The Visual Astrologer: Exploring the Decans through the Rider-Waite Tarot

36 Faces by Austin Coppock
Every once in a while you come across a book that changes the game a little bit. Over the past year I have added many hopeful contenders to what you might call an astrological "reference library", books so essential that you can't help but come back to them over and over again. We all have our trusty ephemerides, perhaps a book on aspects or a cherished methodology manual.  Some are more technical than others, but none have I found to be both as useful, and a joy to read than Austin Coppock's 36 Faces. The combination of historical scholarship and poetic mastery of language is, in my opinion, unrivaled. As part of my on-going (life-long) education in the language of the planets, I decided to read a chapter each day for every 10-degree decanic phase of the moon. I wanted a first-hand experience of the overall "vibe" of each subsection of the zodiac, and being a Cancerian child of the moon myself, what better way to fuse image with experience. Here's what I've taken away from my explorations.

I will spare you most of the historical and technical explanations of the decanic system. Austin's book goes into much more detail than I could explain in a blog post, but the horrifically simplified definition of a decan is that they are a very ancient way of dividing the zodiac into not only twelve 30 degree divisions of sign, but thirty-six 10 degree subsections. 36 Faces or Decans x 10 degrees each  = 360 degrees of the zodiac.

Over the course of history, the decans have been associated with various deities, ruling planets and even syncretized with popular tarot decks. Austin explains the relationship between multiple decanic planetary rulership systems but focuses heavily on their association with the descending Chaldean order of the planets. (The ancients believed that the earth was surrounded by "celestial spheres" which corresponded with the seven visible planets and their apparent speed. In descending order, slowest to fastest they are Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon) Each decan beginning with Mars for Aries I,  and ending again with Mars for Pisces III, give each 10 degree section of the zodiac a certain planetary "flavor", so to speak.

VI of Wands: Victory
What I found most interesting about Austin's explorations of the decans were their associated imagery.  He cites multiple sources for different colorful imagery over time, but their correlation with the minor arcana of the Rider-Waite Tarot stands out.  Two important source texts seem to be fundamental for the syncretization of the decans and the images present: The Golden Dawn's Book T, and Aleister Crowley's Book of Thoth. Both provide detailed tarot explanations and short phrases to help solidify understanding. For example, Leo II, today's moon decan, is associated with the VI of Wands and given the name Victory. In it we see a laureled man on horseback, possibly returning from war, surrounded by his kin in a peaceful, yet triumphant image. Austin calls this Decan "A Crown of Laurels" and speaks to Jupiter's honorable and expansive qualities as the associated planetary ruler.

A few patterns emerged as I explored further. First, the suits of each tarot card are associated with an elemental triplicity. So,
Wands = Fire,  Pentacles = Earth, Swords = Air & Cups = Water.
Cardinal signs, (Aries, Cancer, Libra Capricorn) were given numbers II, III, IV. Fixed signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius) assigned V, VI, VII and the Mutable or double bodied signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius & Pisces) given VIII, XI, X. Many times we see themes start to emerge across the numbered groups, especially with pairs of opposing elemental families.

 For example, in the III of Pentacles, titled: Work (Capricorn II: The Pyramid) we see the planning associated with building material structures, in its opposing card, III of Cups (Cancer II: The Walled Garden) we bear witness to a celebration, a rejoicing & the culmination perhaps of that previous labor, the aptly titled: Abundance.

 In the V of Wands or Strife (Leo I: The Spotlight) we see five youths struggling for dominance, perhaps engaged in competition or conflict, in it's opposite V of Swords or Defeat (Aquarius I: The Mark of Exile), the battle is over, the winner smugly collects the spoils, while a pair of dejected competitors wander off into the distance.

These opposing themes are repeated throughout the minor arcana. Pentacles often show an engagement with the material, while Cups can show a refusal or a turning inward or away. Wands are often depicted in action, while swords perhaps speak to that actions aftermath, The X of Wands attempts to carry the burden, while the X of Swords no longer can.

Astrology, Tarot or any type of divinatory system requires pattern recognition. The ability to explain your insights to your clients can make or break your practice. While some folks are auditory learners, many more are visual. I have found that using Tarot along with a natal chart can help a client understand the essence of a particular planetary placement, for example, I recently had a client who had Venus in Aquarius I (V of Wands: The Mark of Exile) sitting right on her midheaven in the 10th whole sign house of career. This planet was also the ruler of her ascendant, which in Hellenistic astrology, we call "The Helm" or the steering wheel of your life. This client worked in the prison system, reconnecting (Venus) inmates (people who have experienced Defeat or Exile) with society and also improving their living conditions while incarcerated. This mission was not merely a job, but a life-long calling that was steering the ship of her life. By exploring the imagery present in the associated decanic tarot card, we were able to have a much richer conversation about her work and bring her confirmation that the work she was doing mattered and was on path.

Here is a handy table that I have crafted to help you learn the Decans, their names, ruling planets, and associated imagery. A previous version of this table included numerological associations from the book Numerology & The Divine Triangle by Dusty Bunker & Faith Javane, but since this was the only source I was able to find with those particular number associations, I have omitted them. Feel free to explore that book though if numbers speak to you. You can also see each associated Rider-Waite image by clicking the links in the table:

Decan Image Tarot Book of Thoth Book T: Lord of - Ruling Planet
Aries I The Axe II of Wands Dominion Dominion Mars
Aries II The Crown III of Wands Virtue Established Strength Sun
Aries III The Burning Rose IV of Wands Completion Perfected Work Venus
Taurus I The Plow V of Pentacles Worry Material Trouble Mercury
Taurus II A Linga-Yoni VI of Pentacles Success Material Success Moon
Taurus III A String of Prayer Beads VII of Pentacles Failure Success Unfulfilled Saturn
Gemini I The Apple of Eden VIII of Swords Interference Shortened Force Jupiter
Gemini II The Hermaphrodite IX of Swords Cruelty Despair & Cruelty Mars
Gemini III An Executioner's Sword X of Swords Ruin Ruin Sun
Cancer I A Mother and Child II of Cups Love Love Venus
Cancer II A Walled Garden III of Cups Abundance Abundance Mercury
Cancer III The Overflowing Cup IV of Cups Luxury Blended Pleasure Moon
Leo I The Spotlight V of Wands Strife Strife Saturn
Leo II A Crown of Laurels VI of Wands Victory Victory Jupiter
Leo III The Banner VII of Wands Valour Valour Mars
Virgo I A Tree Bearing Fruit VIII of Pentacles Prudence Prudence Sun
Virgo II The Hammer and The Anvil IX of Pentacles Gain Material Gain Venus
Virgo III The Sarcophagus X of Pentacles Wealth Wealth Mercury
Libra I A Blindfold and A Sword II of Swords Peace Peace Restored Moon
Libra II Two Links of a Chain III of Swords Sorrow Sorrow Saturn
Libra III A Gyroscope IV of Swords Truce Rest from Strife Jupiter
Scorpio I A Jawbone V of Cups Disappointment Loss in Pleasure Mars
Scorpio II An Apparatus For Mutual Distillation VI of Cups Pleasure Pleasure Sun
Scorpio III A Crow VII of Cups Debauch Illusionary Success Venus
Sagittarius I The Poisoned Arrow VIII of Wands Swiftness Swiftness Mercury
Sagittarius II The Bridle IX of Wands Strength Great Strength Moon
Sagittarius III A Horse's Skull X of Wands Oppression Oppression Saturn
Capricorn I A Headless Body II of Pentacles Change Harmonious Change Jupiter
Capricorn II The Pyramid III of Pentacles Work Material Works Mars
Capricorn III The Throne IV of Pentacles Power Earthly Power Sun
Aquarius I The Mark of Exile V of Swords Defeat Defeat Venus
Aquarius II Heaven and Earth VI of Swords Science Earned Success Mercury
Aquarius III The Knot VII of Swords Futility Unstable Effort Moon
Pisces I The Labyrinth VIII of Cups Indolence Abandoned Success Saturn
Pisces II The Net IX of Cups Happiness Material Happiness Jupiter
Pisces III A Cup of Blood X of Cups Satiety Perfected Success Mars
©2018 Source: 36 Faces by Austin Coppock
: ) -Spencer

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