A Journal of Inner Work and Therapeutic Arts
Immanence and Identity in Plural Personality
Richard Dagan

Studies Index...

Egyptian Astrology...  Personal Deity

16-18 December 2012

The decans (Gk. dekanoi, pl. of dekanos, "tenths"; Egyptian bakiu) used in contemporary astrology are derived from an ancient Egyptian system of time measurement in which 36 decans, each including a bright star in a small constellation within 10º of arc along the ecliptic, rise consecutively just before the sun on the eastern horizon, one decan every 10 days (a 10-day week, 3 weeks to a month, 12 months to a year + 5 days at the end = 365 days). Every decan came to be presided over by a spirit or deity influencing events, traits and transformations within that timeframe.

In "It's about Time: Ancient Egyptian Cosmology", Joanne Conman writes that,

[f]or the Egyptians, the sky was not a passive background; it was an active force. They saw the sky as continually turning. The sun moved with or as part of the sky and functioned as a mobile meridian. In the ancient Egyptian language, the sun "comes into existence" at dawn and it "is completed," at sunset. [...]

The Egyptians observed stars rising in a section of the eastern horizon that they called the msqt region, that is, the range of the ecliptic on the eastern horizon. Approximately every 10 days, a bright star would rise just before the sun in the msqt region, marking the beginning of a new 10-day Egyptian week. The stars are called decan stars or decans from the Greek word for "10". Once a year, a decan star will rise just before the sun rises, which is called its heliacal rise, and once a year, it will rise just after the sun sets, which is called its acronychal rise. There were 36 decans that rose heliacally (just before the sun) over the course of a year. [...]

The oldest known lists of decan stars, thought to date from the 9th through the 12th dynasties (c. 2000 BCE), were found on the inside lids of a dozen coffins belonging to various high-ranking individuals at Asyut. [...]

There was likely a Mesopotamian influence subsequent to the Persian conquest in 525 BCE, and Hellenistic influence obviously increased following the occupation by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, but Egyptian ideas and core concepts are nonetheless discernible in subsequent astrological elaborations and philosophical developments.

Conman confirms this and clarifies another important set of concepts in "The Egyptian Origins of Planetary Hypsomata":

Several ideas that are integral to astrology seem to appear first in Hellenistic astrology. While some could be Greek creations, others bear such striking resemblance to long-held Egyptian beliefs that it is difficult not to conclude that they are the result of Egyptian influence. Babylonian sky-watchers tracked the motion of the planets as if they were living creatures traveling through the night sky. The Babylonian constellations do not appear to have had any intrinsic characteristics that were transmissible to planets; rather, they functioned as the landscape, the scenery against which the planets and moon moved. This should not be surprising since people who use the stars for navigation, such as caravan traders or seafarers, rather naturally tend to see and think of the sky as map. But sedentary people who use the stars primarily for timekeeping just as naturally tend to associate certain cyclic events on earth with the appearance of coinciding celestial phenomena. The correlation suggests cause and effect. The latter is, of course, exactly what the ancient Egyptians did with the heliacal rise of Sirius and the Inundation. The Greeks believed that planets caused effects on earth. Egyptian ideas about the stars suggest strongly that they are the source for this conviction. The astrological belief that a star (or section of the sky) has its own spirit or deity and that that spirit or deity, linked with the time marked by its star's rising, can influence or impart traits closely resembles the Egyptian belief that deities manifest at certain times only or in certain forms only at specific times. Julius Firmicus Maternus (Book IV, chapter 22) correctly ascribes the idea to the Egyptians, although it is likely far older than he ever realized.

In the Egyptian language, the word "ꜣt" means a "moment/ instant of maximum force/ power." The word refers to a point in time when a person or deity reaches his greatest potency. Egyptians understood gods (and sometimes people) to have a moment "when they appeared or manifested in a state or condition of being in which they are able to produce or to develop an activity." [...]

Two variations of the Egyptian system are found today. One assigns dates on the basis of decans and the other, by month, consistent with Greek influence. The second schema is very similar to that in Western Astrology.

Both schemata are shown in the tables at right. At left is the second schema, more similar to our own. At right is the older decanate version.

The Ancient Egyptians felt that the gods they worshipped influenced people in every aspect of their daily life. As such, they believed that a person's character, his life and success was governed by the specific influences of the ruling deity under which they were born. [...]