Most students of astrology are familiar with the three astrological factors that constitute the "backbone" of the character - the Sun, Moon and Ascendant. Together, they provide the main key to the basic makeup and temperament of a person, provided one is not looking for specific motivational patterns and nuances. As the Sun represents the core being and conscious ego, the Ascendant the body, appearance and one's particular form of self-expression and finally the Moon the varying spectrum of feelings, yearnings and responses, the "big three" almost seem to depict a uniform and divine trinity within the individual.
But are these really the big three? Traditional astrology as well as the majority of today's practioners place much significance on the ruling planet of the horoscope as sort of a surrogate or substitute for the Ascendant. Being an actual planet and not merely an abstract angle, the horoscope ruler may at times appear a more dynamic and conclusive factor than the rising sign and degree itself, operating across a wider spectrum of experience. The horoscope ruler is simply the planet which traditionally rules the sign that rises at birth. (Some people use only traditional rulerships, such as Mars for Aries and Scorpio, Jupiter for Sagittarius and Pisces and so on). In any way it seems the ruler acts as a definite modifier of the Ascendant and also adds a general tone to the personality, through its zodiacal and mundane (house) placement and its aspects. One senses the difficulty that comes with this realization. Should the horoscope ruler lean towards a path that seems radically different to that of the Ascendant, it remains uncertain if the two can ever converge to give a clear picture of the behaviour and appearance of the individual in question.
Indeed, we are faced with problems like at various times and levels of our astrological reasoning and analysis. The energies and symbols tend to overlap, and trying to definitely separate one from another leaves us with trivializations or even more contradictions. It is important to understand that this is a natural and inevitable result of the practice of an art as profound and complex as astrology. The seeming paradox of diametrically different traits or desires showing themselves within the same facet of the psyche is hardly problematic in terms of a psychological understanding of the human being. Hence, the occurrence of this in the astrological symbolism is no more contradictory than anywhere else.
It is equally important to realize that even the apparently clear-cut division of "labour" between the Sun, Moon and Ascendant is in no way as definite or as near equilibrium as imagined. Often one of the three will outweigh the others in terms of power and importance, owing to dignified position in the horoscope or through its focal purpose within a pattern of aspects to other planets.
Then there is the issue of different levels of operating. The Moon, prime representative of emotions, would perhaps be directed to the deepest, most instinctive layer. However, the Moon is also said to influence the mental-emotional personality and behaviour relating to outer circumstances and other people, which places it in an ambiguous sphere. At the same time the Sun, while indicative of conscious ego and identity, describes the inner karmic purpose and the form and structure of an individual's ideals. The Ascendant, typically said to govern outer appearance, is also thought to mark a highly unique point of reference and perspective, owing to the rapid movement of the rising degree.
It seems this leaves us in haze of suggestions and hints with no fixed guidelines in the wealth of interpretive choices for the horoscope. Despair not, for most astrological quandaries can be solved with a combination of intuition and common sense. When the matter of level seems to interfere, try to simply erase the preconception of levels altogether and focus on what the symbolism really aspires to put across. The human Being may consist of several entities such as body, mind, soul and spirit, but believing them to be separate is ultimately a mistake.