“A Deck of Faces: The Hidden History of the Pip Cards” with Austin Coppock
There is a thread that runs through over four millennia of astrological and magical history, a cord that binds ancient Egypt to contemporary Tarot decks. That thread is the decans, the division of the earth’s sky into 36 sections, and of each zodiac sign into 3 equal parts. These 36 ‘Faces of Heaven’ are, however, more than just a curious footnote in the history of archaeo-astronomy. First emerging in ancient Egypt, they have moved with the corpus of Hermetic material, reincarnating in the starry wisdom of culture after culture.
The decans are often mentioned as a side note, or not at all, in contemporary astrological texts. Yet these neglected elements have a well-illustrated history—one adorned with hundreds of beautiful and disturbing images. From the wildly surreal gnostic imagery of the late Hellenistic period to the realistic but symbolically charged pictures of Renaissance texts, no other element of astrology has left such a rich visual trail. These layers of imagery are woven into the fabric of the most widely used Tarot deck in the English-speaking world—the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.
The images of the decans were rarely considered merely symbolic, though.
From the Egyptians onward, they were thought to house legions of spirits. For several millennia and in multiple cultures, seers looked at these 36 faces and saw deities, choirs of angels, hordes of demons, and a host of daimones staring back at them, each with its own unique powers.
An examination of this historical corpus provides an appreciation of the rich and ancient tradition of visual magic and divination upon which the oft-ignored pip cards of the minor arcana rest.
His work on the decans and their intersection with astrology, tarot and magic, 36 Faces, was published by Three Hands Press in 2014. Austin has written extensively on astrology, including hundreds of columns, dozens of articles, and Astrological Almanacs for 2011-2015. His work has appeared in the Mountain Astrologer multiple times, and has also been featured in the Clavis Journal of Occult Arts, Letters and Experience.
Austin’s work blends creativity and scholarship, and highlights the critical and often ignored overlap between astrology and magical traditions, such as Hermeticism. Learn more at austincoppock.com or contact him by email.