This is a re-print from an issue of ECLIPSE, with some new material added.
Using the Placidus House system over many years, I came to truly love the Ascendant of a chart; for the individual it’s a declaration, ‘Here I am, and this is who I am!’ literally representing the moment the person arrived in the world, and describing the attitude, the ‘face’ with which they meet everything they encounter. For an event it describes the moment of inception, the event’s first thrust into reality, and for both an individual and an occurrence, the Ascendant describes the character of what’s presented to the observer. This point in the chart both tells us of the initiating nature of the individual or event, and tells us what was on the horizon at the time and place of this ‘birth’. The integration of the point itself into the other points and bodies of the natal chart (by aspect) tells us the story of this entry point, and the character of the first House tells us what outlook supports this personality.
With the Whole Sign system, we see the Ascendant relocated, in a sense, to a point within the 1st; it no longer demarcates the chart in a definitive way, acting as ‘the place where everything begins’, but instead becomes a part of the 1st House itself, with the implication being that the environment of the 1st House determines Ascendant expression. By that I mean, the Ascendant is essentially a reaction to the environment into which one is born; as such, it describes survival skills the entity developed to cope with the early (immediate) environment. It’s a statement of what the individual believes they must do or produce in order to survive—and so can be highly revealing of core beliefs and assumptions about the world, as well as indicative of the individual’s likely natural, initial, instinctive response to pressure/ stress. This is in contrast to the approach in the Placidus system, where we may see the Ascendant nature as a fait accompli at birth, due to its prominence on the horizon of the flat chart. With Whole Signs, we allow for the shaping of reactions and personality, unlike with Placidus, which symbolically fixes the personality to the horizon, to birth, to the moment of entrance, and so imbues the Ascendant with an aura more fatalistic than expressive.
The Ascendant could also be viewed as the individual’s own personal Aries Point, if we define the Aries Point as the place at which the Sun enters 0 degrees of a Cardinal sign, which corresponds with the start of a new season. The moment of birth could be seen to represent the start of a personal new season for the individual. A new life brings a new outlook, and incarnation the translation of the unseen into physical form (that is, the spirit into a human body). We can’t discount what that individual may be bringing with them, consciousness that exists beyond the timeline that begins with the moment of birth, which argues for the Whole Sign system, with the symbolism of the Ascendant placed within the 1st rather than acting as the cusp of it, so that some of that 1st House ‘essence’ is placed above the horizon, symbolizing that non-material state of the spirit prior to translation into human form.
The flexibility offered by the Whole Sign system in relation to the Ascendant, represented by the way the ASC is found somewhere within the 1st House, means that we get a more holistic view of the personality; it presents not as an assertion of personality, a statement of ‘I Am’, as much as an ever evolving viewpoint that rises naturally from interaction with the environment. This means that we are inclined in interpretation to see the personality quirks and difficulties that arise from it not so much as irrefutable facts, but as responses—and seeing things that way offers us the opportunity of modification and change in the moment and in any direction, rather than the linear Placidus model that suggests only a single line of possible development, with much less suggestion of dimensionality.
If you’re still unclear about what I mean, draw on a piece of paper just your 1st House, once with the Ascendant on the cusp (the Placidus model) and then again with the Ascendant sign from 00 to 30 as the 1st House, with the Ascendant placed inside (the Whole Sign model), and see if this doesn’t convey two truly differing impressions of the Ascendant and its possible readings. Both are useful ways of looking at the chart, and both tell a story about who we are.