Lions are among the most impressive beasts in the animal kingdom, and anyone who comes close to them is left in awe of their power and their majestic presence.
It is no surprise that lions are deeply symbolic animals, and to many people, they are profoundly spiritual too. So for anyone who wants to learn more, in this post, we talk about lion symbolism around the world as well as what it means if you see one in a dream.
Table of Contents
- what does the lion symbolize?
- Lion symbolism around the world
- What does it mean if you see a lion?
- A potent symbol of power, leadership, bravery and protection
what does the lion symbolize?
Before we talk about the symbolism lions have according to different traditions, let’s think about the characteristics of lions to see what associations people have when they imagine lions.
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a lion is power. They are incredibly strong animals, and it is unsurprising that they have come to represent strength to many people wherever they are found.
They are also majestic, regal creatures, and many people associate lions with royalty and royal qualities – everybody knows that the lion is often referred to as the king of the animals.
Another kingly quality is wisdom, and lions are also thought of as being extremely wise creatures. This is reinforced by their stern, serious faces that always look as though they are deep in thought, with no time for trivial matters.
As strong as they are, lions’ true power lies in cooperation. They work together to bring down large prey that a single lion could not handle alone, and in this way, they provide food for the whole pride.
Pride is another trait associated with lions – it is not by chance that this is the word we use to refer to a group of lions.
Finally, thanks to the way they will defend each other fiercely when in danger, they can also symbolize protection, something else that is commonly associated with lions.
Lion symbolism around the world
Now let’s think about what lions have symbolized to various cultures around the world at different times.
Ancient Greece and Rome
In Greek mythology, a lion features prominently in an episode in the life of the great hero Heracles who had to kill the Nemean lion as one of his Twelve Labors.
This lion was a supernatural creature that could not be killed by the weapons of men, so Heracles defeated it with his bare hands and thereafter wore its skin to symbolize his strength in slaying the lion.
To the Greeks and Romans, lions symbolized strength, and gladiators were often pitted against them in combat. Lions were also seen as an emblem of royalty.
The lion was an important symbol to the Ancient Sumerians, and they appeared in several stories.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the eponymous hero was able to defeat a magical lion with his bare hands, echoing the Greek legend of Heracles.
The Sumerian god Lamassu, a protector deity, was depicted as a lion with wings, and the lion was also the symbol of Inanna-Ishtar, the goddess of love, beauty, sex, war, justice and political power. Lions featured prominently on the famous Ishtar Gate.
Lions were important symbols to the Ancient Egyptians too, and nowadays, one of the most famous icons of Ancient Egypt is the Sphinx of Giza, a giant statue of an animal with the body of a lion and the head of a man. However, its symbolism is now not entirely understood.
Several Ancient Egyptian gods were also associated with lions. Sekhmet, whose name means “power”, was depicted as a lioness, and her job was to protect the pharaohs.
Maahes, the god of war and son of Bast, was depicted as a human figure with the head of a lion. He was also known as the Lord of Slaughter, the Wielder of the Knife and The Scarlet Lord.
In other parts of Africa, lions have often symbolized power, strength and royalty. They also appear in several African folk tales. In these, the lion is sometimes depicted as a trickster rather than as a kingly beast.
According to the Lamba people of West Africa, the lion is a shapeshifter. They tell the story of a lion that took the form of a man to enter a village – he then marries a girl from the village, and they have a child together.
Later, they leave the village together with the girl’s brother. At night, the lion, still in the form of a man, builds a fence around them to protect them, but he deliberately makes the fence weak. He then heads out to find his old pride.
However, the girl’s brother notices that the fence is not strong, so he improves it, and when the lions come to eat them, they are unable to get in, so the people survive.
In another story, a warthog and his family come across a lion who is caught in a trap, so they free him. However, once the lion is out of the trap, he demands one of the warthog’s children because he has been in the trap so long and is half-starved.
The warthog reluctantly agrees, but his wife intervenes, instead, asking the lion to show how the trap worked so they can catch more animals to feed him.
The lion is thus tricked into getting caught in the trap again, and the family of warthogs walks off, leaving the lion caught in the trap.
According to Celtic belief, the lion is seen as a royal animal, and King Arthur is often depicted as a crowned lion.
In one episode in the legend of King Arthur, the knight Ywain comes across a lion and a dragon fighting. Since the lion is a real creature and the dragon is a mythological animal, he decides to help the lion, and together they are victorious.
After this the lion stays with him, helping to keep him safe wherever he travels.
India is the only place in the world outside of Africa that still has wild lions – a small number of Asiatic lions still roam the Gir National Park in the state of Gujarat.
The lion motif features on the State Emblem of India that was adopted when India became a republic in 1950. It is a representation of the four Asiatic lions of the Sarnath Capital and symbolizes power, courage, confidence, and pride.
The Asiatic lion is also the national symbol of Sri Lanka, although these animals are now extinct in the wild there.
In China, lion statues are commonly found guarding the entrances to buildings, protecting them from evil spirits.
They are usually found in pairs. The male often has a paw on a ball, representing the emperor’s supremacy over the world, and the female usually has a cub, symbolizing nurture.
Guardian lions subsequently spread to other countries influenced by Chinese culture like Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and others.
Native American beliefs
Although lions are not native to the Americas, cougars – also known as mountain lions – are, and they feature prominently in the mythology and beliefs of many Native American tribes.
Often, they were seen as representing wise leadership as well as courage and protection.
To the Navajo, they represented bravery, and the lion spirit was a protector who watched over them.
The Hopi saw the lion as a sacred guardian, as did the Pueblo people, who also believed the cougar was a helper spirit.
The Tewa belief was different, and the lion was seen as having a role in the creation of the world. In their creation myth, an explorer traveled to the heavenly realm from the primeval world below and returned as a mountain lion.
To the Zuni, the mountain lion was the sacred guardian of the direction North.
Lions appear frequently in the Bible and are an important Christian symbol. Often, lions are seen in a positive light, and a lion is one of the animals that sit around the throne of God.
However, occasionally, they are seen as evil, such as when they are used as a representation of the devil.
In one famous episode in the Bible, Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den but is protected because of his faith in God.
Later, lions became a symbol of Christian crusaders who travelled east to fight in religious wars.
In Hindu belief, Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu, is said to have descended to Earth to rid the world of evil. He is thought to have been part-man and part-lion.
In Tibetan Buddhism, a tale compares a dog and a lion. According to the story, if you throw a stick, a dog will always chase it, but a lion will look at you to see who threw the stick.
The dog is said to be like the unenlightened person who only reacts to random thoughts in his head while the lion is like the enlightened spirit who seeks to understand why the thoughts are there.
What does it mean if you see a lion?
Although thankfully, you are extremely unlikely to see a lion in your daily life unless you go to a zoo, lions may appear in your dreams, and when they do, they can carry important messages that you should try to understand.
Here are some of the most common interpretations of lion dreams.
1. Take the lead
Dreaming of a large male lion could be a message to you that you need to take the lead in a situation in your life rather than being a follower.
Sometimes, you might be afraid to lead or you may feel that others won’t follow you. However, by having the confidence to lead and manifesting the courage required, you project that confidence to others, and you will find that they will follow you.
2. Have courage
A lion dream may also be a dream telling you to have courage in other areas of your life.
Is there something that you are hesitant to do? Do you lack the courage of your convictions? Then perhaps the dream is telling you to be brave, to be a lion and do what you want to do but until now haven’t dared to do.
3. Protect those around you
If you dream about a pride of lions, it could be a reminder to look after those who are most important to you. Lions fight to keep each other safe, so dreaming of a pride of lions may remind you to emulate the pride and fight for those you care about.
4. Work together to achieve your goals
A dream of lions hunting may be a message to you that you will achieve your goals in life more easily if you work with others. The lion’s true power is in teamwork, and you can do far more with the help of others than you can do alone.
5. Be proud of who you are
Lions are majestic and proud animals, and if you are suffering from a lack of confidence, dreaming of a powerful lion could be a message that you should be more confident in yourself and you should have pride in who you are.
Like a lion, don’t apologize for who you are. Hold your head high and don’t worry what others think about you.
6. Apply wisdom to your problems
As the king of the animals, the lion is thought to be a wise ruler, and if you dream of a lion, it may be a message that you should use wisdom and intelligence to face a challenge rather than your emotions.
Don’t be afraid of any issues you need to deal with. Instead, apply rational thinking and you will find your problems can be solved after all.
A potent symbol of power, leadership, bravery and protection
As we have seen, lions symbolize many things to different people, including power, leadership, bravery, protection and more.
If you see a lion in a dream, it can be an important message from the spirit world, so you should think deeply and meditate on what you saw, and by trusting your intuition, you will be guided to the correct interpretation of what your dream was about.
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