To understand ourselves and to make sense of the way our lives develop is the ultimate purpose of the study of astrology. In all cases, the whole person must be addressed, but the astrological keys symbolize different aspects of the entire person, depending on the side you are looking to analyze and understand. Each one of these symbols (Sun, Moon, Planets, Signs, Nodes, Houses, Aspects, etc.) stands for many things and it’s often hard to separate them, but the following are some basics:
The Sun Sign
Despite what you may have read, the Sun Sign is the mark of the innermost structure of our character. It stands for the primary karmic shaping that is to undergo in this lifetime. We respond at the deepest level through the filter of our Sun Sign, which is a mark of the soul’s developmental needs in this incarnation. Your Sun Sign is the Zodiac Sign that the Sun was in at the time and place that you were born. There are twelve Signs of the Zodiac and each Sign is made up of thirty degrees, making 360 degrees in the entire zodiac. The Sun travels about a degree a day and so gets right through the zodiac in a twelve month period.
The Moon Sign
The Moon Sign in terms of character stands for the outer, emotional personality (product of past karma) and in association with Mercury, the structure of the mental state. Naturally there are many other layers of symbolism attached to the Moon, but so far as our own personality is concerned, that’s it in a nutshell. The Moon travels far more quickly through the Zodiac, taking only about two and a half days to transit each Sign. The Moon therefore completes her transit of the entire zodiac in approximately one month.
The Rising Sign
The Rising Sign or Ascendant governs the appearance and the self-image, which in conjunction with the Moon and ruling planet expresses the way others see you, and indeed (especially the Moon) tends to be the way you see yourself. The Ascendant or Rising Sign is the sign rising over the Eastern¹ horizon at the moment of your birth. The Earth rotates once on her axis every twenty-four hours, so taking just one day to have all of the signs from Aries to Pisces rise over the horizon. Each sign takes about two hours to pass across the horizon, so the time of birth is quite critical in calculating² the Ascendant.
Predictions and assessment of an individual’s horoscope must be done from the Ascendant sign as this is the basis of individualization of a person seen at the exact time of birth, and further determined by the Nakshatra’s Pada, which are the 4 divisions in each of the 27 lunar constellations.
The Ruling Planet
The Ruling Planet is also significant and will often be more important than the others, in terms of the experiences that are undergone. The Ruling Planet is usually the designated planetary ruler of the Ascendant, but can be another strong planet (such as the Sun-ruler, Moon-ruler, most elevated, etc.) if the ascendant-ruler is weak by sign or aspect.
Planetary Aspects and Position make a huge difference too, as a debilitated planet will have a quite different effect from the same planet (Sun, Moon, etc.) when fortified. Each planet has a primary influence at different times in the individual life, but this is best established by a personalized astrological evaluation.
¹ The Ascendant is in essence the Sign of the Earth, the Terrestrial Sign, it is the sign that appears on the horizon rising East, which Jyotish describes as the side where the Creator (God) appears.
² Vedic astrology uses the sidereal zodiac based on the constellations. Western astrology uses the tropical zodiac based on the seasons.