Ascendant and Identity (7) Virgo Rising

Element: Earth – mastering of practical skills and knowledge helps in forming a confident self image.
Mode: Mutable – the process of learning, adapting, and communicating help to form a complex identity.

A horoscope with a Virgo Ascendant usually comes with a Gemini Midheaven, implying strong emphasis of intellectual and communicative faculties (both signs are ruled by Mercury.) There seems to be an ability to grasp and control things skillfully to a minute detail, whether it is in writing, teaching, fixing things, singing/acting, or playing sports. The other way to say it might be: a thorough mastery of details lead to greater confidence and thus a strong identity.

As in Gemini ASC horoscopes, placement and aspect of Mercury becomes extremely important in defining the path of identity development.

  • Opera singer Andrea Bocelli has Mercury-Venus conjunction right on his ASC. Mercury also squares Saturn, ruler of his 5th (performance, entertainment.) Saturn may suggest seriousness and discipline for this classical singer.
  • Walt Disney has Mercury sextile Venus in the entertainment 5th, ruling his 9th (publishing.)
  • Writer/Actor/Film Director Woody Allen has Mercury conjunct Sun, Jupiter (leadership, writing, performing), and square Saturn, ruler of the entertainment 5th. His sense of humor is said to be of the self deprecating kind.
  • Auto entrepreneur Henry Ford has Mercury conj Sun (leadership), sextile Saturn in 2nd and trine Neptune in 8th (2-8 financial axis.) His mechanical ability was apparent since childhood (engineering requires a practical, detail oriented intellect.)

Because of the strong mental orientation, Virgo ASC may become especially vulnerable to nervousness or neurotic thoughts during times of stress – the self criticism may be intense, and the sense of guilt or perfectionism may threaten the identity to the core. The balance is usually restored by paying attention to one’s emotions and physical sensations (discussed here).

Grand Trine and Necessary Defense Mechanism

In Synthesis and Counseling for Astrology, Noel Tyl goes into depth regarding the Grand Trine aspect structure. He defines the Grand Trine as a protective moat of “self sufficiency, self-containment…the separation from relationship because of the self-containment.” (P285 in Synthesis and Counseling, 1st ed.) Here are some of his thoughts from the book:

  • If the Grand Trine exists without involving the Sun or the Moon, the defense mechanism might operate separately from the core need energy of Sun-Moon blend – there usually will be a schism between these two separate themes.
  • Water Grand Trine suggests a closed-circuit of emotional self sufficiency (“I’ve been hurt too many times – I don’t want to be hurt any more.”)
  • Air Grand Trine is a closed circuit of social or intellectual self sufficiency (“I can get along just fine by myself, thank you.” – “a defensively useful superiority complex.”)
  • Earth Grand Trine – a closed circuit of practical self sufficiency (i.e. “I don’t need your help.”)
  • Fire Grand Trine – a closed circuit of motivational self sufficiency: “You can’t tell me anything I don’t know” or “I know exactly where I’m going and I don’t need your energy to get there” – a do-your-own-thing type.

In many cases it is a leftover defense mechanism from tough childhood, where one needed to protect him/herself from hostile or unstable environment. Hanging on to such defense mechanism may hurt the development of intimacy in later life.

With all that said, here I will make additional suggestion: perhaps this defense mechanism is necessary even in adulthood, if one is “destined” to face tough opposition from others in the course of his/her journey for fulfillment.

The defense mechanism and utter self-containment of the Grand Trine insulates one’s psyche from harsh criticisms and hostile oppositions from the world – perhaps not perfectly, but enough to keep one going forward.

Consider these examples:

1) Apple founder and “technological evangelist” Steve Jobs has two Grand Trines (Fire GT of Pluto-Mars-IC; Water GT of Jupiter-Uranus, Saturn, DSC). As the man on the cutting edge of electronics/computer revolution, I bet he had to be willing to face oppositions, doubts and even redicules of others in order to bring his vision to pass – wouldn’t he need a thick skin, to NOT need people’s approval?

2)Muhammad Ali – as noted in the Leo rising post below, the defense mechanism of Ali’s Earth GT most likely insulates him from the psychological pressure and attacks from his opponents. Wouldn’t a fighter need that defense mechanism in order to keep fighting?

3)Dalai Lama XIV – two Grand Trines (Water – Sun, Jupiter, Saturn; Earth – Moon, Uranus, DSC). In a different way, he also had to fight most of his life in struggle for his country’s freedom. Weaker souls might have collapsed under pressure – but there is a psychological defense mechanism that protects the sensitive core.

4)Martin Luther King Jr. (GT involving Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn) – Again, he had to face extremely difficult opposition in the course of civil rights movement – and he needed that defensive moat of psychological protection.

So even in adulthood, Grand Trine’s defensive mechanism may be a necessary psychological resource, if you’re doing something controversial and have to go through tough oppositions and criticisms. The key may be to know who your opponent is, and to be able to let others in that are safe, so you don’t remain totally isolated.

Ascendant and Identity (6) Leo Rising

Element: Fire – Expression of assertiveness, enthusiasm, and confidence strengthen the identity formation.
Mode: Fixed – faithfulness, stability and reliability empowers the self concept.

Leo Ascendant magnifies the importance of our inner King/Queen. To form a strong identity, a person with this Ascendant needs to be able to command the attention and respect of others for his/her creativity, theatricality, and generosity of spirit.

The King/Queen complex of this Ascendant suggests a sense of innate dignity, but also a childlike self-centeredness which could be either endearing or tyrannical, depending on the level of maturity.

As a modifier of the Sun-Moon blend energy, Leo Ascendant could give an aura of theatrical presence that somehow draws the eye, even for the quiet, introverted person dominated by Watery energy. This Ascendant can add warmth and charismatic flair to the intellectualism of the Air element, or the pragmatism of the Earth.

The Untamed King Complex of Muhammad Ali

Since Leo is ruled by the Sun, natal aspect to the Sun should be a lot more visible for Leo ASC.

Take a look at Muhammad Ali’s horoscope. The Capricorn Sun receives a square from Mars (over the sign-line), adding much fire and combativeness to the King Complex of Capricorn-Leo.

This Sun is further fortified through the Grand Trine with Saturn-Uranus and Neptune (a protective mote to ensure emotional and physical self sufficiency) – adding much stability to the grand self image.

Ali’s chart is strikingly absent in Water, reducing psychological vulnerability to attack, we might say – after all, empathy and sensitivity are not so useful in a boxing ring!

The Inspired Queen Complex of Maya Angelou

Writer & poet Maya Angelou is another example of Leo Ascendant (chart). Here there is much inspiration from the Jupiter conjoining Sun, and Neptune conjoining her ASC. But there is a “blanket over her hand grenade” that threatens to envelope her light: Pluto ruling the 4th (home-family) squares the Sun.

There is no Earth planet in the chart to provide stability, yet there is another Grand Trine, this time in Fire element (a protective mote of inspiration.) Mercury-Venus conjunction in Pisces in 8th suggests idealism and vulnerability to pain, and the Southern hemisphere emphasis further adds to the victimization potential (see post below about hemisphere analysis.)

Her story of hardship and sexual abuse is well documented in her books – we could say she chose to free herself from the devastating experience through her candid, dramatic writing.

The two examples are very different, yet both have their identity expressed through the theatrical lens of Leo Ascendant.

Nodal Axis and the Mother Complex

In Western astrology, Lunar Nodes are generally associated with the karmic past and future*.
Other schools of astrology have associated the Nodal axis with meetings and relationships. Noel Tyl has further developed this symbolism to mean the “mother” involvement (“it is the point at which the apparent paths of Sun and Moon cross – signifying fecundation – which suggests relationship, connection to groups and public, and the mother, or the maternal.”)

This is observable rather easily in consultations – whenever the Nodal axis conjoins the planet or an Angle closely (within 2 degrees orb), there is a strong maternal influence (this could be mother, or other female figure such as grandmother, etc.) in terms of the planet.

There are several ways to think of this:

1) The Nodal axis-planet combination suggests what kind of mother one had: I’ve had several clients who had alcoholic mothers when the Nodal axis conjoined Neptune natally. While those are quite extreme examples and not meant to be taken as law, similar quality of escapism in the mother (hence the abandonment to the child) would affect the psyche deeply.

2) The Nodal complex suggests the kind of experience we had with the mother – a male client with Nodal axis conjunct Uranus told me he was unable to connect with his mother emotionally at all during childhood, and this was coloring his views of women in his adult relationships. This may suggest that the emotional connection was disrupted within the original relationship, leading to independence or isolation.

3) When a planet squares a Nodal axis closely, could there be a conflict between the mother and the child in terms of the planet? I had a client with Moon square the Nodal axis, and Nodal axis conjoined Mercury: she said her mother was very different from her, and especially in terms of emotional experience, the mother wasn’t able to empathize with the daughter at all.

And here is the main consideration: the Mother Complex is the internal mother-image we carry inside. This image defines how we nurture and care for ourselves and others. The client in the last example had a really hard time paying attention and nurturing herself emotionally, saying the emotions felt unimportant, or bothersome. Thus the pattern of dysfunctional mothering is passed down from the mother to the daughter.

Luckily, we can stop the chain of dysfunction right here: our becoming aware of the incomplete mother complex can lead to a transformation of the internal mother image. This way, we take back the planet that was usurped (or eclipsed) by the Nodal Mother Complex. Then true healing and individuation can begin.

*idea popularized by karmic and evolutionary astrologers, perhaps especially through charismatic writing of Jeffrey Wolf Green and Stephen Forrest – in general the North Node is associated as the point of future growth, and South Node as a carryover from the past. In the mother complex discussion above, the distinction between North and South Node are irrelevant, as we consider the entire circle as Nodal Axis, and conjunction to either Node suggests strong maternal influence.

Ascendant & Identity (5) Cancer Rising

Element: Water – Deepening of sensitivity, vulnerability and compassion thickens the identity development.
Mode: Cardinal – Initiating, creating, and being decisive strengthens the self image.

Cancer Ascendant seems to give one a sense of emotional softness that may be gentle, nurturing, and even vulnerable. The establishment of emotional security, especially within the family, is essential for the identity fortification of this Ascendant. Without such emotional connection, the self image may become unstable (moody and vulnerable), and shyness and withdrawn attitude could result.

As the modifier of the Sun-Moon blend, it may help tone down an otherwise too overbearing horoscope: “It makes me tolerable!” said Noel Tyl, whose Cancer ASC softens the “King complex” of his Capricorn Sun and Leo Moon; the emotionality (his crying easily or expressing affections readily, etc.) serves to make his tough, authoritative energy much more acceptable to others.

If the rest of the horoscope is also Watery, Cancer ASC will – in the best cases- lead to a smooth expression of depth, intuition and caring. The example I can think of is Roberto Assagioli, the founder of the psychosynthesis movement, who has Sun-Mercury in Pisces, and Moon in Virgo (a sensitive intuition harnessed by intellect.) A brilliant and innovative thinker, he is also remembered for his compassionate attitude toward his students and clients.

Archetypally, I think Moon stands for the psyche’s inward movement toward wholeness and healing (as opposed to Sun’s outward drive toward conquering and achievement)- in that way, Cancer Ascendant may suggest the need to develop a complex character capable of expressing – and experiencing – all kinds of emotions.

Ascendant and Identity (4) Gemini Rising / Mercury in Sexual Profile / Mercury aspects

Element: Air – Development of intellectual and social ability helps identity formation.
Mode: Mutable – Learning and acquiring wisdom lead to identity strength. Changeability may lead to flexibility or instability of self image.

Gemini Ascendant suggests that identity is developed through diverse learning and interaction with others. As the modifier of Sun-Moon blend, this ASC may make communication of internal experience to others easier than usual.

Awareness of Sexual Profile

In many Gemini ASC horoscopes, Mercury would also rule the 5th house of sexual identity through its rulership of Virgo. This suggests several things:

1) Awareness of sexual potency or attractiveness may be directly linked to identity development.

2) The mind may be heavily involved in the sexual arena, which may manifest as the pursuit in mastering the technical aspects of sex and romance, or on the other extreme, voluntary celibacy through a mental decision (note that John Gray has Virgo in the 5th house, and he exemplifies both aspects through a period of celibacy as well as his writing on technical know-how about sexual relationships.)

3) Mercury aspect for those with Gemini ASC / Virgo 5th house would carry implications about their self image as well as their sexual profile.

Mercury aspects for Gemini Ascendant
We can imagine Jupiter aspects to Mercury adding a sense of optimism, grandeur and confidence (possibly, overconfidence): Greta Garbo has Mercury in 5th square Jupiter on the ASC, linking the sexual identity to the self image in a grand way, and this definitely fits her glamorous image.

Saturn aspect to Mercury may suggest seriousness, ambition and studious nature. Hard aspects between these two planets may suggest vulnerability to depression. When linked with the sexual profile, this aspect may suggest a sense of strategy and control within sexual relationships.

Neptune aspect to Mercury may suggest creativity and charisma, or perhaps vulnerability to escapism. Jazz legend Miles Davis has Mercury aspected to both Saturn and Neptune, and he had a serious, studious attitude to music while being a visionary, charismatic innovator. He was also known for having drug problems.

Pluto aspect to Mercury may suggest persuasiveness as well as an awareness of occult, psychology or darker side of life: Filmmaker Tim Burton has Mercury conjunct Pluto, and he is known for the dark, Gothic feel of his movies (major works include Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare before Christmas, and recently Sweeney Todd, a gruesome masterpiece.)

Ascendant and Identity (3) Taurus Rising

Element: Earth- practical orientation and concrete achievement strengthens identity formation.

Mode: Fixed- stability and reliability leads to identity strength.

Taurus Ascendant seems to suggest the need for cultivating stability, practicality and consistency in the course of strengthening the identity. As ASC acts to modify the energy of Sun-Moon blend, Taurus may imply the need to ground the intellectual idealism of Air element into practicality, stabilize the emotionalism of Water into calmness, and channel the expressive energy of Fire into solid achievements.

As Venus rules Taurus, development of aesthetic awareness and relationship enjoyment may also need to be incorporated into self image (the same could be said of Libra ASC which is also ruled by Venus.) The aestheticism may not manifest as a full blown professional interests in arts, but merely as the ability to appreciate beauty, sensuality and people.

Things build power and presence through consistency – with Taurus, life structures such as relationship, career etc. are built to last, and staying in the same relationship or work for a long time through continuous effort may really provide a solid foundation that creates peace.

Another facet of Taurus is that of idealism related to Venus which represents “the beautiful world.” Actress and children’s rights activist Mia Farrow has Venus ruling her Taurus ASC in the 12th house, also ruling 6th house of social service. Barbara De Angelis has the same placement of Venus, and her search for ideal solutions in relationships has been well known.

The stability of Taurus may add certain amount of resistance to the frustration of ideals (i.e. they don’t succumb as easily to despair.) Eventually the people who have this Ascendant may develop impressive staying power in maintaining their effort – which is definitely a mark of identity strength.

*By the way I really like the photo as the metaphor for Taurus – here is strength and beauty residing together, without aggression.

Ascendant and Identity (2) Aries Rising & Self Assertion / Mars in Aspect

Element: Fire – Exertion and Ego recognition fuels identity formation.

Mode: Cardinal – Creation, initiation, and decisive action develops identity.

For Aries Ascendant, mastering the art of self assertion helps identity formation. As the modifier of the Sun-Moon blend, Aries rising would add image of physical, social or intellectual strength – consider examples such as Errol Flynn, Billy Graham, Bill Cosby.

As Aries is ruled by Mars, the position and aspect of Mars would significantly color the identity development.

When self assertion is a problem

If Mars is retrograde, the energy “goes in before it goes out.” This suggests internal censorship; we can expect an indirect way of expressing anger or self assertion. If Mars is retrograde in an Aries rising horoscope, this creates added difficulty in identity formation, because straightforward expression of the self assertive drive was somehow impeded.

If Mars is located within the 12th house, we can expect similar problem with expressing anger. If Mars is close to the ASC (within 8-10 degrees) from the 12th house, this usually suggests hidden anger.

Mars in aspect

1) Mars in hard aspect to Saturn may suggest several manifestations: in many cases it suggests doggedness, endurance and industrious nature (ambition strengthening action.) In best cases it leads to resourcefulness and indomitable will – consider examples such as Louis Armstrong, or astrologer/psychotherapist Stephen Arroyo.

In the problematic case, this combination would suggest frustrated or suppressed anger; as well as ruthlessness (ambition fueling aggression.)

2) Mars in hard aspect with Uranus would suggest a highly original, individuated application of energy. For an Aries rising with this aspect, this could mean that one must be courageous enough to pursue an unconventional path in the course of finding his/her true identity: consider Isadora Duncan, a revolutionary dancer who also broke the social code of the time by bearing three children from three different lovers.

The shadow manifestation would be the deviant, misfit, or the “rebel without a cause” type of behavior that isolates one from social mainstream. One may feel like an exile as a result.

3) Mars in hard aspect with Neptune would suggest charisma. Aries rising with this aspect may exude this kind of magnetism, as the self image is mixed with aura of mystery or fantasy – examples include Barbra Streisand and John Lennon.

In problematic cases, identity formation may be interrupted through bewildering circumstance; blurring of clear self image through drugs or other addictions may lead to unrealistic view of the self.

4) Mars in hard aspect with Pluto would suggest the extremes of passionate action or explosive temper. In an Aries rising with this aspect, finding a purpose that brings out deep passion may be crucial in forming an effective identity (example includes evangelist Oral Roberts).

If such purpose is not to be found, the frustrated passion may turn negative, leading to self destructive or tyrannical behaviors.

For all of these aspects, soft aspects (trine and sextile) would carry essentially the same meaning as the hard aspect, but they may not be as dramatic in their manifestation. Soft aspect tends to preserve the status quo, whereas hard aspect tends to motivate ongoing development through tension.

Ascendant & Identity (1) Pisces Rising

This post is the first in the series of posts about Ascendant and Identity Strength.

I’ll start with Pisces Ascendant since I have it. A few basics for Pisces are:

Ruler: Neptune (classic ruler being Jupiter)

Element: Water – Sensitivity, vulnerability, deep emotions.

Mode: Mutable – Mental orientation, adaptability.

Pisces ASC seems to create almost invariably a sensitive, gentle exterior. The identity formation will be strengthened through Neptunian experience such as artistic endeavors or a spiritual practice.

In developing our identity, the general process is to achieve complexity and strength over time – this is accomplished through practice and mastery of challenging skills (such as learning how to run a business or talk in front of people); as we pursue our own interests and deepen the chosen skill sets, this makes us unique as we keep growing.

Learning of arts – music, dance, acting, painting etc., seems to be helpful in the formation of Piscean identity: in high school I felt uniquely strengthened through my ability to play piano and guitar – that was my “thing”, and everyone knew and respected it – that’s identity strength. As an adult the music is still an important part of me, but now I’ve incorporated spiritual practice and astrology into my identity, thus increasing in complexity.

Creative imagination is a Neptunian (and therefore Piscean) word. The successful utilization of this energy also seems to be strengthening to the identity – inspired visions, dreams, etc. The misuse of imagination through worry or escapism would hurt the identify formation.

The dark side of Pisces ASC is that identity formation may become difficult because of too much sensitivity and vulnerability – making it a potential target of victimization by others. Frustration in this regard may lead to escapism and even addictions, which further dilutes the self image.

One interesting note from Noel Tyl is that Pisces ASC with Aries intercepted within the 1st house is like “hot poker plunged into cool water”: there will be steam that obstructs the view – the heat is there, but not readily apparent. This may suggest passive aggressive behavior, but also a courage hiding beneath the sensitive exterior.

I have Pisces ASC with Aries intercepted – as I was growing through adolescence, it felt as if I had all the needs of Aries rising to be number one, but was too darn sensitive to keep competing with others. I practiced aikido (Japanese martial art) for a while, and this helped enormously for me to get in touch with the inner warrior*.

I like the phrase “Aries in Pisces’ clothing” to describe this combination, even though it is a bit misleading – the sensitive, empathetic personality seems to be very real, as well as the independent, self assertive drive within. Somebody said it is like having two personalities, and you can use whichever one that is more appropriate for the situation.

*aikido, despite its intensity, is much gentler in spirit compared to many other martial arts, as skilled practitioner can subdue an opponent without hurting him; it is about blending with the opponent’s energy, rather than clashing head on in Aries-karate fashion.