Astrology: Mansions and Decans

Over the course of the last several years, I’ve gone through a poetic process of working with the Mansions of the Moon and the Decans of the Zodiac.  I published those books as ebooks on Amazon a year ago, as The Sun’s Paces, about the thirty-six Decans; and (what else?) The Mansions of the Moon, with poems for the twenty-eight mansions of the Moon in itI also published a book  of poems on the Behenian Stars, which are the first fifteen or so fixed stars that astronomers, navigators, astrologers and poets should learn.


What are these Decans, these Mansions, these fixed stars? First, in part, they are mental models of the sky.  The Moon travels about 12°51′ every day on its wandering course across the sky; and 12°51′ * 28 = 360°.  So a Mansion is the typical distance that the Moon travels in one day; so the Mansion is a human model of what 1/28th of the sky the Moon happens to be in — and what stars happen to be behind and near it.  The Sun appears to travel about a degree a day — 1° — and so every 10 days, the Sun travels about 10°, or 1/36th of the sky.  Those thirty-sixths are the Decans: the 10-degree-wide windows of the sky.

And so these two structures are designed to divide the sky into segments of space, but also segments of time: units of about a day for the Mansions, and units of a bit more than a week for the Decans.

Ancient teachers used them as a palace of memory, of course.  Each Mansion has its own name, a name for its attending angel and spirits, a picture to use as a “Memory of Image” diagram, and a place to associate it with among the stars.  Each Decan has a similar image — and, at least for the astrologers, a set of guidelines for how to use these spirits or positions in magic and what their effects were when the Moon and other planets were located in those positions.

And so this is a way of learning the skies, deliberately and consciously, connecting the position of the Moon, the Sun, and the stars behind them, to the real experience of the human being on the ground.  You have to observe the sky as you learn these Mansions and Decans, too — because you have to IMAGINE what stars lie behind the Sun, based on what stars you see at night, when the Sun is behind/below the Earth and the fixed stars shine out in a darkened sky.  There is a vast, wheeling geometry at work here, and it can be learned by looking at maps and diagrams. But it can only be internalized through an actual examination of the skies above you.

A Picture Gallery

The Mansions and the Decans are also a picture gallery.

Sometimes these pictures are portraits of people who have been dead so long, they have become gods — spirits at the least, invisible and unintelligible to us today.   Except, in a sense, they are. We can look at portraits by El Greco, by Rembrandt, and see men and women of haughtiness, of vulnerability, of hopefulness, of decisiveness, of uncertainty. So, when we draw the decans, we’re drawing the people of that place and time, too.

One decan is described as an Angry Black Man.  I once drew this as a caricature for a friend of mine whose birthday fell during that ten-day period.  She’s a short, white, female baker.  I drew an angry black man.  She was delighted with the picture, which she felt described her quite accurately, and mounted it on the dashboard of her car, and promptly forgot about it. A few days later, she was delivering a cake to a wedding; a friend was going to help her pick up the cake and move it to the reception hall.  The friend got in the car on the passenger side, looked at the picture on the dashboard, and said, “I’m confused. That’s a picture of an angry black guy… but it’s you. It’s so you. You’re an angry black guy.”  The friend recognized his baker friend in the image, but didn’t know why.

A Spirit Gallery

The Decans and the Mansions are also a spirit-gallery.  They’re not just slices of the sky that are both places as seasons; they’re also homes to either mindsets or entities — spirits, if you will — that in traditional ideas about astrology ‘beam’ certain energies into the world of human experience.  Like Star Trek’s Klingons or Romulans or Federation officers beaming down from a ship to visit a planet, carrying knowledge, wisdom, culture, technology, and ideas, the Decans and the Mansions supposedly carry this same combination of ideas both good and bad into our world from the heavens.  Ancient peoples assumed that these beings were largely beneficent messengers (Angels, if you will), from God or the gods beyond the stars.  Some of these messengers brought necessary conflict, others necessary peace; but each was both a place in the sky and a season of the year.  Each Mansion and Decan carries its own energies — with the Decan speaking for ten days as a whole, and a Mansion infusing a particular day, with its own framework of ideas and possibilities.   As a result, each day can be said to be the home of a particular spirit — one partly influenced by the Decan, partly by the Mansion.

Now What?

So what does this mean? What does it all mean?

Well, over the past few years, I’ve been engaging with the Mansions separately from the Decans. But I think the time has come to start trying to engage with them together. So I’m going to be doing my own version of the Decans Walk that Gordon and Austin have talked about, following the Decans and the Mansions around the year.  My goal is to start with the Moon in the First Mansion, which will occur on Wednesday this week, and the Sun is in the First Decan of Sagittarius.

I’m doing this in part because I want to begin the Mansions cycle with the First Mansion in the cycle where the Full Moon lands in the Fifth Mansion just before the Winter Solstice.  At that time, the Moon will be on the shoulders of Orion (shades of Blade Runner, the original), and the Sun will be moving into position to enter Capricorn on December 21.

There will likely be some new poetry along the way, perhaps connected with the Terms, as we cycle around the year.  But if you’re interested in joining me on this particular version of this particular walk, the links to the poetry I’ll be using to do the walk is at the top of the post.  I think you’ll find that it’s reasonably effective.

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