Rising Sign Primer: A Complete Guide to Your Ascendant

If you’ve ever wondered what a rising sign is, read on

Have you ever met a Cancer with a loud, raunchy sense of humor and a flamboyant style of hogging the spotlight? They’ve got Leo as their rising sign. Or perhaps your roommate’s Sun is in Virgo but their space is so scattered, it resembles an apocalyptic landfill engorged in flames. A Gemini ascendant is to blame! (Okay, that last one might’ve been a wee bit dramatic, but you get the picture.) Astrological anomalies like these are common despite some personalities’ cult-like commitment to their sun sign traits and can be traced back to a person’s rising sign in their birth or “natal” chart.

Now, you may be thinking, The jangling din of you cashing in on those fancy five-cent astrology words is muffling our connection, miss lady, and you’d be right—my rising sign is Virgo (more on that later). Stay with me, though, because once you understand how your rising sign influences your personality, health, and—most strikingly—the curated image you choose to present to the world, you’ll see why renowned astrologers like Susan Miller and Linda Goodman have classified the ascendant as equally powerful to the sun’s natal position. After the jump, your complete guide to why your rising sign rules and how you can seize its power in your everyday life.

What We Mean When We Talk About Rising Signs

What even is a rising sign? Commonly called the “ascendant sign,” your rising sign is the astrological sign that was rising (or ascending) on the eastern horizon at the location and moment you were born. Unlike the sun’s steady position at the time of your birth, rising signs—including their degree and intensity—can fluctuate by the minute. Energy generated by rising sign and its degree ricochets off of every planetary and house position in your individual birth chart, truly spinning unique webs of our astrological profiles and complete selves.

Masks of Personality

Since your rising sign is deeply rooted in the literal moment you hit earth—the precise time, latitude, and longitude of the event of your birth—it sets the tone of your childhood and your personal comfort zones. As we grow and mature, we rely on what’s most familiar to us to survive the many challenges that are lobbed at us, creating “masks” out of our safest comfort zones.

Astrology reads the rising sign as the “mask” we choose to wear to filter and hide our true personalities as we navigate life. These are the first impressions we make—intentionally or otherwise—in social and public situations. When you go into social “autopilot,” you’re inviting your rising sign to come along to that dreaded professional mixer, smashing dance party, or hapless blind date. Whether you crack a joke or silently plot revenge when hurt is up to your ascendant, which provides our personality’s first defenses. A person’s rising sign can heavily influence their physical characteristics, sometimes manifesting prominently in their mannerisms, image, personal style, and taste level, as well as their outward personality.

Impact

The intensity of your rising sign’s expression will fluctuate throughout your life, changing like a chameleon in reaction to your environment. Some philosophies suggest that your rising sign traits begin to wane and fade around the time of your first Saturn Return in your late 20s and into your early 30s. Basically, when you’ve lived enough life and have found the maturity to finally drop the act and ease into yourself. Once you’ve reached midlife, your rising sign’s qualities melt into your sun sign’s traits, bonding together to balance your personality with an outer and inner layer enveloping your moon sign characteristics deep within your core self (that’s another kettle of fish entirely). Even so, your rising sign’s influence never fully recedes from every aspect of your life.

Element

Like all pillars of astrology, your rising sign is embodied by one of the 12 zodiac figures ruled by earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), air (Aquarius, Gemini, Libra), fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius), and water (Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio). Earth-ruled rising signs come off as stable and secure, even appearing shy, cautious, or overly serious at times. Stellar communication and an inquisitive nature are air rising signs’ cardinal traits, although they may appear spacey or detached if they’re stressed. Those with fire rising signs lead with their bold enthusiasm, bright energy, and eternally optimistic outlook, and tend to thrive in social settings, thanks to their warm, friendly, and accepting vibe. Water rising signs are viewed as intensely intuitive, emotional, and hypersensitive, rarely exposing their true feelings to evade risking their vulnerability.

Degree

The degree determines the position and angle of where your rising sign was sitting as it moved across the horizon when you were born. High and low degrees can say a lot about how strongly your rising sign will affect your personality. Should your rising sign fall closer to the beginning of the sign’s journey, you’ll likely have a stronger connection to your ascendant’s qualities. People born at the end of a sign’s stay closer to when the next sign appears on the horizon are known to have “weak ascendants,” outwardly expressing few of their rising sign characteristics.

What’s My Rising Sign?

Back in the dark days before the Internet, you’d have to either pay an astrologer to draw up and interpret your natal chart or thumb through dusty, intimidating astrological ephemeris yourself to calculate your ascendant. Nowadays all you have to do is click over to Astrodienst, punch in your info, and voilà—the keys to your personality mysteries, unlocked.

Finding your ascendant sign requires that you know the time of your birth and the location, including city and country. The latter shouldn’t be too difficult, however finding out your birth time can be tricky if you don’t don’t have access to your birth certificate—ask a relative if you’re unsure and estimate. The more precise the time of your birth, the greater the accuracy in discovering the degree, and sometimes even the sign.

Using Your Rising Sign

Because the ascendant is the lens filtering our entire personality and natal chart, the rising sign is as significant as the Sun and Moon signs. Many astrologers—including this one—recommend reading your rising sign’s horoscope as well as your Sun sign forecast. Blend those two horoscopes together and thank me later—but don’t say I didn’t tell you so if your rising sign horoscope is the more accurate of the two!