Tarot Tutorial

Tarot Tutorial: Decans and Timing

Decans and Timing

By Mick Frankel

In this strange time, I really miss live music, so I thought I’d pull a card in answer to this question: “When will I go to see music played live?”

The card was the Three of Pentacles. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “not too far away. Some time between 1st and 10th January 2021.”

If you’re thinking something like, “What the …? Who the …? How did he get that?” then I hope that this article will be useful, helpful and practical for you.

Here’s a diagram of the zodiac, the astrological year. The signs go round anti-clockwise from Aries on the left-hand side to Taurus, Gemini and so on all the way round to Pisces.

Zodiac wheel, showing all 12 zodiac signs, one per month, labeled in each segment anti-clockwise

For example the Sun will next enter the sign of Aries at the Spring Equinox on March 20th 2021. The Sun will move on to enter the next sign of Taurus on 19th April, Gemini on 20th May and so on through the zodiac. Eventually, the Sun will enter the sign of Pisces on 18th February 2022.

The circle is 360° and in the zodiacal year, each of the 12 signs covers 30°. The decans are the sections that you get when you divide each sign of the Zodiac into three equal sections.

Dividing each sign into three sections means that each decan covers 30° ÷ 3 = 10°.

There are 12 signs so there are 12 × 3 = 36 decans in all, each one covering 10° of the zodiac. 

So far so good?

Now take your favourite 78-card Tarot deck. Put the 22 Tarot trumps to one side and you’re left with the four suits each containing 14 cards.

From the four suits, remove the Aces and the court cards and what are you left with?

Nine pip cards from 2 to 10 in each of the four suits gives 9 × 4 = 36 pip cards.

36 decans in the zodiac, 36 pip cards in the Tarot deck. (Feel free to stroke your chin and make the sound “Hmmmm” at this point.) 

These 36 pip cards map very nicely on to the 36 decans. There’s a one-to-one fit.

Each pip card corresponds to a 10° sector of the zodiac.

Crucially, this means that each pip card corresponds to a period in the year of roughly ten days.

Elements and Modes

Each sign of the zodiac corresponds to one of the four elements: Fire, Earth, Air and Water.

There are three Fire signs:

Aries, Leo and Sagittarius

Three Earth signs:

Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn

Three Air signs:

Gemini, Libra and Aquarius

Three Water signs:

Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces

In many Tarot decks, the four suits correspond to the four elements like this:

Wands = Fire

Pentacles (Coins) = Earth

Swords = Air

Cups = Water

Each sign of the zodiac also has a mode which is either Cardinal, Fixed or Mutable.

The Cardinal signs start off each of the four seasons. In the Northern hemisphere this gives:

Aries, the ram – Spring

Cancer, the crab – Summer

Libra, the scale – Autumn

Capricorn, the goat – Winter 

The Fixed signs mark the middle of the each season:

Taurus, the bull

Leo, the lion

Scorpio, the scorpion

Aquarius, the water-bearer

In your Tarot deck, you might see representations of these four Fixed signs around X The Wheel of Fortune and XXI The World.

Finally the four Mutable signs are when one season begins to morph into the next:

Gemini, the twins

Virgo, the maiden

Sagittarius, the archer

Pisces, the fishes

Cardinal signs are good at starting things.

Fixed signs consolidate.

Mutable signs are able to adapt.

The pip cards from 2 to 10 in each suit can be taken in three groups of three cards like this:

2, 3 and 4

5, 6 and 7

8, 9 and 10

The first group of three cards represents the initial phase of the process represented by the element of each suit. 

Take the suit of Wands as an example.

If the Ace of Wands was the root of action, the Two, Three and Four of Wands initiate the action and take it through to the completion of the initial phase. They get things up and running.

This first phase corresponds to the Cardinal mode.

The second group of three cards represents the middle phase of the process that began with the Two, Three and Four.

The Five, Six and Seven of Wands consolidate the work in progress. They have the staying power to deal with the struggle of moving things on to the next level.

This second phase corresponds to the Fixed mode.

The third group of three cards represents the final phase of the process that began with the Two, Three and Four and was then consolidated by the Five, Six and Seven.

The Eight, Nine and Ten of Wands complete the work and prepare for the start of a new cycle.

This third phase corresponds to the Mutable mode.

The suit of Wands corresponds to the element of Fire so the three group of three cards can be allocated to the three Fire signs like this: 

2, 3 and 4 Wands correspond to Aries (Cardinal Fire)

5, 6 and 7 Wands correspond to Leo (Fixed Fire)

and 8, 9 and 10 Wands correspond to Sagittarius (Mutable Fire)

The same pattern applies to all four suits giving these correspondences:

Wands (Fire)Pentacles (Earth)Swords (Air)Cups (Water)
2, 3 and 4 (Cardinal)AriesCapricornLibraCancer
5, 6 and 7 (Fixed)LeoTaurusAquariusScorpio
8, 9 and 10 (Mutable)SagittariusVirgoGeminiPisces
Table of correspondences showing pip cards/modality and suit/element

You can use this table to find the astrological correspondences for individual pip cards.

For example, using this table you can see that 6 of Pentacles corresponds to Taurus and 10 of Swords corresponds to Gemini.

Not only that, but the 6 of Pentacles corresponds to the middle decan of Taurus which in 2021 will be from 1st until 10th May. The 10 of Swords represents the final decan of Gemini which in 2021 will be the period between 11th until 20th June.

Going back to my reading about hearing live music again, the Three of Pentacles corresponds to the middle decan of Capricorn, the ten days which start at New Year’s Day 2021.

Using the pip cards to correspond to the decans introduces very precise timings into your readings. This system also gives you a “card of the moment” which is the pip card that corresponds to the current decan; the Sun’s current position in the zodiac. 

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Please drop me a line if you have any questions at all:


I run an e-mail self-study course called “Astrology For Tarot Readers”. Please get in touch if this article has got you interested in learning more. I’ll be happy to give you more details about the course.

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