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Lion Symbolism & The Spiritual Meaning Of Lions

Photo: Julia Ardaran / Shutterstock & Unsplash
lion symbolism and meaning

Lions are the second largest cats in the world and are also the most sociable of all big cats. Lions are really beautiful creatures, but don’t let their cute exterior fool you — lions can also be extremely dangerous.

Native to Africa, wild lions are quite large; a male lion weighs over 400 pounds, and a female lion weighs around 275 pounds. Though these big kitties are an endangered species with just 23,000 left in the wild, lion symbolism is incredibly deep and spiritual.

Lion Symbolism & Spiritual Meanings Of Lions

Lions symbolize strength, courage, power, royalty, protection, pride, authority, majesty and wisdom. And because lionesses are a pride's primary hunters, lions are also symbols of female power, ferocity and family.

These creatures are both fearless and confident, making them symbols of royalty and courage. Male and female lions also work together in raising their pride, representing power, family, and protection.

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Lion Symbolism in Dreams

When you dream of a lion, it's important to pay attention to how the dream itself makes you feel, as well as what the dream is about. Dreaming about this big cat is powerful and could even be related to your own spiritual development.

Depending on the circumstances, a lion dream can represent many things: self-confidence, personal power, messages from the spiritual realm, how you make decisions in the waking world, being held back from expressing yourself, facing potential obstacles in the future, and realizing what you must do to find success.

Lion Spirit or Totem Animal

Spirit animals are spirit guides who assist you in staying on the right life path while teaching you lessons. Totem animals are also spirit guides, but are invoked when you need help.

Though you cannot choose your spirit animal, you'll know if a lion is your spirit animal if you resonate with this creature in some way or have had a profound experience with one.

People with a lion spirit animal possess strength and are able to overcome anything life throws their way. The lion spirit animal is a courageous leader who is brave, but is also protective, gentle, independent, and values silence.

A lion totem is called upon when you need a reminder to take initiative, find strength and courage you may not know you had, and to be a leader who remains protective in all aspects of your life.

Photo: Eric Isselee / Julia Ardaran / Shutterstock & Unsplash

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Lion Symbolism in Christianity and the Bible

What do lions symbolize in the Bible? Like all creatures, they are made with love through God’s eyes, even though they can be a force to be reckoned with. Much like lions, Christians are devoted, strong, leaders, and consumed with giving and receiving love.

Lions are symbols of courage and power which are imperative that Christians should have when it relates to God. When it relates to God, Christians believe in taking care of and helping each other; just like the lioness, they are big caretakers and they will help take care of an abandoned lion cub.

Lions are also a symbol of royalty, and many Christians believe that God is the highest of all royalty. Much like Christians, lions take pride in family and love.

There is the winged lion, known as the Lion of St. Mark, which represents Mark the Evangelist. But lions are mentioned dozens of times in the Bible, from at least 16 books:

Proverbs 28:1: "The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion."

Revelation 5:5: "And one of the elders said to me, 'Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.'”

Psalm 34:10: "The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing."

Daniel 6:16: "Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, 'May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!'”

2 Kings 17:25: "And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them."

What Lions Symbolize Spiritually in the Bible

1. Lions symbolize courage.

The Bible uses lions to encourage people to be on guard and ready for people who do not mean you well, like a lion: “Be alert and sober-minded. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” —Peter 5:8

2. Lions are symbols of hunger.

Sometimes, you have to feed your drive to be what you want: “They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a fierce lion crouching in cover.” —Psalm 17:12

3. Seeing a lion means to be mindful.

Lions are always on guard: “A lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing.” —Proverbs 30:30

4. Spiritually, a lion means that you need to speak up.

A lion's roar is a statement alone: “A King’s rage is like the roar of a lion, but his favor is the dew on the grass.” —Proverbs 19:12

5. A lion needs no one.

In the Bible, the lion is royalty and the Universe, so it means to trust that your needs will be met: “The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.” —Psalm 104:21

6. A lion is a symbol of patience.

Sometimes, waiting patiently for what you want will be worth the wait: “Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding.” —Lamentations 3:10

7. Lions are about finding solutions.

When you feel trapped, remember that God can always get you out of any hard situation: “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.” —2 Timothy 4:17

8. A lion symbolizes being in a powerful crowd.

Walking with God is like walking with confidence: “There are things that walk with stately stride; four that strut about: the lion, king of animals, who won’t turn aside for anything.” —Proverbs 30:29-30

9. Religiously, a lion is a symbol of protection.

For Christians, the Lord will always protect you when you think you are in danger: “But this is what the Lord has told me. When a strong young lion stands growling over a sheep it has killed, it is not frightened by the shouts and noise of a whole crowd of shepherds. In the same way, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will come down and fight on Mount Zion.” —Isaiah 31:4

10. Lions encourage you to face your fears.

To be a coward is not walking the same path as God: “The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.” —Proverbs 28:1

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Lion Symbolism in Mythology and Folklore

Native American Lion Symbolism

Though Native Americans did not know what a traditional lion was, they still had panthers, cougars, pumas, and mountain lions. In Native American cultures, mountain lions were respected, protected and revered, though they were often competed with for wild game.

Native Americans respected the mountain lions for their silence, seen as a connection to some sort of holiness. Some tribes even considered mountain lions to be supernatural.

African Lion Symbolism

Lions are native to Africa, and in most cultures throughout the continent, lions are seen as symbols of power, and in some cultures laziness, though they are usually feared and respected.

In Ghana, for example, lions are used in voodoo healing, using lion body parts during rituals. In the Nuer tribe, lions are thought to be the connection between the spirit world and shamans.

There are also countless folklore tales about lions.

"The Lion and the Warthog's Wife"

While traveling, a family of warthogs came across a lion caught in a trap. Begging to be released, the warthogs took pity on the lion and freed him. However, once free, the lion told the father warthog to give him one of the piglets to consume.

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“How can you ask that? I just freed you,” the father warthog said, to which the lion replied, “But I am starving.” Before the father warthog relented, his wife stepped in. She asked the lion to show them how the trap worked so they could catch him more food.

The lion reenacted how he became caught, and was once again stuck in the trap. “Do you see how anyone could have fallen for that trap?” the lion asked, as the family of warthogs walked away.

"Why the Lion Roars"

Long ago, the lion used to be completely quiet, only growling when calling for its cubs. But one day, a very hungry lion saw a porcupine and decided he would hunt it for food. The porcupine put its quills up, but the lion was determined to catch it.

The lion approached the porcupine from the back but ended up with quills in his throat and mouth. As he removed the quills, he was unable to reach the ones in his throat, therefore being unable to hunt.

Days passed and he became weak from no food. Other animals refused to help because they were scared the lion would eat them. Finally, the lion decided that he could remove the quills by roaring.

He stretched his neck, made a loud noise, and as he started to roar, the quills came out one by one. And that is how the lion found its roar.

"Dinner of the Lion"

In the Seven Hills, there was an area filled with water and grass that the animals loved, but were too afraid to go because a lion lived there and killed a few creatures every day. One day, the animals confronted the lion, telling him they would send the lion one animal a day for dinner.

"Alright, but I must have my dinner every day. If you don't send an animal to me every day, I will kill as many of you as I want," the lion responded. But each day, the animals sent a meal for the lion, choosing amongst themselves who would be next.

Finally, the hare was chosen, but decided on a plan to trick the lion. He jumped in the river and got mud all over his fur, appearing dirty to the lion. Angered, the lion asked why the hare was dirty to which the hare replied, "I am not your dinner, lion. I had another hare to bring you but I met a lion on the way here and he took your dinner."

Convinced there was another lion in the Seven Hills, hare agreed to show the lion where he was. They came upon a big well, where the hare told the lion to look into the well. The lion jumped into the well and never returned.

Celtic Lion Symbolism

The Celts viewed lions as symbols of royalty, courage, power and authority. As additional symbols of warriors and chiefs, lions were used on helmets, and many royals were depicted as lions; King Arthur, for example, was shown as a crowned lion.

There are also Arthurian legends associated with lions.

"Yvain, the Knight of the Lion" by Chrétien de Troyes

In this story, Yvain (or Ywain), son of King Urien of Gorre and the sorceress Morgan le Fay, seeks to avenge Calogrenant, his cousin, who was defeated by Esclados, a knight from the otherworld. After defeating Esclados, Yvain falls in love with Laudine, Esclados' widow.

After marrying Laudine, Gawain, King Arthur's nephew, convinces Yvain to go on an adventure, but Laudine demands he return after one year. Becoming caught up in his adventures, he doesn't return within a year, and Laudine rejects him.

Yvain succumbs to his grief, eventually being cured, and goes on a soul-searching mission to win back his wife. He saves a lion from a dragon, who ends up being Yvain's companion, helping Yvain defeat two demons and three fierce knights. Grateful for being saved, the lion bowed his head to Yvain, and Yvain refused to go anywhere that didn't welcome his lion.

Yvain eventually saves Laudine's servant, Lunete, from being burned at the stake, and wins Laudine back. Laudine allows Yvain to return, along with his loyal companion, the lion.

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Eastern Lion Symbolism

In Chinese culture, lions are symbols of protection, royalty and strength. During the Han Dynasty, lions were known as guardians of the Empire's Dharma, and represented a connection between those who ruled and what would become of the Empire.

In Japanese culture, lions were used frequently during the Edo Art, specifically Kara-shishi, a lion protector of the Shinto shrine. Similar to Kara-shishi is the Komainu, lion-dog statues in shrines used to ward off evil spirits. Buddhist texts also describe Buddha as possessing the wisdom and strength of a lion.

Ancient Indian mythology and folklore features lions, with Hindu texts associating lions with Vishnu and Parvati. Lord Vishnu was part lion and part man, sent to earth to destroy evil and restore Dharma. In this context, the lion is associated with using your powers for good, and to create peace.

Though there are no lions in Sri Lanka, the translation of the country is "Land of Lions." Lions were mythical symbols for royalty, and the national symbol of the country is the lion.

Ancient Egyptian Lion Symbolism

To Ancient Egyptians, lions were symbols of power, kingship and protection, as well as danger and chaos.

Numerous gods were associated with or depicted as lions, including gods and goddesses Maahes, Bastet, Sekhmet, Menhit, Dedun, Pakhet, and lesser-known deities Apedemak, Hert-ketit-s, Seret, Shesmetet, Ȧmi-Pe, Ḥuntheth, and Urit-en-kru.

In Ancient Egypt, Pharaohs were said to keep lions as pets, or hunted them to show they had power over lions. Lions also featured heavily on artwork and sculptures. There's also the Great Sphinx of Giza, depicted as a mythical creature with the head of a human, body of a lion, and wings of a falcon.

Ancient Greek Lion Symbolism

The Ancient Greeks saw the lion as a symbol of strength and royalty, and often pit gladiators against lions in the Colosseum. Lions appear in Aesop's fables "The Lion and the Mouse" and "Lion's Share."

But the most notable depiction of lions is in the twelve labours of Heracles.

"Heracles' First Labour: the Nemean Lion"

As penance for killing his wife and children, as a result of Hera inducing madness in him, Heracles went to the Oracle and prayed to Apollo. He was told to serve Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, for 10 years, during which he performed his twelve labours.

His first labour was to defeat the Nemean lion, a creature whose fur was impenetrable by human weapons and terrorized the city of Nemea. When Heracles reached the city, he met a young boy who told him that if Heracles slew the lion in 30 days, it would be sacrificed to Zeus; otherwise, the boy would sacrifice himself.

Heracles first used arrows to try and kill the Nemean lion, but to no avail. Realizing he could not kill the creature with weapons, he waited until the lion entered its lair, from one of two entrances. Heracles blocked the second entrance and entered the cave.

He stunned the lion with his club, and then used his bare hands to strangle it. Heracles attempted to remove the skin, with Athena stepping in and telling Heracles to use the lion's claws to skin it. Heracles returned on the thirtieth day, and Eurystheus sent Heracles off on his next labour.

Lion Tattoo Meaning

While people get tattoos for a variety of reasons, a lion tattoo or animal symbol can be closely related to religion, astrology, and even movies like "Harry Potter" and "The Lion King."

For example, because a lion represented courage and royalty in the aforementioned movies, someone might receive a lion tattoo because they are fans of the films, or because they resonate with what the characters represent.

Someone might also get a lion tattoo because of this creature's connection to the Bible and Jesus, or, in Judaism, to Judah. Additionally, because the lion is the symbol of the zodiac sign Leo, those with this astrological sign may find this tattoo fitting.

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Katrina Harris is a writer who covers astrology, spirituality, love, and relationship topics.

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