What is the Ascendant in astrology?

“Ascendant” is a word we hear a lot in astrology. We say things like “I’m a Leo, ascendant Libra”, or “I’m a Virgo, with Cancer rising”. But what does it mean exactly


Technically, the Ascendant is the astrological sign that was rising on the Eastern horizon at the moment of your birth. The sky is divided in 12 sections, the 12 zodiac signs. As the Earth rotates, the signs on the Eastern horizon succeed each other: Aries stays there for about two hours, followed by Taurus, then Gemini, Cancer, Leo, etc. all the way to Pisces, and then to Aries again, in an endless loop.


Since the Earth completes a rotation in one day, each of the 12 signs can be your ascendant, no matter which day of the year you were born. And so to know our ascendant, it is crucial to have an accurate time of birth.


What does your ascendant indicate about you?


A popular metaphor for the ascendant is the one of the mask: the ascendant is the mask we wear, how we appear to people who don’t know us well. It’s a nice analogy, easy to understand, but let’s keep in mind that there is nothing fake about our ascendant. It is not just a role we pretend to play, but an authentic part of ourselves.


It points to the way we like to approach the world: we all have complex personalities, with conflicting needs and wants, emotional baggage, doubts and fears. We can’t hit everyone we meet with the full complexity of our psyche, and so we streamline how we appear. We simplify and (unconsciously) choose a way to engage other people. In other words, the ascendant is the threshold between our inner world and the outside world.  


For example, with a healthy Aries ascendant, we can see the world as a place full of adventure, opportunity, and stimulating competition. We may appear confident, assertive, and action-oriented. Even if we are plagued with doubts on the inside!


I would like to leave you with an analogy I once heard Karen Hamaker-Zondag use. Imagine you are a castle. The ascendant is your drawbridge: you have to take it when you go out, and others have to take it when they come see you. This is my favorite image, and it clicked for me. But there are other good analogies: Steven Forrest uses the image of a stained glass window, through which the light of your personality shines.

What about you? Do you have a favorite way to think about the ascendant?  

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