The Three Decans of Leo: Which One Are You?
The power of the decans seems to be about magic and the ability to change your fate.
Long before a twelve-fold division of the sky was introduced by the Babylonians, the Egyptians closely followed the stars that rose every ten days over the course of the year. The Babylonians later linked these stars with the zodiac. Next, the Greeks integrated these ten-degree segments into their system as decans, from the Greek word for the number ten. One of the early uses for the decans was in constructing amulets to protect from illness, a medical and magical treatment which continued into the Renaissance and early 20th century, where the decans were eventually re-imagined as the minor arcana images of the Tarot.
One of the primary ways of interpreting the decans is through the planetary ruler associated with it. The most well-known system uses the heptazone or Chaldean order of the planets, which is based on their relative speed as they move through the zodiac (Saturn is slowest, then Jupiter, Mars, the sun, Venus, Mercury, and the moon). Beginning with Mars in the first decan of Aries, we proceed to the sun, Venus, etc., and after the moon, we start back at Saturn and begin again.
In this system, the three decans of Leo are ruled by Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.
The First Decan of Leo (July 22–August 1)
Beginning at 0° Leo (around July 22) and spanning the next ten degrees is a decan associated with Saturn, the god of limits and boundaries.
As we transition from the fertile sign of Cancer, we reach the hottest part of the year in the northern hemisphere. This heat naturally puts limits on what we can accomplish during the daylight hours; the dog days of summer bring a feeling of lethargy as we seek refuge from the overpowering effects of the sun. For agriculturalists, this period is also a lull, with nothing to do but wait to see if enough rain falls on the crops in order to produce a viable harvest.
The rulership of Saturn can clearly be seen in the Tarot image related to this decan as well. The first decan of a fixed sign is related to the “five” card of that element—in this case, the Five of Wands. Known as the Lord of Strife in the Golden Dawn Tarot, this card often features images of conflict, the nature of this conflict explicitly related to the conflict between the ruler of the sign of Leo (the sun) and the ruler of the first decan (Saturn). Saturn’s dry nature is compounded by the heat of Leo, leading to separative forces which show up in nature as the sometimes violent thunderstorms common to this time of year.
The Second Decan of Leo (August 2–11)
Beginning around August 2 and spanning 10-20° of Leo is a decan associated with Jupiter, the god of expansion, bounty, and protection.
The nature of Jupiter is much more in agreement with Leo, and so this decan represents the victory that comes out of the strife of the previous cycle. With any luck, the thunderstorms (both thunder and lightning being associated with Jupiter) bring precious rains to the fields, assuring a bountiful harvest.
The second decan of a fixed sign is related to the “six” card of that element, in this case, the Six of Wands. Known as the Lord of Victory, in the Golden Dawn, this card features a rider sporting a laurel crown. This image harkens to the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, which was traditionally accompanied by games and sporting contests. This ancient festival was a time for proclaiming laws, settling legal disputes, and drawing up contracts—more associations with Jupiter.
The Third Decan of Leo (August 12–22)
Beginning around August 12, from 20-30° of Leo is a decan ruled by Mars, the god of war, courage, and ambition.
Mars’ nature is hot and dry and so agrees with the nature of Leo—though that was not always seen as a good thing. Mars has a tendency to take things too far, and when aided by the nature of over-the-top Leo, things can become destructive. However, when true courage is needed, this decan has all the heroic energy necessary to match any challenge.
The third decan of a fixed sign is related to the “seven” card of that element, in this case, the Seven of Wands. In the traditional image for this card, we see a man with a staff fending off six other wands. Known as the Lord of Valour, in the Golden Dawn, this card is clearly informed by Mars. When we combine the rulership of the sun over the sign with Mars over the decan, we get an energy very similar to Aries—and so the typical warnings about pride, ego, vanity, and taking things too far would also seem applicable to this decan.
References and recommended reading: Ancient Astrology In Theory and Practice by Demetra George, Rubedo Press 36 Faces by Austin Coppock, Three Hands Press The Tarot by Robert Place, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, Hermes Publications