Julius Firmicus Maternus, Cosmas of Maiuma, Joseph Justus Scaliger, and Athanasius Kircher.[7]

Images of the decans are described in Hermetic writings, by the Indian astrologer Varāhamihira, in the Picatrix, and in Japanese writings.[9] Varāhamihira's images of the decans was influenced by Greco-Egyptian, if not Hermetic, depictions of the decans by way of the Yavanajataka.[10] Their role in Japanese astrology may have derived from an earlier Chinese[11] or Indian form[12] possibly from adding the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac to a list of twenty-four hour stars.[11] They were most common between the Kamakura and Edo periods.[12]

Names of the Decans
Western Zodiac Decan Greco-Egyptian[7] Testament of Solomon[7][13][14] Aristobulus's names[8] Greek Hermeticism[15][7][16] Latin Hermeticism[17][7][16] Firmicus[7] Cosmas[7][18] Scalinger[7] Kircher[7]
Aries 1 Χont-har Rhyax or Ruax Bendonc Chenlachori Aulathamas Senator or Asiccan Aidoneus Asiccan Arueris
2 Si-ket Barsafael Mensour Chontaret Sabaoth Senacher or Asenter Persephone Senacher Anubis
3 Xont-χre Artosael or Arôtosael Carexon Siket Disornafais Sentacher or Asentacer Eros Acentacer Horus
Taurus 4 Xau Horopel Gisan Soou Jaus Suo or Asicat Charis Asicath Serapis
5 Arat Kairoxanondalon or Iudal Tourtour Aron Sarnotois Aryo or Ason die Horen Viroaso Helitomenos
6 Remen-hare Sphendonael Ballat Rhomenos Erchmubris Romanae or Arfa Litai Aharph Apophis
Gemini 7 Θosalk Sphandor Farsan Xocha Manuchos Thesogar or Tensogar Thetys Thesogar Tautus
8 Uaret Belbel Vaspan Ouari Samurois Ver or Asuae Kybele Verasua Cyclops
9 Phu-hor Kourtael or Kurtaêl Parquia Pepisoth Azuel Tepis or Atosoae Praxidike Tepisatosoa Titan
Cancer 10 Sopdet Metathiax Panem Sotheir Seneptois Sothis or Socius Nike Sothis Apollun
11 Seta Katanikotael Catarno Ouphisit Somachalmais Sith Herakles Syth Hecate
12 Knum Saphthorael or Saphathoraél Hellors Chnouphos Charmine Thiumis or Thumus Hekate Thuimis Mercophta
Leo 13 Χar-Knum Phobothel or Bobêl Jarea Chnoumos Zaloias Craumonis or Afruicois Hephaistos Aphruimis Typhon
14 Ha-tet Leroel or Kumeatêl Effraa Ipi Zachor Sic Isis Sithacer Peroeus
15 Phu-Tet Soubetti Hayas Phatiti Frich Futile or Eisie Sarapis Phuonisie Nepenthe
Virgo 16 Tom Katrax or Atrax Angaf Athoum Zamendres Thumis or Thinnis Themis Thumi Isis
17 Uste-bikot Jeropa or Ieropaêl Bethapen Brysous Magois Tophicus or Tropicus Moirai Thopitus Pi-Osiris
18 Aposot Modobel or Buldumêch Baroche Amphatham Michulais Afut or Asuth Hestia Aphut Cronus
Libra 19 Sob‿χos Madero or Naôth Zercuris Sphoukou Psineus Seuichut or Senichut Erinys Serucuth Zeuda
20 Tpa-χont Nathotho or Marderô Baham Nephthimes Chusthisis Sepisent or Atebenus Kairos Aterechinis Omphta
21 Xont-har Alath Pieret Phou Psamiatois Senta or Atepiten Loimos Arpien Ophionius
Scorpio 22 Spt-χne Audameoth Haziza Name Necbeuos Sentacer or Asente Nymphs Sentacer Arimanius
23 Sesme Nefthada Nacy Oustichos Turmantis Tepsisen or Asentatir Leto Tepiseuth Merota
24 Si-sesme Akton Alleinac Aphebis Psermes Sentineu or Aterceni(-cem) Kairos (repeated) Senicer Panotragus
Sagittarius 25 Hre-ua Anatreth Ortusa Sebos Clinothois Eregbuo or Ergbuo Loimos (repeated) Eregbuo Tolmophta
26 Sesme Enautha or Enenuth Daha Teuchmos Thursois Sagon Kore Sagen Tomras
27 Konime Axesbyth or Phêth Satan Chthisar Renethis Chenene or Chenem Ananke Chenen Teraph
Capricorn 28 Smat Hapax or Harpax Eracto Tair Renpsois Themeso Asklepios Themeso Soda
29 Srat Anoster Salac Epitek Manethois Epiemu or Epimen Hygieia Epima Riruphta
30 Si-srat Physikoreth or Alleborith Seros Epichnaus Marcois Omot Tolma Homoth Monuphta
Aquarius 31 Tpa-χu Aleureth or Hephesimireth Tonghel Isi Ularis Oro or Asoer Dike Oroasoer Brondeus
32 Xu Ichthion Anafa Sosomo Luxois Cratero or Astiro Phobos Astiro Vucula
33 Tpa-Biu Achoneoth or Agchoniôn Simos Chonoumous Crauxes Tepis or Amasiero Osiris Tepisatras Proteus
Pisces 34 Biu Autoth or Autothith Achaf Tetimo Fambais Acha or Atapiac Okeanos Archatapias Rephan
35 Xont-Har Phtheneoth or Phthenoth Larvata Sopphi Flugmois Tepibui or Tepabiu Dolos Thopibui Sourut
36 Tpi-biu Bianakith Ajaras Syro Piatris Uiu or Aatexbui Elpis Atembui Phallophorus

East Asian Zodiac[edit]

The East Asian zodiac features Decans in the form of Thirty Six Animals:[19][20]

East Asian Zodiac[19]
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][21][22] Ape ()[note 6][22] Monkey ()[note 7][22]
Rooster Raven () Chicken () Pheasant ()
Dog Dog (, see Inugami) Wolf () Ch. Dhole, Ja. Honshu wolf ()
Pig Pig ()[note 8][20] Domestic pig ( )[note 9][20] Wild boar ()[note 10][20]

Table of faces (or decanates)[edit]

There were two main versions of rulership given to the decans in the ancient world: Chaldean rulership and rulership by Triplicity.

"The Faces of the Planets" * (Lilly)[23]
Sign First Decan ruler

(0 - 9.999 deg.)

Second Decan ruler

(10 - 19.999 deg.)

Third Decan ruler

(20 - 29.999 deg.)

Aries Mars Sun Venus
Taurus Mercury Moon Saturn
Gemini Jupiter Mars Sun
Cancer Venus Mercury Moon
Leo Saturn Jupiter Mars
Virgo Sun Venus Mercury
Libra Moon Saturn Jupiter
Scorpio Mars Sun Venus
Sagittarius Mercury Moon Saturn
Capricorn Jupiter Mars Sun
Aquarius Venus Mercury Moon
Pisces Saturn Jupiter Mars

* as used as an essential dignity in astrology.

Notice that rulerships follow a repeating pattern, the so-called "Chaldean" order of the planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. This planetary order, in which the Sun stands at the center of the continuum, with the planets between the Sun and the Earth on one side and the outer planets on the other side, reflected the perception of the speed of each planet's motion as seen from the Earth.

"The Faces of the Planets" * (Triplicity)
Sign First Decan ruler

(0 - 9.999 deg.)

Second Decan ruler

(10 - 19.999 deg.)

Third Decan ruler

(20 - 29.999 deg.)

Aries Mars Sun Jupiter
Taurus Venus Mercury Saturn
Gemini Mercury Venus Saturn
Cancer Moon Mars Jupiter
Leo Sun Jupiter Mars
Virgo Mercury Saturn Venus
Libra Venus Saturn Mercury
Scorpio Mars Jupiter Moon
Sagittarius Jupiter Mars Sun
Capricorn Saturn Venus Mercury
Aquarius Saturn Mercury Venus
Pisces Jupiter Moon Mars

Decans or "faces" are the least important of the essential dignities, representing about one-fifteenth of a planet's overall strength in medieval astrology.

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).[24]

The iconography and use of the drekkana’s 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.[25]

There are multiple types of drekkana in use in Indian astrology. The parivritti drekkana goes in order of the signs; the first decan is Aries, the second is Taurus, the third is Gemini, the fourth is Cancer, etc. Then there is the trinal calculation which utilizes the elemental trines to each sign; In Aries there is Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, while in Taurus there is Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. There are in total four variations of drekkana calculations. Indian astrologers will calculate these signs (varga) and create a new chart based upon the sign placement for predictive purposes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Bakeneko
  2. ^ See Tanuki
  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. ^ Symons, S.L., Cockcroft, R., Bettencourt, J. and Koykka, C., 2013. Ancient Egyptian Astronomy [Online database] Diagonal Star Tables
  2. ^ von Bomhard, Dr. A. S., The Egyptian Calendar a Work for Eternity, London 1999, page 51
  3. ^ Symons, S.L. A Star’s Year: The Annual Cycle in the Ancient Egyptian Sky in: Steele, J.M. (Ed.), Calendars and Years: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient World. Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp. 1-33.
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ see for example, RUELLE, C. E., 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
  6. ^ Julius Firmicus Maternus, Matheseos IV/22.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Gundel, p. 406-408
  9. ^ Gundel, p.223-225
  10. ^ "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
  11. ^ a b Gundel, p. 217-221
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Gundel, p.49-62
  14. ^ The Testament of Solomon, translated by Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare, Jewish Quarterly Review, October, 1898. Ed. Joseph Peterson, 1997, Esoteric Archives
  15. ^ "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
  16. ^ a b Gundel, p.374-383
  17. ^ "Hermes Trismegistus: Liber Hermetis, Book I" trans. Robert Zoller, ed. Robert Hand, p.iii-12
  18. ^ Gundel, p.353-354
  19. ^ a b 三十六禽 (Thirty-Six Animals) in the Buddhist Dictionary hosted by Buddhistdoor International
  20. ^ a b c d Gundel, p. 216-221, 225
  21. ^ The gibbon in China: an essay in Chinese animal lore by Robert van Gulik, Brill Publishers, 1967, p.31
  22. ^ a b c Bencao Gangmu: Compendium of Materia Medica, tr. Luo Xiwen, Foreign Languages Press, 2003, p.4124
  23. ^ William Lilly, Christian Astrology (London, 1647), pp. 104, 105.
  24. ^ Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary
  25. ^ 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 – via JSTOR. (registration required (help)). 

Further reading[edit]

  • Symons, Sarah (2014). "Egyptian "Star Clocks"". In Ruggles, Clive L.N. 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 – via JSTOR. (registration required (help)). 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]