the ascendant

The Ascendant 5
Understanding the Ascendant

the ascendant


As noted previously, in the unfolding of a life, the first decanate of any sign on the Ascendant creates a focus upon self-advancement; the second decanate, a focus upon personal relationships; and the third decanate, a focus upon the integration of the individual into the grouping of choice, whether that is social, political, or spiritual. The order of the decanates corresponds to the stages of the evolutionary route of the personality towards Soul alignment. Yet the decanate of the Rising Sign is not an absolute measure of development.  In a natal chart, it takes its place in the pattern overall, and whilst those with the first decanate on the Ascendant will give a more self-interested and self- serving expression of the energy of the sign,  it is not uncommon to find evolved individuals born with the first decanate of a sign Rising, and opening up consciousness to a different kind of experience from that which has been central to their development up to this lifetime.  These relatively advanced beings may be as clumsy in their handling of this energy, which is new to them, as anyone else, but they will be able to pick up on the energy of the Esoteric Ruler more readily. 

Anaretic degrees (the 29th degree of any sign)

In the 30th degree of a sign, i.e., 29 degrees, (0 degrees being a sign’s 1st degree) the outgoing sign is at its weakest and meeting with the incoming sign which is at its strongest. If an Anaretic degree is on the Ascendant, it will operate in a fitful and inconsistent manner, as at different times and in different circumstances it will express one or other of the unfriendly elements involved. When the Water signs meet with the Fire signs (the Subject of Understanding the Ascendant 2), the result is steam and scalding, a tendency to fly into an impassioned state without measure, or thought for the consequences.

This involves:

  • Cancer 29 degrees
  • Scorpio 29 degrees 
  • Pisces 29 degrees.

To manage these difficult degrees, find out which luminary or planet in the chart makes the closest major harmonious aspect and is able to provide support by sending its energy to the weakened Anaretic degree.

For example, if Scorpio 29 is on the Ascendant and the closest harmonious aspect is from Venus in Capricorn at 26 degrees in H3, then this connection from the House of Mind will lessen the subjectivity and defensiveness of Scorpio and make its expression more reasonable.

The Water Signs

The Water signs are essentially sensitive and reactive. 

Many mammals do not expose their chests and stomachs until they are in surroundings that feel safe and in company which they trust. The design of a human being is such, however, that unless we are on all fours (rarely recommended) we must go towards unfamiliar people and situations with our chests and stomach, the organs associated with our emotional being, largely unprotected. All the Water signs have strategies to deal with the sense of vulnerability which this gives rise to; they are all defensive in unfamiliar situations. In physical appearances, they may find things to reassure themselves, but it is the vibrations they pick up on that will be the reality that communicates most to them. The Water signs make relationships of all kinds based on their emotional reading of the personalities and circumstances involved. It is a subjective and instinctive process. In women, who show liking and aversion more readily, it may be more obvious, but the same process is at work in men with Water sign Ascendants.

A Cancerian Ascendant can trust if a situation or person meets their terms, and the situation feels familiar and manageable. With Cancer on the Ascendant, both genders will feel more at ease in the company of women. 

A Scorpio Ascendant will never trust, and they will never feel secure unless they are in control. They are very difficult people with whom to experience intimacy, whether it is that of child and parent, or with friends, lovers, or clients. They can get very defensive with a reader who gets too many things right because it compromises their control of the situation. Vladimir Putin is a Scorpio Ascendant as was Saddam Hussein.

As increasing numbers of individuals pick up on their esoteric ruler, Pluto, the quality of those with Piscean Ascendants is changing. Increasingly, the kind of commitments that make situations involving personal relationships stable and purposeful are experienced as bonds and restraints, and they seek security in unavailability, whether that takes the form of quietly slipping away, setting up complications, or destroying that which holds them. 

As Pluto is now the orthodox ruler of Scorpio, these two signs now share certain similarities which were not in evidence in earlier generations when Mars and Jupiter were their respective rulers. The list of the great and the good with Scorpio Ascendants born before Pluto was discovered is long: Lord Nelson, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Emily Bronte, George Elliot, TS Eliot, and Rudolph Steiner represent just a handful of them, all renowned for their courage, industry and, significantly, their exceptional emotional awareness.

By contrast, a list of history’s famous people with Pisces on the Ascendant is hard to pull together because of the lack of awareness of self, passivity, and willingness to merge with the interests and preferences of others.  Prior to the discovery of Pluto, these qualities characterized this sign and worked against worldly success and eschewed recognition. The Trappist monk, Tomas Merton  (third decanate Pisces rising ) comes to mind and It is probable that Walt Whitman was a Pisces Rising. The given time of 01:45 am puts early Aries on the Ascendant but the Ascendent moves very fast through Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, and Taurus (which are known as signs of short ascension) and so just a few minutes added or subtracted to give a ‘tidier’ birth time, as may have happened in Whitman’s case, can make a big difference.

With Pluto’s First Ray energy working through them, both Ascendent signs now express themselves in a more complex way, and both are now associated with disruptiveness and destruction. Not only has the energy of these Ascendant signs changed but their functions also. To use a sporting metaphor, with Mars as the Ruling Planet, those with Scorpio Ascendants were forwards who would try to score goals or serve those who do; now they play as backs, concerned with their own defense. From instinctive cooperation, the more evolved Pisces Ascendents are now looking after themselves and their own opportunities by separating out. If this seems to reverse the correct order of things, consider that on the path of individuality the development of personal identity is a first step.


Those with the sign Cancer on the Ascendant have the Moon as the ruling planet, and as the Moon shapes form, the sign and house in which it is found natally will greatly influence both the appearance and the kind of activities the Cancerian Ascendant will undertake. Some have large ungainly bodies whilst others are very trim; some will take on and confine themselves to traditional family life whilst others will seek out new ways to express the timeless values which serve to nurture and protect form life. In terms of appearance, what is common to all is strong, thick hair. Men with Cancerian Ascendants tend to keep full heads of hair to a very advanced age even though it will have turned white at a young age. 

The Cancerian Ascendant serves continuity with which he or she has a very identified and emotional relationship. Both genders with Cancer Rising will honour the feminine and view feminine values as more evolved and productive than the masculine, because those values support the needs of form life, the basis of everything, including ourselves, in the Three Worlds. They cannot see it any other way and tears of rage and frustration come readily when self-evident things close to the Cancerian heart are challenged.  Feminine values, feminine insight and female personalities are revered by both genders. Males often identify with the feminine to the point of emulation.

Years ago, I went with a friend and her Cancer Ascendant son, then aged about 2 and in a buggy, to visit Father Christmas in a department store grotto. The very sight of Father Christmas provoked a screaming fit so loud that we had to take him out of the store at speed and push him still screaming down the High Street. Whether it was chance inspiration or something more, my friend, who is also a Cancerian Ascendant, wheeled him into a tea shop, full of middle class, middle-aged women savouring tea and gateaux. He stopped crying almost immediately, struggled to sit up from his prostrate meltdown-position, looked round with interest and, eventually, smiled beatifically.  He had thrown off that bearded freak and was back in the presence of higher beings! At her first Christmas pantomime, my sister, also a Cancerian Ascendant and equally resistant to having the cheap festive spirit override her true emotional reactions, wailed in anguish every time Dick Whittington’s cat left the stage. But the joy when he returned! Cats are nearly as important to them as their mothers.

The mother is always of central importance to the way Cancerian Ascendants go forward into adulthood. She will either have set a revered example that they will follow closely, or the maternal experience will have issued a challenge which will be a constant point of reference throughout the adult life. In either case, the mother will remain the most influential parent. There is often tension in the relationship between the Cancerian Ascendant child and the father, often for no reason other than the child’s perception that he does not have quite the right angle on things. 

The 20-year-old model and actor, Damian Hurley, who has a Cancerian Ascendant (third decanate) and Moon in H6, looks so like his mother, also a model and actress, that it is not always easy to tell them apart. (If that sounds improbable, have a look on Google images!) I have seen this kind of ‘cloning’ before in families where the colouring indicated a strong Cancerian theme, especially amongst the gypsy community. I have never had the opportunity to study this, but I am inclined to see it as a product of a Cancerian Ascendent strongly aspect by the Moon.

The fact that the Moon is the symbol of past experience is an important consideration. Albert Einstein (second decanate Cancer Rising / Moon in Sagittarius in H5) clearly took a body of inherited knowledge on further. There are Cancerian Ascendants, especially with the Moon also in Cancer, who seem to be repositories for knowledge from different ages.  This is the case for Mike Scott of the Waterboys, who is a repository for the knowledge of WB Yeats. When the Moon is in H1, as it often is with this combination, traditionally, and with all the confidence that this Moon confers through the support and encouragement of the mother, knowledge is passed on through literature, poetry and performance.  Mark, the client who allowed me to tell his life story for our Short Course in Natal Chart Interpretation has this combination of Cancerian Ascendant and Ruling Planet, the Moon in Cancer, in H1. Mark lives in Manhattan now but his heart is still in London’s old Docklands, the history of which he picked up as a boy from just walking round its streets. With it, he seems to have picked up the ability to write because his schooling in an East End secondary school was less than basic. He is resistant to the idea of writing a personal memoir and is looking for another kind of frame for the knowledge that he feels has been seeded in him. 

When the planet Neptune is the esoteric ruler of the Ascendant, the tendency is to transcend the biological and serve continuity in a different, non-physical way, but the influence of the Moon is still in evidence in the physical body.  I have not knowingly found an example of a chart with a Cancerian Ascendant, and with the Moon in Cancer in H12, but expect it to be complex and lacking in stability, as the H12 theme will interfere and try to cancel out attempts to preserve continuity.


Those with Scorpio on the Ascendant have always suffered in childhood, often observing conflict and unkindness between the parents or experiencing firsthand bullying and ridicule from siblings or school mates. As a consequence of this, they have lost their ability to trust others, and because of this they have suffered, and they know how to make others suffer by inflicting emotional and mental pain. Rarely is it physical. This is what they know and what they will do again and again to those close to them, although they themselves will suffer the fires of hell when friends or partners eventually write them off as impossible. They are neither happy nor popular individuals, although the presence of Jupiter Rising in Scorpio or inner planets in Sagittarius which will be first across the Ascendant will act as a significant counterbalance. These individuals  are very good with money, and this gives confidence. It is the lack of confidence in their ability to hold their own against others which accounts for the Scorpio Ascendants wounding strategies.

John Lennon, with his Moon in Aquarius in H3, was more communicative than the typical withholding and cautious Scorpio Ascendant, and his verbal put-downs of those with whom he collided in life have passed into legend. Yet there is a poignant moment in Sam Taylor-Wood’s biopic about the young John Lennon (Nowhere Boy), when the scared and confused 5-year-old, whose parents’ relationship is in ruins, is asked to choose which parent he wants to live with.  ‘Daddy’, he says in a tiny voice. So, Daddy takes John from his mother but then leaves him with his aunt because he never did have any intention of looking after him. 

Prince (Rogers Nelson) who also had a turbulent pull-push relationship with parents who parted acrimoniously, was another Scorpio Ascendant. Back in the 1980s, when Purple Rain, the film which he both he scripted and starred in, was doing the rounds there were no on-line sites to check out natal charts, but I knew he had a Scorpio Ascendant just as soon as I saw the early scene in which he is teasing and tormenting a girl newly arrived to the area and looking for a job. How better to keep an attractive woman in her place than making her look ridiculous?  Scorpio Ascendants are at their cat-playing-with-a mouse worst when they sense that a person could mean something to them, either through bonds of love or sexual attraction. When we have something, we have something to lose. They are never free from this fear and so they will damage a relationship first in the hope of caring less and hurting less when that time comes, as it always does. This is Scorpio Ascendant logic.

As an Astrologer, I have been asked countless times, what is the point (developmental purpose) of the Scorpio Ascendent. I am asked this by partners and parents who, over a period of years, have been cut to the quick by them. The nearest I can get to an explanation is by acknowledging and appreciating their function as catalysts. 

When I began teaching Astrology in the 1990s, the New Age was in full flower and classes were large. (Pluto was in the sign Scorpio at that time.) At the start of one course, I asked each person in turn what had made them take on Astrology. Eventually, one member of the group said that it was because of the utter confusion brought into her life as the result of a relationship with a Scorpio Ascendent who had made her question everything about who she was and the way she saw herself. At this, there was a loud murmur of agreement from the rest of the class. A subsequent hand count revealed that 16 other members of that class of 25 admitted that whatever other reasons they might have given, their challenging encounters with individuals with Scorpio Ascendants had assuredly contributed to their reason for being there in that class. 

The catalyst brings about transformation and the Scorpio Ascendant seems to serve the needs of the Second to Third Initiation. Perhaps through them, we meet what in Theosophy is called the Dweller on the Threshold, residual behaviours that have been operating unconsciously within us, but which we now need to recognise in ourselves if we are to clear them out. What we learn about ourselves from the percussive interactions with these catalysts may not be very flattering to self-regard but are the more useful for that. When our spiritual poises come down under ungracious provocation, we can better see the truth of ourselves. Scorpio Ascendants are masters of ungracious provocation.

A catalyst brings about change but does not itself change. It is that aspect of the Scorpio Ascendant’s behaviour that will eventually break down a long-term partner.  The same situations involving the same hurtful reactions come round again and again.  

They may not learn but we can, and maybe they will have their own opportunities next time around. 

If Scorpio Ascendants do not learn, it is because they have no use for behavior which would leave them vulnerable to others. The world that they inhabit is governed by the principle of survival of the fittest. They are no more ashamed of their cruel behaviour on the emotional level than a wild animal is on a physical level because it is simply what survival in the human jungle requires.  The sign in which Pluto is found, together with the house, will identify what forms the core of the insecurity and the isolation which they bring upon themselves by their behaviour to others. At the end of the film Purple Rain, Prince, at last, decides to use on stage a song written by two female members of his backing band, which formerly he has trashed mercilessly. When he announces this, the apprehension and distrust on guitarist Wendy Melvoir’s face as she begins to play, says it all. It is an expression a Scorpio Ascendant sees many times. So often the longed-for gesture of kindness comes from them just too late.

Evelyn Waugh, a Scorpio Sun, wrote this in Work Suspended and I dedicate it to all Scorpio Ascendants because Waugh understood this aspect and function of our sign in a way that most do not:

For the civilised man there are none of those swift transitions of joy and pain which possess the savage; words form slowly like pus around his hurts; there are no clean wounds for him; first a numbness, then a long festering, then a scar ever-ready to open. Not until they have assumed the livery of defense can his emotions pass through the lines…

To move on from this and go beyond the lines, a Scorpio Ascendant must first get out of the human jungle by way of Ray 6 or Ray 2 spirituality. They are a very significant presence in spiritual communities. With an intentionally raised level of development, Mars, the esoteric ruler of Scorpio, is activated and the Scorpio Ascendant can play in a forward’s position once more. Then the behaviour demonstrates compassion for others, awareness of the transformative role of suffering in the human condition and, often, considerable shamanic healing power. Then the unquiet soul knows peace. 


Pisces is another Ascendant sign which, if my client profile is in any way representative, accounts for a very small proportion of those individuals who consult Astrologers. As with Leo and Taurus Ascendants, this could be because people born with them are numerically fewer or perhaps, they prefer to keep their business to themselves.  To the old Astrologers, the sign Pisces and the H12 was associated with secret sorrows.

With Pisces on the Ascendant, a child will be exposed to circumstances in which the needs of another, often a parent, cuts short their childhood. They are required to respond and give themselves over to the situation. Often these needs are emotional rather than physical and the child is expected to accept states of mind and appetites which belong to the adult world. 

Although circumstances in childhood may resemble those of the H8 child, because they have never focused upon themselves, the Piscean Ascendant does not have awareness of his or her own needs whereas the H8 child is acutely aware and always trying to get them met through compliance. For as long as Jupiter and Pisces are the ruling planets, when acts of great self-sacrifice are undertaken by the Piscean Ascendant it is because that is what they know and what is expected of them. They know how to transcend self by negating it and to be absorbed by something or someone more important.  I know of three Piscean Ascendant women who as children had to listen to the most intimate details about the failure of their parents’ marriages, and, in one case, replace her mother in her father’s bed ‘because she was there and her mother was not’. She accepted this aspect of her childhood in which she was treated like a commodity until she was in middle age and the thinking in the circles in which she moved had become more psychologically aware. Then she began to see things very differently.

When Pluto, the esoteric ruler, is activated, the sacrifice has to become conscious and not a programmed response. Then there is a greater awareness of self and a corresponding anger at being trapped into commitment and responsibility. The singer, Zayn Malik, who has Pisces on the Ascendant (first decanate) may have hoped he could just slip away from the creative bondage that One Direction represented to him, but it was national news in the UK the very next day, as the situation unfolded in a thoroughly Plutonian way. Within one year, the most successful band of the 2000s had disintegrated. 

When the level of development activates Pluto, Piscean Ascendants can cause havoc wherever they go because assisted by Pluto they will destroy the circumstances which imprison them rather than allow those conditions to take them hostage. This may reverse our expectations of the course that spiritual development will take, but on the spiritual route we are now taking, dutiful compliance is sterile. 

These are our times.

The case of Krishnamurti demonstrates an important consideration about those born late in a sign and also about dutiful compliance. Krishnamurti had the last degrees of Aquarius Rising, and by progression Pisces occupied the Ascendant from the age of 6 onward.  Taken from his widowed father by Charles Leadbeater, who saw in him the potential to be a Messiah who would convince the world of spiritual realities, which was the Theosophists master plan, he was given an English education which was probably somewhat broader than the standard curriculum because no boy was safe around Leadbeater. Destined for Messiahship or not, Krishnamurti was treated like a commodity whilst Pisces was the sign on his progressed Ascendant. As a teenager, when Besant and Leadbeater were busy, which was most of the time, he was left to escape unsupervised on to the astral plane. Unavoidably, he became impressed with his own powers; but when his brother fell ill and none of them, neither he nor the self-regarding Theosophists around him, were able to save his life, what Krishnamurti realised then changed his life. At his Saturn return, he dissociated himself from the Messiah project and went his own way to teach about the importance of the development of the discriminating individual. 

We, of the 21st century, will readily applaud his decision to flee from the distasteful glamour of this project. But it should be said that at a level far higher than the Theosophical Movement, his decision was considered a disaster for the advancement of spiritual awareness in the Twentieth Century. So, the project was imperfect but in the Three Worlds all endeavours are. There are only means to ends: what end might that imperfect project have served? 

All of us who have been brought up in the Christian tradition, which is so closely connected to the sign Pisces, will have decisions to make in our own lives, perhaps scaled down but of a similar kind to that of Krishnamurti., What has more value to our evolution, individually and collectively, the trained obedience of a Pavlovian dog or conscious abstention from that which we cannot support? How are life and opportunity best served?  These are questions we will have to put to and answer for ourselves; and once we have taken on this responsibility we can never go back. Readers of Carlos Castaneda will know what I mean when I say that for us Westerners this is the Journey to Ixtlan.  

These are our times, and we are equipped to ride them, but we need more than faith. We need wisdom, self-awareness, discrimination and above all, remembrance because the biggest danger on this route, which was that chosen by Krishnamurti one hundred years ago, is that we will forget what we are about, forget what spirituality is, the journey it comprises and the purpose it serves, and stray off the road. 

Suzanne Rough

August 2022

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