What is the Ascendant?

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I was planning to devote this lesson to the system of houses in a horoscope, but since most of the popular systems of houses are based on the Ascendant, and also because the Ascendant itself is one of the most important elements of any horoscope, easily comparable in its importance with the Sun and the Moon, I decided to devote this whole lesson to the Ascendant.

Astronomically, the Ascendant is the point of the ecliptic that is ascending at the moment and in the place for which the horoscope is calculated. That point is expressed in signs and degrees of the zodiac. So if we are speaking about a person's natal chart, the Ascendant is the degree of the zodiac that was ascending during the person's birth.

If you don't know your Ascendant, or you want to find the Ascendant for someone else, just look into the horoscope. In most schools of astrology, the Ascendant will be shown on the lefthand side and marked with Asc, or, in the case of our online horoscope calculator, AC.

Alternatively, you can use the free online Ascendant Calculator which you will find in the end of this lesson.

The Significance of the Ascendant in Astrology

Very often, when astrologers meet for a conference or a similar event, they display on their info card, in addition to their name, their Sun Sign, Moon Sign, and the Sign of their Ascendant. These three signs give the most laconic but at the same time profound description of one's personality as they relate to the three most important factors of any horoscope. In the previous lessons, I have already mentioned a few times that the Sun and the Moon have a special significance in a horoscope, now it's the time to discuss the role of the Ascendant.

The Ascendant is associated with the most external characteristics of a person: his or her appearance, character, the general impression that the person makes, especially during the first meeting. It is also associated with the physical body as a whole and so can show the general state of health, and also the possible vulnerabilities. With my technical background, I tend to give technical analogies, and for the role of the Ascendant in the triade of the Sun, the Moon and the Ascendant I have the following story.

The Sun is like an engine of a technical device, it shows the general type of energy that feeds the person, and the dynamic characteristics associated with it. Some devices have electric engines. Those engines are flexible, efficient, reliable and economic, they might be similar to the Sun in the Air signs. Other devices can have internal combustion engines, powerful, noisy, hot and dirty. They might be similar to the Sun in the Fire signs. You get the idea. Can you guess what kind of engine is inside just from the appearance of the device? Sometimes yes, but not always. There are hardly any computers with anything but electricity inside; on the other hand, a car with an electric engine might be not easily distinguishable from a car with an petrol engine. Similarly, a person's Sun Sign can be clearly visible in one's appearance and character, but not always, and not necessarily so.

The Moon is then more like a function implemented by the device. Washing machines wash, cars run, computers compute, and so on. The function definitely defines how the device looks, but also says a lot about what's happening inside of it. Similarly, a person's Moon Sign can tell us a lot about what's going inside of that person.

Now, the Ascendant is like the specific construction of a device. All coffee makers have the same type of engine, and more or less the same function, but they can look very differently and have different sizes and colors. Similarly the Ascending Sign of a person is important for understanding the most external, the most distinguishing characteristics of a specific human being.

It might be also helpful to think about the following: all people born within a thirty days period will have the same Sun Sign. All people born within approximately two and a half days will have the same Moon Sign. However, people born within the same minute but in different locations on the Earth will generally have different Ascending Signs, and even for those born in the same location, the sign on the Ascendant will change approximately every two hours. So again, the Ascending Sign is the most individual of the three main astrological characteristics.

A Spiritual Approach towards the Ascendant Interpretation

Let's have another look at the relationships between the Sun, the Moon and the Ascendant.

The Sun in a horoscope can be associated with the Holy Monade, or the Divine Sparkle, something inside of us that is eternal, that travels from one life to another in order to express its creativity, to learn and gain experience. You can notice in horoscopes that inherited problems are often shown as afflictions to the Sun - those are the lessons the person's Higher Self decided to learn in this life, or maybe across several lives.

The Moon in a horoscope can be associated with the physical vehicle, a sort of astronaut's space suit, that the Monade of the Sun puts on to be able to undertake its mission on our planet. This means the physical body, and other subtler kinds of bodies, and the processes within them that make life on the Earth possible. The structure of those bodies and their processes are basically the same for all humans.

Now, here is the important moment: a soul that came to live on the Earth, and that has probably carefully planned his or her next incarnation, enters this world at the particular moment in a particular place. Those time and place are precisely marked on the otherwise general map of the sky by the Ascendant, and the system of houses that starts from the Ascendant lays out the plan for the external circumstances of the whole life. The Ascendant is thus the entry point into life, it is directly linked to the person's Destiny and therefore it is of utmost importance for understanding the incarnation.

The Ascendant and the Rising Sign

The Ascendant itself is a point on the ecliptic, expressed in degrees and minutes of a sign of the zodiac. Further on into the study, we'll be studying the position of the Ascendant very attentively. However, for now, and for a simplified general use, it is sufficient to take in consideration just the sign of the zodiac on the Ascendant. This is the sign that rises on the Eastern horizon at the moment for which the horoscope was calculated, and so popularly it is know as the Rising Sign.

The Rising Sign can be interpreted pretty much in the same way the Sun Sign is interpreted in popular astrological literature. Bear in mind, however, that such interpretations are, first, necessarily subjective. They are just an astrologer's opinion, based on his or her personal experience. Second, other factors of the horoscope can play a very important role in interpreting the precise position of the Ascendant, and those factors simply cannot be taken into account when interpreting the Rising Sign because they are not common but individual.

Still, familiarising yourself with different Rising Sign interpretations is a good starting point for developing your own understanding of the Ascendant. Below, I will offer the interpretations by Alan Leo, a prominent English astrologer who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries, given in his book The Complete Dictionary of Astrology.

Rising Sign Interpretations

Aries. - Middle stature or rather above it; spare body; long face and neck; head broad at temples, narrow at chin; bushy eyebrows; sharp sight; eyes grey to greyish-brown; rough or wiry hair, dark to sandy; sandy whiskers; ruddy complexion; sometimes going bald at temples. Motive temperament. Characteristics: - courage, energy, impulse, ambition, pride, combativeness, activity, ardour. Fortune: - the native is well able to stand alone, decide for himself, carve out his own way in life. His luck, good or bad, will be largely of his own bringing about; for he is enterprising, adventurous, and pioneering.

Taurus. - Stature middle to short, inclining to plumpness; square face and square build of body; short, strong neck; forehead, nose, leeps, cheeks, and mouth all full; heavy jaw; dark eyes and hair, the latter sometimes curling; often stoops; round and prominent eyes; hands plump, short, and broad. Characteristics: - constant, persevering, conservative, obstinate; sociable, affectionate; when provoked, unreasonable, prejudiced, jealous; good practical ability; sometimes slow and indolent; bad temper when aroused. Fortune: - suited for a life of practical work in the world, business, farming, management of property, managership, politics, etc.

Gemini. - Tall, slender, erect figure; long face, nose, and chin; arms and fingers long; dark hair; pale or sanguine complexion; hazel eyes; quick and active walk. Mental temperament. Characteristics: - quick at learning; fond of reading and writing; can receive a good education; inclination for music, drawing, dancing, languages; manual dexterity; good disposition. Sometimes shy and retiring. Fortune: - Gemini corresponds to the third house, and any or all matters governed by that house may become active in the life, being sources of profit or loss, according to aspect.

Cancer. - Average height; round face; full cheeks; sometimes double chin; grey or light blue eyes; pale complexion; vital or vital-motive temperament; tendency to stoutness; sometimes a heavy or awkward gait; short nose, sometimes prominent at tip. Characteristics: - changeable; fond of novelty and travelling; sympathetic, and attached to relatives and the home life; careful with money; desirous of possessions; prudent. Fortune: - benefits through parents (generally mother) and the home, also through house or land property; some suitability for public life. Psychic or occult tendencies are sometimes shown.

Leo. - Tall; large bones and muscles; broad shoulders; hair light and sometimes thin; head full and round; grey eyes; florid complexion; upright walk; square build of body in middle age. Motive-vital temperament. Characteristics: - self-confident, ambitious, proud, fond of power and distinction, generous, candid, honourable, warm-hearted, impulsive, faithful. Fortune: - largely depends upon position of Sun. Benefit through positions of responsibility and distinction; through social life; through art, drama, amusements, children; through appointments, superiors.

Virgo. - Height, average or over; face and forehead round; dark hair, eyes, and complexion; moderately plump; well formed; mental-motive temperament. Characteristics: - good mental abilities, ingenious, active mind, apt at learning, sympathetic, quiet, retiring, methodical, critical. Fortune: - are most fortunate when content to work with others, as servant, partner, or associate in some way, and not independently. Inclination to medicine and drugs. Adaptability to many occupations, euther business or professional.

Libra. - Tall, well-formed body, slender in youth, but tending to stoutness in middle age; hair smooth, brown to black; eyes blue or brown; round face; good complexion; features regular, often good-looking. Mental-vital temperament. Characteristics: - cheerful, genial, fond of company and amusements; good-natured, humane; affectionate, but changeable. Good mental abilities, but tending more in the direction of art, music, poetry, painting, etc., than learning or scholarship; good powers of perception and observation. Fortune: - the native's career is greatly influenced by other people, through friendship, companionship, association, partnership. Marriage is probable.

Scorpio. - Average height; hair, thick and dark, sometimes curling or waving; prominent brows; aquiline or Jewish type of nose and profile; often square type of face and build of body; tendency to stoutness. Motive-vital temperament. Characteristics: - self-reliance, courage, energy, endurance, determination, obstinacy, strong likes and dislikes, dignity, critical turn of mind. Angry and revengeful when provoked. Fortune: - good, practical executive ability, working out through the position of Mars, or through the rising planet, if any. There is adaptability for medicine, surgery, chemistry, or as soldier, sailor, engineer, worker in metals, brewer, butcher, or for practical scientific research. Inclination for mysticism or occultism. Money by legacy or partnership. Very often a death occurs in the family or environment shortly before birth or in early life.

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An Example of the Ascendant Significance

Free Online Ascendant Calculator

This easy to use calculator will define the sign and the degree of the Ascendant for the given time and place. It will also provide an interpretation. Bear in mind that the interpretation is just one specific astrologer's opinion about what this Ascendant could mean, based on his or her personal experience. As with any interpretation, the best use for it is as an aid in developing your own understanding of astrology.