The horizontal axis describes the drama of adult relationships
between two people who are potentially equals. No matter which pair of
opposite signs are found on the Ascendant/Descendant axis, this is the
battleground on which we build a sense of ourselves as individuals, not
in isolation, but through our relationship to our partners and significant
Audience: What if your ruling planet is in the 7th house?
Clare: Well, that would mean that you will find yourself, your identity,
through your relationship with others. This also means that the whole area
of relationships is going to be a major theme in your life. For example,
both Freud and Jung had their Sun in the 7th house, and both worked extensively
throughout their lives with their clients in significant and committed
one-to-one relationships, out of which each developed his own particular
ideas and schools of psychological thought.
If the Ascendant describes our personal interface with the world around us, the Descendant, which lies directly opposite the Ascendant and marks the western horizon, describes how we meet 'the other'. The Descendant describes the quality of our one-to-one relationships, and it is here that we are challenged to engage in the balancing act of compromise and adjustment. The 7th house almost always describes what we project, and all relationships inevitably catalyse some form of projection, which can be both positive and negative.
Audience: Does that mean that both Freud and Jung met themselves through all their clients and patients?
Clare: Yes, that's a good point and certainly true. Freud's Ascendant/Descendant axis was Scorpio/Taurus, with his Sun in Taurus in the 7th house. Jung's axis was Aquarius/Leo, with his Sun in Leo in the 7th house. It is no accident, therefore, that, broadly speaking, Freud's work centred around sexuality and the buried emotions which can have such a powerful effect on the body, and Jung's work centred around the discovery of the Self, and the relationship of the individual to the collective.
In fact, we can never tell from the chart itself exactly where, on any particular spectrum, an individual will be identified. It is equally possible that we may identify with the Descendant, particularly in our childhoods, when our personal survival (Ascendant) is literally dependent on others (Descendant). So we tend to develop an early and heightened sensitivity to the reactions and attitudes of others towards us. Our sense of identity is often derived from the way we are 'mirrored' by others, an empirical discovery which led to the development of the field of 'object relations' in psychology. What this means astrologically is that we often perceive ourselves, not through our own lens (the Ascendant), but through the mirroring we receive from others (the Descendant).
Take the example of a child with Aries rising, born into an environment where good behaviour, good manners and consideration for others are given the highest priority. This child will receive positive reinforcement for being 'good', 'considerate' and 'accomplished', and negative reinforcement for being 'selfish' or 'self-willed'. It can take many years for that individual to develop the courage to develop their Aries Ascendant, even though it is strongly imprinted from the moment of birth. It is therefore important not to assume that the Ascendant is fully developed and fully functioning. In fact, I think it is normal to identify more readily with the Descendant complex in our youth. Perhaps this is why our adult relationships are so valuable and necessary in helping us to find ourselves, since they activate this axis. Conversely, people with a Libra Ascendant are natural arbitrators and mediators, concerned with avoiding confrontation or disputes. This approach can be the result of having been born into an environment which was at war, or in which the parents were in deep conflict. The Libra rising individual often has a real fear of discord, anger or violence, since in their childhoods this would have been experienced as deeply threatening to their survival.
The price which has to be paid for identifying with the Libra end of the axis is that Mars will be projected, which means that the individual's sense of personal potency, agency and focus is also projected onto partners. This can become an uncomfortable double bind, if they are dependent on their partners for energy, decision-making and direction.
Audience: Sorry, Clare, but you are referring to the Descendant as the parental relationship. Surely the parental relationship is described by the 4th/10th house axis? How can the 7th house describe the parents?
Clare: It is true that the 4th and 10th houses describe the parental relationship, but it is also true that the Ascendant/Descendant axis describes the way we locate ourselves, as children, in relation to the parental relationship. This is the classic Oedipal triangle, with the child on one side and the parents on the other, and the role we played in this triangular relationship will inevitably affect our adult relationships.
Audience: But we are also talking about the Aries/Libra axis in general, aren't we?
Clare: That's right. We all have the Aries/Libra axis somewhere in our charts, so these themes are archetypal, although they will find personal expression in the houses across which these signs fall. Would anyone like to have a look at their own Ascendant/Descendant axis?
Jane: Can we have a look at my Ascendant/Descendant axis, which is Leo-Aquarius, although I don't know whether I have any planets in either the 1st or 7th houses?
Clare: Let's start by considering the general nature of the Leo/Aquarius axis, which we know is going to be constellated in your relationships. This is the axis of identity, of 'finding ourselves in the crowd', of discovering how we can make our own unique contribution to the group or collective to which we belong. And your relationships will no doubt provide you with the kinds of circumstances and experiences that enable you to define and understand yourself more clearly in this context.
Chart data omitted for reasons of confidentiality
Let's have a look first of all at the Aquarius Descendant to see how you are likely to have been 'mirrored' by others at an early age. Aquarius is a cool, detached, intellectual sign concerned with conforming to, or rebelling against, the expectations of parents, authority figures in general, and social rules and norms. I would therefore imagine that you were particularly sensitive to the expectations of others from a very young age, and adapted and adjusted your behaviour accordingly in order to gain their acceptance and approval. The personal ruler of the Descendant is Saturn in the 4th house, which indicates early responsibility and a desire to gain your father's love and respect by working hard and being sensible and adult. At the same time, with Uranus as collective ruler of your Descendant and in the 12th house, it seems as if the rebel or 'free spirit' part of you provides an imaginative and creative escape from the responsibilities of relationships, as if a part of you will always remain detached and free. With Aquarius on the Descendant, you are likely to be attracted to cool, detached, intellectuals, or people who are unusual in some way. With Saturn in the 4th house, your relationships are likely to involve hard work and family responsibilities, although with Uranus in the 12th house there is a need to remain separate and detached from the world. Does any of this ring true?
Jane: Yes it does, particularly the Saturn ruler of my Descendant. In fact, I was literally rejected and had to live with my grandparents from an early age because my parents couldn't cope. So I felt very alone in my childhood, and I suspect that I did have to adapt and adjust to the rules and learn to stand on my own feet at an early age. But I can also relate to the Uranus ruler, because there is a part of me that refuses to conform or obey the rules, so I had many fantasies of escape and freedom, and in fact I still do! And my husband was exactly as you describe - cool, detached and intellectual, leaving me to look after all the practicalities, but at the same time he did not support me at all.
Audience: And although Jane has a Leo Ascendant, the Sun, which is her chart ruler, is in Capricorn, which is a similar kind of Saturn story, isn't it?
Clare: That's exactly right, so a strong Sun-Saturn, fire-earth theme is already emerging from this relationship axis. The personal ruler of the Descendant is Saturn in the fire sign of Sagittarius, and the ruler of the Ascendant in fire is the Sun - but it is in the Saturn-ruled earth sign of Capricorn. With Leo rising and the Sun in Capricorn, I suspect that your marriage has been the catalyst that has taught you to value and stand up for yourself in order to gain the recognition your Leo Ascendant needs, and to develop the self-sufficiency and personal authority of the Capricorn Sun.
Jane: That's right, although it has been a long and difficult journey. But I have grown up a great deal as a result of my marriage. I am sure that the 12th house Uranus was also an important factor, because it helped me to eventually separate from my husband when I felt just too trapped. And now I am developing my own writing, which I could never have done before, so my Sun-Mercury conjunction in Capricorn has come to life, and it feels really good.
Audience: How does this work if you have Virgo and Pisces on the Ascendant/Descendant axis?
Clare: With Virgo on the Ascendant, we are usually extremely self-critical, expecting nothing less than perfection from ourselves. So much attention goes into the details of the world, and into getting it right, that our partners can get away with murder. Virgo Ascendant people will have an immense attraction to and admiration of Piscean types, those who are fluid, artistic and inspired in some way, or alternatively, those who are vulnerable or sick, because then they can use all their practical talents and capabilities to care for their partner.
Audience: What about someone born with Pisces on the Ascendant and Virgo on the Descendant? Are they likely to attract Virgoans?
Clare: Yes, Virgo-type people. That could be someone who has their Sun in Virgo or Gemini, or someone who is Mercury-ruled or with a strongly tenanted 3rd or 6th house. With Pisces on the Ascendant, we tend to instinctively absorb and merge with our surroundings. This is a very chameleon-like Ascendant, and people with Pisces rising are normally so well camouflaged that they tend to attract partners who take on the role analysing and defining and structuring all this fluidity. This can easily feel like criticism, if you have Virgo on the Descendant, but it is of course one's own projected ability to develop the analytical skills which give shape to, and complement, the Piscean sensitivity and imagination.
Audience: So presumably you will also be aware of the Virgo side of the axis as well?
Clare: It is usually the case that, with Pisces rising, we are born into an environment where practical skills and an orderly, precise and businesslike approach to the world were highly valued. For many years we may try to define ourselves according to the way we have been mirrored. But as we mature and enter into adult partnerships, we will want to let ourselves off the hook and allow ourselves to merge and float, leaving the precision, order and control to our partner. I think that our Ascendant/Descendant axis often works like this - we are subconsciously looking for someone else to inhabit the Descendant for us, so that we can develop the qualities of our Ascendant.
Audience: But Clare, if you have Pisces rising, would you not be subconsciously critical of others, but just not recognise that you are?
Clare: Although we tend to assume that the qualities of the sign on the
Descendant will be projected, it is not always immediately obvious 'who
is doing what to whom'. However, if we think of the opposite signs on
this relationship axis as belonging to one complete spectrum, then we can
immediately understand the general quality and the nature of the themes
which will emerge in our relationships. We know that the Virgo/Pisces axis
will involve themes of merging and separating, accepting and judging, order
and chaos, control and trust, sickness and health, and with this axis on
the Ascendant/Descendant, we are going to end up doing a Virgo/Pisces dance
with our partner.
Incidentally, our discussion seems to have turned into a Virgo/Pisces dance as we speak. I sense from your questions that you are trying to get precision, to analyse this axis so that it can be clearly understood, but remember that we are also talking about Pisces here, so we will also have to allow it to remain mysterious to some extent, and beyond our analytical grasp.