Art by Andy Kehoe - https://www.andykehoe.art/
First impressions often lie. People sometimes appear very different upon initial contact from what their deeper personality is about. We all wear masks. Not deliberately, but automatically. In some cases, the mask is very similar and compatible with the real nature of the person, but often times it is presenting an image which runs counter to what stands behind it and is not immediately expressed. It is, however, always the right, the necessary one for each person to either promote or protect their overall character. This mask is what in psychology is often referred to as ‘the persona’ (a term introduced by the famous psychologist C.G. Jung) and what in astrology we associate with the Ascendant, or the Rising Sign.
At the moment of birth, that exact hour and minute when we take our first breath and thus start an individual existence, one of the 12 Zodiac signs (in one of its 30 degrees) is rising on the Eastern horizon. Approximately every 2 hours, a new sign rises and they all take their turns within a 24-hour period. So, to calculate the position of the rising sign, an accurate birth time is needed. Depending on the sign and degree of our Ascendant and its relationship to other factors in the natal chart, we are born with a specific temperament which shapes our outer appearance and the way we instinctively choose to behave when merging with the external environment. It´s our method of social adjustment and style of presentation. It determines the way we are seen by others, regardless of how accurate a portrayal that is of who we really are.
The Ascendant is probably the most individualizing factor in a birth chart, as it sets the person in tune to a specific energy he or she most naturally reaches out to when dealing with the outside world. The astrologer Jodie Forrest refers to the Ascendant as ‘the uniform or the clothing that the chart wears’ She also adds that ’The Ascendant is like our skin’ and compares it to a spaceship, a vehicle rightly equipped for the terrain it is to travel. The analogy she makes illustrates the role of the Ascendant as a tool for the successful navigation through life experiences specifically necessary for that person. How well we have integrated our rising sign has a lot to do with how comfortable we feel in our own skin. People are not born with fully functioning Ascendants. Coming to terms with the mode of expression of the Rising sign takes time and involves a long process of social adaptation. Thus, children are often not yet connected well with their Ascendants and start displaying them only as they reach adolescence and become more aware of the kind of ‘image’ they would want to project out.
To provide some astrological context, below is a brief, very general overview of the characteristics of each Ascendant sign within the broader categories of the 4 elements (fire, air, earth and water). Each reflects a different behavior and physical appearance, as the Ascendant is also related to the body and particularly the face. According to the prominent author of astrology Stephen Arroyo ‘The Fire and Air signs rising encourage active self-expression (sometimes self-depletion through unchecked outpouring of one’s energies) in the outer world and dynamic expenditure of energy. The Earth and Water signs rising tend to conserve energy and resist self-disclosure, and hence they indicate self-containment (sometimes self-repression) and the tendency to live within oneself.’
The Fire Ascendants – Aries, Leo and Sagittarius
All three are action-oriented, dynamic, extroverted and self-projecting. When someone is born with Aries rising, the image they would seek to present to the world will be one of courage, strong will, energetic movement and confidence. The ‘outer face’ of the Leo Ascendant will usually be one of joyfulness, generosity, creativity and a generally distinct presence or ‘charisma’, but also pride. When Sagittarius is rising, the person presents an attitude of expansiveness, open-mindedness and tolerance, a markedly positive and up-beat behavior.
The Air Ascendants – Gemini, Libra and Aquarius
Like fire, the air Ascendants are outgoing and directional, but the accent here is on the mind and intellect and the circulation of concepts and ideas rather than pure action. Gemini rising wears the mask of the ‘curious communicator and researcher’, someone who explores all sorts of information in a search for knowledge and objectivity. With Libra rising, we usually see someone whose behavior is characterized by gracefulness, tact, empathy and with a strong aesthetic streak. If Aquarius is on the Ascendant point, originality, individualism, rebelliousness and sometimes eccentricity pervade the ‘persona’.
The Earth Ascendants – Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn
Earth Ascendants share a common groundedness and practicality and predominantly introverted style of self-expression. Taurus rising tends to be slow-reacting, determined, tenacious and also very physical and sensual. With Virgo, what stands out is diligence, humility and a display of a serious, analytical and task-oriented approach, often accompanied by criticism. The Capricorn Ascendant is ‘earthy’ too, but more in the way of formality and marked pragmatism. It highly values self-control and efficiency, thus displaying a non-nonsense attitude while interacting with others, which often makes it appear older for his/her age.
The Water Ascendants – Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces
Water rising signs are the most difficult to define, not only because they tend to be introverted, but also due to the highly emotional and subconscious quality of the water element. People born with the Ascendant in Cancer have the looks of someone caring, receptive, highly sensitive, but rather moody and unpredictable. Scorpio Ascendants are notorious for their mystique and intense presence, wearing a ‘face of a psychoanalyst’ which for most others can be quite intimidating. With Pisces rising, a person can be expected to act with compassion, warmth and gentle humor, often assuming the role of some kind of ambassador of peace and universal spirituality.
Even in cases when the Ascendant is in a sign or element similar to the those of the Sun or Moon (the two factors of greatest significance in the formation of personality), it tends to live a life of its own and the key to its proper channeling is in figuring out the specifics of the energy it operates through (the sign and element, as well as the aspects it makes to other points in the chart). However, what I have found to be particularly essential is answering the question – ‘Was I born with this particular Ascendant in order to tone down and protect the personality that stands behind it or is its role rather to promote and reinforce my inner nature?’ This is a question which can probably be clarified only with the help of a wise and knowledgeable psychological astrologer. Analyzing the function of our Ascendant in the context of the whole personality is crucial for learning how to project ourselves in a spontaneous, natural and efficient way.
During a social gathering or in everyday people-meeting situations, there is no way to present the whole complexity and essence of our personality, so the Ascendant helps to sum up what we instinctively feel we want to expose. It’s a means to introduce ourselves and take up a role which we assume will present us in the best possible light. But we don’t always feel comfortable in that role, nor do we necessarily know how to play it well. The whole process is reactional and not particularly conscious, but if studied, it can be modified and improved. The astrologer Steven Forrest in his book ‘The Inner Sky’ says:’ If we define sanity as the ability to generate a reasonable, purposeful pattern of action, then the Ascendant is the antidote to madness. A weak response to it invariably makes a person feel crazy and disconnected. …on the stage of the world, a person with no mask is mute, extraneous, and invisible.’
When developed well, the Rising Sign can be an effective ‘ambassador’ or ‘PR agent’ of the chart, helping foster a presence of self-confidence and inner peace. And that usually results in a person quite adept in channeling his/her potential while interacting with others and receiving back the intended reaction or result. In contrast, an under-developed Ascendant often leads to awkwardness and overall feeling of being ‘out of place’. The individual senses that there is something wrong, a discrepancy between the kind of impression they strive to make and what actually comes out through their style. The result is often an ‘overacting’ or ‘underacting’ of the typical temperamental qualities of the Rising sign, an un-natural, forced type of behavior which ends up sabotaging the person’s development.
The Ascendant is a key part of every person’s psychological and physical make-up, but like any other factor in astrology, it requires exploration, reflection and an effort to balance its expression, if it is to be a valuable tool and not a set-back.