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A Simple Guide to the Big Three in Astrology

You'll be a natal chart expert in no time!

A scene from Georges Méliès‘s 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, the moon with a rocket in it's eye

You probably have friends who throw around astrology terms like, “I’m such a Virgo” or “I could never date a Scorpio.” What does that really mean, though? Astrology, or the use of planets and other celestial bodies to gain insight into things that happen here on Earth, was considered quackery for a long time, but it’s undergoing a renaissance thanks to a new generation of astrologers who are giving it a more feminist, psychological bent. So, how do you get started with astrology? What are the most important things to know about the Zodiac? A great place to begin is what’s called the big three: your sun sign, moon sign, and rising sign.

Before we get into that, let’s back up and talk about something called your natal chart, or just your chart for short. Your natal chart is a snapshot of the heavens at the moment of your birth. When you slid, naked and slimy, out of your birthing parent’s womb, everything in the sky was in a particular position. According to astrological thought, those positions affect your personality, passions, and strengths and weaknesses. According to modern astrology, it’s not so much that the planets did something to you at the moment of your birth. It’s not like you were hit by magic gamma rays. Rather, astrology is a holistic way of looking at the universe: as above, so below. According to astrology, everything is connected in a web of relationships and affinities. It’s actually really beautiful when you think about it in spiritual terms.

Your natal chart is a map of the sky, divided into twelve sections. (It’s actually divided into two sets of twelve when you start to factor in something called houses, but we’ll get into that in a bit.) Each section represents a sign of the Zodiac, and the sun, moon, and eight planets (besides Earth) each fall into a particular Zodiac sign. For example, if the sun was in Capricorn at the moment of your birth, then Capricorn is your sun sign.

The sun sign is what most people are referring to when they say “I’m a Capricorn.” However, your natal chart is much richer and more detailed than just your sun sign! If you look up your sun sign, read a few keywords, and stop there, then you’re only getting a tiny part of the picture. Your moon sign and rising sign are just as important.

Let’s dive into what those terms mean!

Your Sun Sign

Man holds sun
(image: Selvan B. Via Unsplash)

Your sun sign, or the sign the sun was in at the moment of your birth, is your life’s purpose, or the role you were born to play. If your life is a movie and you’re the lead, then your sun sign is the lines you’ve been given. For example, if your sun sign is Libra, then the core traits of your role in life are harmony, balance, and justice (fittingly, Libra is represented by a scale). These are the traits that will allow you to step into the fullest, most authentic version of yourself if you embrace them.

Of course, even after an actor is given a script, there are countless ways they can interpret and deliver their lines. It’s the same with your sun sign. A Libra might pursue a career as a judge or mediator. Or their penchant for seeking harmony might express itself through art or personal relationships. If you’ve ever read a description of your sun sign and thought, “that doesn’t sound like me at all,” remember that the sun sign is only part of the picture. Everything else in your chart influences your personality.

Your Moon Sign

the moon in different phases time lapse
(Image: Pexels)

Your moon sign is the position the moon was in at the moment of your birth. For example, if the moon was in Scorpio when you were born, then your moon sign is Scorpio.

Like the moon itself, your moon sign tends to be hidden much of the time. It represents the aspects of you that aren’t necessarily apparent to the people around you, unless they know you very well. The moon represents your subconscious self, your emotions, and the parts of you that stem more from your heart and body than from your head.

Let’s say that your sun sign is Libra, and your moon sign is Scorpio. In general, you might be pretty easy to get along with. You thrive when everyone’s acting harmoniously, and when everything is fair. However, since Scorpios have a penchant for moodiness, there might be a hidden side to you that feels emotions pretty intensely. Knowing this about yourself can help you navigate it more skillfully, instead of being swept away in it when it manifests.

Your Rising Sign (or Ascendant)

Woman and man with baby
Just a happy family learning about their demon child’s Big Three! (image: Vertigo Films)

Your rising sign is the sign that was rising in the east at the moment of your birth. If Taurus was just peeking up over the horizon as the doctor slapped your bottom, then your rising sign is Taurus.

Your rising sign is your outward demeanor, the image you present to the world, the first impression you tend to give when you’re really embracing your full self. You can also think of your rising sign as your motivation for doing what you do. Taurus is known for being stable and grounded. If your rising sign is Taurus, then you may have a reputation for being a calming, supportive influence among the people you know.

How to Get Your Natal Chart

By now you’re probably impatient to find out what your signs are, so here’s how to generate your natal chart. You’ll need your birthday, birth time, and the city you were born in. Astrologer Chani Nicholas has a chart generator on her website. Cafe Astrology also has one. Just plug in your info and they’ll generate your chart! Each website will also include an explainer to help you figure out what your chart is actually saying. Remember, look for your sun sign, moon sign, and rising sign.

But Wait! There’s More to Your Chart!

You can already see how putting together your sun, moon, and rising signs gives you a much more detailed snapshot of your personality. But there are lots of other factors in your chart to consider, too! The placement of the different planets will have an effect, along with the houses they fall in. Each planet is a supporting actor in the play that is your life, and each house is an area of your life that’s susceptible to their influence.

But if you’re new to astrology, don’t worry about that just yet. For now, read up on your big three, and take some time to mull it over. You may realize that there are aspects of your personality you never even thought about!

(featured image: Star Film Company)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and covers film, television, and books for The Mary Sue. When she's not making yarn on her spinning wheel, she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. You can check out more of her writing at, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.