The ascendant is the sign that is rising on the eastern horizon at the time and place of birth – hence the ascendant is also called the rising sign. It is the fastest moving point in the horoscope. As the earth rotates on its axis, and completes one whole rotation in 24 hours, if you were to keep an eye on the eastern horizon, you would see the background sky cycling through all the signs, one after another. This means each sign occupies the eastern horizon for 2 hours on average.

So someone born on the same day and same place as you, but a couple of hours earlier or later would have a different rising sign. And that would make for a remarkable difference in personalities. (As you will see in other posts, it is not just the rising sign that would be different, it would be the signs occupying all the houses as well.) Here are a couple of illustrations that bring this home:

The horoscope on the left (only half is shown) is for June 10, 2021, 1 pm at Quito, Ecuador. The one on the right is at the same date and place, except it is for 2 hours later, at 3 pm. You can see the ascendant has moved from Libra to Scorpio. Looking at it more closely, the actual arc span travelled by the ascendant is 33o3′. (At other times of the day, the ascendant might cover less than 30 degrees in a 2-hour period to compensate, so that at the end of the 24 hour cycle, it would have traveled 360 degrees, or one full cycle over the zodiac.)

This variation in travel span gets dicier as you move away from the equator, north or south. The higher the latitude (north or south), the more extreme the variation. At a latitude of 0.18oS, Quito hugs the equator. But what about Finland? The latitude of Helsinki is just over 60oN, one of the northernmost metropolitan cities in the world. Here’s the difference in the ascendants for June 10, 2021 at 1 pm and 3pm, in Helsinki:

The ascendant at 1 pm is 20o01′ of Virgo, and at 3 pm it is 08o41′ of Libra. So in 2 hours, the ascendant has moved through a span of just under 16 degrees, only about half a full 30 degree span. So it is moving a lot slower at this time of day. Now take a look at the ascendant’s movement 12 hours earlier, at 1 am and 3 am respectively:

You can see that in this 2 hour time period, the ascendant has moved a whole lot. Starting at 03o04′ of Aquarius, it has moved through all of the rest of Aquarius (26o56′), then all of Pisces (30 degrees), all of Aries (30 degrees), and 19o37′ of Taurus, for a grand total of over 100 degrees. On average, it has gone through an entire 30 degree span (one sign worth) in about half an hour.

What does all this mean? It means depending on the latitude at which you were born, the difference in ascendants between your horoscope and that of someone else born within a 2-hour span on the same day and place could be nothing (same sign), one sign (close to equator), or even two or three signs (high latitude). The upshot of this is the rising sign is a critical personal factor in the horoscope since it is so sensitive to small changes in time, and any horoscope interpretation would be sorely lacking if you don’t take the rising sign into account.

In order to get the rising sign for your own horoscope, you need to know the exact time of your birth. Even a small inaccuracy in birth time might result in a different ascendant. For example, someone born on June 10, 2021 in Quito at 1 pm would have an ascendant of 00o53 of Libra, as you saw earlier. Thereafter, for most of the period until a few minutes before 3 pm, the ascendant would still be in the sign of Libra. So an in accuracy in birth time of the order of a few minutes in this time window wouldn’t make a difference. But if someone was actually born at 12:45 pm (at which time the ascendant would have been in the previous sign of Virgo) but their birth time was recorded as 1pm (rounding off at the hospital, or by relatives), the ascendant would be erroneously taken to be Libra. Of course, for higher latitude places, the accuracy is even more critical.

How to interpret the rising sign? The key is to think of the rising sign as the doorway to the personality. When someone meets you for the first time, the character traits represented by the rising sign are the first thing they see. If you have the sign of Leo rising, for instance, they will see you wanting to “own” the space around you. As for yourself, it is how you approach first contact with strangers in your immediate environment, even if you don’t realize it. If you have Virgo rising you might come across as unassuming or being very proper in how you handle yourself. If you have Scorpio rising, you might come across as guarded. And so on.

Once someone gets to know you well, they will begin to see past the ascendant, when your Sun and Moon signs also become visible by the way you direct your life (Sun), and your habitual way of being and responding (Moon) to everyday circumstances. Differences in the elements of the rising sign, Sun sign, and Moon sign make for a more complex personality.

It’s one thing to have the rising sign, Sun, and Moon all in fire signs, say. Such people might have an easier time of aligning their public persona (ascendant) with their life direction and goals (Sun), and their responses to everyday vagaries (Moon). But someone with the rising sign in fire, Sun in water, and Moon in air has to work with a lot more complexity. On the other hand, they have more choices in how they show or suppress these sides of the personality, which is especially advantageous if they need to have a lot of interaction with the public (politicians, teachers, doctors, etc.) Want to show warmth and bonhomie? Bring out that fiery ascendant. Time to go with instinctive feel and demonstrate deeper understanding? Let that watery Sun show itself. Need to be rational and work with ideas? Let the airy Moon take over.

I need to explain a bit more here. The ascendant, being a point, is unlike the Sun and Moon which are planets. The planetary energies, although ever present, can be modulated by conscious awareness, and can be turned up, turned down, or turned off (for small periods of time) with deliberate intent. On the other hand, the ascendant is not amenable to conscious modulation. It is an aura that stays with the person no matter what other planetary factors are being channeled in various ways. I will give you an example.

Meryl Streep, whose horoscope I took up for illustration in the post on the sextile aspect, has just this kind of complex interplay between ascendant, Sun, and Moon signs. Here’s her horoscope:

The ascendant is Leo, a fire sign. The Sun is in Cancer, a water sign. And the Moon is an earth sign, Taurus. The sheer screen presence of Meryl Streep, no matter what role she plays, is unmistakable. She owns the space, and hogs the screen. This is very much a Leo ascendant in play. What I said about the ascendant being an aura that cannot be peeled off is evident with Steep because even she is playing a darker role (as she did in Sophie’s Choice, for which she won an Oscar), her warmth and regal bearing still peek through.

Two of her famous roles are in fact a great combination of ascendant with Sun or Moon. Her role as Margaret Thatcher in “Iron Lady” for which she won as Oscar portrays her staunch and undeterred (Moon in Taurus) leadership (Ascendant in Leo). As an aside, the horoscope of Margaret Thatcher shows Moon in Leo, and Ascendant in Scorpio. Scorpio, Taurus, and Leo are all fixed signs. Streep has ascendant and Moon in fixed signs, same as Thatcher.

Another role of Streep’s, as the pioneering cookbook author Julia Child in “Julie and Julia” is about as perfect a combination of Ascendant in Leo (boisterous, performative, spirited) and Sun in Cancer (cooking, feeding) as it can get. In comparison, the horoscope of Julia Child has Sun in Leo, and ascendant in Gemini (chatty, chatty). Julia Child’s path-breaking cooking show on TV was a lot of talk, with her explanations, jokes, and banter accompanying her demonstrations turning up that Gemini ascendant as far as it could go. See that Meryl Streep herself is no slouch in the Gemini department, with Mercury in its own sign in Gemini, super-energized by the conjunct Mars. Knowing all this, I can’t think of anyone else getting under the skin of Julia Child and bringing it on like Streep did in her bravura performance.

Make sure to look up your horoscope for the ascendant, or rising sign. Of course, you need to know your birth time accurately to get the true ascendant, and from the discussion above you have a good idea of whether a difference of even a few minutes would change the rising sign or not. You should consider the rising sign to be as important as the Sun and Moon. In fact, whenever you think of the cliched line “what’s your sign”, you want to expand it to “what’s your Sun, Moon, and Ascendant”. These are the foundational building blocks of the personality, and should get equal prominence.