The Decans

In the contemplation of the constellations as living beings, a further defining which describes the interiority or inner qualities of each of these vast regions proves to be helpful. Thus, these materials include descriptions of the subdivisions of the zodiacal signs which are called decans. The 36 decans are 10 subdivisions of the zodiac, three decans in each sign.

The decans originated with the Egyptians and are referred to in an ancient text ascribed to the legendary teacher of the Egyptians, Hermes Trismegistus.1 In this text the planetary rulers of the decans are indicated (Saturn ruling the first decan of Pisces, Jupiter ruling the second decan of Pisces, Mars ruling the third decan of Pisces, etc.). The planetary rulerships describe the quality or mood of the subdivisions. These planetary rulerships assigned to the decans by Hermes were confirmed as valid by Rudolf Steiner.2


The Interchange of Venus and Mercury

These same planetary rulerships are used in the following materials, with the exception of the interchange of Mercury and Venus.

Returning to the example of the sign of Taurus: Mercury, the Moon, and Saturn are indicated as the rulers of the three decans of Taurus. For Hermes, and also for Rudolf Steiner, esoteric Mercury was understood to be the ruler of the first decan of Taurus (having to do with the cosmic unfoldment of planetary evolution).

However, in astronomical science Venus and Mercury are interchanged. This signifies that the planet called Venus in astronomical science is considered - from a modern standpoint - as the ruler of the first decan of Taurus. On this account, Mercury and Venus are interchanged throughout the decanal descriptions in this study material, as we seek to discover the relational qualities of the inner work of the decans. Therefore the study materials will refer to these planetary names as they are referred to by modern astronomy.3

Careful study of the mythology associated with the stars in each decan reveals the accurancy of this interchange. For example, as we have seen, Aldebaran (15 16') is at the center of the second Taurus decan ruled by the Moon, and the star cluster of the Pleiades (5 16') is located at the center of the first Taurus decan ruled by Venus (esoteric Mercury). Since the Pleiades are called the Seven Sisters, the rulership (influence) of this Pleiades decan by Venus can be felt as an experiential reality (quality of time).

Apart from this detail of the interchange of Venus and Mercury, the planetary rulerships of the decans referred to in the following pages are the same as those indicated by Hermes and confirmed by Rudolf Steiner.


The Greater Body of the Cosmos

As we come into a greater awareness of the cosmic realm as a relational field, we can begin to have an understanding of the relationship of the beings (constellations) which inhabit the region which surrounds the zodiacal belt as an expression of the subtle body of the zodiac. Just as the human being has a subtle body of life energy which extends beyond the physical form, the images which present themselves as beings surrounding the zodiac bring to expression the qualities of the inner work of the decans.

According to traditional astrology each of the 36 decans is associated with one or other of the 36 extra-zodiacal constellations as recorded in Ptolemy's star catalogue in the Almagest. The association is given by virtue of the constellation being located above or below the corresponding ten degree division (decan) of the zodiacal sign.

As the outer body of some constellations often comprises such a vast expanse in the heavens, their regions sometimes expand beyond a single decan. In several cases there are shared regions of influence - for example Auriga the Shepherd extends above the third decan of Taurus and the first decan of Gemini. Likewise, Orion the Hunter extends below the third decan of Taurus and the first decan of Gemini. Therefore, these two decans are associated with both Auriga and Orion. In the light of cosmic correspondences, however, Auriga is associated primarily with the third decan of Taurus and Orion is associated primarily with the first decan of Gemini, because these are the regions whose cosmic stories most magnify their unique influences.

Modern astronomy has made it possible to more accurately define this relational aspect through recording the emanations from the individual stars. These materials include the most recent research findings of Robert Powell concerning the relationship of the greater cosmos to the beings of the sidereal zodiac. This research, presented in the books Cosmic Dances of the Zodiac (coauthor: Lacquanna Paul) and Robert's PhD thesis History of the Zodiac, reveals the reality of the greater cosmos as a living productive working body of spiritual significance.



Decan Lists from Esna, Egypt

Decans First List
(Upper Registers)
Second List
(Lower Registers)

  1. *Sopdet (Sothis)
  2. *Setu
  3. *Knumet

  1. *Khery-kheped-Knumet
  2. *Het-djat
  3. *Pehwey-djat
* Khery-kheped-Knumet
* Het-djat

  1. *Tjemat
  2. *Weshaty-Bekaty
  3. *Ipsed


  1. *Sebshesen
  2. *Tepi-a Khentet
  3. *Khentet-hert

  1. Khentet-Khert
  2. Themes-en-Khentet
  3. Sapty-khenwey
Tepi-a Khentet
Hery-yeb wia


  1. *Her-ab-uaa
  2. *Seshmu
  3. *Kenemu
Sawey Seshmu

  1. Tepi-a Semed
  2. Semed
  3. Seret
Tepi-a Semed

  1. Sawey Seret
  2. Khery-kheped-Seret
  3. Tepi-a Akhwey
Sawey Seret

Tepi-a Akhwey

  1. Akhwey
  2. Tepi-a Bawey
  3. *Bawey
Tepi-a Bawey

  1. *Khentu-heriyew
  2. * Khentu-kheriyew
  3. *Sawey-Qed



  1. *Khau
  2. *Aret
  3. *Remen-hery

  1. *Tjes-areq
  2. *Waret
  3. Tepi-a Sopdet


*denotes a decan in Hephaestion's list


1 Wilhelm Gundel, Neue astrologische Texte des Hermes Trismegistos ("New Astrological Texts of Hermes Trismegistus").

2 Rudolf Steiner, Ancient Myths, pages 57-58.

3 Robert Powell, Hermetic Astrology, vol. I, pages 103-112, discusses the interchange of Venus and Mercury, and pages 238-261 elaborates upon the decans and their planetary rulers.

Copyright © 2007 Astrogeographia. All rights reserved.