What Is a Rising Sign? What It Says About You

Knowing your rising sign just might change everything you think you know about your zodiac and your personality.

Humans are complicated, and as much as we like to simplify our horoscopes, astrology can be quite complicated, too. To start, everyone knows their sun sign; if you were born between August 23 and September 22, for example, you’re a Virgo. But a detailed look at an individual’s birth chart actually reveals all 12 zodiac signs. It’s kind of like a DNA sequence (except, admittedly, much less scientific), and where each sign falls on your chart contributes to precisely who you are. Just as a certain combination of genetic material determines if your hair is blond or brown, an Aries sign in a particular area of your astrology chart can reveal something unique about you and even which other zodiac signs you’re most compatible with. That is exactly why an experienced astrologer will always provide you with your rising sign.

One important note: While your rising sign has to do with Western astrology, you may also want to check out your Chinese zodiac for an even more comprehensive picture of your personality and what 2021 has in store for you.

What is a rising sign?

While a person’s sun sign is determined by their date of birth, their rising sign is determined by the precise time they were born. Because there are 24 hours in a day and 12 zodiac signs, every two hours is ruled by a different rising (or ascendant) sign. So depending on the time of birth, as well as the location, the Virgo in our introduction could have a rising Scorpio, a rising Taurus, or any other rising sign in their chart. Learning what their rising sign is can help shed light on exactly what kind of Virgo they are.

How do I find my rising sign, and what does it mean?

A detailed birth certificate will be able to tell you what time of day you were born. You can plug that information into an online calculator that will do all the hard work for you, or you can consult a professional like astrologer Emily Ridout. “It’s usually where I start astrology readings,” Ridout says of the ascendant sign, “because, more so than the sun sign, it actually describes who you are. The sun sign is the way that we can shine out the greatest. But the ascendant energy rules the first house, which rules how you know yourself.”

If the sun sign is who you are at the core, the rising sign represents how you see things and how other people see you. In other words, it’s how you convey your true self. For example, the ascendant sign can determine whether you’re a loud, confident Virgo or a quiet, shy Virgo. Knowing your rising sign is helpful when trying to figure out how to best navigate your life, and we’ve got a cheat sheet to make things even easier. While you’re at it, find out your luckiest (and unluckiest) months of the year, according to your zodiac sign.

What does your rising sign say about you? Aries: Action-oriented Taurus: Self-assured Gemini: Inquisitive Cancer: Compassionate Leo: Purposeful and spirited Virgo: Practical and detailed Libra: Measured Scorpio: Intuitive Sagittarius: Curious Capricorn: Goal-oriented Aquarius: Innovative Pisces: Creativerd.com, Getty Images (2)

Aries

A cardinal fire sign, Aries is largely defined by action. This is someone who walks rather than talks. “They know who they are simply by the act of self-expression,” Ridout explains. “If they show up in a group environment where they’re meeting people at a social event or a work event, they are going to do well if they initiate or lead.” If left unchecked, however, people with Aries rising can become overbearing. “Instead of beneficially leading and directing,” she continues, “they might try to force others in the direction they want to go. Recognize where the balance is and let others take the lead sometimes.”

Taurus

A fixed earth sign, Taurus rules possession, beauty, and the richness of nature. According to Ridout, a successful Taurus rising is “confident and self-assured in a non-aggressive way. They know, ‘I have enough, I am enough.'” But when this sign flips out, the focus shifts to grasping for possession of other things—i.e., taking from others instead of building up their own life. It is always advantageous to know what is a rising sign’s strengths and weaknesses so you can counteract your less-than-desirable impulses.

Gemini

As a mutable air sign, Gemini enjoys movement and looking at issues from different perspectives. “In its best vibration,” Ridout says, “[Gemini] will be inquisitive and interested in the complexities of the mind. If it goes wrong, it can become incredibly ungrounded, which, externally projected, can manifest as gossip or excessive worry.” If you are a Gemini rising, make sure you put your constantly buzzing brain to work on something with substance and don’t get stuck on anything superficial. Find out where Gemini falls on the spectrum of trustworthy zodiac signs.

Cancer

Known as the homemaker of the zodiac, Cancer is a cardinal water sign that understands itself in relation to how it feels about others. “You’re going to know yourself through what you care about—a dog, a partner, a topic—and how you [show it],” Ridout explains. A Cancer rising will define themselves as a compassionate friend or as a champion of a cause. When misguided, though, this person will project onto others and overly nurture them. “They’ll forget to nurture themselves, and they’ll mother someone else, usually a partner.” If you know you have this rising sign, you can watch out for these tendencies.

Leo

Leo is a fixed fire sign that burns with purpose and spirit. A grounded person with Leo rising will pursue what makes them feel truly excited and fulfilled. When this sign is not genuine, that sense of spirit turns into showboating. “They’ll try to be externally flashy instead of nurturing the flame of the heart,” Ridout says. “It’s the difference between doing something because they want attention versus doing something that is deserving of attention because it’s coming from within.” For instance, a Leo rising should sing because they love musical expression, not just because they want all eyes on them.

Virgo

This mutable earth sign seeks order in life. Highly practical, someone with Virgo rising will have a very formulaic way of thinking and structuring their existence. “They know themselves through self-organization,” Ridout says, “almost through the minutia and the little things. Because you are a person who flosses or goes the speed limit or follows a healthy diet, you determine yourself to be a person of value.” Virgo establishes certain criteria for themselves to meet if they are to consider themselves a reliable, successful person. While this way of thinking can help them achieve goals and provide clarity, too much can lead them to be overwhelmed by self-critique—or overly critical of others. “The sign of Virgo tries so hard to do its best that it becomes hyper-aware of when it falls short of its imagined ideal,” Ridout explains. Virgos are also one of the most polite zodiac signs.

Libra

Always concerned with keeping the balance, people with this rising cardinal air sign think before they act. Measured in their approach, “a Libra rising often has to explore two extremes before [finding] the place where they truly lie,” Ridout says. “They often know themselves by looking around them and understanding what they are not, what they balance themselves against.” Libras understand themselves in relation to others, but the pitfall here is that they can cave to peer pressure. A strong sense of self is necessary to maintain internal balance.

Scorpio

A deeply intuitive fixed water sign, Scorpio rising indicates someone who is ruled by instinct and emotion and is steadfast in their beliefs. That intensity becomes dangerous when led astray, Ridout explains, because “they could root to something that’s not truly theirs.” Through self-doubt, they can suppress who they are and adopt someone else’s belief system. This could be something big like religion, or it could be personal, like seeing themselves as a failure because someone else said so. Go with your gut and always ask, “Is that really me?”

Sagittarius

This mutable fire sign feels most alive when in motion and discovering new things. “They’re going to know themselves through exploration and, to some extent, play,” Ridout says of Sagittarius rising. Learning about different cultures and philosophies is one way of doing that. But don’t get so caught up in being a tourist that you always look outward and never inward. Taking the time to find a new appreciation for your home base is important.

Capricorn

A person with this cardinal earth sign ascending loves hard work. They take pride in building themselves up every day to reach their ultimate goal, whether that’s a fit body or a successful business venture. Capricorn rising recognizes itself through effort and productivity. The key is making certain that they are genuinely doing it for themselves and not, as Ridout puts it, “directing their energy to building someone else’s goals as opposed to building their own.”

Aquarius

Someone with Aquarius rising will take an innovative approach to any task or problem. This fixed air sign is always looking to improve and make things more equitable, and they do that by challenging the status quo. If there isn’t a good enough path forward, they’ll invent one. Ridout says someone with Aquarius attributes will only fail “if they forget to question things and let others be authorities.”

Pisces

“There’s something in life that we can’t express with words because it’s so intangibly beautiful,” Ridout says. “So we make music and poetry and have mystical experiences. Pisces know themselves through intuitive artistic expression.” People with this mutable water sign ascending become the best versions of themselves when they engage in the creative process. It’s important for them not to use their talent as a form of escapism but as a way of meeting life’s challenges. Now that you know what a rising sign is, find out the best days to do everything in 2021, according to astrology.

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Taylor Markarian
Taylor Markarian is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest's Culture, Advice, Travel and Pets beats. She is also a music journalist who has contributed to Alternative Press, Loudwire, Revolver, Kerrang! and more. Markarian is the author of the book, 'From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society', which analyzes the evolution of punk and mental health. She holds a degree in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College.