The Ascendant

The Most Important Point in The Horoscope

by Hank Friedman


In both Western and Vedic astrology, the Ascendant, along with the First House Lord (ruler), and First House occupants, are among the most important factors in a person’s chart. Some astrologers think that the Ascendant is just one’s image, or mask, but in reality, the Ascendant is the most individual point in the chart, the place that truly represents you. That’s why two people will be much more similar born two days apart at the same time of day (i.e. with the same Ascendant) than people born two hours apart on the same day. That’s also why the Ascendant is considered to be the most important point in both Vedic and Tibetan astrologies.


Part One: The Western Ascendant and Temperament


The following sections are based on the Tropical zodiac (as used in Western astrology), and the Equal House System, and use the word Ascendant to refer to the actual rising sign. All of the factors influencing the Ascendant and the First House (i.e. occupants of the First House, the lord of the First House, and aspects to the Ascendant and its lord) may modify these delineations.


The Ascendant represents many facets of a person:


1. The Gatekeeper.


            The Ascendant as Gatekeeper determines which planets in a person’s chart will have full expression and which will not.


The person identifies with planets in the same sign as the Ascendant, and these planets become able to express themselves completely and without restraint. Planets in the same element as the Ascendant, but not the same sign, can usually express themselves without effort, too.


            People disidentify with planets in the opposite sign to the Ascendant (and in that opposite sign’s element), and as a result, the person has much less conscious access to them, and cannot embody or express them as easily.


            One of my best friends, for example, has the Sun in Leo and the Moon in Aries, but his Libra Ascendant is the predominate influence, and he often over-defers instead of asserting himself.


            Planets in the next sign after the Ascendant (and in that element) can also express themselves relatively easily, as they are likely to fall in houses 1, 5, and 9, but they express themselves in a manner that is modified by the rising sign.


            Examples:


            Julia Roberts has Cancer rising. She is often referred to as doe-eyed, and her obvious sensitivity and vulnerability create a great deal of her appeal. These are Water sign rising qualities, and her rising sign also facilitates the expression of, and softens, her Scorpio Sun, and makes her First House Leo Moon come out in a gentler manner.


            Warren Beatty has an Aries Sun, but has often been characterized as too subdued and too unexpressive. While his 7th house Sun has clearly expressed itself, especially in his pattern of initiating many relationships, his Virgo rising has kept him much more reticent, introverted, and inhibited than most people would expect of an Aries.


            Henry Kissinger is world-renowned as a diplomat, and his Gemini rising allowed his Libra Moon full expression in life. All of his Air planets, allowed expression by his Air rising sign, have made him articulate, adaptable, and supremely intellectual.


2. The Interface with the World.


            The ascending sign determines a person’s relationship with the world. The person approaches the world trustingly and enthusiastically with a Fire sign rising, cautiously and sensitively with a Water sign rising, pragmatically and professionally with an Earth sign rising, and intellectually or aesthetically or sociably with an Air sign rising.


            To the Water sign rising person, the world is loud, intense, and impactful. To the Fire sign rising individual, the world is their playground and an audience to express themselves to. To the Earth sign rising person, the world is a place to prove themselves and/or to conform to. To Air sign rising person, the world is interesting, and a nice place to visit.


            Examples:


            Oprah Winfrey owes much of her assertiveness, leadership qualities, and her ability to rebound from life’s adversities to her Sagittarius Ascendant. Even though her two fire planets (Moon in Sagittarius and Pluto in Leo) are muted by their respective 12th and 8th house placements, she has become an incredible pioneer. Clearly her rising sign has helped her to access these qualities and to approach the world with courage.


            Similarly, Paul Gauguin, the great painter, was able to break new ground in art due to the strength of his Leo rising, which enabled him to depart from convention (even though he had a Virgo Moon in the First House) and to live passionately instead of just living a life of the mind (Gemini Sun).


            The music star Prince is clearly an introvert, with large privacy issues, who spends much of his time at home. His Scorpio rising shows the need to retreat, and to keep the world at bay (in spite of his extroverted Gemini Sun).


3. The Embodiment.


            Individuals embody very differently depending upon their rising sign. A person’s energy level, way of caring for their body and handling their physical needs, and even their awareness of their physicality are largely governed by the Ascending sign (and factors that affect the Ascendant and First House).


            Those with Earth signs rising, especially Taurus, are likely to be very embodied and grounded, but sometimes use their bodies as tools, as means to an end.


            Fire rising sign folk feel the energy and vitality of their bodies, but their emotions strongly affect their body’s energy level.


            With Water rising, one’s body can be depleted by negative moods, and there can be trouble digesting if one eats while upset.


            Air rising people tend to disassociate from their bodies and their embodied feelings, and thereby lose sight of their bodies’ needs. This may result in bodily neglect, physical problems or running out of steam.

 

4. The Self-Image.


            The Ascendant shows how a person conceives of themselves, how much they think about themselves, how much they inhibit themselves, and how much they trust themselves.


            Earth sign people usually tend to be more self-contained, self-controlled, perfectionistic, and conscious of their reputations. (E.g. Warren Beatty, mentioned in #1.)


            Fire sign people tend to be confident (or even over-confident), uninhibited, and freely expressive. Bette Midler has a brash, bawdy, and “out there” presentation that is completely congruent with her Aries rising.


            Water sign people are often quite vulnerable to criticism, are likely to alternate between intimacy with others and withdrawal, can merge with other people’s projections on them, and sometimes feel ashamed of their sensitivity. (See Julia Roberts, mentioned in #1.)


            Air sign people often smooth over interpersonal issues and try to please others, then can become very upset, they keep themselves separate from their own feelings too long, and can lose sight of their own perspective. Jim Morrison’s iconoclastic image and disdain for convention are perfectly represented by his Aquarius Ascendant. He indeed seemed cold, separate, and strange (fittingly the author of the song, “People are Strange”).


Part Two: The Vedic Ascendant and Success, Popularity, and Effectiveness


The following sections are based upon the Sidereal Zodiac, Whole Sign House System, and Traditional Rulerships (e.g. Jupiter rules Pisces, Mercury rules Virgo, Saturn rules Aquarius, and Mars rules Scorpio).


1. Vitality and Athletic Ability.


            The Ascendant is considered strong in Vedic astrology if it is occupied and aspected by benefics (Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter) and not occupied nor aspected by malefics (the Sun, Mars, Saturn, and Nodes) and its lord is strong (in its own sign, exalted, retrograde, or with dig bala). A person with a strong Ascendant tends to be both energetic and athletic. I was surprised, for example, to find clients with Sidereal Moon or Mercury --not planets Western astrologers associate with physicality -- in their own sign in the First House, who have been extremely athletic.


            Arnold Schwartzenegger is an excellent example of this configuration, with Mercury in Gemini in the First House conjunct the Ascendant. A winner of Mr. Universe titles 5 times, he was a natural in bodybuilding.


            Venus Williams, a tennis champ since the age of 18, has her Ascendant lord, again Mercury, in Gemini, with Virgo rising. Mercury is notably unaspected by malefics (by Vedic methods) and is therefore a pure and strong benefic.


2. Success in Life.


            When the Ascendant is strong, the individual experiences the full ability to succeed at what they undertake. They are blessed with common sense, the ability to utilize their gifts, and good fortune.


            Paul Newman is a prime example of an individual who can do no wrong. He has been tremendously successful as an actor, and also sponsors an important drug abuse program. His Newman’s Own food brand is wildly lucrative, out-grossing all of his films (and he gives every penny of profit generously to charities). Newman’s Ascendant lord Jupiter is in the First House (in its own sign).


            James Dean, on the other hand, seemed to “do no right”. Reckless, self-destructive, moody, and alienated from his family, James’ Ascendant lord is in its weakest sign (Mars in Cancer) and undoubtably lead to his early death.


(Note: In Vedic astrology, it is actually common to have factors in a chart that ameliorate and even enhance the placement of a weak planet. While James Dean had no chart factors ameliorating his weak Ascendant lord, but many famous people with weak Ascendant lords do, such as Doris Day and Albert Einstein.)


3. Wealth, Influence, and Power.


            A strong Ascendant is often found in the charts of the mover-and-shakers of society. The health of their selfhood enables them to “scale the heights” and have a major influence on the world.


             Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, has been both very influential and popular, and through his marriage, acquired considerable wealth. His Ascendant lord, Venus, is in its sign of exaltation, and a strong Jupiter is in the First House near his Ascendant.


            Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, and the creator of Microsoft Windows, the dominant operating system for personal computers, has a disputed birth time. My teacher, Hart de Fouw, uses a Gemini Ascendant, and accurately predicted Mr. Gate’s recent legal problems in advance. With a Gemini Ascendant, the chart ruler Mercury is once again exalted in an angle, an excellent indicator of influence and power.


4. Health.


            The Ascendant is one of the primary factors in longevity and general well-being. Those with a strong Ascendant can fight off disease and thrive.


            Ginger Rogers, famous dance partner of Fred Astaire, was healthy throughout her life. Her Ascendant is unaspected (by Vedic aspects) and her Ascendant lord, Venus, is strong by virtue of being in the 4th house (where it gains directional strength or dig bala) and is also aspected by benefics (without any malefic influence).


            Christopher Reeve, on the other hand, has several problems with his Ascendant: it is exactly conjunct Ketu, the South Lunar Node, and its lord is doubly weak – the Moon is dark and in its weakest sign (the latter partially ameliorated by its association with its dispositor Mars). Neither his Ascendant nor its lord has the aspect of any benefic planet. As most of my readers will know, he suffered a great accident that left him paralyzed and unable to breath on his own. He died at a young age.


5. Popularity and Manner.


            The Ascendant determines how likeable a person is. Those with Ascendants without benefic influence may find it hard to be accepted, while those with supported Ascendants may become popular without effort.


            Harrison Ford is an incredibly popular actor. His manner is well liked, and he is considered handsome, friendly, and kind. His Ascendant lord, Mercury, is exalted in the 10th house, and associated with Jupiter, too.


            Janis Joplin, contrawise, was soundly rejected by her peers. A social misfit and an unhappy and overweight child, she only gained popularity towards the end of her short life, and had a hard time receiving it. Her Ascendant, like that of Christopher Reeve, is exactly conjunct Ketu. Her fame and success were indicated, however, both by the strength of her Ascendant lord, and the aspect of Jupiter on the First House.


6. The Ability to Use One’s Gifts


            A Vedic chart may have planets in powerful positions or combinations with other planets (these are called yogas), but for their gifts to manifest, such planets must have a relationship with the Ascendant. The planet(s) can occupy the First House or aspect the Ascendant or its lord, or be the Ascendant lord or occupy the same house as the Ascendant lord.


            For example, Bobby Fischer’s exalted Mars aspects both the First House and the First Lord (who is in Mars’ own Aries Tenth house), enabling him to be able to easily access his fiercely competitive spirit.


            For this article, I spent an hour searching for famous people lacking integrated gifts, to no avail. The very fact that they succeeded meant that their inner resources had to be integrated with the Ascendant and its lord.


            But once, I had a client with many planets either exalted or in their own signs, and none of them were connected to the Ascendant or Ascendant lord. In fact, he had Saturn and Mars aspecting his First House, and his manner was indeed intense and abrasive. He had been told by other astrologers how great his chart was, but he never understood why that greatness had never manifested. He understood that he had talent, but he just couldn’t express or use his gifts effectively in life.


Part Three: Appearance: The Effect of Planetary Influences on the Ascendant


            Both Vedic and Western astrology see the Ascendant, the planets aspecting it, and other factors influencing the Ascendant such as First House occupants, as the key to the appearance of a person.


            It is often stated that those with Venus rising are attractive, for example.


            In both Western and Vedic astrology, each planet, and the rising signs it rules, corresponds to a particular “look”. In Vedic astrology, one’s primary dosha (Ayurvedic constitution) is indicated by planets influencing the Ascendant.


            If the birth time is uncertain, these attributions can be very helpful in ascertaining a person’s rising sign, but it is very important to understand that one seldom finds a “pure Ascendant” where only one planetary factor has influence.


            Commonly, many different planets affect the rising sign and First House (including any planets in the 7th house) and so it becomes much more difficult to isolate a single planet or sign as the predominate influence on a person’s appearance. For example, in my chart, I have Leo rising, so the Sun influences my appearance, but Saturn is in the First House, and Jupiter is in the 7th house and aspects both the Sun and Saturn, so I have three primary planetary influences upon my appearance.


            The following are some themes I have observed with a planet rising and/or in the First House. (These are not textbook delineations, but instead personal insights.) Please understand that the sign each planet is in, and any other planets influencing the Ascendant, can alter the expression of each planet greatly. Also, in the cases where I specify gender, it is deliberate; I noted the pattern for men or women, but not both. Note also that the closer a planet is to the Ascendant, the stronger the effect. I use a 5 degree orb in my work.


Sun: With the Sun rising in a man’s chart, the person is likely to be comfortable with himself, communicate easily (and sometimes volubly), and to champion his own ideas.


Moon: The phase and sign of the Moon are such primary factors that they strongly color the type of effect that the Moon rising has in a person’s chart. Much to my surprise, however, I have not found women in general with the Moon rising to be particularly warm or affectionate, but have seen them be very involved with their children.


Mercury: An active and communicative mind is often present in those with Mercury rising.


Venus: With Venus rising, the person seems accessible, approachable, and attractive.


Mars: Mars rising gives the person a directness in their approach that can appear bossy or dominant to others. These are often very fast people; they think, walk, and talk quickly.


Jupiter: Jupiter rising or in the First House can sometimes add weight to the body, especially in women’s charts. In general, the person likes themselves, and has an open and outgoing manner.


Saturn: A person with Saturn rising often seems serious, and sometimes insecure. They may indeed be inhibited, self-contained, or have self-doubt.


Uranus: Those with Uranus rising have a mind of their own. Their nervous system may be sensitive, but in any case, they follow their own beat.


Neptune: Because Neptune is a very “absorbing” planet, its expression in a person’s chart will depend upon life’s influences upon the person.


Pluto: In charts where Pluto is rising – without other influences -- I’ve often seen that the person is out of touch with their own power (such people often project their Plutos/power onto others). In a few cases, I’ve also seen the acting out of great intensity.


Rahu/North Node: The North Node (aka Rahu) is such a chameleon that predicting its effect is difficult (it takes on the qualities of all of the planets that influence it). Nevertheless, I’ve seen extremes of either narcissism or self-effacement with Rahu rising, and in some cases very short or very tall stature.


Ketu/South Node: Here the pattern of self-effacement is often present. The person is mild-mannered and can be easily overlooked.


Part Four: The Angles and The Strongest Planets


When I first started doing astrology, I used the Placidus House System for all of my work. At one of my visits to the Sphinx metaphysical bookstore in Boston, I was psychically instructed (by my Angels) to purchase an astrology book, <I>The Astrology of Inner Space </I>by Carl Payne Tobey.


In this book I discovered a compelling argument for the use of the Equal House System, where the degree on each house cusp is the same as the degree of the Ascendant, in sequential signs. For example, if I have 25 degrees of Leo as my Ascendant, then I have 25 degrees of Virgo as the beginning of the Second House, etc. In this system, the Midheaven is not the beginning of the 10th house; instead the 10th house cusp has the same degrees as the Ascendant, and its sign is ten signs forward from the Ascendant.


I began comparing and testing the two house systems, and found that the Equal House System was by far the more accurate one. (I subsequently discovered that the largest research study ever done in astrology was on house systems, and after a decade of research involving scores of astrologers and thousands of charts, it reached the same conclusion: that for both natal and predictive work, Equal Houses were the most accurate.)


Whether you decide to use the Equal House System or another housing method – I realize that different systems speak to different people – always pay attention to planets that aspect the Ascendant. That’s because planets at the same degree as the Ascendant, in any sign, are among the strongest planets in a person’s chart. For example, Antonio Bandaras has 6 degrees Pisces rising, and Mars in Gemini at 5 degrees, so his Mars becomes greatly strengthened, and one of the most powerful planets in his chart. No wonder he has often been chosen for “martian” roles (e.g. the gunfighter, bandit, rebel, etc.).


As I learned Vedic astrology, I came across a verse in the Vedic classical work Phaladeepika (one of the foremost classics in Jyotish) that stated: if a planet is at the same degree as the Ascendant, it gives its full effect. In other words, this ancient work confirmed my own findings.


The Strength of Planets as a result of their Aspect to the Ascendant


Angle to the Ascendant

Orb to be used

Strength of Planet

Square, at Top of Chart

5 degrees

++++++++

Conjunct

5 degrees

+++++++

Square, at Bottom of Chart

5 degrees

+++++

Opposite

5 degrees

++++

Trine

2 degrees

+++

Sextile

2 degrees

++

Quincunx, Semisextile

1 degree

+



As the above table illustrates, planets at the top of the chart (square to the Ascendant) and rising are the strongest, while planets that are trine or opposite the Ascendant are still emphasized, but much less so. I have not yet researched the result of combining the Vedic principle of dig bala with the above weighting system, but if they do synergize, then Saturn at the Descendant (or Moon or Venus at the bottom of the chart) would become very, very strong.


Remember, however, that the closer to the actual degree of the Ascendant, the stronger a planet is. So for a chart with 15 degrees of Aries rising, a planet at 17 degrees of Aries (2 degrees away from the Ascendant) would be stronger than a planet at the top of the chart at 10 degrees of Capricorn (5 degrees away from the square to the Ascendant).


One final note: I have two close friends with very similar charts, but one has Neptune at the top of his chart (square his Ascendant) by Equal Houses, and the other has Neptune conjunct the MC. The first person is a pioneer in New Age music and art, and is very Neptunian in his style and tastes. The second person (with Neptune conjunct the MC) has a business with Neptune themes (fountains, etc.) but is not very Neptunian in other ways. In other words, planets at the Ascendant degrees are much stronger than planets at the MC’s degrees.


Part Five: Conclusion


            The Ascendant influences everything about us, our comfort in being alive and embodied, our self-confidence, our ability to utilize our gifts, our health, and our success in life. We can certainly learn how to support ourselves if there are factors challenging the Ascendant, and we can give thanks for what already strengthens ourselves and our Ascendant.


            We can bolster our Ascendant in many ways. We can pace ourselves (and accept our physical limitations) if our energy is uneven. We can learn how to prop up our self esteem and rid ourselves of the negative messages we’ve received as children (and that we have perpetuated ourselves). We can ask for feedback, and apply it, if our manner unconsciously alienates others. And we can work to develop our gifts if accessing them doesn’t come easily.


            In any case, a careful examination of our own Ascendant, and those of others, gives us many great insights into the nature of each person’s lot in life, and their life’s journey.


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