Self or ego? What is the Ascendant?

 Hello there! 


The first house, defined by the Ascendant, is called the “House of Self”. 


The Sun is said to be the ego. 


What is ego?  For people on a spiritual path, the “ego” is the obstacle. I don’t agree with this negative definition. In a more psychological sense, the ego is simply our sense of identity, our sense of self. 


Is there  some form of competition between the Sun and the Ascendant? 


The symbol for the Sun is the dot at the centre of a circle. It is one of the most powerful symbols. The self is at the centre.  


Let me tell you a metaphor. 



Imagine you’re planning to visit the bottom of the sea. There are beautiful fish down there. 

You can’t go just as you are.  The sea is very deep.  There is a lot of pressure deep down and you wouldn’t be able to breathe. You need a submarine. 

So you embark on a small one. 


When you reach the bottom of the sea, there are already many submarines going about. Some are there to chase the fish, like you, while others are there to study the ocean floor and underwater rocks.  Others are there to test the new submarine technology,  while others are there to control the traffic.


You know that you are you! You are not a submarine. But  to others, you appear as just another submarine. They see the colour and the shape of your submarine.  They see your driving style. They see that your submarine gets very excited when there are fish, but that you don’t care much for  rocks. You are not a submarine, but for others, you are one. You have a submarine personality. You may even identify with it so much that you forget that there is a life beyond driving a submarine.  


Liz Greene says that it’s not possible to practice astrology without a philosophy.  Here is a basic metaphysical statement: 


“We are spirits in the material world. The body is our vehicle.” 


 So you see, the bottom of the ocean is the material world, the submarines are our bodies and we, the spirits, are the drivers. 


Now this may sound very like the  Cartesian notion of the ghost in the machine, so please don’t forget that this is just a metaphor. Our bodies are not machines. Body, mind and spirit are much more deeply intertwined than that. I would rather think of our bodies as extensions of ourselves rather than mere containers. 

But the metaphor is good enough for my point. One day the body dies, and we survive. Once the submarine dies, our driving style – our incarnated personality – disappears as well. 


This is how I understand the Ascendant and the First House. It is our “incarnated personality”, how we are in the flesh. 


My view is consistent with what we know about houses: they are about the most material expression of energies. The Ascendant, Descendant, MC and IC form what astrological tradition calls the Cross of Matter. 


The way the submarine behaves at the bottom of the sea is an expression of the intentions of the driver. The submarine is not just a fake “mask” that hides the authentic being within. 


There are various types of submarines. In my own chart, Cancer is rising. It’s a very sensitive sign. My submarine carries cameras, probes, and antennae. I’m able to sense the environment with great accuracy. This makes me fragile. Don’t shout in my sonar please. I’m here to detect subtle vibrations! 


I am driving this Cancerian type of submarine on a Scorpio expedition: my Sun placement. The purpose of this incarnation has something to do with confronting intense emotions, exploring the unconscious side of the mind, things like that. If my Sun  were Scorpio and my Rising were Sagittarius, I would have a thicker skin. I would confront intense emotions as an adventurer stepping out of my comfort zone.  With Cancer Rising, the intensity comes to my home. I’m more like a scorpion hiding under a rock. 

We usually say that the Ascendant is how we appear. Words are tricky. To appear means “to look like” – but it doesn’t mean only this. 


To appear means “to become visible”.  The Sun becomes visible in the morning on the Eastern horizon. Everything that rises appears in the East. 


We are spiritual beings. Spirits are invisible. We become visible thanks to our physical body. That’s our Ascendant. 


We appeared for the first time when we were born. Planets conjunct to the Ascendant give indications about how we were born. People with Pluto on the Ascendant often had a difficult birth. It felt like a life or death moment. People with Saturn on the Ascendant may well have felt stuck from the start. If it were Jupiter or Venus, the experience was  most probably much more easy going. 


Psychological studies have shown that there is a correlation between how birth happened and how well people do later in life. First impressions and first moments always have a great impact. 


Not only our body but also our behaviour is how we appear. It is on the surface. If I’m being polite with you, it’s behaviour. You can see that I’m being polite, but you don’t know why. Maybe I am a complete hypocrite.  Maybe I am polite because I have something to sell and it would be stupid to be rude. Maybe I just wish to avoid trouble. But maybe I am genuinely treating out with respect because I do respect and love you. What comes up to the surface may come from the depth of my heart.


But if I am a hypocrite or if I am playing poker, then I am using the Ascendant as a mask. We have this choice. 

I’ve seen videos where psychologists analyse video recordings of people who are lying  like, for instance, politicians. I am not saying that all politicians are lying, but surely some do sometimes. 


Looking closely, psychologists can see that the body language of liars betrays them. There are subtle clues. Everything comes up to the surface actually, in more or less obvious ways. 

However, even if everything comes to the surface, we are not able to show ourselves such as we are deep within. We can’t expect people to plug themselves directly into us and to perceive our soul with absolute clarity.  Maybe a very talented psychic could do that but not every lover can. 


The alternative to being psychically perceived is to express ourselves. Self expression: this is what the Sun’s mission is.


To ex- press literally means to push out. We need to be creative to express our inner spirit. The Ascendant is the way out. For instance, I just imagined a picture book with little submarines of various colours and shapes interacting at the bottom of the ocean to make my point. Even a child could understand what I mean. Cancer Ascendant here. 


Metaphors are always approximations for the sake of clarity. The Sun is also the central power. So you may imagine the driver of the submarine as being the power generator at the same time. Body, mind and spirit are intimately connected.  The submarine may even change its form under the influence of its driver! 

The driver has a double personality. He is a mechanic as well. That’s the Moon. As a mechanic, he is not interested in the fish but in submarine maintenance and also in reproduction.  But here, my metaphor becomes far too inadequate. Feel free to imagine whatever and forget about it! 


The Moon is an intermediate between the spiritual and the material planes, but that’s for another day. I hope I have given you keys to interpret your Sun-Ascendant signs combination.  


Jean-Marc Pierson