The Ascendant, ASC, or Rising Sign is often called the mask that one wears, with the attendant idea that the Rising Sign can block the qualities of the Sun and Moon, which are more authentic. I basically agree with this, but with one addition. It is true that one's Ascendant does not run as deep as one's Sun and Moon, and one's ASC should not inhibit the expression of one's Sun and Moon, but the ASC does have some deep roots, and is more like one's face than one's mask. The Ascendant is fundamental and vital to one's psychology, and one must integrate it positively into one's personality, as well as one's entire being. One's face is not the core of one's being, but it cannot be taken off like a mask. The Midheaven, or MC is more like a mask that can put on and removed.
The Ascendant, ASC, or Rising Sign, is the degree of the zodiac sign that was rising on the Eastern horizon at the time of one's first breath. As if the soul comes in and immediately looks to the East to determine who it is, the Rising Sign indicates a predominant quality of personality. The Rising Sign is known for influencing the physical characteristics of one's face and body (as well as the Sun in Moon, in at least my opinion), symbolizing that it is the "face" which one automatically wears, regardless of whether this is similar or dissimilar to other aspects of oneself.
As such the ASC is very automatic, or unconscious. But the ASC is also a very, very conscious part of oneself. It is conscious in that it shows who one thinks one is, as one tends to be very identified with and consciously proud of one's rising sign and/or the values and qualities of one's rising sign. One then uses one's Ascendant in relationships to put forward one's self, saying to others, 'This is who I am.' As such, it is a basic way of relating to people initially, but also long-term as well because the ASC is not purely superficial.
Some of the best soul-purpose detective work in astrology can be done by probing into the qualities of the Rising Sign, and determining why the soul has chosen to walk this path in this life. Which of these qualities might the soul want to gain from this life, and why? To me, the Ascendant is a very significant and deliberate choice on the part of the soul, and much can be learned about the spiritual intention of a lifetime through studying the Ascendant.
The Rising Sign, being the cusp of the first house, has an affinity with the astrological letter one. Our self discovery (first house) first follows the path of our Rising Sign. Our self-expression and self-projection (Mars) are heavily colored by our Rising Sign. And the Rising Sign is very instinctual, automatic, un-self-conscious, and subjective (Aries).
To study your Ascendant, go through the first section of the tutorial (Using parts 1 & 2 of the Course/Tutorial Together) and consider the following things about your Rising sign (or the astrological letter corresponding to that sign):
I recommend going through the list twice:
1) On the first reading, think about how this is the path that you consciously and unconsciously walk in life. Realize how, in always seeing reality through the perspective and values of your Rising Sign, you have a very subjective view of the world, a particular view which is only shared by 1/12 of the population. Think about how you project these qualities out towards others.
2) On the second reading, think about the positive qualities there are to gain from this sign. By having this Rising Sign for an entire lifetime, you have an opportunity to experience these qualities and bring them into a fully integrated realization of yourself. You might say that these qualities then become a part of your soul.
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