Decans and the Minor Arcana

Today I’m going to be taking a journey through astrological associations and the Minor Arcana. The information here is referenced from Christine Payne-Towler’s article “”Stoicheion- Somata Tarot” – specifically the sections on ”Decans, Horas and their distribution through the pips”, and “The Pips as a Paraclesian Astro-Alchemy Computer”.

I am going to skim the top and add my two cents worth. I advise each of you to go read the article for yourself. You can read the article in its entirety, or just these two paragraphs – they will stand on their own.

Christine starts out by discussing the five and ten degree segments of the astrological signs, with the two major defining systems being the Hindu Decans and the Chaldean Face Rulers. In one system, the Decans are listed by sign: i.e the first Decan of Aries is ruled by Aries, the second by Leo, and the third by Sagittarius. The western system deals with planets, so this would become: the first Decan of Aries is ruled by Mars, the second by the Sun, and the third by Jupiter. What I really like about the second system is the same ting that Christine makes note of – that the planets become connectors – i.e. Mars becomes a visual arc of energy between Aries and Scorpio, while Jupiter does the same for Sagittarius and Pisces. The thought continued here is that all things are inter-connected. You cannot take one planet out, and chat about it, without talking about what it is connected to. Nothing functions in a void.

Making note that there is historical reference (through Agrippa, and his teaching of both the Hindu and the Chaldean group of decan rulers), Christine stayed with the basic format of ten-degree segments when distributing the Dignities in the Pips (numbered cards). She also makes note that she does not want to change or eliminate any of the meanings traditionally associated with a card due to its number, element, shape, title or any other detail found in a traditional Marseilles style deck. What she ended up doing, which I find very cool, is to propose a body of correspondences that can be applied to any traditionally structured deck to in effect turn it into a Paracelsian astro-alchemy computer suitable for a magus-healer of the mid-1500’s. Eyes glossed over yet? Plain English – you can use your deck for ritual work very easily!

This is the system Christine proposes:

In this system, by imitating the 3×3 pattern that carries the Decans/Horas around the Zodiac, we can include all of the natural Stoicheian relationships into the mix. The rule for each sign is:

· 1st decan = Ruling planet in Domicile / rx Ruler in Sympathy
· 2nd decan = Ruler in Antipathy / rx ruler in Detriment
· 3rd decan = Ruler in Exaltation / rx ruler in Fall

Here is the pattern in full, relating the suits to their elemental trine, rather than by season.

I have also included the Royals, which I disburse as:


Aries: Cardinal Fire — Queen of Wands
Ace Wands Mars in Aries reversed: Mars in Scorpio
2 Wands Mars in Taurus reversed: Mars in Libra
3 Wands Mars in Capricorn reversed: Mars in Cancer
Taurus: Fixed Earth — King of Coins
4 Coins Venus in Taurus reversed: Venus in Libra
5 Coins Venus in Aries reversed: Venus in Aries
6 Coins Venus in Pisces reversed: Venus in Virgo

Gemini: Mutable Air — Knight of Swords
7 Swords Mercury in Gemini reversed: Mercury in Virgo
8 Swords Mercury in Pisces reversed: Mercury in Sagittarius
9 Swords Mercury in Virgo reversed: Mercury in Pisces
10 Swords — Grand Trine in Air
Page of Cups — announcement of Summer

Cancer: Cardinal Water — Queen of Cups
Ace Cups Moon in Cancer reversed: Moon in Cancer
2 Cups Moon in Aquarius reversed: Moon in Capricorn
3 Cups Moon in Taurus reversed: Moon in Scorpio
Leo: Fixed fire — King of Wands
4 Wands Sun in Leo reversed: Sun in Leo
5 Wands Sun in Capricorn reversed: Sun in Aquarius
6 Wands Sun in Aries reversed: Sun in Libra

Virgo: Mutable Earth — Knight of coins
7 Coins Mercury in Virgo reversed: Mercury in Gemini
8 Coins Mercury in Sagittarius reversed: Mercury in Pisces
9 Coins Mercury in Virgo reversed: Mercury in Pisces
10 Coins — Grand Trine Earth
Page of Swords — announcement of Fall

Libra: Cardinal Air — Queen of Swords
Ace Swords Venus in Libra reversed: Venus in Taurus
2 Swords Venus in Scorpio reversed: Venus in Aries
3 Swords Venus in Pisces reversed: Venus in Virgo

Scorpio: Fixed Water — King of Cups
4 Cups Mars in Scorpio reversed: Mars in Aries
5 Cups Mars in Libra reversed: Mars in Taurus
6 Cups Mars in Capricorn reversed: Mars in Cancer
Sagittarius: Mutable Fire — Knight of Wands
7 Wands Jupiter in Sagittarius reversed: Jupiter in Pisces
8 Wands Jupiter in Virgo reversed: Jupiter in Gemini
9 Wands Jupiter in Cancer reversed: Jupiter in Aries
10 Wands — Grand Trine Fire
Page of Coins — announcement of Winter

Capricorn: Cardinal Earth — Queen of Coins
Ace Coins Saturn in Capricorn reversed: Saturn in Aquarius
2 Coins Saturn in Leo reversed: Saturn in Cancer
3 Coins Saturn in Libra reversed: Saturn in Aries
Aquarius: Fixed Air — King of Swords
4 Swords Saturn in Aquarius reversed: Saturn in Capricorn
5 Swords Saturn in Cancer reversed: Saturn in Leo
6 Swords Saturn in Libra reversed: Saturn in Aries

Pisces: Mutable Water — Knight of Cups
7 Cups Jupiter in Pisces reversed: Jupiter in Sagittarius
8 Cups Jupiter in Gemini reversed: Jupiter in Virgo
9 Cups Jupiter in Cancer reversed: Jupiter in Capricorn
10 Cups — Grand Trine in Water
Page of Wands — announcement of Spring

So, what do we do with all of this? Here are some of Christine’s notes from the article:

· The Aces, 4’s and 7’s retain the power and initiative they generally have in the divinatory pack (1st term in their ternary — thesis)
· The 2’s, 5’s and 8’s retain the challenging and confrontational nature they generally have in the divinatory tradition (2nd term in their ternary — antithesis)
· The 3’s, 6’s and 9’s retain the balanced and optimistic cast they generally have in the divinatory tradition (3rd term in their ternary — synthesis)
· The 10’s represent the full Elemental Trine and all its permutations in expression.

The Queens create
The Kings uphold
The Knights transform
The Pages turn the Wheel of the Year

This is a system to be played with, not one that you replace any other system with. It works along side what we already know. The only time this system may be difficult to work with is if the student is using a deck where the creator has already customized the internal structure.
We have a few things to think about here, not the least of which is how we can fit this system into our Tarot practice as readers. We can also take this system and use it to denote time, to drive a literary story, and in personal visualization and ritual. We are only limited by how far we want to take our own work.

Next week I will be continuing on with Christine’s work with numbers and the Minor Arcana. Please feel free to ask any questions that you wish about the system presented here. I will make the attempt to lure Christine into responding to commentary. It should work – she won’t want the responses coming from my convoluted way of understanding and working with it! 😉


Payne-Towler, Christine. “”. Tarot University Arkletters, December 2007.

© June 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

5 comments on “Decans and the Minor Arcana

  1. mystereum says:

    Great article, Bonnie! I resonate with most things Tarostrologically or of Tarotstrology, and your blog coupled with Christine’s Stoichea article really make some great elucidations about the beautiful antinomies present that are not in conflict even with the Pythagoreans standing in the allegedly stifling Aristotelian modes of thinking. . .more like a solid foundation that one can trust that won’t move so gymnstics can be played on it so to speak.

    Especially resonant for me is your Royal disbursement:
    ~ Queen=Cardinal, The Queens create . . .where I layer this as Queens being natural leaders
    ~ King=Fixed, The Kings uphold. . . where each King IS, as he implements, ultimate stability
    ~ Knight=Mutable, The Knights transform. . . as they incorporate experience always on the move
    The Pages turn the Wheel of the Year . . .like 4 Marco Polos opening an elemental ship’s post-voyage hull.

    And, all that together plays in to a question that this sparks to me about decans. They introduce the whole elemental lineage to a sign from WITHIN a sign. So, rather than signs relating to their elemental counterparts by only trining across a chart, do decans represent the astrological, inner-trining within a sign indicative of an All Is In All in regards to the family of their element?

  2. mystereum says:

    And, the resonance of this for me plays further in what I find to be the wonderful greased pig of the n+1, parts to whole, nature of the trinity of 3 (or any integer greater than 1) basically also inherently being the quaternity of 4, where the 3 are the 3, and then taking them as a whole is inherently a relationship present of them at one and the same time being a group AS the 4th. The decans seem to play out aspects from within a sign that reflect its elemental lineage from about. . .am I simply expressing a masterful command of the obvious?

  3. Jordan –

    As to the inner-timing within a sign, I would say yes, but I am going to get CHristine to come in and comment herself, as this is her system.

    Interesting concept as to the nature of the trinity. I see that in the trinity itself, but I don’t know if I would extend that to the trinity PLUS the trinity as a separate entity. It does have sme merit, though.

    I am going to have Christine weigh in on this, as my response would be far too simplistic! Very good thoughts here!


  4. Wow, it’s getting heady in here!

    Yes, Mystereum, this is my attempt to get to the bedrock where things aren’t so shifty and fractionated. I cut my teeth on the Brotherhood of Light deck coupled with Sadhu and Wirth, so my thinking is fairly elaborate…

    That being said, with the pips, if one were triangulating with the numbers 1-10, it would unfold just like the Kabbalah tree as 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3-4 or three triangles with each subsequent 1 being the sum of the previous triangle. If you think of this set of stacked triangles on a base like the Hebrew Tree, you know that each triangle is the “world” of an element, descending from “above” through a spectrum of ever densifying substances. The first triangle of 1-2-3 when summarized precipitates Fire out of Air. The second 1-2-3 precipitates Water out of Fire. Only at the final movement, at the bottom of the sequence, would we gets 4 = matter = Malkuth.

    That’s one way to visualize the decans. Another is the way being talked about above, by spreading the elemental rulers through each sign by thirds. But then there’s the Angels, and they are only 5-degree segments, meaning now we have six “units” to distribute per sign. What happens with those?

    Well, nothing too exotic, it turns out, because these Angels are deterministically tied to their degrees. One can find various ways to pair them up (Etteilla’s method is explicated by Tavaglione in his Stairs of Gold Tarot), but most decks just take them two at a time. I don’t know of any planetary rulership pattern that grants them meaning…. I think they get their inherent meaning from their Hebrew spelling, as derived from (Genesis I think…)

    I’ve gotta run right now but will be back later…

  5. Christine –

    Bless your heart – you did get a chance to drop by! 🙂


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