I thought, after swimming in the waters of concept and symbol, we might like to get back to some hardcore astrology today. Back to dry land.
There has been a great deal talked about the ‘shadow’ element in astrology. We usually associate the ‘shadow’ with the Descendant. Traditionally, if the Ascendant is the “I, me” of consciousness–what I am, how I define myself– the Descendant represents that which (we feel) is not within us, or ‘other.’ In synastry, the Descendant symbolizes what we are attracted to–something or someone who feels instinctively to be a part of us, but who represents qualities we cannot (or are not yet ready to) own. When the Descendant is prominently involved in a synastry, there is always a feeling of re-discovering something long lost, or of having a deep hunger satisfied (for a time, anyway).
Too often, synastry students ignore the Descendant and it’s ruler in chart interpretation. Actually, ALL of the angles are crucial in synastry, but we will come back to that another day. For now, it’s vital to understand that each arm of the axis needs to be considered as a whole–to quote the old song, you can’t have one without the other. The Ascendant/Descendant form one arm, MC/IC the other. The Asc/Dsc is the gateway to the 1st and 7th houses, and has a natural Aries/Libra affiliation. Traditional astrology is very keen on angle, angle ruler contacts between charts, but we will see here that there are some problematic sides to strong angle contacts in synastry. Strong angle contacts are very immediate and are keenly felt, but they can also tip the balance inherent in the angle.
I think most people would agree with the observation that, the more self-aware we are, the more we understand what we need and want out of a partnership. The Ascendant/Descendant axis has a great deal to do with our self-understanding. Without a good handle on this axis and the way its rulers operate in a chart, a discussion of relationship is pretty much limited to Sun-Mars, Moon-Venus.
The Ascendant does function as an identity center, a mask or container which encompasses the rest of the chart energies. It is the “I” that experiences. It’s our public face, the one we put on when we want to tell someone ‘this is who I am,’ particularly when we are younger. A young Libra rising may be perfectly happy with being ‘the pretty one’ or ‘the nice one,’ whereas the young Scorpio rising feels himself to be dark and mysterious and longs to be seen as such. Young Leo rising may see himself as an artist/actor/creator, or just long to be leader of the pack. Once we move on a bit from identifying with the Moon, which we do in childhood, the Ascendant is the natural place to go, the qualities more easily accessible to the consciousness than those of the too-bright Sun. But a funny thing happens to the angles. Like the planets, they progress…
A birth angle is a fixed point in time, but the chart moves on. And so does our understanding of ourselves.
The Ascendant’s affinity with Aries is often misunderstood. On the surface, Aries is about “I, me.” But the motivation behind the “I” orientation is this: far from being selfish or self-centered, Aries knows it is destined for a journey, the very journey of life, and nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to get in its way. Like a racehorse born to run, Aries sets off towards whatever instinct is strongest, meets up with experience, absorbs it, and moves on to the next. The movement is what matters, not the result, or even the understanding. Aries energy leaves the results for other signs to pick up, analyze, and make something with.
Essentially, the Ascendant is “I”, but it isn’t a fixed “I”, it is an I that is in the process of becoming. It takes in experience, makes it conscious, and moves on. In the process, it begins to define itself, but it keeps moving. It is ever restless, never ‘done.’ Our Ascendant often describes our restlessness, the thing we keep doing and the way we keep doing it. Virgo rising never stops analyzing. Gemini rising never stops making connections. We can’t stop, because it would feel like death.
Now, the difficulty of the ‘shadow’ appears in relationships because as the “I” evolves, so does the “not I.” If we’re lucky, if we are aware, our (usually painful) experiences of ‘other’ will allow us to claim some of that “not I” as our own. It, too, will never be finished, will always be elusive, and somewhat out of our grasp. (I sometimes think that, without the evolving Descendant, we would reach a point where we stop falling in love.) We may also better understand what of the “not I” is a real and present need, and what is based on a wishful fantasy of who we were/are/are not. Without a mature take on this angle, we may avoid an equal and adult partnership, preferring to fall back into earlier need patterns. The Descendant is an area where we would rather let someone else do the work for us–instead of embracing the qualities of our Descendant, we ‘marry’ them, thus attempting to fulfill our mission by proxy. We often project the qualities of our Descendant onto our partners–and they can be qualities that the partner doesn’t actually possess. We bypass the real work of partnership. What does my partner bring out in me? What do we really need to learn from another? Am I seeing my partner for who he/she is, or am I constructing a persona for them out of my own desires? Do I really want the same things now that I wanted ten years ago? Do the people I choose as partners reflect these new needs? The needs represented by the Descendant are deeply ingrained in us, but they can also be an outgrown habit. The Descendant shows where we can be mindless repeat offenders in relationship blindness. The Shadow can become the place where we just never ‘get it,’ we never learn.