Egyptian decans

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Annotated astronomical procession from the ceiling of the tomb of Seti I showing the Egyptian decanal stars

The Egyptian decans are a series of stars or small groups of stars used in ancient Egyptian astrology. These stars were worshipped as part of Egyptian religious practices.


The decans each appear to rise consecutively on the horizon throughout each daily earth rotation. The rising of each decan marked the beginning of a new decanal "hour" (Greek hōra) of the night, and they were used as a sidereal star clock beginning by at least the 9th or 10th Dynasty (2100 BCE).

Because a new decan appears heliacally every ten days, thus marking the start of a new 10 day week in the Egyptian calendar, the ancient Greeks called them dekanoi (δεκανοί; pl. of δεκανός dekanos) meaning "tenths".


Decans first appeared in the 10th Dynasty (2100 BCE) on coffin lids found in tombs of noblemen in the region of Asyut. The sequence of these star patterns began with Sopdet, the star Sirius, and each decanal star had a corresponding deity. As measures of time, the rising and setting of decans marked 'hours' and groups of 10 days which comprised an Egyptian year. The ancient Book of Nut covers the subject of the decans.

After Alexander the Great invaded Egypt, Egyptian astrology melded with Greek and Persian astrology and the original system of decans gave way to a lunar division of 27 or 28 lunar stations, also known as manzil, lunar mansions and to a zodiac of 12 signs, based on an anthropomorphic pattern of constellations, and their use can be seen in the Dendera zodiac dated to circa 50 BCE.

Decans continued to be used in astrology in medieval Islam, Renaissance, 17-century astrology, 19-century Theosophy, and in cosmology, theurgy, and hermeticism, as well as in religion and ritual magic.

In 2021, occultist Travis McHenry created a system of divination based on the Egyptian decans. He incorporated this system into a deck of cards called The Egyptian Star Oracle.

Number of decans

Although it is commonly believed that there are only 36 decans, in fact, there are around 100 decanal stars, although only 36 were used in the course of any given Egyptian year. The reason for the large number of stars has to do with the Sothic shift and the fact that the 365-day cycle of the star Sirius does not perfectly align with earth's 365.25-day solar cycle. To compensate for this minor variation, the Egyptians allowed for subtle shifts in the decanal stars they used throughout the year.

Additionally, five days were added to the end of the Egyptian calendar each year, and these days had their own decan in addition to have a specific deity rule over each individual day.

Identity of the decans

Studying the decans in a practical sense is complicated because the actual stars that were observed by the Egyptians and regarded as decans are mostly not known. Many scientists have attempted to determine which stars might be decans, but these theories have failed to gain broad support from their peers. Some decans have been conclusively identified. In his 2022 book, Cult of the Stars, Travis McHenry states that without further sources being revealed from the Middle Kingdom Period, the stellar identities of the decans are likely to remain unknown; however, he also proposes that a few decans can be identified with a high degree of certainty:

List of decans

This is a list of the 37 decans that were most commonly used across a broad time period from 2100 BC until the demise of the Egyptian religion in 356 AD, owing to the religious policies of Roman Emperor Constantius II. The order presented here represents the order in which each star's heliacal rise occurs over the course of the year. The end of the year coincided with the rise of Sirius, followed by the five epagomenal days, after which the cycle would start again with the rise of Tepy-a Kenmet on I Akhet 1 at the beginning of a new year.

Decade Transliteration Translation Astrological Meaning Group Mineral
1 Tepy-a Kenmet Predecessor of the Cow New Beginnings and Jubilation Cow Unknown
2 Kenmet The Cow Development and Growth Cow Garnet
3 Khery Heped En Kenmet Under the Hind Part of the Cow Change in Circumstances Cow Glass and Gold
4 Hat Djat Beginning of the Crane Construction and Building Crane Glass and Gold
5 Pehuy Djat End of the Crane Accomplishment Crane Galena and Gold
6 Temat Heret Upper Wing Care and Nurturing Crane Gold
7 Temat Kheret Lower Wing Death and Endings Crane Gold
8 Weshati Bekati The Pregnant Twins Fertility and Sex Twins Turquoise
9 Ip-Djes Recovered Senses Being of Service Twins Iron and Gold
10 Tepy-a Khentet Predecessor of Khentet Truth and Justice Khentet Hematite
11 Khentet heret Upper Khentet Chaos Khentet Smoky Quartz and Gold
12 Khentet kheret Lower Khentet Conflict and War Khentet Red Jasper and Gold
13 Tjemes en Khentet Red one of Khentet Restraint or End of Conflict Khentet Glass and Gold
14 Qedty Band of Reeds Sowing Seeds The Boat Flint
15 Hery-ib Wia Middle of the Boat Journey Through Life The Boat Glass and Gold
16 Seshmu Guides or Winepress Spiritual Struggles The Boat Glass and Gold
17 Kenmu Secret Stars Rest and Repose The Boat Carnelian and Gold
18 Tepy-a Semed Predecessor of the Horn Tree of Life and Wisdom Sheep Gold
19 Semed The Horn Celebration and Merriment Sheep Copper and Gold
20 Seret The Sheep Melancholy or Sadness Sheep Dark Flint and Gold
21 Sawy Seret Children of the Sheep Healing Sheep Carnelian and Gold
22 Khery Heped Seret Under the Hind Part of the Sheep Love and Romance Sheep Glass and Gold
23 Tepy-a Akhuy Predecessor of the Two Spirits Mixed Blessings Two Souls Garnet
24 Akhuy The Two Spirits Harvesting of Rewards Two Souls Gold
25 Bawy The Two Souls Abundance Two Souls Gold
26 Khentu Heru Upper Khentu Destruction of Enemies Khentu Gold
27 Khentu Kheru Lower Khentu Authority and Power Khentu Jasper and Gold
28 Qed The Potter Creation and Artistry The Potter Gold
29 Sawy Qed Children of the Potter Possessiveness or Sharing The Potter Glass and Gold
30 Khau Thousands Respect and Admiration The Potter Carnelian and Gold
31 Aryt Roll of Papyrus Writing or One's Legacy Sah Granite and Gold
32 Remen Hery Sah Upper arm of Sah Purification Sah Quartz and Gold
33 Remen Khery Sah Lower arm of Sah Illumination or Revelation Sah Quartz and Gold
34 Sah The Father of the Gods Protection From All Dangers Sah Gold
35 Tepy-a Sopdet Predecessor of Sopdet Destruction of Chaos Sopdet Ebony and Gold
36 Sopdet Goddess of the Flood Inundation Sopdet Gold
37 Shetwy The Two Tortoises Removal of Obstacles Epagomenal Carnelian and Gold

See also