The Decans in Astrology

© 2004 Benjamin Dykes, PhD


In this brief essay I will explain the history and some of the meanings and uses of the astrological decans. It is not a complete survey, and there are other sources I have not checked. It is mainly designed to give a student of the Western Mystery Tradition a general introduction.

The decans originally started out as calendar devices: they were ways of keeping track of how much of the heavens had turned, day to day. And since they were measured by the rising and setting of certain stars or groups of stars, and since stars were often thought to be alive or have intelligent power, the decans were associated with deities. Later, when horoscopic astrology was invented, they were thought of as astrologically very important for a few centuries. Then their importance clearly waned.[1] Their earlier status as important divisions of the heavens and as associated with star beings remained alive in talismanic magic (e.g., the Picatrix), but in astrology they became only minor dignities and played special roles only in astrological medicine and physiognomy.[2]

Section I: Astronomy and Horoscopic Astrology

Astronomical Background

Before the Greek invention of horoscopic astrology in the first few centuries B.C., the Babylonian and Egyptian traditions of star-gazing and omens did not focus so exclusively on the zodiac. As the heavens turned from east to west (called “primary motion” in astrology), different constellations rose, culminated, and fell, depending on one’s latitude and the season of the year. Originally, the Egyptians associated 36 constellations with the calendar (non-zodiacal).[3]

They were also used for calendrical purposes: each day, for ten days, the Egyptians would note what stars were rising with the sun. After ten days, they’d consider it the start of the next decan. But it is clear that the Egyptians hadn’t regularized the decans into degrees.[4] For it makes sense geometrically to have 36 decans of ten degrees each. But since the year is 365 days long (actually 365 ¼), the actual length of the year in days (by which they measured the decans) does not match the number of degrees in a circle. Very quickly the calendar would break down.[5]

When Greek scientists and astrologers began to synthesize prior traditions and added systematic innovations of their own, dividing the sky according to the zodiac became more common, and the decanal system was shifted onto it. They immediately became part of astrology, with three decans of 10 degrees each being assigned to each zodiacal sign.[6]

The decans also seem to have been associated with star deities during this period. The ancients not only attributed divine power to planets, but also to stars (or at least, significant stars). The decans were, or represented the power of, star deities, and pictures of the deities associated with them can be found.[7] Bruce Malina (see bibliography) shows in great detail that virtually every being and image in the Revelation of St. John in the New Testament is a celestial object, from constellations, to comets, to planets, to individual stars, including the decans (whom he associates with the 24 Seniors),[8] all of which reaches back to Babylonian star-gazing and star-worship. On the ancient view, it made sense to read stories of intelligent drama into the stars, based on the relationship of the stars to each other, and if Malina (and others) are right, John is reinterpreting stars’ and comets’ natures and relationships to reveal God’s plan.

It was in Hellenistic astrology (from the first few centuries B.C. until approximately the 1st century A.D.) that the decans played a prominent role in astrology. The Roman astrologer Firmicus Maternus (3rd - 4th century A.D.) says the decans have “infinite power and freedom in indicating the fates of men.”[9] But the Greeks didn’t get very far with the matter (Firmicus p. 36). Following are a few ways astrologers used them:

Unlucky/Lucky Births and the Ascendant. As a holdover from the Egyptian era, some of the decans were considered lucky or unlucky.[10] Consequently, the decan that was rising on the horizon at birth was taken to indicate whether a native would have a good or bad life. This was the basis for the later importance of the horoscope (the zodiacal degree on the horizon at birth) and the Ascendant (the zodiacal sign rising at birth) and the houses.[11]

Medical Astrology. The notion of the decans as indicating lucky or unlucky lives, along with the Stoic notion of the heavens as being a sort of cosmic body (corresponding to our human bodies), led to the idea that each decan was associated with a certain part of the human body. Consequently, the decans in which the malefic planets (Mars and Saturn) or the horoscope were at birth, indicated the parts of the body one could expect ailments to strike. The first decan of Aries was associated with parts of the head, and so on through the zodiac, whose last decan in Pisces related to the feet. Astrologers also used these medical notions to predict whether children would have birth defects (“monstrous births”).[12] Ultimately, the decans were used to predict the health, success, body structure, and personality of the native. Holden’s translation of Hephaestio of Thebes’s view of the 2nd decan of Cancer reads that a native with this decan rising will be reared “richly and of better parents, and he will see the deaths of his brothers; and he will be a public man and he will be held in honor…[and] small in stature, swarthy, his beard thin,” et cetera.[13]

Leitourgoi: Rulership by Spirits? Early on in the development of Greek astrology, each decan was further divided into three parts (making nine per zodiacal sign), which were called leitourgoi (ministers) or munifices (duty-officers).[14] It is unknown where this division came from, but they clearly derive from the earlier Babylonian star-worship and attribution of deities to the decans. Firmicus says they are attributed to the decans by “some who wish to elaborate [the decans] in more detail.”[15] Holden says they may have been the origin of the Hindu division of signs into ninths, called navamsas.[16] Now, munifices or leitourgoi in politics were officials who carried out official duties assigned them by a superior. And so Firmicus says that the munifices have an infinite number of powers of divinities, decreeing accidents, pains, sicknesses, unexpected events, and monstrous births.[17] Holden reports the Hermetica as saying there are stars which travel in heaven and obey the decans (viz., the leitourgoi); the leitourgoi are servants and private soldiers under the command of the decans.[18]

It is unclear what exactly the ancient astrologers thought leitourgoi or munifices were. Were they just further subdivisions of the signs, so that the notion that they were “divinities” or “officials” was meant to be metaphorical, like planets “ruling” signs or “receiving” one another? Or did they believe that celestial spirits, possibly accessible through magical means, were influential through certain parts of the sky?

Weather Prediction. Some ancient and medieval sources also say that weather can be predicted by the decans, though they incorporate fixed stars outside the zodiac, along with complicated rules for weather prediction.[19] In this case, we are probably seeing a combination of old Babylonian-Egyptian omen and weather prediction, and new zodiacal Greek astrology.

Mundane Astrology. The decans were also used, along with fixed stars and other constellations, to predict world events. Al-Biruni says the Greeks also associated some of the 48 constellations to the decans, depending on what was rising at the time. But they did it for the purposes of mundane astrology peculiar to a given country, and they left no instruction as to how to do it.[20]

Systems of Rulership. There were two versions of rulership given to the decans in the ancient world: I will call these Chaldean rulership,[21] and rulership by triplicity.[22] The Chaldean rulership orders the planets by planetary speed, and associates them in order with the decans, starting with Mars as the ruler of the first decan of Aries, and then working around the zodiac:

Chaldean Decans

Aries Decan 1


Aries Decan 2


Aries Decan 3


Taurus Decan 1


Taurus Decan 2


Taurus Decan 3


In this scheme, Mars winds up ruling both the first decan of Aries and the last decan of Pisces, thereby ruling two decans in a row.

The scheme of rulership by triplicity assigns the domicile ruler (the sign ruler) to the first decan of any given sign, and then the domicile/sign rulers of the other two signs of that element to the remaining ones, in order. For instance: Aries is a fire sign, ruled by Mars. So Mars rules the first decan of Aries.[23] The next fire sign, in order, is Leo, ruled by the Sun. So the Sun rules the second decan of Aries. The next fire sign is Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter; so Jupiter rules the third decan. Taurus is an earth sign, ruled by Venus. So Venus also rules the first decan, Mercury the second, and Saturn the third.

What may be unfamiliar to modern students of astrology in these schemata is a layered notion of rulership. Traditionally, any given degree of the zodiac has multiple rulers, depending on whether it is considered as a member of the sign, or a member of a decan – or a member of a triplicity, term, or exaltation (three other traditional types of rulership). Similarly, in real life we all have many masters, some more powerful and some less.

Decline of the Decans in Horoscopic Astrology

As time went on, the decans declined in their significance for astrologers. So Firmicus Maternus does report that if a planet is traveling through a decan it rules, it acts as though, and accomplishes the same things as when, it is in its own sign.[24] But astrologers were rarely if ever considering the decans as being so influential.[25] They often considered the term rulers as important, but more often than not the decans were the least and last of the rulerships considered in astrological judgment – aside from special techniques such as in medical astrology.[26]

Section II: The Images of the Decans (“Faces”)

The decans were also called (or had associated with them, it is unclear) “faces” or “figures,” because the Greeks, Hindus, and Babylonians attributed a human or divine figure to each one.[27] These figures clearly have a religious background, as some sources attribute gods to them[28] (and my guess is that they could be related to the leitourgoi or munifices, see above). Later, the images were used for magical purposes (i.e., the Picatrix, and Agrippa).

Following are three versions of the images associated with the decans:

  • Ibn Ezra’s description of “the Hindus’” images. These are more motley images, often featuring animals and humans with animal parts.
  • The Picatrix’s images. These often include the animals or unusual features of “the Hindus’” images, but come with more explicit meanings similar to Agrippa’s.
  • Agrippa’s versions of the images, along with what they signify. These lose their animal symbolism, are more streamlined, and come with specific meanings relating to human emotions and pursuits.

I have compared the descriptions to the constellations that rise with the decans, as well as the two systems of decan rulership (by Chaldean order or speed, and by the rulers of the triplicity), but have so far been unable to find consistent reasons why the images and meanings are what they are, both between different decans and in terms of how the three sources differ. The answer may lie in the divinities associated with the decans, sources for which I have so far not consulted.

First Decan of Aries

  • Ibn Ezra: A head in the form of a dog with a candle in its left hand and a key in its right hand. Banbakha[29] says it is a Moor; his eyes are black, and his eyebrows are stright, and he is of the giants’ race. He is self-laudatory and is wrapped in a large white cloak with a rope girdle on it; he is irascible and stands on his feet.
  • Picatrix: The form of a black man, restless and great in body having red eyes and holding a cutting axe in his hand, girded about with white garment; and there is great worth in this face. And this is a face of strength, high rank, and wealth without difference.
  • Agrippa: A black man, standing and clothed in a white garment, girdled about, of a great body, with reddish eyes, and great strength, and like one that is angry; and this image signifieth and causeth boldness, fortitude, loftiness, and shamelessness.

Second Decan of Aries

  • Ibn Ezra: The figure of a women draped in clothes and a mantle, and she has one leg, and she has the form of a horse.
  • Picatrix: A woman dressed in green clothes and lacking in one leg. And this is a face of high rank, nobility, worth, and kingship.
  • Agrippa: A woman, outwardly clothed with a red garment, and under it a white, spreading abroad over her feet, and this image causeth nobleness, height of a kingdom, and greatness of dominion.

Third Decan of Aries

  • Ibn Ezra: A yellow man whose hair is reddish, and he is irascible and contentious, and in his hand are bracelets of wood and a wand, and his clothes are red, and he is a blacksmith, and he desires to do good but he cannot.
  • Picatrix: An inquiet man holding in his hands a gold bracelet, and dressed in red clothes, who desires to do good and is not able. And this face is one of subtlety, and of subtle professions, and of new things and instruments, and the like.
  • Agrippa: A white man, pale, with reddish hair, and clothed with a red garment, who carrying on the one hand a golden bracelet, and holding forth a wooden staff, is restless, and like one in wrath, because he cannot perform the good he would. This image bestoweth wit, meekness, joy and beauty.

First Decan of Taurus

  • Ibn Ezra: A woman with hair, who has a son, and who wears clothes partly burnt.
  • Picatrix: A woman of curly hair, having a single child who is dressed in clothes like unto fire, and she herself dressed in similar clothes. And this is a face of plowing and working the earth, of sciences, geometry, of sowing seed, and making things.
  • Agrippa: A naked man, an archer, harvester, or husbandman, and goeth forth to sow, plough, build, people and divide the earth, according to the rules of geometry.

Second Decan of Taurus

  • Ibn Ezra: A man that resembles a ram in his face and in his body, who has a wife that resembles an ox. His fingers are like goat’s hoofs, and that man is very hot and gluttonous, and does not give his soul any rest. He builds land and drives the oxen to plow and sow.
  • Picatrix: A man like the figure of a camel and having on his fingers are hooves like those of cows, and he is covered completely with a torn linen sheet. He desires to work the land, to sow, and to make things. And this is a face of nobility, power, and of rewarding the people.
  • Agrippa: A naked man, holding in his hand a key; it giveth power, nobility, and dominion over people.

Third Decan of Taurus

  • Ibn Ezra: A man whose feet are white and so are his teeth, which are so long that they can be seen outside his lips. His complexion is reddish and so is his hair, and his body resembles that of an elephant and a lion, and he is not reasonable, and all his thoughts are toward evil, and he is sitting propped up. There also ascends a horse, and a dog, and a small calf.
  • Picatrix: A man of ruddy coloring with large, which teeth appearing outside of his mouth, and a body like an elephant whose legs are long; and there ascends with him one horse, one dog, and one calf. And this is a face of laziness, poverty, misery, and fear.
  • Agrippa: A man in whose hand is a serpent, and a dart, and is the image of necessity and profit, and also of misery and slavery.

First Decan of Gemini

  • Ibn Ezra: A beautiful woman standing in the air, and she can sew.
  • Picatrix: A beautiful woman, a mistress of sewing; and with her ascends two calves and two horses. And this is a face of the art of the scribe, of reckoning, of number, of giving and receiving [i.e., trade], and of the sciences.
  • Agrippa: A man in whose hand is a rod, and he is, as it were, serving another; it granteth wisdom, and the knowledge of numbers and arts in which there is no profit.[30]

Second Decan of Gemini

  • Ibn Ezra: A black man with his head bound in lead, and a weapon in his hand, and an iron helmet of his head, and on the helmet there is a silk crown, and in his hand a bow and arrows. He likes ridicule and mockery, and he walks around in a garden that has trees and flowers, and in his hand scales stones. He strikes them with his hand, and plays music, and picks flowers from the garden.
  • Picatrix: A man whose face is like an eagle and his head is covered with a linen cloth; he is garbed and protected in a leaden cuirass, and on his head an iron helmet upon which is a silken wreath; and he is holding in his hand a bow and arrows. And this is a face of burden and also of evils and of subtlety.
  • Agrippa: A man in whose hand is a pipe, and another being bowed down, digging the earth; and they signify infamous and dishonest agility, as that of jesters and jugglers; it also signifies labours and painful searchings.

Third Decan of Gemini:

  • Ibn Ezra: A man seeking arms who has a bow and a quiver, and in his hand an arrow and clothing and golden ornaments, and he desires to play music and laugh and mock in all sorts of ways.
  • Picatrix: A man garbed with a cuirass holding a bow and arrows, and a quiver. And this is a face of boldness, honesty, and the division and alleviations of labor.
  • Agrippa: A man seeking for arms, and a fool holding in the right hand a bird, and in his left a pipe; and they are the significations of forgetfulness, wrath, boldness, jests, scurrilities, and unprofitable words.

First Decan of Cancer

  • Ibn Ezra: A handsome young man, wearing clothes, and he has some sickness, and in his face and fingers there is some crookedness, and his body resembles that of a horse and an elephant, and his feet are white, and on his body are hanging ornaments in the shape of trees, and he sits in an orchard that grows fragrant stalk.
  • Picatrix: A man having twisted and crooked fingers and head; and his body is like the body of a horse, and having white feet and upon his body fig leaves. And this is a face of teaching, knowledge, of love, subtlety and of skills.
  • Agrippa: A young virgin, adorned with fine clothes, and having a crown on her head; it giveth acuteness of senses, subtlety of wit; and the love of men.

Second Decan of Cancer

  • Ibn Ezra: A beautiful maiden with pleasant speech, on her head a myrtle crown, in her hand a wooden stick, and she desires wind and music.
  • Picatrix: A woman of beautiful visage, and having on her head a green wreath of myrtle, and in her hand is the stem of the planet which is called the water lily, she is singing songs of love and joy. And this is a face of playing, and of wealth, joy and abundance.
  • Agrippa: A man clothed in comely apparel, or a man and woman sitting at the table and playing; it bestoweth riches, mirth, gladness, and the love of women.

Third Decan of Cancer

  • Ibn Ezra: A man whose foot resembles that of an animal, and on his body there is an animal, and he intends to enter a ship to go to sea and bring gold and silver to make rings for his wives.
  • Picatrix: A Celhafe[31] and he holds a serpent in his hand holding before him golden chains. And this is a face of running, riding, and acquiring in war in strife and contrariety.
  • Agrippa: A man, a hunter with his lance and horn, bringing out dogs for to hunt; the signification of this is the contention of men, the pursuing of those who fly, the hunting and possessing of things by arms and brawlings.

First Decan of Leo

  • Ibn Ezra: A large tree on whose branches there is a dog and a vulture, and a man wearing pretty clothes, though dirty, and he is about to hit his father.
  • Picatrix: A man dressed in filthy garments; and there ascends with him the figure of a lord of the horse looking toward the north; and his figure is like the figure of a bear and the figure of a dog. And this is a face of strength, liberality, and victory.
  • Agrippa: A man riding on a lion; it signifieth boldness, violence, cruelty, wickedness, lust and labours to be sustained.

Second Decan of Leo

  • Ibn Ezra: A man whose nostrils are fine, on his head there is a shape of a crown of white myrtle, and a bow in his hand. He is fierce like a lion in his anger, and he is wrapped in a cloak that looks like a lion.
  • Picatrix: A man having a crown of white myrtle on his head and in his hand a bow. And this is a face of beauty, of riding, and of the rising up of a man who is ignorant and vile; and it is a face of war, and of naked swords.
  • Agrippa: An image with hands lifted up, and a man on whose head is a crown; he hath the appearance of an angry man, and one that threateneth, having in his right hand a sword drawn out of the scabbard, and in his left a buckler; it hath signification upon hidden contentions, and unknown victories, and upon base men, and upon the occasions of quarrels and battles.

Third Decan of Leo

  • Ibn Ezra: An ugly black man, laborious, intelligent, with delicacies in his mouth and meat in his hand.
  • Picatrix: An old man black and foul, holding fruit and meat in his mouth and a jug covered with copper in his hand. And this is a face of love and delight, and trays [of food?][32] and of good fortune.
  • Agrippa: A young man in whose hand is a whip, and a man very sad, and of an ill aspect; they signify love and society, and the loss of one’s right for avoiding strife.

First Decan of Virgo

  • Ibn Ezra: A maiden wrapped in a cloak, and wearing worn out clothes, with a jug in her hand, and she stands in myrtle, and she wants to go to her father’s house.
  • Picatrix: A beautiful girl covered over with a woolen sheet and holding in her hand a pomegranate. And this is a face of sowing, of plowing, of the making of trees to sprout, of gathering bunches of grapes and of the good life.
  • Agrippa: The figure of a good maid, and a man casting seeds; it signifieth getting of wealth, ordering of diet, plowing, sowing, and peopling.

Second Decan of Virgo

  • Ibn Ezra: A black man, all covered with hair. On him are three garments, one of leather, the second of silk, and the third is a red mantle, and in his hand an inkwell in order to reckon.
  • Picatrix: A man of beautiful color, dressed in leather and upon the vestment of leather another vestment of iron. And this is a face of petition, of desires, and of wealth, of tribute and the denying of things that are just.
  • Agrippa: A black man clothed with a skin, and a man having a bush of hair, holding a bag; they signify gain, scraping together of wealth and covetousness.

Third Decan of Virgo

  • Ibn Ezra: A white woman who is self-laudatory; she is wearing a dyed mantle, her hands are leprous and she is praying to God.
  • Picatrix: A pale man of large body wrapped in a white linen cloth, and with him a woman holding in her hand black olive oil. And this is a face of weakness, old age, illness, sloth, the injury of limbs, and the destruction of the people.
  • Agrippa: A white woman and deaf, or an old man leaning on a staff; the signification of this is to show weakness, infirmity, loss of members, destruction of trees, and depopulation of lands.

First Decan of Libra

  • Ibn Ezra: A man in a shop in the market with scales in his hand, and he wishes to buy and sell.
  • Picatrix: A man holding a lance in his right hand but in the left a bird hanging by its feet. And this is a face of justice, truth, good judgments, the completeness of justice of the people and weak person, of doing good for the indigent.
  • Agrippa: An angry man, in whose hand is a pipe, and the form of a man reading in a book; the operation of this is in justifying and helping the miserable and weak against the powerful and wicked.

Second Decan of Libra

  • Ibn Ezra: A man in the form of an eagle, and he is naked and thirsty, and he is about to fly in the air.
  • Picatrix: A black man having a journey of marriage and joy. And this is a face of quiet, joy, abundance, of the good life.
  • Agrippa: Two men furious and wrathful, and a man in a comely garment, sitting in a chair; and the signification of these is to show indignation against the evil, and quietness and security of life with plenty of good things.

Third Decan of Libra

  • Ibn Ezra: A man whose face resembles that of a horse, with a bow and arrows in hand.
  • Picatrix: A man upon a donkey, and before him a wolf. And this is a face of evil works, sodomites, adultery, of songs, joy, and of taste.
  • Agrippa: A violent man holding a how, and before him a naked man, and also another man holding bread in one hand, and a cup of wine in the other; the signification of these is to show wicked lusts, singings, sports and gluttony.

First Decan of Scorpio

  • Ibn Ezra: A beautiful woman, her body is red and she is eating.
  • Picatrix: A man holding a lance in his right hand, but a human head in his left. And this is a face of disposition, sadness, evil will, and hostility.
  • Agrippa: A woman of good face and habit, and two men striking her; the operations of these are for comeliness, beauty, and for strifes, treacheries, deceits, detractions, and perditions.

Second Decan of Scorpio

  • Ibn Ezra: A woman who has left her house; she is naked and has nothing on and she is entering the sea.
  • Picatrix: A man riding upon a camel holding a scorpion in his hand. And this is a face of knowledge, modesty, disposition, of one who speaks evilly one to another.
  • Agrippa: A man naked, and a woman naked, and a man sitting on the earth, and before him two dogs biting one another; and their operation is for impudence, deceit, and false dealing, and for to send mischief and strife amongst men.

Third Decan of Scorpio

  • Ibn Ezra: A dog, and two pigs, and a big leopard with white hair, and various prey animals.
  • Picatrix: A horse and a rabbit with it. And this is a face of evil works and taste, and joining oneself with women by force and with them being unwilling.
  • Agrippa: A man bowed downward upon his knees, and a woman striking him with a staff; and it is the signification of drunkenness, fornication, wrath, violence, and strife.

First Decan of Sagittarius

  • Ibn Ezra: A naked man, from his head down to his havel it is the figure of a man, and from the navel down, it is in the shape of a horse, in his hand a bow and arrows, and he is shouting.[33]
  • Picatrix: Three bodies of men of which one is yellow, another white, but the third red. And this is a face of heat, weight, of fructifyingi n fields and on lands, of sustaining and dividing.
  • Agrippa: A man armed with a coat of mail, and holding a naked sword in his hand; the operation of this is for boldness, malice, and liberty.

Second Decan of Sagittarius

  • Ibn Ezra: A beautiful woman with a lot of hair, wearing clothes and earrings in her ear, and in front of her there is an open chest containing golden ornaments.
  • Picatrix: A man who leads cows, and holding/having a monkey and a bear before him. And this is a face of fear, lamentation, mourning, misery, and inquietude.
  • Agrippa: A woman weeping, and covered with clothes; the operation of this is for sadness and fear of his own body.

Third Decan of Sagittarius

  • Ibn Ezra: A man whose color of complexion is golden, and in his hand [something that looks] like a wooden earring, and he is covered with a door made of tree bark.
  • Picatrix: A man holding a cap on his head and killing another man. And this is a face of evil inclinations, of adverse and evil effects and of swiftness in these same things and in evil inclinations, of hostility, dispersion, and of doing evilly.
  • Agrippa: A man like in color to gold, or an idle man playing with a staff; and the signification of this is in following our own wills, and obstinacy in them, and in activeness for evil things, contentions, and horrible matters.

First Decan of Capricorn

  • Ibn Ezra: An irascible black man, his body is like that of a wild boar, with much hair, and his teeth are sharp and long as beams, and he has a cattle goad, and he catches fish.
  • Picatrix: A man holding a pipe in his right hand but a hoe in his left hand. And this is a face of happiness, joy, and the scattering of tasks and laziness with weakness and unceasing evils.
  • Agrippa: A woman, and a man carrying full bags; and the signification of these is for to go forth and to rejoice, to gain and to lose with weakness and baseness.

Second Decan of Capricorn

  • Ibn Ezra: A black woman covered with a mantle and she has a horse.
  • Picatrix: A man having before him half of a monkey. And this is a face of seeking matters which can in no way be, nor does anything prevail to touch upon these matters.
  • Agrippa: Two women and a man looking towards a bird flying in the air; and the signification of these is for the requiring of those things which cannot be done, and for the searching after those things which cannot be known.

Third Decan of Capricorn

  • Ibn Ezra: A beautiful woman, though black, and her hands are skilled in all kinds of work and spinning of silk.
  • Picatrix: A man holding a book and opening and closing it, and having before the book the tail of a fish. And this is a face of riches, the accumulation of money and the ascent of business affairs tending toward a good end.
  • Agrippa: A woman chaste in body, and wise in her work, and a banker gathering his money together on the table; the signification of this is to govern in prudence, in covetousness of money, and in avarice.[34]

First Decan of Aquarius

  • Ibn Ezra: A black man who is skilled in copper.
  • Picatrix: A man who has his head cut short [off?][35] and who holds in his hand a peacock. And this is a face of misery, poverty, and of a slave who deals with crumbs.
  • Agrippa: A prudent man, and of a woman spinning; and the signification of these is in the thought and labor for gain, in poverty and baseness.

Second Decan of Aquarius

  • Ibn Ezra: A very black man whose beard is long and in his hand a bow and arrows, and purses that contain precious stones and gold.
  • Picatrix: A man like unto a king who values himself much and who shuns those whom he sees. And this is a face of beauty and of position, of having that which one seeks, of completeness, of harm and of weakness.
  • Agrippa: A man with a long beard; and the signification of this belongeth to the understanding, meekness, modesty, liberty and good manners.

Third Decan of Aquarius

  • Ibn Ezra: And angry and deceitful black man who has hair in his ear, and on him a crown from the leaves of a tree, and he turns from place to place.
  • Picatrix: A man with his head shortened [cut off?][36] and who has an old woman with him. And this is a face of abundance, of the perfection of the will, and of insulting behavior.
  • Agrippa: A black and angry man; and the signification of this is in expressing insolence, and imprudence.

First Decan of Pisces

  • Ibn Ezra: A man wearing beautiful clothes, in his hand an iron instrument, and he is going home.
  • Picatrix: A man who has two bodies and is like he is going to salute with both hands. And this is a face of peace and humility, of weakness, of many journeys, of misery, of seeking wealth, and the lamenting of one’s manner of living.
  • Agrippa: A man carrying burdens on his shoulder, and well clothed; it hath his signification in journeys, change of place, and in carefulness of getting wealth and clothes.

Second Decan of Pisces

  • Ibn Ezra: A beautiful white woman, sitting in a ship at sea, and she wishes to go out on land.
  • Picatrix: A man turned around backwards holding his head downwards, and his feet upwards lifted up on high, and in his hand a tray of something to be eaten. And this is a face of reward and of strong will in matters which are high, burdensome and valued, and of thinking.
  • Agrippa: A woman of a good countenance, and well adorned; and the signification is to desire and put one’s self on our about high and great matters.

Third Decan of Pisces

  • Ibn Ezra: A naked man putting his foot on his belly, in his hand a lance, and he is shouting out of fear of robbers and fire.
  • Picatrix: A sad man and of evil thoughts thinking on deceptions and treachery; and before him a woman and an ass ascending over her, and in her hand a bird. And this is a face of ambition and of lying with women with a great appetite, and of seeking quiet and peace.
  • Agrippa: A man naked, or a youth, and nigh him a beautiful maid, whose head is adorned with flowers; and it hath his signification for rest, idleness, delight, fornication, and for embracing of women.


Abu Ma’sar, The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology, ed. and trans. Charles Burnett, Keiji Yamamoto, Michio Yano (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994)

Agrippa, Henry Cornelius, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, trans. James Freake, ed. Donald Tyson (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1993)

Al-Biruni, The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology, ed. R. Ramsay Wright (London: Luzac & Co., 1934)

Firmicus Maternus, Ancient Astrology: Theory and Practice [Matheosis Libri VIII], trans. Jean Rhys Bram (Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press, 1975)

Holden, James H., A History of Horoscopic Astrology (Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers, Inc., 1996)

Ibn Ezra, Abraham, The Beginning of Wisdom, ed. Meira Epstein and Robert Hand (ARHAT Publications, 1998)

Malina, Bruce, On the Genre and Message of Revelation: Star Visions and Sky Journeys (Hendrickson Publishers, 1995)

Ptolemy, Claudius, Tetrabiblos, trans. F. E. Robbins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1940)

Tester, Jim, A History of Western Astrology (New York: Ballantine Books, 1987)

Appendix: Two Systems of Decan Rulership

Two systems of Decans


Chaldean System

Triplicity System

Aries 1



Aries 2



Aries 3



Taurus 1



Taurus 2



Taurus 3



Gemini 1



Gemini 2



Gemini 3



Cancer 1



Cancer 2



Cancer 3



Leo 1



Leo 2



Leo 3



Virgo 1



Virgo 2



Virgo 3



Libra 1



Libra 2



Libra 3



Scorpio 1



Scorpio 2



Scorpio 3



Sagittarius 1



Sagittarius 2



Sagittarius 3



Capricorn 1



Capricorn 2



Capricorn 3



Aquarius 1



Aquarius 2



Aquarius 3



Pisces 1



Pisces 2



Pisces 3



[1] Holden confirms this, p. 93.

[2] The art of judging someone’s face, body structure, and some personality features by the natal figure.

[3] Tester says (p. 22) the quinances come from the Babylonians, who associated pictures with each one.

[4] Holden, p. 12.

[5] Bruce Malina says that there were originally 24 decans, hence the 24-hour day. See bibliography.

[6] Tester, p. 20; Holden, p. 12-13.

[7] Malina cites the Encyclopedia of World Art, which I have not yet seen.

[8] It would be interesting to know if the 24 Seniors of Enochian magic could be correlated with these earlier versions of the decans.

[9] Firmicus Maternus, p. 34. But he adds that the Greeks didn’t get very far with the matter, even though other Greek sources do describe the nature of the decans in detail. Perhaps he meant that the methods were not clearly worked out, or perhaps he was referring to the lack of information on the leitourgoi/munifices (see below).

[10] Holden, p. 8.

[11] Holden, p. 8.

[12] Holden, p. 71. But Ptolemy omits discussion of the decans when discussing “monstrous births.”

[13] Holden, p. 80.

[14] Holden, p. 12-13, 70-71 and n. 168; Firmicus, pp. 34-36.

[15] Firmicus, p. 36.

[16] Holden, p. 12-13.

[17] Firmicus, p. 36.

[18] Holden, p. 70-71 and n. 168. Does this mean that planets obey the leitourgoi, who obey the decans in turn? Or is it speaking of fixed stars that fall under the leitourgoi, so that the author of the Hermetica is mixing the old constellational notion of the decans with the new, zodiacal one?

[19] E.g., Ptolemy associates different weather with each decan, and notes weather indications of each sign depending on whether one is looking at indications in the northern or southern ecliptical latitudes. He incorporates fixed stars along with other rules (Ptolemy, pp. 207ff.). Ibn Ezra follows Ptolemy (Ibn Ezra, Chapter 2).

[20] Al-Biruni, §450.

[21] Abu Ma’shar and Firmicus Maternus follow this scheme, as do most Greek, Arab, and Latin astrologers. It is also the version taught in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

[22] Al-Biruni says this scheme comes from Hindu astrology (Al-Biruni, §451). It is also the basis of a system used for astrological physiognomy.

[23] Just like the Chaldean scheme.

[24] Firmicus, p. 34.

[25] Indeed, I have only seen Firmicus comparing decans and signs in this way.

[26] E.g., Abu Ma’shar (Holden p. 115, 120), Albubater (Holden, p. 122) and later medieval astrologers tend to list decans last and attribute to it the weakest sway in astrological considerations.

[27] Al-Biruni, §449-50. He seems to say a decan is not the same as a face, although they do coincide. It could be that “face” refers to the mythical-magical aspect of the decan.

[28] Wright cites “Hermes’s” list of Egyptian divinities attributed to the decans: v. Ruelle, Rev. de Philol., 1908, p. 247. I have not seen this source.

[29] Ibn Ezra says, this is a “learned” Hindu.

[30] In other words, knowledgeable pursuits that aren’t subordinated to other purposes, but are noble in themselves. Aristotle held that some philosophical knowledge was more noble because it didn’t depend on external needs and demands like profit-making – a reflection of a society in which people either were free or served someone else.

[31] Robert Hand indicates that he does not know what this means.

[32] Robert Hand adds this suggestion in brackets.

[33] In other words, a centaur.

[34] Note that Ibn Ezra and the Arabic author of the Picatrix, do not share Agrippa’s Christian negativity toward the merchant and money trades.

[35] Robert Hand adds this suggestion in brackets.

[36] Robert Hand adds this suggestion in brackets.