Photo courtesy of Nationaal ArchiefAstrology is a seductive art. It lures us in with its mystery. Each chart is a great metaphysical and psychological puzzle that whispers into our ear: if only we’re clever enough, practiced enough, wise enough, we will come to a place of absolute understanding, of universal meaning. We will be invited into the sacred space, the holy of holies, where we will be one with the greater knowing. No wonder we can become a bit obsessed with what we study and practice. No wonder it won’t let us go.
That’s the promise of it. What often happens, in the reality of our astrological experience, is that we hit a wall in our astrological understanding. We experience the blank wall of information overload. If we study with a teacher, we have the guidance to get through this phase of our learning, but most of us are out there, alone, on the internet or hanging out in the bookstore, trying to suck in as much material as possible, and then finding out that we are stuffed to the gills with information we have no idea how to use.
All students of astrology go through this phase at one point or another. Where once all was relatively clear, now a swirly soup of planetary connections swim before us. We lose our perspective, and we forget that there is a living, breathing human beneath that swirly surface that we are attempting to uncover. We look at the chart from over the wall of aspects, rather than from within, and we become more analytical, more distant, more head over heart. And we get more and more lost.
Looking at the Holistic Energy of Your Chart
One of the things I always try and get my students to do is to think more holistically about how the energy of the chart actually works. The energy of a chart runs in currents, like water—some channels are wider and stronger than others. One of the first tell-tale signs of “the wall” is when we begin thinking that all the aspects carry equal weight. Much like a human being, a chart has obvious, dominant qualities that are observable to all, and quieter, more subtle qualities that may take years of living with them to discover. Some of these qualities and patterns may be unknown to the person themselves. Fortunately, unlike a human being, a chart will reveal its secrets and subtleties in much less time.
Astrology Basics: Emphasizing the Ascendant, the Sun, and the Moon
[ad]One of the ways to get beyond the wall is to come back to the basics. In astrology, this means an emphasis on the Ascendant, the Sun, and the Moon. It may seem old-fashioned, but it’s better not to mess with what works. However, none of these elements should be viewed in a simplistic way. It isn’t merely the sign and house of the Sun that needs assessing, but the quality of its entire condition—aspects, dispositor, and the house it rules in the chart. Likewise for the Moon and most importantly of all, the Ascendant. This includes taking a good hard look at what the Ascendant ruler is doing. This planet is the single most ignored factor in analyzing a chart, and it’s a shame because it reveals so much.
The Ascendent as a Developing Entity
I like to think of the Ascendant of a chart as a developing entity—it’s the sense of ‘I,’ but in motion. It will evolve over the years, move into different signs by progression and, therefore, have different chart rulers. These events will indicate milestones in life, and in the development of consciousness. If the Ascendant progresses over a planet, that planet will be the focus of life over a three-year period. So something as active, as powerful, as the Ascendant should not be dismissed lightly. Far beyond a mere ‘mask,’ it is our notion of our being in motion in the world. It’s the car we drive on the highway of life. (For the record, both sets of angles indicate a developing sector of our identity, but we will only deal with the Ascendant today.)
When small children are asked who they are or where they are, they often point to their stomachs. I like to think of the Ascendant in this way. It isn’t an intellectual identification or a considered psychological sense of Self, but something primal that asserts our singularity. It is the basic ‘I AM’ that is rooted in Aries. Because it is so basic and instinctive, the Ascendant is very much colored by whatever happens to be in it, around it, or connected to it. Planets will give it flavor, aspects will give it a particular energy, and allow the planets making the aspects to manifest easily in day-to-day life.
Ascendent Example: Virgo Rising
You may have Virgo rising, for example, and be quiet and practical about things, but if you have Mercury in Libra in the First House, that air Mercury, ruling the Ascendant, is going to insure that you will live a life of the mind, where intellectual beauty, diplomacy, balance, and literacy are dominant. Or you may be a champion debater (or argument maker) who can run rings around others’ words with your Virgo attention to detail. However it is expressed, this facility of mind will dominate the identity, because you will identify with the process of Mercury in Libra. Unless the rest of the chart is very much lined up against it, you will express yourself easily, because that is who you are.
The great power of planets in the First is that we just assume them—they don’t need to be tackled in a conscious way. Life will automatically bring us experiences to let them take care of themselves. This, again, is the Aries influence of the First House. It’s instinctive, and instinctual. This is also the power of cardinality—we reach out, and initiate, because it’s an instinctive process. Even stuffy old Capricorn can’t help himself.
All of this developing energy of the Ascendant has to be expressed somewhere. This is where rulership comes in. The activity of the ruler affects the house that it rules. And conversely, whatever energy is percolating in that house, is channeled through the planet that rules it. The result of the developing action in that house pours through the ruler. This is one of the great missing steps of modern astrology, that no one uses rulership anymore. If you’ve ever expected a big transit and wondered why it fizzled out, it was due to one of two reasons:
1) nothing was backing it up in the progressed chart (transits must be backed up by an appropriate progression to be really noticeable) or
2) you were looking in the wrong place.
If Venus, for example, was being transited by Pluto and you were expecting some dark and mysterious love to manifest—well, it’s not going to happen if one of those planets is not connected to a relationship house. What may have happened, and what you may have missed, is that this deep transformation of values and desires may have affected the houses Venus rules in your chart. If Venus rules the Third and the Tenth House, there may have been a deep change in your appreciation of those near and dear to you (Third House) which made you take a challenging new job closer to home (Tenth House).
When we talk about composite charts, the exchange of energy between the composite Ascendant and the chart ruler (ruler of the Ascendant) is often fascinating and easy to see. The developing “I” of the chart filters itself through the ruler—it often indicates a main theme of the relationship: what a couple is here to do together. Coupled with the condition of the Sun and the Moon, these two elements give us the bare bones of what a relationship is here for. Add the Nodes, and you get a complete picture of the way the past is intended to move into the present. The rest of the composite is merely detail.
Composite Couple Examples
John Lennon and Paul McCartney: The composite has Cancer rising, Venus conjunct the Ascendant. These two initially came together over music (Venus), but bonded more deeply over the early loss of their mothers (Cancer). They both mentioned, over the years, the familial nature of their tie: McCartney was the brother only-child Lennon never had, down to the sibling rivalry. The intense, driven nature of their musical partnership is clearly shown by the chart ruler, the Moon, conjunct Vesta in the creative Fifth House.
Click the link to view the Lennon-McCartney Composite Natal Chart in a new window.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono: On the other hand, John and Yoko have Capricorn rising in the composite, with Saturn, the chart ruler, in boundary-less Pisces in the Third House (communication). They had the first media marriage, from the ‘bed-in’ honeymoon to discussing nearly every facet of their lives together in public (with the determined relentlessness only Saturn can muster). So appropriate for the couple who crafted the song “Woman,” and who stood on the front-line of women’s rights, this Saturn is opposite a Mars/Juno conjunction in the Ninth House.
Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins: This couple have Scorpio rising, with the ruler, Pluto in the house of crusades and ideals—the Ninth House—conjunct the MC. While they were together, they embodied the idea of ideological commitment. The secondary ruler of the Ascendant, Mars, conjunct the North Node in the Ninth, not far behind Pluto, adds to their political fervor.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson: Ever wonder why the Duke and Duchess of York still share a home, of sorts, after years of spending separate lives? Virgo is rising with the North Node conjunct the Ascendant (must do the right thing) and Mercury, the chart ruler, is conjunct Saturn in the Fourth House, the house of home and family.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall: The glamour couple of early film noir is an illustration of the way planets affect our perception of the First House. Theirs has steamy, sexual Pluto rising, giving off an aura of mystery and menace. The couple have Gemini rising, and it’s well known that the Bogart home was the center of intellectual, literary, and political debate. Their many films together are reflected in the chart ruler, Mercury, conjunct a Scorpio Venus and the North Node in the Fifth House.
Click the link to view the Bogart-Bacall Composite Natal Chart in a new window.
President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: Perhaps the most striking composite of all, in terms of the Ascendant and the chart ruler, is the one between President Kennedy and his wife. Their years in the White House were called “the Camelot years,” full of dreams and ideals and visions of the future, where the United States was seen as a kind of Utopia for the rest of the world. They were young and full of promise; their campaign was based on equality and civil rights. The White House was wide open to the great thinkers and philosophers and literary figures of the day. These two have a tight Sun/Moon conjunction in the Ninth House, with the chart rulers Pluto and Mars also in the Ninth, conjunct this conjunction. The crusading and visionary spirit gave way to tragedy when the violence inherent in this composite was unleashed, and JFK was assassinated for reasons that remain mysterious to this day (Scorpio, Pluto). For fans of the Nodes, the transiting North Node was at the midpoint between Pluto and Mars of the composite at Kennedy’s death.
Click the link to view the Kennedy-Kennedy Onassis Composite Natal Chart in a new window.
Your Chart’s Prime Focus
For every rule there are exceptions, and the composite charts you work with may not be as pronounced as these illustrations, but the condition of the Ascendant and the chart ruler will always provide an important key to the prime focus and purpose of a chart, no matter what kind of chart it is. Attention to rulership will allow you to do the kind of depth work in astrology that will prevent you from hitting your wall.
In your composite chart, what’s the relationship between composite Ascendant and the chart ruler? Let us know in comments below.
- Getting There: The Function of the Sun in Composite Charts
- The Top 5 Synastry Aspects for a Significant Relationship
- Get Your Free Composite Chart (and your birth location’s latitude and longitude here)