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Key to Evocation: Zodiacal Decans

Mar 29, 2018
Stewart Holmes
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 11 min.

Matrix of Possibilities

There are many ways to perform the operation of theurgy and the evocation of spirits. Most of those who practice this kind of magickal operation work through one or more of the many available grimoires. However, there are other ways to perform this operation that have little to do with the old grimoires; yet these other methods require the invention of a completely alternative magickal technology to make use of them. A practitioner is generally stuck between using existing information and available materials or creating something entirely new. The path that I took was to create a new methodology for invocation and evocation, but the clues on how to proceed were already well documented, even though they were subtle and obscure.

Ever since I first examined the Goetia of the Lemegeton, or Lesser Key of Solomon, I have been fascinated by those entities called Goetic Demons, but found the methodologies for invoking them to be too abbreviated and incomplete to be entirely useful to me. Others have made use of this grimoire, but I found it beyond my ability to produce an effective methodology for evocation. I also found the 72 angels of the Shemhemphorasch (ha-Shem) in this same category, even though they were not specifically listed in any grimoire that I had at the time. To me there seemed to be a lot of pieces of occult lore without the ability to pull them all together. So I tended to work with the spirits and powers that I was able to access through my developed ritual systems, and ignore all of the other spirits that didn’t fit into those structures.

However, when I first read Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth and also studied Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn (specifically, Book T) there seemed to be a new structure implied that might associate the Tarot, Astrology, Qabbalah and the hierarchy of Spirits into one unified system. That structure was found in the 36 Naib cards of the Minor Arcana of the Tarot and the 36 Astrological Decans.

Aleister Crowley discusses that there is an associated spiritual hierarchy with each of the Naib cards, stating it as such: “ It is governed from the angelic world by two Beings, one during the hours of Light, the other during the hours of Darkness. Therefore, in order to use the properties of this card, one way is to get into communication with the Intelligence concerned, and to induce him to execute his function.” (See “Book of Thoth”, p. 43) Crowley goes on to write that these two spirits are the Angels of the Shehemphorash and that there are a total of 72 of them, corresponding to the five degree astrological segment of the “quinaries” or what I refer to as the quinarians. Crowley omits relating the astrological decans to these 36 Naib cards, but he does use the old style planetary rulers that are associated with them in assigning the planets to these Tarot cards. One can see this illustrated in a table on page 283 of the Book of Thoth.

Book T goes further than Crowley by not only showing that the astrological decans correspond to the 36 Naib cards of the Tarot, but also that there is a larger matrix consisting of the 16 Court cards and the four Aces. (This association was first documented in the Golden Dawn material, particularly Book “T” - Tarot. See Golden Dawn by Israel Regardie, 6th edition, p. 551. )

So it would seem that there is a very tight tabular system consisting of all of the 56 cards of the Lesser Arcana. This tabular system can also be used to represent a spiritual hierarchy of the four Elements, the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The one association that is missing is where the decans are shown to be hierarchically related to the quinarians, since the former would represent a ten degree segment of the zodiacal wheel and the latter, a five degree segment. A decan would therefore be the higher order structure of two corresponding quinarians. What this means is that the decan and its associated spirit correspondences rules over the associated quinarian and its spirit correspondences. If the angels of the ha-Shem and the demons of the Goetia are associated with the quinarians, then the angelic ruler of the decanate would be their hierarchical lord, and the decan would be the key to the quinarian.

Clues to the nature of the astrological structure of these spirits is found in the lore from the Golden Dawn, Alesiter Crowley, and they were used by Carrol Runyon in his work. In the book 777 (cols. CXXIX - CXXXII, CXLV - CLXVI), the angels of the Ha-Shem, Angelic Rulers of the Decans and Daemons of the Goetia are organized by the Zodiac, using the ascendant, cadent and succeedent parts of the wheel of the Zodiac, by day and night. (Actually, the Angels of the ha-Shem correspond to nine of the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life for the four suits of the Tarot, paired by day and night. Pulling the various pieces together requires a correspondence between the Decans and the Naib cards of the Lesser Arcana of the Tarot.)

It would seem that the number 72 would lend itself to being a multiple of six times twelve, both very sacred numbers in Judaism. Also, there already was an astrological structure for the quinarians as lesser aspects of the decans, so I think that it would fit into a neat hierarchy. I don’t know where this idea originally came from, but I was using existing schemes for all of this, as well as hints from Aleister Crowley in the appendices of the Book of Thoth - so I didn’t invent it. (The Goetia of Dr. Rudd has paired the angels of the ha-Shem with the Goetic demons. The relationship of the 72 spirits to the quinarians is quite old, and may be a part of the ancient system of astrological magick, such as that proposed in the Picatrix (11th century). However, there is no prior precedence for grouping the decans and the quinarians together, and organizing the associated spirits into a hierarchy.) As a system it fits really well together, and is better than using the Shemhemphorash as a unique and separate set of spirits without any correspondences. As I have stated above, determining a context for spiritual entities so that they may be defined and highly qualified is important if the magician seeks to invoke that spirit.

When I carefully researched the clues, I found where the angels of the Shemhemphorash were given their astrological correspondences - it was in Agrippa’s Book III of Occult Philosophy, Chapter XXV, paragraph 6. Agrippa writes: “And these are those that are set over the seventy-two celestial quinaries,..” So if the angels of ha-Shem are set over the seventy-two celestial quinarians, then their hierarchy would naturally be associated with the 36 decans and the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and also with their associated archangels and angelic rulers. This relation between decan and quinarian is not spoken of by either Agrippa or anyone else, but is alluded to in Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth, (Part I - Theory - p. 40 - 44, and Appendix B, p. 283) and also Book T of the Golden Dawn (p. 550). If you put what he says together with the tables in 777, you come up with the system that I am using. To my knowledge, no else quite makes all of the combinations that I have made - but it seems to be functionally elegant.

There is some dispute in occult circles as to whether there actually were 72 goetic demons, since the earlier forms of this list of spirits have only a total 67 demons. I am, of course, referring to the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum of Johann Weyer (1563). Earlier versions of this list show an even smaller number of demons, so some purists have stated that the number 72 must be later and not valid. Of course, the same argument could be used for the twenty-two trumps of the Tarot. Earlier versions of the Tarot do not agree on the total number of trumps, and the correspondence between them and the Qabbalistic pathways wasn’t made until the 19th century. Would purists insist on using the older variations of the Tarot and omit comparing the trumps to the paths because it was a later adaptation? Of course not! Yet because of the elegance and the tight manner that three different angelic hierarchies fit together under the aegis of the Lesser Arcana of the Tarot, and how they represent a holistic astrological hierarchy, I feel compelled to disagree with the purists and instead propose the system that I have found to be most useful and quite powerful. Some may disagree with what I have pulled together, but I believe that this system represents a greater truth, just like the current knowledge and insights associated with the Tarot.

Needless to say, I was quite thrilled at how neat and tidy all of these various elements were pulled together through the cards of the Lesser Arcana of the Tarot. I speculated that if one could identify the various correspondences associated with each of these cards, that one could put together a system to invoke and evoke all of the associated spirits. So, after basking in this wondrous revelation for a moment or two, I set to work to build a system of magick that would do just that.

To recap, the angelic ruler of the decan and Tarot Naib card has the following hierarchy:

Element Godhead

Qabbalistic Sephirah

Zodiacal Base Element

Zodiacal Triple Spiritual Intelligences (Archangel, Angel, House Ruler) - these qualify the specific Zodiacal Sign

Planetary Ruler of the Decan

Angelic Ruler of the Decanate

ha-Shem Angel of Day and Night

Goetic Demon of Day and Night (from Lemegeton - Goetia)

Angel of the Zodiacal Degree (From Lemegeton - Ars Paulina - Part 2)

Obviously, if one were to perform an invocation of the angelic ruler of the decanate, or one of the angels of the ha-Shem, or one of the Goetic demons, then one would establish or invoke the associated spiritual hierarchy, beginning with the Element Godhead. Tools used to assist in the establishment of these qualities would be the pentragram (Element), lesser hexagram (astrological triplicities), hexagram or septagram (planetary ruler) and the eneagram (sephirah).

My methodology uses a technique that defines a spirit through a matrix of correspondences, and then generates the elemental body and planetary intelligences of the spirit from them. I will defer that explanation to a future article, but I think the above information is enough to get occultists thinking of an alternative method to performing invocation and evocation.

Importance of the Astrological Decans

So, what is the importance and significance of the astrological decan? Even if it seems to fit into a nice tidy structure that defines a hierarchy of spirits, why is it such a compelling structure by itself? These are good questions, but in order to answer them, we will need to share some historical information about the decans. Once that is done, I am sure it will be obvious why they are significant.

The decans have a long history in the annals of magickal religion - the Egyptians had minor deities associated with each of them, and these play an important part in the Book of Gates. The decans are used in Horary (predictive) astrology to determine the dignity of planets in the divinatory chart, and they have been represented in both the Egyptian and Mesopotamian theological systems as sidereal gods of time and destiny. Thus the magician contacts the Angelic Ruler in order to realize and control his/her destiny, and to affect the general causality of the world. The decans were also used by the Egyptians to indicate the hour of the night.

What gave me a clue to the importance of the decans is when I came across a passage in the book “Magic, Mystery, and Science - The Occult in Western Civilization” by Dan Barton and David Grandy, (Indiana University Press 2004). That passage said that the Egyptians used the decans (and their associated godheads and marking stars) to determine and qualify the hours of the night sky. During the night, the decan that appeared at the ascendant would tell the Egyptians what time it was. A decan would last approximately 40 minutes, so for each night approximately 18 of the 36 decans would be revealed, and during the changing of the seasons, the evening would potentially begin with a different decan over time, passing through the whole zodiacal wheel during an annual period.

So the decans were possibly used as magical hours during the night, but these hours would have lasted 40 minutes instead of 60, and each decan would have been accorded a different minor godhead and quality, not to mention the 12 gates of the diurnal solar boat transit through the underworld.

It would also seem that the Egyptians used a system of reckoning when attempting to determine the hours at night, using the decans passing over the horizon as a kind of clock. Since twilight would have made this reckoning impossible, there would have been 12 hours of night associated with the decans, since making this measurement would have required complete darkness. Dawning light would have also potentially interfered, so there would have been an hour and a half both before full night and before dawn when such reckoning would have been impossible.

A device called a merkhet (plumb line) was discovered in an Egyptian tomb. This tool, whose invention was late, probably around 600 BCE, was used to determine the north-south axis. Two of these devices were set up in a specific measured line from each other, and the subject would observe the rising of the decan star between the line of these two devices. It’s likely that this late tool was based on more primitive technology that was used to perform the same kind of sighting for untold centuries in the past.

Another interesting thing about the decans is that every 10 days a new decan would appear at the horizon at the first observable hour of the night. It’s from this array of 36 decans, each lasting 10 days, that the Egyptians determined their solar based calendar, where the last decan coincided with the annual inundation of the Nile river. They had a yearly calendar of 36 decans with five days added to the end to make 365 days in all. The five additional days would represent a 73rd quinarian in the Egyptian astrological system, but that is another interesting item to discuss in another article.

As you can see, the decans were used to measure time during the night. They also represented the hours of the domain of the underworld, where the solar boat and its occupants fought the threatening chthonic foes in order to gain passage to the gate of the dawn in the east. This underworld passage occurred every evening, but to the Egyptians it represented the mythic passage from death and mortality to the immortality of the gods - an initiation cycle of profound consequences.

If we now observe that the decans and the Naib cards of the Lesser Arcana of the Tarot are analogous, then not only do we have an elegant system of occult correspondences, but we also have a map for an aspect of the Inner planes, governed by various spirits and representing the underworld passage of occult initiation.

by Frater Barrabbas

Leave your comments / questions

Sojahu Bavitki2y ago

Thank you for the refreshing article and viewpoint! Finally someone else who doesn't view the trump arrangement as concrete!!
I have been of the mindset that the Tarot may have been a book of astrological talismans, with the major arcana being tied to the 28 lunar mansions, and the minor being tied to the 36 solar decans, 15 fixed stars may have some purpose with the 14 court cards + (fool/aces?)