The rising sign, or ascendant, is the sign that was on the horizon at the East at the time that we were born. No matter what house system you use, the ascendant and midheaven (noon point) are always the same, it’s the intermediary house division that changes.
Being the cusp of the first house which is the house of personal identity, the ascendant describes our personality or our disguise as I like to call it. These are the traits that describe the way you meet the day-to-day events of your life as well as the way you appear to others. The ascendant is usually something that we grow into and an understanding of the ascendant can serve to facilitate our interactions with others since it’s that sign that is projected outwards.
The late Howard Sasportas says that the ascendant is the lens through which we look at the world. He writes, “We ‘dream the world up’ according to the sign on the Ascendant and then we enact the dream. It is both the maze we create and, at the same time, the way out of the maze.” Sasportas adds that the ascendant points the way in which we grow into our Sun sign. When the ascendant is very similar to or compatible with the rest of our chart, this process can be a smooth one. But often the ascendant is quite different from other chart elements and that can cause some problems, especially early in our lives when we have not yet recognized the impact that the personality traits seen by others as described by the ascendant has on our own lives. This is one of the cases where understanding our astrological chart can have a huge impact on our ability to effectively navigate our way in the world.
For example, consider someone with a Scorpio Sun and Moon (let’s call him Andy) who has a Sagittarius ascendant (Sagittarius rising in the chart). With a strong Scorpio orientation, Andy has been assigned the mission of learning to be the best Scorpio possible by immersing himself in intense experiences that bring him into direct contact with the stark realities of the power inherent in human life. To relish the darkness and plunge fearlessly into emotional depths that would frighten the ordinary mortal. But with the Sagittarius ascendant, casual acquaintances see Andy as a fun-loving, optimistic and carefree individual. Seeing Andy in this way, they may enter into a friendship with him and then run when they see that his essential self (the Sun) is very different than what they had perceived.
The ascendant isn’t a part of the energy makeup of the personality that is described by the rest of the chart, and conscious integration of the ascendant is very useful. I have a Libra Sun which is very compatible with my Gemini ascendant, but Saturn, Pluto and Scorpio are very strong in my chart. When I was younger, people that I didn’t know often perceived me as being somewhat flighty and superficial (Gemini) until they knew me well enough to be smacked with some of those more intense traits from the rest of my chart.
One of the wonderful things about aging is that we become more comfortable being who we really are inside of ourselves. Astrology makes this process that much easier!