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The ascendant is also known as the persona in psychological astrology. The word persona means the person-as-presented symbolizing the outer layer of an individual that is shown to the world. It is sometimes unfairly called a mask as if we have no relation whatsoever to our outer appearance and behavior; this surface veil is not perceived to be associated with the real personality. In the horoscope, the ascendant is the initial presentation of the individual adopted to serve specific purposes. The psychological elements that make up the persona are intended to be used as a self-protective measure to play a role in society, and a kind of barrier to the interior self, especially – the shadow. Jung would equate the persona with hiding parts of the psyche, but it means also hiding our sense of uniqueness. To see the persona in action one only has to observe an individual closely, under changing surroundings, to witness a transformation from one milieu to another which brings about a sudden change in personality. The individual often believes that the interior parts of the psyche will be rejected, and wears an extra layer of skin that protects the inner-self.

One can hide multiple sins behind a persona, like the man who is all smiles in the street and is a picture of an easy-going individual; only to turn into a mean drunk that hardly speaks to anyone at home. In psychology, character is situation. In astrology, the ascendant serves as an important vehicle as we need something reliable when entering into a social situation. According to Jung, there is this extreme sensitivity that human beings have to expectations, and sometimes we adjust ourselves to the flow of the mainstream. Liz Greene says that all the four angles of the horoscope are “related to the inward and outward flow of the reality of the person to the outside world. The ascendant is the most personal and obvious and must be in accord with the more hidden, unconscious aspects of the psyche.” As Greene notes, “the qualities of the ascendant are not merely superficial but represent qualities we would ideally like to be.”

Considering this aspect of the personality, one may begin to question the true face of any individual. We all have many depths and spend a lifetime discovering, uncovering and realizing who we are. We don this persona when we enter into particular situations such as schools, workplaces and events. Over time, it becomes this habitual thing, and as soon as we step out of the front door we clothe ourselves in this particular behaviour. We all know cases when the persona slips and a person suffers from a ‘loss of face’ in public. The individual feels quite embarrassed to have some of his more personal contents on show. Ultimately, the ascendant has to remain functional, and the mask has to be one that we can easily slip off without overly identifying with it. It is that side of the self that faces out into the social world and isn’t wholly representative of our true inner identity.

The ascendant has been likened to a lens interposed between us and our environment, so that we see the world through the particular distortions or color of that lens, and world perceives the same distortion or coloration in us. Suppose I have Aries rising I will look about me and see challenge and the call to adventure everywhere, and will go to meet it. Others will then see me as a challenging, dynamic or forceful individual. Any planets in the first house, and particularly any conjunct the ascendant, will also come into the picture, Venus for example, lending softness and charm, or Saturn inhibition, reserve, shyness, which I may strive to overcome. The word “personality” is sometimes attached to this house, but I do not find the term particularly helpful, for if it means anything it must surely involve the whole chart. Eve Jackson