In some ways, astrology is portraiture. In that respect, reading a chart is the attempt to describe the challenges, needs and potentials of a person. To get an understanding of how difficult that is, stop reading this for a moment and spend a minute thinking about how you would describe yourself in as few words as possible, say seven or eight.

Unless you’re either remarkably insightful or remarkably shallow, the exercise is a difficult one. As it’s meant to be. The task is an old one, but has an interesting presentation by the Russian spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff, who, in the 1930’s, demanded that his students tell him their “chief feature”. Quoting from “In Search of the Miraculous,” Gurdjieff states,

“Every man has a certain feature in his character which is central”.

Gurdjieff goes on to talk about how a person’s chief feature is an “axle” around which the personality revolves. It’s a fascinating notion that has reflections in the astrological chart. Temperament, which I’ve discussed in past newsletters, carries a little bit of the idea of this quality, with cholerics and sanguines essentially moving toward the world, and melancholics and phlegmatics moving away from the world. But this is only one distinction among many in a chart, so the question remains: how does one find the chief feature, the axle in Gurdjieff’s words around which the persona revolves?

The first candidates are, of course, the Ascendant, the Moon and the Sun, probably in that order. Why do I place the Ascendant and the Moon first? The degree of the Ascendant changes every four minutes during the day while the Moon moves approximately 12 degrees per day, making both of these points the fastest moving in the chart. In contrast the Sun moves a degree per day, taking a month to work through a sign. As a practicing astrologer I can guarantee that these speeds make an enormous difference. A person with Leo rising and Moon in Pisces is very different from one who is Leo rising and Moon in Aries. Both of these placements are possible for two individuals born on the same day.

For right now, let’s look at some meanings of the Ascendant – also called the rising sign – to gather and consider some possible words that can be used in describing ourselves. To provide a little more room for thought, I’ll add both the positive and negative expressions for each.

Aries – positive: self-assertion, enthusiasm, the direct approach; negative: hurried, inconsiderate, conceit

Taurus – positive: building and maintaining a secure structure; negative: greed, stubbornness, a ponderous approach to the world

Gemini – positive: flexibility, communication take center stage; negative: disorganization, emotionally restless

Cancer – positive: nurturing, sensitive; negative: timid, tends to withdraw

Leo – positive: generous, optimistic, independent; negative: dislike of routine, overlooks the details

Virgo – positive: service, methodical, down-to-earth; negative: critical, inhibited, overly reliant on formalities

Libra – positive: diplomatic, able to creat harmonies; negative: indecisive, problems with self-assertion

Scorpio – positive: strong, determination, powerful insight; negative: dependent on recognition, secretive, manipulative

Sagittarius – positive: independent, generous, searching; negative: righteousness, superficiality

Capricorn – positive: practical, disciplined, patient; negative: mistrusting, joyless, cold

Aquarius – positive: original, imaginative, broad perspective; negative: overly detached, misses emotional clues

Pisces – positive: flexibility, adaptive, versatile; negative: boundaries, difficulty with self-assertion and goals