Lions have enormous symbolic and abstract meaning in both modern and ancient cultures. While there is little doubt that lions are among the most ferocious and majestic members of the animal kingdom, that is by no means, all that they are known for in terms of dreams, mythology, and symbols. Lions, in fact, have an enormous range and depth of possible meanings in cultures and societies all across the world. Here are some of the most common instances of lion symbolism and the meanings beneath them.
Lions, first and foremost, have a meaning of strength. As powerful apex predators in their natural habitat, lions have long been seen as one of the strongest and mightiest land animals and this is reflected in their use as symbols for courage and power. Kings and rulers have often chosen the Lion as their symbol for this quality.
In addition, the nocturnal nature of lions means that they are often seen as the powerful overseers of dreams and subconscious expression. They often hunt at night, a time that is symbolic of the unconscious, habits and instincts. This gives another layer of meaning to their general aura of strength.
Because lions are highly territorial, they are often very protective of their space. This alongside with their qualities of strength and instinct, they are seen as the watchers and protectors of the sprawling landscape known to as the world of dreams, just as they are the watchers and protectors of their kin in the waking world of the wild. In ancient cultures they became an emblem of protection for the people, and supporting the power of their rulers.
Lions can be seen as embodying several different symbolic messages. One of those messages is inspiring us to have courage and faith in the world around us and the ability for the good to overcome the bad. Another message they give us tells us to have confidence in ourselves and faith in our ability to conquer any obstacles that may come our way in the future. Lastly, they also give a message of defending everything we hold close to us when necessary and not resorting to backing down in the face of fear or intimidation.
Depending on the specific culture being referenced, lions can have profoundly varying symbolic meanings.
In Ancient Egyptian mythology, lions were seen as representative of the overwhelming power of the sun and the conquering of light over darkness. The lion was embodied in the goddess Sekhmet, who had a lion’s head with a woman’s body, and she was known for her ferociousness in battle and her protective nature. The Sphinx was also known as the protector of pharaohs, and had a woman’s head with a lion’s body.
Lions were associated with the goddess Ishtar and her Sumerian equivalent Inanna. They were both goddess of love, sex, and beauty - but also of war and justice. Ishtar drives a chariot pulled by seven lions, and Inanna is often depicted as being surrounded by two lions.
The Ancient Greeks, on the other hand, viewed the lion as a metaphor for the protector and the guardian. Heracles defeated the Nemean Lion, and subsequently used its pelt, which became a cloak that granted him invincibility. The Nemean Lion also came to represent the zodiac sign Leo.
In Hindu mythology, Narasimha is an incarnation of the god Vishnu, who takes the form of a half-lion, half-man to restore equilibrium and order to the world after a time of disaster and religious persecution.
In Buddhist depictions, lions are seen as some of the strongest representatives of aspects related wisdom and consistent strength. They are the symbols of bodhisattvas, “Buddha’s sons”, who have chosen to attain Buddhism for the benefit of humanity. The Buddhists gave the lion a more refined and elegant role than is often seen in other cultures.
In Astrology, the lion is embodied by the astrological sign of Leo. Those with this sign as seen as fiery personalities with strong, passionate temperaments. They are fierce and loyal friends who fight to protect and defend those they love and cherish. In addition to those qualities, they are also extraordinarily kind and generous to those they love and are willing to give everything they can to help others. Finally, they are also filled with an extremely high degree of self-confidence, which helps shape their self image and the way they relate to others by making them dominant and, in more negative cases, controlling.