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Your Astrological Mask:

What the Ascendant Is and Why It Matters

You almost certainly know your Sun sign, zodiac sign and star sign, right? All those terms mean the same thing – the zodiac sign the Sun was traveling through on the date of your birth. It’s easy to figure out as the dates are widely known.

But there’s another crucial part to your astrological identity – one which you can’t figure out from a handy list of dates: your Ascendant Sign.

What is An Ascendant Sign in Astrology?

You may be familiar with the concept that the Sun rises every day in the East and sets in the West. It’s important to remember that it’s not just the Sun which appears to travel across our skies this way – the zodiac signs, which are really just twelve sections of the sky, also appear to move like this.

So, imagine that you are standing on the spot of your birth, at the time of your birth, but in the open air, minus the building you were born in. If you were to look to the Eastern horizon, one of the zodiac signs would be in the process of rising there. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to see it, because there’s nothing to see, it’s just a symbolic section of sky (don’t confuse zodiac signs with constellations, they’re not the same thing!) – but it’s there.

This is your Ascendant sign: the zodiac sign which was rising on the Eastern horizon at the time of your birth, as seen from the location of your birth, on the date of your birth. It’s sometimes called your rising sign, for obvious reasons.

Knowing the Ascendant sign is one thing, but astrologers need to know the exact degree of your Ascendant, that is, exactly which part of that symbolic piece of sky that was just coming into view. Every zodiac sign takes up 30 degrees, but the degree which is rising changes quickly, by one degree approximately every four minutes, so to calculate an accurate Ascendant we need an exact time of birth.

The Ascendant marks the cusp of the 1st house in your natal chart, and every other house cusp will be calculated to follow on from that – so the Ascendant is also important in determining your attitude towards the different areas of life represented by the astrological houses. Think of a clock and the Ascendant is at the 9 o’clock point on the birth chart.

The planet which rules your Ascendant sign is said to rule the whole birth chart, and this ruling planet will play a key role in the interpretation of your natal chart. You can look up the rulership here:

If your Ascendant sign is: Your ruling planet is:

Aries Mars
Taurus Venus
Gemini Mercury
Cancer The Moon
Leo The Sun
Virgo Mercury
Libra Venus
Scorpio Pluto
Sagittarius Jupiter
Capricorn Saturn
Aquarius Uranus
Pisces Neptune

What Does the Ascendant Represent in Astrology?

The Ascendant represents how others see you – the parts of you which come into view for a relative stranger, just as the Ascendant came into view on the horizon. It’s your image, in other words, or your physical body.

Some astrologers call the Ascendant sign your mask, but that doesn’t mean it’s a pretence – your Ascendant is how you act in public or social situations, with people who don’t know you particularly well. We all behave slightly differently in these situations to how we behave with our closest friends and family, but it’s still the real us adopting these patterns of behavior.

It might help to think of your Ascendant as a character or a role you play. You don’t have to consciously try to play this role, you just do it. In many ways, it’s a part of how you see the world and how you interact with the wider world.

What’s the Difference Between a Sun Sign and an Ascendant Sign?

The Sun sign represents your core self, who you truly are, in private, behind closed doors, in your head and in your heart. The Ascendant sign on the other hand, represents who you are when you’re facing the world.

This is quite complex to grasp, so let’s look at some examples.

Consider a woman who has a Virgo Sun sign but a Libra ascendant. In public and to those who don’t know her well, she is gracious, polite, diplomatic and easy-going – that’s her Libra ascendant on show. In truth, however, she is quite harshly critical of others – and of herself – and finds social situations a strain; that’s her Virgo Sun sign. These two parts of her personality are not at odds with one another, they simply play different roles. Both are definitely her, she’s not putting anything on, she is just different inside to how she is outside – as we all are, to a greater or lesser extent.

How about a guy who has a Capricorn Sun sign but confounds everything you know about how Capricorns are “supposed” to be? Maybe he’s not very ambitious, a bit lazy, bad with money and doesn’t like authority? What’s gone on there? The answer could lie anywhere in his full birth chart, but it’s quite likely that his Ascendant sign plays a part. If his Ascendant is Pisces, for example, then you’re more likely to encounter his scatter-brained, slightly kooky mask than his core self, assuming you’re not intimately acquainted with him. Get to know this guy properly, however, and you may discover that he is indeed just as driven as a Capricorn “should” be, but he’s not motivated by money or career success, he’s driven by a more spiritual urge instead, as befits his combination of Capricorn and Pisces.

Can Any Sun Sign Have Any Rising Sign?

Yes. You could have any one of the twelve zodiac signs as your Ascendant sign, regardless what your Sun sign is.

However, some Ascendant signs are more common than others.

In theory, with twelve signs coming over the horizon every 24 hours, you’d think that each sign takes two hours to fully rise. In fact, due to the angle of the earth, some signs rise faster than others; some take more than two hours to rise, some less. The signs which take longer to rise are therefore more common as Ascendant signs, because more people will be born during that extended period than during the shorter rising time of another sign.

In astrology, we call this long ascension or short ascension. The signs of short ascension (in the northern hemisphere) are Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus and Gemini, so these are the least common Ascendant sign, with Pisces and Aries being least common of all.

The signs of long ascension (in the northern hemisphere) are Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius, so these are more common than the others as Ascendant signs. Virgo and Libra are the two signs which take longest to rise over the horizon, so these are the most common Ascendant signs of all.

What If My Sun Sign is the Same as My Ascendant Sign?

This is perfectly possible, if you were born near sunrise. If your Sun sign and your Ascendant Sign are the same, then we say you are a “double Virgo” or whatever sign it is.

The first thing to remember about someone who has the Sun and the Ascendant in the same sign is that the characteristics of that zodiac sign will be considerably strengthened in their birth chart.

The next thing to notice is that this individual is probably very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type person. When the mask of the Ascendant is the same as the inner reality of the Sun, there’s not much difference between how this person comes across when you first meet them and how they come across when you’ve been with them for decades.

Everything about the zodiac sign concerned will be heightened in this individual, but it’s crucial to realize that the Sun may fall in either the first house of the chart or the twelfth house. If the Sun is in the first house, you’ll have a full-on zodiac sign personification. If the Sun is in the twelfth house, however, this individual may repress the characteristics of that sign, or they may be on a spiritual quest to try to uncover or recover those qualities in their psyche.

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