A Sun, Moon, And Rising Zodiac Sign Explainer That Will Help Astrology Make So Much More Sense

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I always roll my eyes a little when I hear people skeptically toss aside the entire practice of astrology simply because they don't identify with their sun sign. Sigh. There is so much more to astrology (and you!) than one single sign could ever represent. I can't blame them, though — unless you've taken the time to research, it's easy to assume that sun signs are the be-all-end-all of astrology. After all, that's usually all we reference when we say something like "I'm a Libra" or look up our monthly/weekly/daily(/hourly?) horoscope. Understanding the difference between your sun, moon, and rising sign is a great place to start for anyone who wants to know about astrology and how it affects them — and TBH, it might even turn some of you astrology skeptics into believers.

You actually have many signs in your birth chart — one for each of the significant celestial bodies in our solar system! But the main three signs that can give you a very basic overview of someone's ~true self~ are the combination of a sun sign, moon sign, and rising sign. Each of these signs is important (perhaps equally so, depending on who you talk to!), and each 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 sun, moon, and rising signs are really just the tip of a very large iceberg, understanding these three signs together will give you a much fuller look at your personal astrology than a sun sign will alone.

It makes sense why these three signs are especially significant to who you are. The sun is, quite obviously, necessary for our existence and is literally the center of our solar system, so naturally it has a significant place in astrology. The moon is the closest celestial object to us here on Earth, so again, one can see why its astrological influence would also be especially notable. Lastly, your rising sign represents the very beginning of your birth chart and from there, determines the rest of your chart's placements, too — again making it a vital part of your basic astrological self.

That said, let's take a quick journey through the basic explanations of 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 fabulous astrologers Lisa Stardust, Renee Watt, and Ashley Otero to get the scoop on this important astro triad, so read on.

Sun Signs

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Sun signs are definitely the most popular and well-known part of one's birth chart when it comes to mainstream astrology (sometimes even referred to as "sun sign astrology"). For many people, it's the only sign they know! As mentioned earlier, many horoscopes are based on sun signs alone, and it's usually what someone is referring to when they ask you what your sign is or state 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.

So 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," explains Otero to Bustle. "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," explains Stardust. "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.

Basically, the sun relates your life path and the truest core of who you are — it's generally considered your highest expression of self. As Watt explains to Bustle, "Your sun sign is an indication of how you present yourself to the world and is associated with your unique identity. 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 some 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

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All right, 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 — so basically, it relates to the 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 in order to find out your moon sign. 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 has always been linked to our emotions, so it makes sense that your moon sign rules over your emotional and more intimate side. "The Moon represents the mother/maternal energy in our charts," explains Stardust to Bustle. "It represents our desires and emotions, our memories — all that we keep internalized and do not show to others." The darkness of the night makes everyone a little bit more vulnerable, and so that vulnerability — things like emotional intimacy, your subconscious feelings, your base instincts — is exactly what a moon sign governs.

Again, in the theme of darkness and shadows, your moon side rules the more shadowy parts of your personality — the sides that only the people closest to you get to see. This part of yourself can also come out if you're in a highly stressful situation, and there are other times when your moon sign could eclipse your sun sign, too. "Moon signs tell us a lot about how one processes emotions and can give a lot of insight on how someone functions intuitively," shares Watt.

And the 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."

So if the sun is our yang, you can think of the moon as our yin: "The moon is the luminary that reflects the sun's light, and is therefore its yin counterpart," Otero explains to Bustle. "The moon symbolizes the physical body, the soul, the emotional reflexes, and our sense of belonging. As the luminary that cycles relatively rapidly through phases of light, it corresponds with the many stages of life, particularly early life when our existence depends on the sustenance of caregivers," she continues. "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

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You at first glance — believe it or not, that's probably going to be more your rising sign than your sun sign! 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 the "house of self"), aka 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) ... [and it] typically hovers around the nine o' clock position of the chart," explains Otero to Bustle. "The sun's crossing of the horizon makes it an auspicious point, so the rising sign is one of the most significant areas of a chart that astrologers look to."

But your rising sign isn't a planet like the sun and moon, so what exactly is it? "The ascendant is the point where the sky meets earth — the horizon — which is where the sun rises each day," explains Otero, "hence the interchangeable term 'rising sign.'" In order to calculate it, you're definitely 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 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," explains Watt. "It also can give 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. As Otero shares with Bustle, the rising sign "symbolizes the body, its appearance, and the persona."

The main difference between a rising sign and a sun sign is that your sun sign represents the deeper core of your personality like your ego and values, and it governs over the big-picture aspects of your life. Your rising sign, on the other hand, is sort of like a nice veil wrapped over your solid sun core, ruling 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.

"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," shares Stardust with Bustle. "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." While rising signs represent the more superficial part of your personality, they're still a key ingredient in the cosmic blend that is so uniquely you.

What To Keep In Mind

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Now that you know your sun, moon, and rising signs, it's time to explore what qualities each of them brings to the table. For example, if you're a Pisces moon like I am, rather than just trying to apply the basic traits of a Pisces sun sign to your lunar-governed aspects, you'll want to specifically look into Pisces moon traits, because the Pisces vibe is going to manifest a little bit differently in a moon sign than it would in a solar placement (and the same goes for your rising sign, of course). If you want to dive in deep, 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 (and amazingly easy) tool for expanding your astro-knowledge. So get out there and embark on some cosmic therapy to learn more about the many sides of you — sun, moon, rising, and beyond!

This article was originally published on October 11, 2018 and was updated on September 9, 2019.

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