DECANS OR DREKKANAS
In the first article of this series we looked at the basics of sign division and looked closely at the 2nd division or hora. Today we will continue to divide the zodiac and our next division is the 3rd division called drekkana, dreshkana, dekanoi, decans or decanates. Interestingly this is the one division that somehow found its way into the popular Sun sign astrology and some people are aware that their Sun is in one of the three 10 degree portions of a sign. However, interpretations of this are for the most part scarce. Although present and regularly used in the ancient Hellenistic astrology, most modern Western astrologers aren’t entirely sure what to do with these decans. Both Hellenistic and Indian astrological systems use this 3rd division, albeit in different ways.
THE HELLENISTIC DECANS
There are two opinions regarding their origin. One is that they originate from the Mesopotamian tradition and the other credits Ancient Egyptian astrologers as the ones who used the decans first. They’ve been integrated into their culture to a great extent up to the point of them being engraved on temples and sarcophagi which can suggest the later is more accurate. Probably we’ll never know, but it’s not very important either.
The Egyptians divided the ecliptic into 36 parts of 10 degrees each. They did not use the 12 fold division, the Zodiac. Although they used stellar references in order to easier locate the decans, the decans themselves were not the stars, but were actually segments of space and it seems that they were tropical in nature, that is to say, they were anchored to the equinoxes and solstices which is confirmed by the updated tables of star references. They had to do that in order for the starry reference points to remain valid and not drift away with precession. Each one of the decans was a home of a particular Egyptian deity and in this way the decans were an important part for timing religious rituals. During the Hellenistic period of astrological synthesis decans were integrated into the system and were given rulerships of planets according to the so called Chaldean order of the planets, which starts from the slowest Saturn and ends with the Moon. The order is: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. This is also the order from which we get the seven planetary days, the days of a week. Let’s call this type of deccans The Chaldean order deccans.
Picture no. 1: Decans with Chaldean order of planets
Even if this was pretty much a standard way of assigning decan rulers in Hellenistic astrology the Chaldean order of planets used for rulership of decans raises some questions. First, the order of the planets does not end with Jupiter at the last decan of Pisces and then start with Mars in Aries. Instead it starts with Mars in Aries and ends with Mars in Pisces. Although this seems quite strange it is interesting to note that Mars is emphasized in this way. At this point I shall highlight a common thread throughout the different types of decans. It seems that Mars, fire and of course number 3 is what they all have in common. Note that in Chaldean order decans both domiciles of Mars, Aries and Scorpio have the first decan ruled by Mars. No other planet rules the first decan of its domicile, only Mars. The focus in this type of decans is on the rulership and the decans do not belong to any particular sign.
It is important to state at this point that no matter what astrological text we read we will find either emphasis on the sole symbolism of the decans with vivid descriptions of figures, full of various symbols, or emphasis on the planets ruling the decans or even signs that belong to decans as sort of a micro zodiac within a zodiac. The symbolism connected to decans seems to be in line with the Egyptian tradition which assigned Gods to the decans, which we also find later in the Hellenistic tradition which mixes Greek and Egyptian deities. Because of these vivid figures the decans are also called faces. This seems to be the primary style of decans, but later we see more and more development towards assigning planetary rulership or signs to them, although the later is in minority.
An example of decan symbolism from the text called Liber Hermetis whose author is supposedly the legendary Hermes Trismegistus, Brihat Jataka of Varahamihira and Yavanajataka of Sphujidhvaja:
First decan / face of Aries from different texts:
Liber Hermetis: “It is an armed sign, standing, upright, waking, having the likeness of a man, standing on feet like claws, and holding above his head a double-sided battle-axe with both hands.”
Brihat Jataka: “A man with white cloth around his waist, dark complexion, pretending to protect, fearful red eyes and a lifted axe.”
Yavanajataka: “A man garbed in red and having a red complexion, a fierce man whose limbs and hands are wounded, who attacks in anger. He bears golden mail and bright arrows and his hand is upraised with an axe.”
While there are differences all three have two things in common. The figure is a violent warrior and has a lifted axe. The similarity has to be there as in all three systems the first decan of Aries belongs to Mars. Let’s look at something different, the second decan of Taurus. Here all systems give a different decan ruler. Let’s see if there will still be any similarity between them.
Liber Hermetis (the decan is ruled by the Moon) : “Its image is a man, erect, having tightly curled hair on both sides of his head. On his chin there is a growing of fine hairs and on his face there is a beard hanging down to his neck from both parts of his chin.”
Brihat Jataka (the decan is ruled by Mercury): “A man possessing knowledge of lands, grains, cows, arts, ploughing and carts, hungry, sheep faced, dirty clothes and shoulders like the hump of an ox.”
Yavanajataka (the decan is ruled by Mars): “A red-faced woman whose arms and lower lip are also red. She is pre-eminent as she stands on one foot holding a jar. She is always intent on eating and drinking, and delights in gardens and woods. “
From these examples it is quite clear that a lot of the imagery was derived from the combination of the sign and the ruler of the decan, although the Liber Hermetis description of the second decan of Taurus ruled by the Moon is a matter of a debate. While there were similarities for the first decan of Aries, the symbols for the second decan of Taurus don’t have much in common if anything.
THE COMMON INDIAN DREKKANA
We find this drekkana or dreshkana in Brihat Parashara Hora (chapter 6, verses 7, 8) and Brihat Jataka of Varahamihira (chapter 1, verse 11). Subsequently we find it in most of Indian astrological literature. Since we’re dealing with a division into three one could expect that there will be some theme or a pattern present in this division that would affirm the nature of number 3, but with using the Chaldean order of planets this is not so obviously expressed. Here it is natural to think of quadruplicities/modalities within triplicities/elements, the three signs of different modalities that share the same element and that is what we find in the most common form of decans or drekkana used in various branches of Indian astrology and which has been adopted by modern Western astrology, albeit with the addition of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto as the decan rulers. Here we have three modalities within one sign and all three are of the same element, thus we can call this a triplicity drekkana.
Picture no. 2: Triplicity drekkana commonly found in Indian astrology.
Note that while we have number 3 emphasized that we don’t get an equilateral triangle when we connect the three instances of the same sign, thus we can’t consider this type of drekkana to be indicative of a geometric relationship of a trine between planets of points. It’s important to emphasize that this is not the 3rd harmonic even if some might claim so. Remember that a part of this research is to find out if the vargas really show the geometrical relationship or in other words, they show major and minor aspects which are used by modern Western astrologers.
It is commonly accepted in the mainstream of Indian astrology that one should look at the planet’s position in a drekkana in order to read the native’s relationship to their siblings. The theme of siblings is in accord with the number 3, which is the number of Mars, the planet that is the natural significator of siblings. The fact that the drekkanas of a sign belong to its trines also affirms the theme of siblings, because the signs that are trine to each other are of the same element. However, I don’t think that when Parashara says too look at drekkana for siblings he is restricting it to only that. I think we should think about it deeper. What is the characteristic of a relationship between two siblings? There is competition, there is resilience, there is courage, there are fights and there is also protection, all related to Mars. Thus perhaps it’s these that should be seen from this division and not only siblings.
THE HARMONIC DREKKANA
Somanatha (Kalpa Latha), Maharishi Jaimini and Marcus Manilius (Astronomica) use a different, harmonic method also called parivritti varga in Sanskrit. They construct what in modern Western astrology we call a harmonic chart. Here the rulers of the drekkanas from Aries to Cancer are the rulers of the 12 signs in natural order and this repeats from Leo and Sagittarius. While Somanatha emphasizes the rulers of the signs, Jaimini and Manilius emphasize the signs themselves. Note that in this case we’re actually not dividing one sign into three parts, but we’re dividing the whole circle into three parts, each part consisting of one full Zodiac. The division of one sign into three parts is just a consequence of dividing the circle.
Picture no.3: The harmonic drekkana of Somanatha, Jaimini and Manilius
We can see an equilateral triangle formed in this type of drekkana, so number 3 is there in its full glory, thus only this type of drekkana shows a geometrical relationship the planets or points that fall in the same drekkana form in the main chart. Imagine cutting the circle into three parts, each part starting with 0 degrees of a fire sign and then stacking these three parts on top of each other, effectively ending up with only one Zodiac again. In this way the planets which are in the same drekkanas become conjunct. In this parivritti type the three drekkanas of each sign are always cardinal, fixed and mutable, in this order. Fire signs start with a fiery, cardinal Aries. Air signs start with airy, cardinal Libra. Earth signs start with watery, cardinal Cancer and water signs start with earthy, cardinal Capricorn. At first it might seem odd that the signs of two feminine elements don’t begin with their element, but instead of the other, complementary one. Water flows on earth and only earth can give water a shape.
It is important to highlight the cardinal quality being emphasized which is what we also find in the 9th division, the navamsha. We will look at the relationship of the harmonic drekkana with the navamsha a bit later.
THE ECCENTRIC DREKKANA OF YAVANAJATAKA
After Varahamihira defines the drekkanas in Brihat Jataka, he mentions that some do it differently and that they give the first drekkana to the lord of the sign, the second to the lord of the 11th and the third to the lord of the 12th sign from it. We find something very similar in Yavanajataka, only that the second is given to the lord of the 12th and the third to the lord of the 11th.
“The first Hora (in a sign) belongs to the lord of the sign, the second to the lord of the eleventh sign (from it). The three Drekanas in it belong in order to the lord of that sign, to the lord of the twelfth sign, and to the lord of the eleventh sign.« (Yavanajataka, chapter 1, verse 39 – Pingree’s translation)
Yavanajataka focuses extensively on the symbols derived from the combination of the nature of the sign and the planet that rules the drekkana. It says:
»The Horas (horai) are famous . . . . The Drekanas (dekanoi) are renowned for their acquisition of images and forms.« (Yavanajataka, chapter 1, verse 34 – Pingree’s translation)
Since the astrology of Yavanajataka is for some reason not practiced very much today we’d need to use these drekkana symbols in practice for some time in order to get a sense of how valuable they are and how well does this eccentric drekkana work. Varahamihira was well aware of Yavanajataka, but he opted for Parashara’s drekkana instead and I suppose he had a good reason to do so and we’ll discuss one of the reasons soon. First let’s look at this eccentricity:
Picture no. 4: Drekkana from Yavanajataka
At first glance it appears weird and the fact that it assigns the second and the third drekkana of a sign to the rulers of the 12th and the 11th, the two previous signs also raises some question marks. The three modalities are also there in each sign, but in a different order than what we’ve seen so far.
Having all the different drekkanas at our disposal we’re sooner or later faced with a temptation to choose one and reject the others. Of course, who wants to use three different types of drekkana at once? In my opinion it is very simple. If we’re using them in the context of Parashara’s or Varahamihira’s astrology, then we should use the triplicity drekkana from picture no.2. If we’re using them in the context of Hellenistic or Persian astrology, then we should use the Chaldean order decans from picture no. 1, as the techniques we meet in that system were developed with this type of drekkana or decans, but we should also note that the decans were not stressed that much and Valens, the great Hellenistic astrologer didn’t write about them in any clear or systematic way. If we’re practicing Jaimini’s system of astrology which employs the drekkana heavily, then we should use the harmonic drekkana from picture no. 3 and not the triplicity drekkana which is meant for Parashara’s or Varahamihira’s system and is geared towards topics related to siblings. If we were to use the drekkana symbols from Yavanajataka we should note that they were derived from the Yavanajataka type of drekkana.
JAIMINI’S HARMONIC DREKKANA AND NAVAMSHA
Since I’ve touched upon the importance of using the correct drekkana for practicing Jaimini’s astrology I feel obliged to elaborate on this. The primary varga in Jaimini is the navamsha as is the case in all Indian systems. The second in importance for Jaimini is the drekkana. Today we see a lot of mixing of Jaimini and Parashara and while the two are complementary in many ways, they are also contradictory at some points, drekkana being one of them, but many astrologers practice Jaimini’s yogada technique with Parashari drekkana. Since Jaimini uses drekkana and navamsha in tandem it makes a lot of sense if the two are harmonically related. By using the harmonic drekkana this is indeed the case as the navamsha becomes the 3rd harmonic of the drekkana in the sense that we can divide each drekkanana into additional three parts and thus get nine parts in a sign. Effectively in this way the navamsha becomes the drekkana of drekkanas.
Picture no. 5: Harmonic drekkana and navamsha
See how the same pattern repeats in the inner, navamsha level. The drekkanas in the sign of Aries are Aries, Taurus and Gemini. Then if we zoom in and consider the first drekkana, Aries as a sign, then the three navamshas in it are its drekkanas and they go in the same order, Aries, Taurus, Gemini and so on for all of the signs. They are harmonically aligned.
At this point I’d like to mention that there are evidences of this practice in Hellenistic astrology, but in the available texts this is only mentioned and no examples of its practical use were given anywhere and we also don’t know how exactly this was made. These 9th parts were called leitourgoi and were considered as ministers or soldier of the decans.
The Yogada technique of Jaimini I’ve mentioned above can be controversial, though, because of the two schools of thought regarding the vargas as separate charts, so according to the school of thought one follows the Yogada planets would be determined differently through the aspect to the ascendant, the seventh sign from it and the three alternative ascendants, Hora lagna, Ghatika lagna and Bhava lagna, all of these looked from the main chart, the drekkana and the navamsha. Planets which aspect these points become Yogadas and are indicative of success. It is worthy of noting that cardinal quality is being emphasized in both vargas. Each sign begins with a cardinal drekkana and a cardinal navamsha and also each drekkana begins with a cardinal navamsha thus the theme of action and forward movement is to be taken into consideration.
PARASHARA’S DREKKANA AND DVADASHAMSHA
We can observe a connection that is similar to the drekkana-navamsha connection of Jaimini in Parashara’s drekkana and dvadashamsha, the 12th division. Here every drekkana begins with the dvadashamsha of its own sign. Aries starts with Aries, Leo starts with Leo, Sagittarius with Sagittarius and so on. While none of the two is a pure harmonic chart they have been designed to fit each other. Such a fit is not possible if we use any other drekkana along with the dvadashamsha.
Picture no.6: Triplicity drekkana and dvadashamsha
I included the navamsha and the dvadashamsha only for illustration. We will take a closer look of them in the coming articles and I will dedicate an article to each of them. For now, let’s contemplate the different drekkanas or decans and find how we can use them in the best possible way in our practice of astrology.
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Brihat Jataka, chapter 1, verse 11: “The Dreshkanas should be the lords of its own, 5th, and 9th house.“
Brihat Jataka, chapter 1, verse 12: “But some others take the first Hora as the lord of the zodiac sign and the second as the lord of the eleventh house. Also, they relay the Dreshkana as the lords of it’s own (zodiac sign), the eleventh house, and the twelfth house.”
Brihat Parashara Hora, chapter 6, verses 7, 8: “One third of a Rashi is called Dreshkana. These are totally 36, counted from Aries, repeating thrice at the rate of 12 per round. The 1st, 5th and the 9th Rashis from a Rashi are its three Dreshkanas and are, respectively, lorded by Narada, Agasthya and Durvasa.