Welcome to NYLON’s planetary explainer series, in which astrologer David Odyssey helps you get to know your chart and its key players, one planet at a time.
When people ask for your “big three,” they often don’t know what to do with your rising sign. Over the last century, newspaper, radio, and TV astrologers popularized the sun, giving broad audiences cosmic awareness without having to get into their birth details. But for eons, the rising sign, or ascendant reigned supreme, marking your arrival, point of view, and karmic direction. What is an ascendant, how do you calculate it, and what does it mean for the rest of your chart? For insight into your life’s path, consult our guide below.
RISING SIGN BASICS
Sure, you were born with your sun in Pisces and your moon in Leo. But, under the proviso that approximately 385,000 babies are born daily, many of whom share the same planets, what makes you so special? Enter the astrology chart, which functions like a compass, smashed at the moment you were born, capturing the position of the planets and asteroids exactly. The chart is broken into 12 houses, which function as rungs of consciousness. Each house is a different arena: the first deals with the dawning identity; the fourth with family; the seventh with others; the 10th with career, and so on. How the planets and asteroids land on your houses gives your chart its specific occasion. All that is determined by the ascendant.
Charts are designed based on the daily movement of the sun. Every chart begins and ends with the ascendant, which marks the eastern horizon. Whichever sign was breaking over the eastern horizon, then, is your rising sign. As the sign rising shifts about every two hours, it’s essential to have your exact birth time and location when looking up your chart or getting a reading. The rising sign locates you in time and space. It illustrates your arrival, and the light of influence shining upon you as you took your first breath.
The sun may define you on a basic level, but it’s wise to remember it as one of ten planets on a larger stage. That stage is set by the ascendant. Because your chart begins and ends in this same sign, it defines your point of view, direction, aesthetic, sensibility, and karmic journey. In Rulers of the Zodiac, Alan Oken writes that the ascendant gives “the color we add to this matrix of experience as well as the focus of expression for our character and personality.”
If the zodiac functions as a hero’s journey, then the ascendant is the origin point from which you depart, and inevitably return. It defines much of your life’s mission. As every sign in astrology is ruled by a different planet, which acts as its emissary, the planet which rules your ascendant rules your entire chart. If you’re a Virgo rising, Mercury rules your chart, and will likely beat out your sun for the starring role. Look to how the themes of the ascendant are announced, answered, or affirmed by its ruling planet. As the ascendant sets the mood of your chart, any planets in its immediate vicinity (five degrees) or within your rising sign will figure prominently into your identity. Here’s how rising signs, and the ruling planets, often manifest:
ARIES RISING (chart ruled by Mars)
With the first sign of the zodiac situated on the first house, this makes for a linear life direction. Aries on the ascendant is defined by action, exuberance, and a quest for heroic individuality. You will return to themes of self-assertion and discovery over and over again, and may have to learn lessons of surrender and compromise for the sake of relationships. Look to the position of Mars, the ruler, to announce your focus of conquest — and any conflicts with others.
TAURUS RISING (chart ruled by Venus)
Called to express and embody their tastes, Taurus risings project their aesthetics onto everything and everyone around them. The calling for a Taurus rising is to cultivate one’s own sensibility, be that through painting the bedroom or selling out a gallery showcase. The position of Venus indicates where this expression will flourish, along with any necessary challenges to rein in the projection of a myopic ego. The world can’t just be a reflection of you; how Venus submits to other planets will lead to lessons and perspective.
GEMINI RISING (chart ruled by Mercury)
Your life direction is defined by versatility, and requires an open road for new experiences. This suits character actresses, like the Gemini rising Michelle Pfeiffer, but can be challenging to those fixed on a linear path. A Gemini rising is called to be open, essentially showing up at the right place and time to do their thing. But without consciously cultivating perspective and discernment, a Gemini rising can go through life like a college student on a gap year, collecting experiences without learning any lessons. Look to the position of Mercury for where your channel is meant to open — and what blind spots keep you from growing.
CANCER RISING (chart ruled by the moon)
A Cancer rising’s primary motive is to find their home or community. Until that sense of belonging is realized, they’ll struggle to accomplish much else. In this chart, the moon is all-important, revealing your family legacy, the story it has left you to share, and the new tribe you’re meant to discover. Once a Cancer rising finds their place, they rule like the high witch, sharing their world, and their story, with the next generations. Your task: Find your mother, then play mother to the world.
LEO RISING (chart ruled by the sun)
“Life’s candy, and the sun’s a ball of butter,” belted the Leo rising Barbra Streisand. For those with this placement, every life experience informs or expands their identities. Ultimately, Leo risings are the sum of their creative work. Their calling is to embrace power and be seen for who they are. This can often result in a Cowardly Lion placement, with a destined star hiding under the bed, afraid to step into the light. To be affirmed, adored, or even hated requires bravery. A Leo rising must take the risk.
VIRGO RISING (chart ruled by Mercury)
Virgo gains power through discernment. A Virgo rising’s assignment, then, is to choose their moment. Some Virgo risings thrive in chaos, saying yes to everything with no grand plan in place. Others may fear making any choice at all, waiting in the wings, indefinitely, for their one shot to come. Mercury, its ruling planet, was the messenger and doer of the Gods, capable of bringing their abstract demands to form. Look to Mercury’s position to see where your calling is catalyzed into action.
LIBRA RISING (chart ruled by Venus)
Libra’s drive to ascend is put into hyperdrive in this placement. No matter how you try to settle down among the mortals, you’ll always be on the rise. Libra’s personable qualities will make others see themselves (or their ideal selves) in you; this relatability can propel you forward, as in the case of Bill Clinton and The Rock, but when you assert your true individuality, you’re in for a backlash, as experienced by Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith. Look to the position of Venus in your chart to locate the balcony where your prince will spot you, and the stage on which you’ll win your award. Don’t punish yourself for wanting more — it’s your destiny.
SCORPIO RISING (chart ruled by Mars and Pluto)
When Scorpio, the sign of transformation rises, the life to come will rarely be comfortable, or complacent. Count on constant challenges, sacrifices, and surrenders, all designed to bring you into the truth of your power. Even when you’re not tending to your own metamorphoses, those around you will be shaken and inspired to change, often without your awareness. Look to the position of Pluto for the karmic trials to face, and Mars to where your power is asserted.
SAGITTARIUS RISING (chart ruled by Jupiter)
Sagittarius is the sign of the expanding horizon. With the centaur on your ascendant, you’ll always be searching, seeking, and looking to grow, which can lead to a life of adventure, insatiable consumption, or cultivating wisdom through lived experience. Whether your hunger lead you to lust, power, or knowledge, the desire for the new and untasted must be met with some sobriety and awareness, but never bottled up. Look to Jupiter’s location in your chart for where your hero’s journey takes off.
CAPRICORN RISING (chart ruled by Saturn)
Like it or not, power is at stake: Are you a control freak, running the show, and terrorizing your friend group? Or, conversely, have you kept yourself in a diminutive twee bubble, fearing responsibility for the sake of becoming like your parents? Many Capricorn risings grow up too soon, and must learn to release the weight of the world from their shoulders once in a while. But whether you’re learning to embrace power or loosen the reins a little, your destiny is to claim it, shape it, and take a role of leadership. Look to Saturn’s position in your chart for where the training montage goes down.
AQUARIUS RISING (chart ruled by Saturn and Uranus)
“What a strange girl you are,” Carol Aird says to Therese Belivet in Todd Haynes’ sapphic drama Carol, “flung out of space.” That’s more or less the job assignment for the Aquarius rising, an alien scout sent to observe and report on the human race. Everything in life is zoomed out to the biggest picture imaginable, which makes for great vision, but a diffused identity. “I barely know what to order for lunch,” Therese admits. Two rulers help shape an otherwise abstract sense of self: Saturn, teaching hard lessons meant to land your feet on the ground; and Uranus, whose chart position directs the ethos of your genius.
PISCES RISING (chart ruled by Jupiter and Neptune)
Those born with Pisces on the ascendant may feel like an exposed nerve, always on the verge of absorbing the toxic shmutz of every person around them. Some may seem like they’re on their thousandth life on this planet, while others stumble around like it’s their first time here. Either way, this ascendant requires incubation, meditation, and some form of armor to protect boundaries. The position of Neptune will indicate sources of inspiration (and dangers of intoxication), while Jupiter will point to the wisdom you’re called to share in this lifetime.
WORKING WITH YOUR ASCENDANT
Of course, as you follow what’s going on with transiting planets, note which ones may be crossing your ascendant. As planets move through the 12th house of the unprocessed and into the first house of intrinsic identity, their themes or attributes go through a hatching process. If, for instance, Jupiter works through your 12th before crossing the ascendant into your first, you will observe many nascent or unseen aspects of your personality blooming and taking visible shape. Think of the ascendant as the starting line. Whatever crosses here is just beginning to gain a point of view. Focus on that planet as an emerging part of your identity.
You should also pay attention to what type of sign is rising: cardinal (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn); fixed (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius); or mutable (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces). These triplicities are all thematically connected, and geometrically aligned on a chart by angles of 90 and 180 degrees. Essentially, if a planet is crossing through one sign, it is always affecting the other three in its triplicity. The angular houses, which include the ascendant and the first, fourth, seventh and tenth houses, are the most important. Even if no planets are moving through your rising sign, pay attention to any that may be squaring or opposing it. If you’re Leo rising, for instance, the current long-term transit of Uranus in Taurus goes down in your tenth house of career, and will set off the other angular, fixed houses of your chart.
Naturally, you’re best off surrendering to your ruling planet. Note its sign and house placements, and which planets it interacts with. What are your blind spots? And where does it call you to emerge? Consider this planet your master, teacher, and guide. Get to know it now, or you’ll be running from yourself your whole life.