Have you ever wondered whether there might be more to the Ascendant than a mere description of the physical appearance, the persona, the mask, or the manner in which we project ourselves into the world? How often have you encountered a client whose personality does not seem to match the traditional description of the Rising Sign? A Leo rising client, for example, who lacks confidence, or an Aries rising person who is not particularly assertive or outgoing, or a Sagittarius rising person who has difficulty being adventurous?
In Esoteric Astrology, drawn from the teachings of theosophist Alice Bailey, and further simplified by Alan Oken, the Ascendant is the key significator of the Soul’s Purpose. How could this be? How could one system define the Ascendant as little more than the mask we wear, while another defines it as revealer of our deepest spiritual purpose and potential? Which is right?
I suggest that both are right, and that when we begin to interface our well-understood ‘traditional’ astrology with a more ‘soul-centered’ approach, we will see emerging a clearer picture both of the nature of spiritual purpose and the manner in which it is expressed.
It is a tenet both of traditional and esoteric astrology that the Ascendant is symbolic of the moment of birth. It is the point of incarnation, of the entry of the soul or being onto the physical plane or the cross of matter. The Ascendant is that which is ascending, rising and commanding. It is supreme, a symbol of the seed which is our Self or Soul; of the acorn which will grow into the big oak.
In this sense, we can easily see how Esoteric Astrology should depict the Ascendant as the calling, the mission, the purpose, and a signpost to the reason for our incarnation and indicator of those qualities which we most need to develop in this lifetime. Indeed, the Ascendant qualities are not tried and true at all. This is not simply the persona or the mask, but the soul shining through the persona. The persona or personality is the vehicle for the soul and its greater purpose. So here we see that the empirical evidence of traditional astrology is still valid. And we can bring the esoteric (soul-centered) and traditional (personality-centered) approaches together at this point by acknowledging that it is the soul, the spiritual essence, which is projected through the persona at the Ascendant.
According to Bailey’s system, the Sun symbolizes the present (the path of the integrated personality); The Moon symbolizes the past (the path of instinct, karma, heredity) and the Ascendant symbolises the future (the path of the soul).
Even in a more ‘traditional’ approach to astrology, it is recognized that the Ascendant points to qualities which are in the process of development, which challenge us, which force us to grow, and which serve to bring together the rest of the chart. Liz Greene has this to say about it, in her usual eloquent style:
“There is something very profound about the way in which the Ascendant works to bring about the dichotomy of Sun and Moon. This sign seems to embody a set of values or a range of life experiences which always rise up to challenge us, and to which we must respond through both the instinctive wisdom of the Moon and the conscious goals of the Sun. Life keeps hitting us over the head with Ascendant issues, and through developing the values of the rising sign, inwardly as well as in our behaviour, we gradually strengthen the Sun and Moon, and discover that they can operate together with the Ascendant as unifying link”. 
As the vehicle for the expression of our purpose, I tend to see the Ascendant as the outlet or channel for the merging of the energies of the Sun and Moon. Perhaps it is here at the Ascendant where the potential for the divine inner marriage (of Sun and Moon) can take place; a marriage of yin and yang, of unconscious and conscious, past and present. In Jungian terminology, this sacred inner union is known as the coniunctio.
To summarize, the qualities of the Ascendant sign describe the future direction of the soul, what we are growing towards, and new qualities that we are developing. From a soul-centered or trans-personal perspective, the sign on the Ascendant indicates how we can best express our personality gifts to extend beyond ourselves to make some contribution towards the greater whole. The house position of the esoteric ruling planet of the Ascendant indicates where these gifts and qualities are best expressed.
– by Candy Hillenbrand
 Greene, Liz & Sasportas, Howard, The Luminaries, Samuel Weiser, Maine, 1992, pp. 192-3.