When most people think of astrology, the first thing they're likely to think of is their Sun sign. After all, that's usually what we reference when we say something like "I'm a Libra" or look up our monthly/weekly/daily horoscope. But if you're an astrology novice who is looking to begin diving a little deeper into the cosmic well of this mystical art, understanding the difference between your Sun, Moon, and Rising sign is a great place to start. Because, yes, you have more than just one sign in astrology — and they're all equally important when it comes to knowing how the cosmos affect you.
You actually have many signs in your birth chart — one for each of the planets, asteroids, and significant astrological points. But the main three signs in astrology that can give you a very basic overview of your ~true self~ are the combination of a Sun sign, Moon sign, and Rising sign. Each is highly significant in your chart and rules over different parts of your personality and overall self. Your birth chart is a wide and wondrous world of cosmic information that is uniquely you. so while these signs are still just the tip of a very large iceberg, know that understanding them will give you a much fuller look at your personal astrology than simply reading your Sun sign horoscope will alone.
So, why start with these three signs over any others? Well, the Sun should be obvious, as it is necessary for our existence — so naturally it has a significant place in astrology. Just as it's the center of our solar system, it also represents the fire at the center of you. The Moon, on the other hand, may be small — but it is the closest celestial object to us here on Earth, so again, its influence in notable. Lastly, your Rising sign indicates the placement of all the houses in your astrological chart, too — making it a vital part of your basic astrological self.
That said, let's take a quick journey through the basic meanings and differences between Sun signs, Moon signs, and Rising signs so you can start applying them to your life and making the most of astrology. Bustle chatted with astrologers Lisa Stardust, Renée Watt, and Ashley Otero to get the scoop on this important astro triad, so read on.
Sun Signs: The Core Of Your Personal Solar System
Sun signs are definitely the most popular and well-known part of one's birth chart when it comes to mainstream astrology. For many people, it's the only sign they know! Many horoscopes are based on Sun signs alone, and that's usually what someone is referring to when they ask you what your sign is or tell you their own. All you need to calculate your Sun sign is the month and date of your birth. This makes it easy to do simple pop astrology, as people don't need to delve into the rest of their chart (or even find their birth time, in most cases) in order to find their sign.
Just as the Sun is the center of our solar system and the root of life on Earth, your Sun sign represents the center of you, or the core of who you are. "Astrologically speaking, the sun in a natal chart is the luminary that symbolizes one's vital life force, spirit, intellect, and identity," Otero says. "Being the only star amongst the other 9 spheres that our Earth mingles with (and around) in space, the sun is the symbol of centeredness, illumination, and life — because without it, we'd cease to exist!"
Your Sun sign speaks to the big picture and grand scheme of your life, as well as to your ego and deep sense of self. When it comes to your personality, your sun sign is a constant; it's your core at a basic level. "The Sun is our ego and will. It shows what motivates and drives us — what pushes us to success," Stardust says. "Our Sun sign determines our passions."
In his book Astrology For The Millions, author Grant Lewi stated:
You may think, dream, imagine, hope to be a thousand things, according to your Moon and your other planets: but the Sun is what you are, and to be your best self in terms of your Sun is to cause your energies to work along the path in which they will have maximum help from planetary vibrations.
So the Sun relates to your life path and the truest core of who you are — it's generally considered your highest expression of self. "Your sun sign is an indication of how you present yourself to the world and is associated with your unique identity," Watt says. "The sun placement in a chart will often give a lot of info on how one may express themselves and can often have an effect on creativity."
That said, it does make sense why there's an added emphasis on Sun signs in mainstream astrology. So whereas your rising sign is your surface-level personality and your moon sign is your private emotional self (as you'll learn more about below), your sun is your personality's center, much in the way that the Sun is the center of our little universe.
Moon Signs: The Shadow Side Of You
Let's step out of the sunshine and journey into the beauty and sensitivity of the Moon-ruled night. Just as the Moon in the sky rules over the nighttime and all that hides there, so does your Moon sign in astrology — which is to say that it relates to the more private, emotional, beneath-the-surface parts of your personality. In order to calculate your Moon sign, you're going to need a full birth date, year, and exact time/time zone. When you've got that, you can either consult an astrologer or use an online moon sign calculator to find out what sign rules your lunar self.
The Moon in astrology rules over your emotional and intimate side. "The Moon represents the mother/maternal energy in our charts," Stardust says. "It represents our desires and emotions, our memories — all that we keep internalized and do not show to others." Think of it this way: the darkness of the night makes everyone feel a little bit more vulnerable, so vulnerable things like emotional intimacy, deep-rooted feelings, and sentimentality is what your Moon sign governs.
Continuing in the theme of darkness and shadows, the Moon rules the more shadowy parts of your personality — the sides that only the people closest to you get to see. This part of yourself comes out when you're comfortable being vulnerable with someone, or if you're in a highly stressful situation (in fact, there are even times when your Moon sign could eclipse your Sun sign),
"Moon signs tell us a lot about how one processes emotions and can give a lot of insight on how someone functions intuitively," Watt says.
And lunar energy can manifest in very different ways, depending on which sign its in within your personal natal chart. "Water moons are often very empathic and need emotional validation, while earth moons generally find comfort through financial security," continues Watt. "On the other end of that, fire and air signs generally feel happiest when they’re free of responsibility and able to be their true selves."
"The moon symbolizes the physical body, the soul, the emotional reflexes, and our sense of belonging," says Otero. "It corresponds with the many stages of life, particularly early life when our existence depends on the sustenance of caregivers. Thus, the moon also symbolizes our past, our home, and our comfort zone." In short, think of the moon as your inner self. It's the emotional, vulnerable, and more private side of your personality that likes to feel comfortable and safe before it steps out of the shadows and reveals itself to others.
Rising Signs: You At First Glance
Rising signs are also known as your ascendant, and they are always the sign that rules the first house of your zodiac chart, which is where your chart "begins." "Being the first of the chart's four angles, this point symbolizes the merge of spirit and body (the sign that was on the horizon the moment you took your first breath)," Otero says. "The rising sign is one of the most significant areas of a chart that astrologers look to."
The version of you that people see at first glance is actually more likely to be explained by your Rising sign than your Sun sign, believe it or not. But your rising sign isn't a planet, so what exactly is it? "The ascendant is the point where the sky meets earth — aka the horizon — and it's where the sun rises each day, hence the interchangeable term 'rising sign,'" Otero says.
In order to calculate your Rising sign, you're going to need your exact birth time and place (in addition to the date and year, of course), as Rising signs change approximately every couple hours — meaning that even people born on the exact same date are likely to have different Rising signs. Time to dig up ye old birth certificate and either consult an astrologer or use an online rising sign calculator to find out yours.
While the Sun represents the core of yourself and the Moon represents your inner self, you can think of your Rising sign as being representative of your outer self.
"Rising signs can be an indication of the mask we wear when we are first meeting someone, to protect our inner selves," Watt says. "It also gives information on self awareness and how one adapts to new surroundings." Rising signs dictate the parts of ourselves we show off immediately to the world, and they usually work in tandem with your Sun sign to create the self that you project into the universe.
The Rising sign is sort of like a nice veil wrapped over your solid Sun-ruled core, governing the surface aspects of your personality — such as how you appear to others, how you react to things off-the-cuff, how you relate to other people (especially socially), and your overall demeanor. It even symbolizes "the body, its appearance, and the persona," according to Otero.
"The rising sign or ascendent is the part of ourselves we show to the world. It’s the face we wear for others to see and view," Stardust says. "We show off more of who we are by our rising/ascendent sign — meaning, people pick up on the characteristics of the sign more than the other elements of our chart." Rising signs may represent the more superficial part of your personality, but they're still a key ingredient in the cosmic blend that is so uniquely you.
Now You Know Your Signs — Here's What To Keep In Mind
There is so much more to astrology (and you!) than one single sign could ever represent — and know you know it. Once you have your own Sun, Moon, and Rising signs, you can start exploring how they work together to create your personal cosmic flavor. I recommend consulting a professional astrologer, as they'll be able to give you a comprehensive look at your birth chart on the whole. But if you're not ready for that, Google is still is an amazing tool for expanding your astro-knowledge. So get out there and embark on some cosmic therapy to learn more about the many cosmic sides of you — using your main three signs and beyond.
This article was originally published on October 11, 2018 and was updated on September 9, 2019.
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