Defining Character, Behaviour and Personality: Sun, Moon, Ascendant in Astrology

by Agent 18 Frank Clifford

Defining Character, Behaviour and Personality:

Clues to the Differences between the Sun, Moon & Ascendant

Very often, the first ‘way in’ to reading a horoscope – or to grasp its essence quickly – is to consider the Big Three: the Sun, Moon and Ascendant, either individually or as a trio. Together, these three complexes (their sign and house position and aspects from planets) form the fundamental components and core dynamics of a birth chart and act as excellent starting points for following trails and spotting chart themes.

When beginning to synthesize these areas, it’s vital to keep in mind that the meanings of the Big Three are not interchangeable: the Sun in Taurus is not the same as the Moon in Taurus and when Taurus is placed on the Ascendant, it is quite distinct from its role as the Sun or Moon sign. The characteristics of Taurus (the how) will be present when it’s the sign of any of the trio, but the why (the driving force, energy, motivation) and possibly the where (the area of life affected) will be different.

So, what are the main distinctions between the Sun, Moon and Ascendant? One way of considering the Big Three is to examine the differences between the meanings behind the words ‘character’ (the Sun), ‘behaviour’ (the Moon) and ‘personality’ (the Ascendant). These words are often used interchangeably, but a deeper exploration of their meanings can shed light on interpreting this astrological trio.

Character: The Sun

Our essence, vocation, type of ‘heart’

The Sun reveals our main life purpose, core reasons behind why we’ve been born and what we’re in the process of becoming. When we express our Sun complex (its sign and house position and aspects), we are acknowledging our birthright: the opportunity to manifest our individual life path and potential. Each Sun sign and Sun–planet combination is an archetype (a pattern or a set of symbolic images) that each of us can strive to embody.

Interestingly, the Sun is often reduced to a stereotype, thanks to an oversimplified formula of adjectives and keyword traits used to assist chart interpretation. Although these keywords can be
helpful, the Sun’s meaning invites a more subtle interpretation. It shows how we envision our individual life path and what essentially are the most important things in life to us.

Our character is a collection of fundamental, integral philosophies that we have gathered over time. I link the Sun to the process of the development of character. Character is an accumulation of traits, responses and behavioural patterns (underscored or challenged by other parts of the chart) that becomes the central direction, focus and set of beliefs in a person’s life. The embracing of character (the Sun: its message, its archetype) leads to healthy self-esteem and a path of integrity and wholeness (again, concepts linked to the Sun placement, through which we are encouraged to ‘follow our bliss’). Character is more difficult to ascertain in ourselves and others, and like the sometimes elusive nature of the Sun in our horoscope, it takes time for us to uncover it – and time for it to reveal itself.

Behaviour: The Moon

Our needs, habits, sensory input and impressions

The Moon complex reveals our fundamental relationship needs, drives and expectations. It shows our innate responses to everyday life. At worst, this can be habitual behaviour that we are slaves to, or a ‘default’ position where we simply absorb experience passively or become little more than ‘a bundle of reactions’. The Moon can reflect our most tender, vulnerable and immature side – a storehouse of emotions. The Moon speaks of what we’re attached to, what we need to feel safe and rooted.

Our behaviour is a collection of instincts formed to create a complex pattern. It is an interconnected web of habitual responses – with the chief aim of remaining safe and being looked after. Here, we recognize some of the key functions of the Moon. For instance, the Moon in Gemini learns to be informed on a variety of topical issues – ready for exchange and discourse – in order to be, and feel, needed. For the same reasons, Taurus learns to be the loyal, dependable rock, to build ties that last and to embody a set of firm guiding principles.

Behaviour is how we conduct (‘bring together’) ourselves to create a range of responses in ourselves and those around us. Another word that is descriptive of the Moon, astrologically, is temperament, which is often linked to the four elements (the four ‘humours’ that were said to make up our disposition). But the Moon is a mix of elements of the emotional realm; it reveals our emotional nature.

Personality: The Ascendant

Our approach to life, interactions, a role/part we play

The Ascendant is a symbol of our one-to-one, meet-and-greet personality that we rely on to socialize. It is a vehicle we use to interact with others – our personal interface, a cloak we wear to ‘appear’ to others when we walk out of our front door. I like to think of the Ascendant as our opening position and overt agenda (quite different from the hidden, sometimes painful agenda revealed by the Moon).

Essentially, the Ascendant is a collection of expectations we have of the world and our immediate place in it. The Ascendant reveals the first impressions we make and receive – and these start as early messages about our behaviour (‘good/bad’ and ‘right/wrong’) and how we attempt to meet the expectations of others through our actions as children.

The personality is seen in the Ascendant complex (most importantly its sign and major planetary aspects to its degree). It is the variable means by which we negotiate our needs with others (as seen by our Moon) and formulate or build something we can identify as character (as seen by our Sun). In other words, the Ascendant acts as an interface between the Sun or Moon (or other parts of the chart) and the immediate world around us.

With ‘personality’, there is energy – a particular attitude, humour, engagement and interaction. This energy is quite different from the accumulation of early (lunar) behaviours or the formation of (solar) character.

Personality is easy to pick up on, quick to read and decipher – usually upon first meeting someone (Ascendant). I’ve found that it shows up in personal mottos (e.g., ‘No pain, no gain,’ says the Scorpio Ascendant person; ‘If you want it done, you have to do it yourself,’ the Aries Ascendant realizes) – although the combination of Ascendant and Midheaven signs is often more descriptive of lifelong mottos or creeds.

Personality traits have little to do with our true character. They are what we show to others (our appearance, in many ways) and the means we use to get through life. Astrologically, the Ascendant is often seen as the vehicle by which we reach the Sun’s destination (i.e., our life goal). It is the route to getting our needs (Moon) met in relationship and how we negotiate these personal needs in a one-to-one environment.

So, here is a quick summary:

• The Sun (core character) is linked to our central purpose, goal, focus and life path; a journey of self-discovery – the process of becoming whole.

• The Moon (behaviour, temperament) speaks of our needs and habitual responses to everyday life; our emotional nature: a bundle of reactions and a storehouse of feelings.

• The Ascendant (one-to-one personality) reveals our approach to life; the tools we use to interact with others; our first impressions (made and received).

The Sun is the very heart of our horoscope, but the Ascendant and Moon say more about our personality and behavioural traits. These two chart factors are of far greater importance when considering how people come across, behave, react and interact in life. Both are key to relationship patterns and dynamics that start early in childhood with family members and schoolmates, and form the basis of expectations (and roles played out) in love, work and friendship. The Sun is more concerned with a journey, a path of self-discovery and our major life statements. It is the ultimate path, the archetype that we are here to embrace and embody.

Agent 18 Frank Clifford

Agent 18 Frank Clifford

Frank Clifford is an astrologer and palmist who has written a dozen books on both subjects, including the textbook Getting to The Heart of Your Chart: Playing Astrological Detective. Frank writes for The Mountain Astrologer and runs The London School of Astrology, which starts offering online courses later in 2017. In 2012, he won a lifetime achievement award from the Astrological Association and, in 2016, a writing award from ISAR. To get in touch with Frank, email him at [email protected] or visit his websites and

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