Many modern people don't know their Ascendent Signs because they don't know their time of birth. When I was researching a time of birth for the famous Canadian piano virtuoso Glenn Gould, no one knew his time of birth. I even contacted his most credited biographer and a reference librarian in Toronto. Gould was a home birth and his mother was probably too out of it to grab a note pad and write down her son's birth time. Ditto for people born in public places, in the back of taxis or non-hospital settings. And even with hospitals, such as in my case, the birth time on my record is probably off 10 to 20 minutes which makes a difference with the Ascendent especially near the cusps so a Sagittarius Ascendent could actually be a Capricorn Ascendent.
The good news about Ascendents is that each of the 12 Ascendent Signs have a particular body structure or defining feature and the Ascendent would also define the First House of a chart and the first years of a person's life. A Sagittarius Ascendent is usually a person with bigger bones, a bit chubby, with an inspiring and upbeat disposition. His or her ruling planet is Jupiter. A Capricorn Ascendent falls on the thin side with prominent bone structure, darker features (even someone who has blonde hair and a light complexion still seems to have darker features) and they walk with their head down and in front. So a qualified astrologer would notice the true rising sign when meeting the client in person by physical features and even his or her communication style even though that usually falls under the planet Mercury.
The Ascendent is important because it marks the beginning or cusps of the first house and subsequently if you're using an Equal House chart, all the following houses. Without a correct birth time, an astrologer won't be able to tell when a planet crosses an Ascendent (very important) or any of the angular houses such as the Descendent, etc...(First, Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Houses). The astrologer won't know when an outer planet hits a house cusps, unless he or she grills the client for recent life events and the days those events occurred. Some astrologers rectify charts to determine the correct birth time, but this is not something I'm knowledgeable with.
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Mark once gave an explanation about how judging someone by his or her Rising Sign or "first impression" is a mistake in love or probably any relationship. While the ancients gave the Rising Sign a greater prominence, it's not our true identity. A Rising Sign is a marker in the sky that occurs during our first breath. It isn't a planet and even though I have a Grand Earth Trine if I include my Capricorn Ascendent along with Jupiter in Taurus and Pluto/Uranus in Virgo, this is not a real Grand Trine because it does not involve a planet in Capricorn or the third corner of the trine. The Ascendent however is a power point in a chart and when any planet crosses our Ascendent, we feel it and our lives seem affected by this transit. But we also feel transits on our MC (Midheaven) or Descendent as well as the Fourth House (which I can never remember the Latin name because it's so strange). Obviously, astrology is more complicated than a newspaper horoscope!
So let's get back to Mark's "first impression" analogy. If you meet someone with a Taurus Ascendent with a Pisces Sun and a Gemini Moon for instance, your first impression of this person is stability and sensuality. This person seems solid at first. But as time goes by, you start finding this person slippery and wishy-washy, maybe he or she has a drinking problem or some type of addiction with that unstable Pisces Sun. Or the person who seems so stable upon first meeting now can't make up her mind about anything and sees life in a dualistic way or the person might be bipolar with all that mutable energy with the Sun and the Moon. See what I mean by first impression? I agree with Mark's assessment and I believe in getting to know people slowly and using discernment in the process. Divorce and painful breakups are a hard way to go and you can't blame the person for first impressions--it's their Ascendent speaking on a subconscious level.
So to end this weekly post, whenever possible get a correct birth time. This will be harder for some people than others. Mother's often don't remember because when someone's in that amount of pain, the birth time accuracy doesn't carry much weight unless the mother happens to be an astrologer and even then. Nurses and doctors are often too busy to record a correct birth time and it's possible that they could be off 30 minutes or more. In the case where you don't have an accurate birth time find an astrologer with experience rectifying a natal chart.
Without a correct birth time an astrologer has a faulty tool to work with (the natal chart) because he or she will not have information of when a planet crosses a cusps of a house or power points in a chart. They can guess with a time frame and say within two to three weeks, as opposed to two to three days, Pluto will cross your Ascendent, for example. With my own chart I suspect I have my Ascendent at 6 degrees Capricorn because when transiting Pluto parked at 6 degrees, I felt it as an identity crisis (First House) and I felt a shift of energy from the 12th to the 1st House. This is why I feel that my birth time is off 10 to 20 minutes. Besides my birth card says that I was delivered into the nursery at 9:09 p.m. but my mother tells me she was in surgery and not the nursery. I was born as a c-section birth (surgical) and around an eclipse when no one was thinking clearly.
If you don't have a correct birth time, the planet transits might just point out the correct degree to you. Most likely this will happen with a slow mover such as Neptune or Pluto resting on a degree for several weeks. You will need to pay close attention to your emotions and events that occur in your life during that time. And if this seems like too much work, get your chart rectified. The Ascendent is important but if you don't have it, astrologers can draw up other types of natal charts where exact degrees of cusps aren't the focus. You could look into whole sign astrology or astrology without houses...or you could try Chinese Astrology because you only need to know the month and year you were born.