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The Ascendant
Notes & References
About the Author
Original series introduction by Michael Edwards

The Polar Horoscope by Micahel Wackford

This article was written for the AA's research periodical Correlation in 2001. Many thanks to Mrs Pat Harris (Ed.) for permission to reproduce a revised version. The author was introduced to Correlation by Michael Edwards QHP, whose introduction to the series of articles is reproduced below.

Circumpolar horoscopy, though largely ignored, has long been the subject of quiet controversy and ill-informed debate. Perhaps no other field of astrological enquiry provides more depressing evidence of just how far practitioners have become removed from the real sky. Most current astrological software yields incorrect circumpolar charts - or none at all - while some programmes bypass the question of the MC altogether by defaulting to Equal houses at 67N. But even this does not guarantee a correct Ascendant.

The problem is but one of perception, compounded over the years by prejudice; indeed some of the suggestions advanced seem to owe more to the need to draw a horoscope as we expect to see it than to any understanding of the real sky. One oft-heard view suggests that these things don't matter, because we "don't cast charts for up there," but of course it does matter if we are to care at all about consistent chart construction.

In truth, correct orientation of the angles can and does vary according to the system of house division employed but such variance can never justify inconsistent results. In showing what happens to the angles beyond the polar circles, we aim to correct a few common misconceptions, so let us bear in mind that:
a) though we discuss charts cast for northern latitudes, the principles outlined will always apply globally.

b) some references to 'houses' may not always apply to the pseudo quadrant systems (those that retain the MC while otherwise dividing the ecliptic alone: Porphyry, Alcabitius, etc.), and they will rarely apply to Equal or Sign/House. Systems that divide merely the ecliptic require separate discussion.

c) the term 'great circle' signifies a line drawn round the inside or outside of a globe, which also constitutes a circumference of that globe. On Earth, for example, this applies to the Equator or to circles of longitude, whereas those of geographic latitude are known as 'small circles' since they do not constitute a circumference.

In all horoscopes cast for sub-arctic latitudes, we obtain the main angles from two great semi circles, both of which start from the local horizon at the point due south. The first semi circle, which produces the Ascendant, tracks the horizon from south to north, passing through the point due east. The second, which produces the Medium Coeli (MC), rises upwards from the south point of the horizon, passes directly overhead, and then descends to rejoin the horizon at the point due north.

Their opposing semi circles, one to the west, the other passing from south to north underfoot, generate the Descendent and Imum Coeli (IC), respectively. The entire construction looks like a gyroscope lying on its side. As this is the arrangement adopted by most quadrant systems of house division, at all latitudes between the Equator and 66N, we must question procedures which, at 67N and beyond, obtain the Ascendant or MC from these opposing great semi circles. This is precisely what many have prescribed in advising us, for example, to obtain the MC from a degree which falls below the horizon. In fact, to switch semi circles is neither necessary nor desirable.

As is fairly well understood, a rising degree seldom ascends exactly in the east. At whatever latitude we stand, the geographic point at which the ecliptic rises will swing north and south of due east. On the Equator, the swing extends about 23 degrees either way, but this increases the further north we go, with the geographic direction of the rising point sweeping further southwards and northwards on the local easterly horizon.

Once we cross the Arctic Circle, the southerly drift of the ecliptic's rising point takes it ever closer to the south point of the horizon. Simultaneously, the MC's ecliptical degree loses altitude in the sky as it sinks down its own great semi circle. Then comes that seeming awkward moment, known as Asc conjunct MC, when both cusps collide at the south point of the horizon, but let us first observe what happens next, which is of more concern.

In the following moment, as the ecliptic disappears below the south point of the horizon, it pops up again at due north so that:
i) the ecliptic continues to rise, but now at a point just east of due north;

ii) the MC degree also re-appears to the north. Objections to this are discussed below.
These exchanges occur because, above the Arctic Circle, a progressively increasing number of ecliptic degrees - fanning out on either side from 0 Capricorn - are ever found above the horizon. The angles' jump is an ecliptical consequence implicit in this limitation.

Zodiacally, each angle has also flipped across 180 degrees, with Ascendant and MC now apparently the wrong way round in the horoscope. We say "apparently" as this is but an illusion that arises from the way we have chosen to draw our horoscopes. In reality nothing has changed; the physical houses all remain exactly where they were a few moments earlier, prior to the ecliptic's reversal of their cuspal degrees.

Contrary to a common misconception that seeks to blame the houses or the houses' cusps for these reversals, it is in fact the local disposition of the ecliptic that causes the apparent 'problems'. This introduces the most important consideration of all. Although the MC degree has jumped to the north, the ecliptic itself still rises where it always does - on the eastern horizon - though in a different way. With a northerly MC, the ecliptic's orientation to that horizon is so inclined that we now see the zodiac signs in question ascending backwards, the ends of these signs rising before their beginnings.

In moderate arctic latitudes this reverse rising does not persist for long since these signs rise very quickly. Moreover the geographic direction of the ecliptic's rising point moves from north to south much more rapidly than the first time. So before long we have a case of Asc opposition MC, at which moment everything flips again and all is back to 'normal'.

The frequent assumption - that there is always some kind of reversal going on in the Arctic - is clearly wrong, and with most horoscopes cast for Polar regions, there is no need to reverse anything at all. We only ever need to reappraise matters when dealing with the interval that finds some of the ecliptic rising backwards.

We need first to understand more about this interval before we determine how to handle it in practice.

The Ascendant:

Tables of angles for high latitudes
[1] will show the Ascendant turning retrograde after it flips from south to north and this may have led to some of the more overwrought theories. If the Ascendant moves backwards, must there not be something else, somewhere else, moving forwards? No, there is not. As the ecliptic rises backwards in the east, it is also setting backwards in the west, with the longitudes of the 1st and 7th cusps both diminishing.

Those who suggest re reversing the Ascendant - to the ecliptic degree which occupies the western horizon - should understand that rising backwards is not the same as setting. In this regard, Robert Hand wrote that the cusp of the 1st house should be marked by the ecliptic's "ascending node".[2] No one can disagree with that but we shall never find any such phenomenon on the western horizon. Celestial objects, planets, stars, constellations etc. will always rise in the east, regardless of geographic latitude or hemisphere. To presume that the ecliptic can do otherwise is mistaken. Most astrological software makes this mistake, which is why most routines give the wrong rising sign.


Circumpolar MCs found to the north of the observer do not represent that which those to the south represent. The difference is inherent in the fact that one circumpolar day lasts up to six summer months, just as one night at a Pole will last all winter.

The summer Sun, unable to set within the normal 24 hour period, swings all the way round the field of vision, passing over the 10th house semi circle not once but twice. It is highest in the sky when culminating to the south, and lowest when crossing the 10th again, to the north, where it dips closest to the horizon. Since the same is true of any zodiac degrees that cannot set in polar latitudes, how may we distinguish between their twice daily culminations?

This question does not arise in horoscopes between the Polar Circles, where lower culmination always occurs below the horizon, at the IC, but within the Polar Circles any degree constantly above the horizon will mark the 10th house at each culmination. (Meanwhile, below the horizon, degrees that never rise cross the 4th cusp twice-daily.) The problem is not in this case due to the local disposition of the ecliptic but to a failure of the houses themselves. Few quadrant systems will make the distinction between upper and lower culminations, within the Polar Circles, other than to present a 'retrograde' Ascendant when the MC is to the north.

In practice, the MC is most frequently found where we usually find it, to the south. We need not consider reversing any cusps until that section of the ecliptic that ascends backwards - or end first - rises. This occurs in the interval between Asc conjunct MC and Asc opposition MC, and in that order. During this interval the MC is located to the north, so the degree found by the usual formula should be reversed. Since the Ascendant is always found to the east, no reversal need ever be made.

The only real challenge arises when one tries to draw this state of affairs as an orthodox horoscope. With the Ascendant appearing 'behind' the MC, this cannot be done without cusps turning up in the wrong hemisphere. These include that MC which finds itself forced into the lower half of the chart, along with any planets that are, in reality, above the horizon. This leaves two options:
1) Do exactly as described above, which has obvious disadvantages but would show clearly that the degree on the MC is at its lower culmination, to the north.

2) Instead of mangling the houses, simply reverse the direction of the zodiac signs in the horoscope's outer wheel, drawing them clockwise instead of anti clockwise. The MC will then return to the upper half of the chart while the Asc remains to its left hand side. The intermediate cusps will also be returned to their usual hemispheres, and in their right order. Moreover, those planets which are above the arctic horizon will also be depicted above the horoscope's horizon.
Those disturbed by this proposal might recall that it is the unacustomed behaviour of the ecliptic, not that of the houses, which presents us with this dilemma. Hence it seems quite fitting to look to the depiction of the celestial zodiac, rather than to that of the mundane sphere, in order to solve it.


Data: 00:00 UT, 13th June 2001, 0W00, 75N00, with intermediate cusps calculated according to the "rational method" ascribed post facto to Regiomontanus.

Most computer programs, having calculated the RAMC (261 degrees) in the usual manner, present the following horoscope:

Example 1

The problem here is that the presumed MC of 22 Sagittarius, with more than 23 degrees of south declination, is some 98 degrees south of the event, placing it 8 degrees below the horizon. So in fact it occupies the IC whilst 22 Gemini crosses the 10th house semi-circle, to the north of the observer. Because we now have a northerly MC, it is the backwards rising Aries - not Libra - that crosses the eastern horizon. Consequently we can see that every other house cusp has also been placed in the wrong sign.

Moving Aries to the left of the chart will rectify this - but then the correct Gemini MC will remain where the IC is usually depicted. To counter this, we reverse the direction of the zodiac signs, drawing the true chart thus:

Example 1

  NB: In this horoscope, the Sun is low above the northern horizon and, at 22 Gemini, is on the "MC" even though it is midnight. Moreover, both the Sun and the same MC will again mark the 10th cusp just 12 hours later, but to the south and with each much higher in the sky.  

To further illustrate what actually happens in Polar skies, we find that an hour later (01:00) the MC has moved forward into Cancer but the Ascendant has moved backwards into Pisces:

Example 1

Regarding the northerly reappearance of the MC degree, some insist on always looking south for the MC, even when this 'Midheaven' falls below the horizon. Quite apart from the obvious contradiction in terms, this can be achieved only by borrowing the great semi circle that in most other quadrant horoscopes produces the IC.

Charts cast for most of Europe or North America always have an MC that is south of their geographic latitude, but it does not follow that all MC's necessarily lay to the south. Indeed our Equatorial region presents a more ambiguous picture, as with a horoscope cast for latitude 1N with an MC of 0 Cancer. Geographically this MC is north of the location of the chart.[3] Hence the southerly prescription for our circumpolar MC ignores the fact that charts cast within 23 degrees north or south of the Equator can and will have MCs to north or to south.

Some house divisions try to incorporate this fact by supposing that the great semi circles responsible for MC and IC run from North to South Poles of the Earth, instead of from north to south points of the local horizon. Unfortunately - and because the latter are simultaneously expected to service the Ascendant and Descendant - this means asking us to obtain 1st, 7th, and intermediate cusps according to the latitude of birth, but then to skip to the Equator for our 10th and 4th. More regrettably, we cannot expect the two-dimensional plane that is a conventional horoscope to reveal the full implications of this scramble, so the idea usually escapes unchallenged. Suffice to say that in feigning a solution to one dilemma, it creates worse problems of its own, making the idea unworkable in practice.

We might run all house lines from North Pole to South Pole, by adopting either Meridian houses - which deprive us of our Ascendant by pretending that all events occur at the Equator - or the Alcabitius system, which poses technical and historical questions that reach beyond the scope of this paper. However it is clear that with either device, the real horizon is totally abandoned and, along with it, any true notion of "above and below".

The procedures outlined above apply in principle to Regiomontanus, Campanus, Koch, Porphyry and, in part, to semi arc houses. They may or may not serve some of the less common quadrant divisions such as Morinus, which its eponymous architect did not apparently take seriously enough to use himself. The authors of 'Topocentric' houses, on the other hand, took matters very seriously indeed, contriving quite separate and contradictory circumpolar procedures. None of these relate to the real sky, nor do they bear scrutiny.[4]

The problem of what to do about a horoscope with Ascendant and Midheaven in conjunction or opposition is not as onerous as might appear. Nor is it dissimilar to that encountered upon the Polar Circles where, once a day and for an instant, there is no Ascendant at all because the ecliptic is found flat against the horizon.

The chance of catching one of these fleeting moments in a real horoscope is even less likely than that of a birth occurring exactly at one of the Poles, where the only possible Ascendants are either 0 Aries or 0 Libra. All such charts are unlikely to the point of impossible but their theoretical occurrence does merit examination. This will follow in the subsequent articles in this series, within a more general inquiry into why many theories of domification can never serve, much less adapt themselves to, the Polar regions.

Notes & References:

  1 ] Schwickert, G., Aszendenten fur nordpolar Breiten, Neunkirchen (Saar). German pamphlet, date unknown. (Later reproduced as an appendix to the AFA's tables of Koch houses.)
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  2 ] Hand, Robert. Essays on Astrology, Para Research, Inc., 1982.
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  3 ] Geographic latitude and celestial declination are interchangeable co-ordinates. Thus when 0 Cancer culminates it is directly overhead at 23½N regardless of the observer's location/latitude.
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  4 ] At time of writing (2001), the Topocentric system was yet promoted as "an improvement on Placidus" and "the only (quadrant) method that works" in the Arctic. Neither assertion could be further from the truth.
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Michael Wackford hass studied astrology since 1976. For 11 years he studied and argued with the late Neil Gillings, a little known yet well-respected technical astrologer who was consulted by Ingrid Lind, Charles E. O. Carter, Roy Firebrace and others. The author has contributed articles to the AA Journal and the Traditional Astrologer and has also advised other astrologers.

Original Introduction by Michael Edwards QHP

To justify their practice to sceptics of a scientific persuasion western astrologers fondly trace the roots of their Art back to times when, they believe, astrology and astronomy were one. Hence, they say, astrology merits the respect that most cultures accord their ancestors. Yet what higher respect could we accord our ancestors than to practise what we preach and to turn the precious gift of our eyesight, on which our Art depends, upwards to behold the sky before we don our spectacles to pore myopically downwards over numbrous formulae and tables, in order to compute and cast our charts of heaven? Why, on Earth, do we not first draw pictures of the real sky before we entrust our fate to numbers?

In Ptolemy's day the sky above moved in the form of three-dimensional spheres round our human mundo below, where we dance to the music of time. When Galileo turned his telescope upon the night sky, deep space was born in all four of its glorious dimensions. Yet our task as horoscopic astrologers did not change: to represent accurately the three dimensions of the heavens above in two-dimensions here below for any single moment from any point of view, with the fourth dimension, all time past and all time future, implicit in the now of that horoscope. How to do this has for centuries generated a veritable Tower of Babel of debate, sometimes informed, but ofttimes of wilful ignorance such as Brecht's Galileo faced which, as he in vain pleaded, one look through his telescope would have instantly dispelled.

If astrologers would but turn their eyes to the skies on every clear day and every clear night in every place they roam, they might see with their own eyes the simple, elegant, sacred mystery that Michael Wackford has seen in the geocentric union of the celestial sphere with the mundane sphere, which I have been privileged to see through his eyes.

In this paper, the first of a series, he has condensed into a clear, concise and coherent account his many years of observation, study and drawing, applied here to the basis of the horoscope, the four angles, Ascendant/Descendant and MC/IC. At least we all agree these are the most sensitive points of the chart, those which square the circle. In defining them and describing how they are always seen to behave, he cracks that hoary old chestnut which has generated so much hot air and stale argument: what do we do about the ascendant and MC for events occurring within polar regions, what cusps need to be reversed or not, and when do we reverse them or not?

The author's mastery of horoscopic principles was never computer-aided. When I recently acquired the astronomical programme "Starry Nights", which shows the sky in motion from any horizon in the Solar System, we shared both delight and satisfaction at seeing all his conclusions proved correct. We also shared the disappointment of realising that astrological programmes in general use fail to portray polar horoscopes that precisely reflect the natural astronomy of true horoscopic principles. It is high time we astrologers put our house in order, and our houses.

NB: The very word 'horoscope', from Greek horoskopos, meaning both 'watcher of the horizon' and 'watcher of the hour', unites space with time, but not without the observer. You are the observer. No telescopes are needed, but do watch this space.

© Michael Wackford. Published online December 2007. This article was published in Correlation 19 (2) 2001; pp.54-61.

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