Lion symbolism and meanings include majesty, courage, strength, protection, family, wisdom, and other admirable traits. Lions once roamed throughout the African continent as well as parts of Asia and Europe. So, the lion is a subject in the mythologies and folklore of many cultures around the world. In addition, the lion spirit animal is a special power animal for those who feel a kinship with these gorgeous wild cats. Indeed, lions have important spiritual meanings for many. In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of lion symbolism and meaning, including lion spiritual meanings, the lion spirit animal, lion mythology, and more.
Table of Contents
- What does a lion symbolize?
- Detailed Lion Meanings and Symbolism
- Lion Mythology and Folklore
- African Lion Folklore
- Lion Meaning in Ancient Egypt
- The Lion in Greek Mythology
- Sumerian Lion Legends
- The Winged Lion
- Lion Meaning in the Bible
- The Lion in Celtic Mythology
- Lion Meaning in Hinduism
- Lion Symbolism in Buddhism
- Symbols of Protection in Asia
- 3 Spiritual Meanings of Lions
- Lion Spirit Animal
- Lion Power Animal
- Lion Totem
- Lion Dream Meaning
- Lion Tattoo Meaning
- Organizations that Protect Lions
What does a lion symbolize?
Here is a quick list of lion meanings. We’ll go into detail on these throughout this post.
Detailed Lion Meanings and Symbolism
Around the world, the lion is a symbol of royalty. In fact, in Swahili, the word for lion is “simba,” which also means king.1
The lion’s regal bearing exudes confidence and charisma. In fact, most other wild animals yield to lions because they are the apex predators of their domain and they have very few foes. Even we humans say we “lionize” someone when we want to glorify or immortalize them.
Taking the Lead
If a lion has made themselves known to you, whether in real life, art, or the media, it can be a sign that you need to step up and take the lead in a given situation. Following is always easier than leading – at least when leading is done well. Yet the noble lion is an inspiration to lead. Stand tall and lead from the front, just as the greatest leaders throughout history have done.
There is the famous Rudyard Kipling poem “If,” which begins, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” and ends with “… you’ll be a Man, my son!” This poem embodies the majesty of the lion and is something we can all aspire to you.
In a chaotic world, with the hyenas and baboons causing a ruckus, the lion maintains their dignity as the king of the jungle.
Lion Symbolism: Courage
Exuding a fearless confidence, the lion is a symbol of courage. Of course, this is why the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz was such a conflicted character. He knew he was not living up to the full manifestation of his being – that of a fearless lion.
The lion spirit encourages you to speak your truth. As the saying goes, “Speak out, even if your voice shakes.” If you face a situation that fills you with crushing self-doubt, remember to summon your inner lion or lioness.
Even in periods of insecurity or nervousness, the lion inspires you “Act as if” or, in other words “Fake it ‘til you make it!” Act as if you’re cool, calm, and collected, and you will be so. Act as if you are successful, and you will manifest it!
The lion is the ultimate power animal. When not abused or exploited by human beings, they are the kings and queens of their domains.
The lion also symbolizes a balance of power. In lion societies, the males and females both work together to keep the pride healthy and strong.
As a power symbol, the lion is also a positive figure to meditate on in situations when unenlightened (or undeveloped) souls gain power, which can hurt everyone. Of course, many undeveloped souls crave power. We see this taking place in corporations, in governments, and other institutions all over the world. Thus, the lion is a symbol for the enlightened souls to take back power for the betterment of all.
Lioness Meaning: Female Power
In a lion pride, it’s the lionesses who do most of the hunting, as well as caring for the young. Thus, the lioness is the quintessential symbol of female power. Furthermore, the lionesses support each other on the hunt, which enables them to take down prey that’s faster or stronger than they are. So, they are also symbols of the divine sisterhood – women supporting women.
Obviously, the male lion is also a symbol of great power. The male lion serves as a protector and will step in to protect the pride if they are attacked by hyenas or wild dogs.
The lion’s power is almost omnipotent. Just as in the case of the shark, who is a symbol of authority, the lion reminds us of the importance of benign power. Power alone is not a negative force, but abuse of power is.
Summon the lion spirit animal when you need to fortify your personal power. This could mean taking back your power if things get out of balance in a relationship. Or it could mean working to build your own confidence and gain the personal power needed to fulfill your dreams.
Lion Symbolism: Protection
Lions are extremely protective of the members of their pride. They will use the full force of their ferocity if those they love are threatened. Thus, like their North American cousin, the mountain lion, African lions are symbols of protection.
This video from Africa Wild Animals (warning – It’s pretty brutal) depicts the protectiveness of the lion for a member of his pride:
Like the wolf and the bear power animals, the lion reminds you to protect those you hold dear. If someone you love is being mistreated in any way, summon the full power of your inner lion or lioness to protect them.
In some cases, the person who needs protection could be you. We all need protection sometimes, whether it’s physical, emotional, social, or professional. And protection can extend to your legal rights or even your property.
If the lion spirit makes themselves known to you, it could be sign that you need to double down on your security and that of your loved ones. It can also mean that you need to be more forceful about standing your ground. Protect boundaries and stay true to your convictions. That is the way of the lion!
Lion Meaning: Pride
It’s no coincidence that a group of lions is called a pride. As magnificent as these animals are on their own, they are even more impressive en masse. From their show-stopping manes to their strength and fearlessness, lions have plenty to boast about.
Be proud of who you are.
The pride of the lion reminds you to be proud of who you are, where you come from, and what you know. No matter what has happened to you in your life, you can use every challenge and every battle scar to propel yourself to something greater. The hard things that have happened to you in your life are bragging rights, not sources of shame. The lioness and the lion are proud of every battle scar they gain.
Lions live in large groups, with some lion prides comprised of as many as 40 individuals.2 The lionesses are the primary hunters. And while their prey can be faster, stronger, or even larger than they are, they accomplish their aims by working together. As with elephant herds, the females remain with their families, while young males strike out on their own to create their own prides.
When the lion is your spirit animal, your nature is to hold your extended family or a large group or friends close. They are dear to you and you would go to any length to help and protect them.
Protect those you love and nurture your relationships.
It a lion has suddenly entered your life or captured your attention, it may be a wake-up call that you need to rally around your family or close group of friends. If you haven’t gotten together in a while, the lion inspires you to take the lead and make a plan. Family and friends can be the greatest blessings in life. The lion spirit animal reminds you to keep your pride close.
While they can weigh over 400 pounds, lions are still big kitty cats at heart. They are every bit as cuddly and affectionate as your pet cat. Thus, the lion reminds you that even though the world requires you to be fierce, never forget to be cuddly and affectionate with those you love.
Christian the Lion
You may have heard the story of Christian the Lion. Back in the ‘60s, it was actually legal for people to own large wild cats. When two friends, John Rendall and Ace Bourke, were in the pet department at Harrods department store in London, they saw a lion cub and bought him. They named the cub Christian and kept him in the basement of their furniture shop on Kings Road in Chelsea. While Christian was beloved by visitors, John and Ace knew that as Christian grew up, they wouldn’t be able to keep him.
One day Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the film Born Free, visited the furniture store and met Christian. They connected John and Ace with the famous wildlife conservationist George Adamson, who lived in Kenya with his wife Joy in Kora National Reserve. George agreed to take Christian and reintegrate him into the wild.3
The story of Christian the Lion is controversial because conservationists and animal rights activists fear it shows that wild animals can be domesticated, when, in fact, they deserve to remain wild in their natural habitats. However, this is the reason that the story of Christian’s life is such a happy one – he was reintroduced to his natural habitat.
The tale is also emblematic of just how naturally affectionate lions are. Nine months after Christian was living in his natural habitat with other wild lions, John and Ace flew to Kenya to check in on him. They were unsure if they would even see him or if he would remember them. Their reunion underscored the depth of love and affection that lions can feel.
This video is the story of their reunion:
Lion Symbolism: Wisdom
Lion symbolism also includes wisdom. As the leaders of their domain, the lion embodies a seemingly universal awareness. They are like sun gods of their world, aware of and knowing all. You can read more about the lion as a symbol of wisdom in the section on lion mythology next.
Lion Mythology and Folklore
Lions once roamed throughout the African continent as well as parts of Asia and Europe. However, today, wild lions live only in sub-Saharan Africa, with a small population of Asiatic lions in the Gir Forest in India.4 Yet, if you ask almost anyone in the world what a lion is, they will be able to describe them in detail because, quite simply, lions are superstars.
Today, wild lions inhabit only six percent of their historic range5, yet their allure has fascinated people around the world for centuries. Here are some stories of lions from around the world.
African Lion Folklore
There are countless African fables about lions. In most cases, the lion is respected but also feared. Like Native Americans, many Africans tribes believed that human beings could shapeshift into animals and back again.
The Lion Shapeshifter
The Lamba are an ethnic and linguistic group who live in western Africa. In one of their tales, a lion shapeshifts into a man and enters a village. There, he marries a young woman. The pair have a child and one day, they decide to venture out from the village.
The young woman’s brother and other family members decide to accompany them. Once they make camp, the husband (who was once the lion) says he will venture out to find some food. Before leaving, he builds a fence with thorny acacia and other branches around the camp to protect the family. After he leaves, the young woman’s brother inspects the fencing and sees that it is not done very well, so he works to reinforce it.
When the husband is out in the bush, he becomes a lion again and goes to find his original pride. He tells his pride about the people in the camp and assures them they will all be able to eat well that night. When the lions arrive at the camp, they find that the fence is impenetrable, thus they are unable to attack the people.6
The Lion and the Warthog’s Wife
In other African tales the lion is a trickster, but is often outsmarted by more humble animals, as is the case in the tale of the Lion and Warthog’s Wife.
A family of warthogs was traveling. On their journey, they came upon a lion caught in a trap. The lion had been in the trap for many days and was slowly dying of hunger. When he saw the warthogs, he begged them to help free him. Taking pity on the lion, the father warthog said, “Of course, we will free you.” And he worked to release the lion.
However, once the lion was free, he said to the father warthog, “You can see that I am dying of hunger. Give me one of your piglets to eat.” The father warthog said, “How can you ask that? I just freed you.” And the lion replied, “But I am starving.” The father warthog, now fearing the lion, began to relent and thought of which of his piglets he would sacrifice to satisfy the lion.
That’s when the warthog’s wife intervened. She said to the lion, “Show us how that trap caught you and perhaps we can catch even more food for you to eat.” Not one to be thought of as foolish, the lion boasted about how tricky the trap was in catching him, and so he reenacted the scene of how he was caught with great flourish.
Now trapped again, the lion said, “Do you see how anyone could have fallen for that trap?” The warthog family nodded their heads and walked away.7
Lion Meaning in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians revered animals. They loved their pets as much as we do today. In fact, when they died, they insisted on being entombed with their favorite animals so they could bring them with them to the afterlife.
This reverence for animals was most likely why the ancient Egyptians depicted deities as having both human and animal qualities. Egyptian sphinxes are just one example – having the head and shoulders of a human and the body of a lioness.
The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, whose name means “power,” was also depicted as part-human, part-lion, with the head of a lioness.8 In addition, the Egyptian Nubian god Maahes,9 who was the god of war and protection, was depicted with the head of a lion. Furthermore, the god Dedun, who was the god of luxury, wealth, and incense, was depicted as lion.10
The Lion in Greek Mythology
In ancient Greece, the lion symbolized royalty and strength. The Greeks would pit a lion against a gladiator for bloodthirsty entertainment. In addition, there are a few Greek myths in which the lion has superpowers.
In the story of “The Nemean Lion,” a massive lion with impenetrable fur steals women from Nemea and keeps them in his lair. It’s only the mighty Hercules who can battle the great lion and kill him with is bare hands to save the women.11
The Winged Sphinx
Sphinxes are mostly associated with ancient Egypt. However, they appeared in Greek mythology as well. In one story, the gods send a monster that is part-woman and part-lion, but with wings, to terrorize the town of Thebes. Terrified by the beast, King Creon offers his throne to anyone who can kill the winged sphinx. Oedipus takes up the challenge, solving a riddle posed by the sphinx. In despair over losing, the sphinx throws herself off a mountainside.12 (Why she didn’t flap her wings at fly at that point is beyond me.)
Sumerian Lion Legends
In the epic Sumerian legend about Gilgamesh, like Hercules, Gilgamesh had the strength to kill a magical lion.13 The fact that only the strongest of men could defeat the almighty lion is a testament to historical views of the power of lions.
The Winged Lion
Taking things a step further, the ancient Sumerians also tell tales of winged lions. The Sumerian god Lamassu was a protector deity and he was depicted in the form of a lion with wings.14
Lion Meaning in the Bible
Winged lions also appear in the Bible. In the seventh chapter in the Book of Daniel, Daniel dreams of four mythical creatures, one of which is a winged lion.15 Some biblical scholars theorize that the lion is symbolic for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar and three other kings (of Persia, Rome, and Greece) are represented as mythical beasts. The symbols convey that while these mythical beasts (or kings) are strong, none are as strong as God.
The Lion of St. Mark
The winged lion is portrayed more positively in the Bible as a symbol of Mark, who was one of Jesus’ disciples. While interpretations vary on why the winged lion is associated with Mark, one story tells the tale of a lion coming to Mark in a dream.
In the story, Mark sails towards Alexandria in Egypt when he runs into a heavy storm. He takes refuge on land in a fishing village near Venice. Falling asleep in a fishing hut, he dreams of an angel who comes to him in the form of a lion with wings. The angel says, “Peace to you, Mark, my Evangelist. Here will rest your body.”
This is why today in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, there is a bronze statue called the Lion of Venice. It’s a tribute to the winged lion angel who visited Mark. Thus, Mark became St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice.16
The Lion in Celtic Mythology
For the Celts, the lion was a symbol of royalty. in fact, lions were depicted as on the side of the royals and able to distinguish the nobility from commoners.. In fact, King Arthur was occasionally depicted as a crowned lion.
There are two Arthurian legends that closely resemble each other that involve lions. In the story of Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, Yvain comes across a lion fighting a dragon or giant serpent. This story is also told of the famous knight Perceval.
Because the lion is the more “natural” beast, whereas the dragon’s origins are far more suspicious, Yvain takes the side of the lion and helps him to defeat the dragon. The lion is so grateful for the help that he stands on his hind legs and bows his head to Yvain. Yvain and the lion become devoted traveling companions and Yvain refuses to enter any fortress that will not welcome his lion.17
Lion Meaning in Hinduism
Hindus also have lion deities. The god Narasimha, whose name means “lion man,” is an incarnation of the god Vishnu. As part-human, part-lion, Narasimha is responsible for destroying religious persecution, evil, and calamities on Earth. He thus restores the Dharma, or cosmic order, to the land.18
Lion Symbolism in Buddhism
Lions are also important figures in Buddhist teachings. Before he became Buddha, Shakyamuni, or Siddhartha, was a member of the Shakya clan, who were associated with lions. Shakyamuni was described as the lion of the clan.
The Lion and the Dog
A Tibetan Buddhist sage named Milarepa told the tale of a dog and a lion. He said that if you throw a dog a stick, the dog will continuously chase the stick. But if you throw a stick to a lion, the lion turns to face you to see who threw the stick.
Milarepa likened the dog chasing the stick to an unenlightened person who perpetually chases and reacts to the thoughts spinning around in their head. Instead, Milarepa advised, you should face the source of your thoughts, understand them, and thus cease chasing them in perpetuity. (You can read another tale about Milarepa in my post about leopard symbolism.)
In other Buddhist teachings, lions symbolized enlightenment because they roamed freely and without fear. For the practitioners of the Dharma, this symbolized an enlightened person who walks with a pure mind that is not contaminated with delusions. In addition, like the lion, the enlightened ones have achieved the power to subdue all beings – only with wisdom, compassion, and love.19
Symbols of Protection in Asia
In China, the lion is a symbol of protection. Lion statues adorn the front of many imperial palaces, tombs, and other buildings. Sometimes called lion dogs or fu dogs, the statues represent both physical and spiritual protection. Generally, one of the statues will depict a lion with a ball, which represents protection on a material level. And the other lion will be a female with a cub, which represents spiritual protection. These statues became so popular that they can be found throughout Asia, from Japan to Korea, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and beyond.20
3 Spiritual Meanings of Lions
While they have a commanding earthly presence, lions have deep spiritual meanings to many people around the world. In conjunction with those mentioned in cultural mythology, here are some lion spiritual meanings:
1. Spiritual protection – There are times when the veil between the physical and supernatural worlds can become thin. This might happen when someone dies or at times when you are particularly sensitive and tuned in. We all need spiritual protection at times and the lion is a formidable protector to envision at such times. Like their smaller cousin, the domestic cat, lions can pick up on supernatural energy. Thus, they are helpful totems during meditation, prayer, and visualization sessions when you want to keep your focus on positive energy.
2. Getting in touch with your ancestors – With their primordial power and attachment to their families, lions are important symbols of our own connection to our ancestors. The lion is a reminder that these soul connections are an everlasting bond and that the souls of our ancestors are present in our day-to-day lives.
3. Connection to a Higher Power – The majesty of the lion also reminds us of the ultimate connection that we are all evolving towards, which is unity with our Higher Power, or the source of all love in the Universe.
Lion Spirit Animal
Lions are revered by people from all over the world. So, if you consider the lion to be one of your spirit animals, you are in good company. In Native American cultures, your spirit animals choose you. This can happen during a vision quest, a dream, or another powerful experience that affects the course or your life.
A Spiritual Kinship
Some may realize the lion is one of their spirit animals because they have felt a spiritual kinship with them from the time they were young. While others may have been born under the sun sign of Leo, so lions have always been special to you. However the lion finds you, it’s important to explore what these special beings can mean in your life.
For those who are fortunate enough to go on an African safari or to visit a wild animal sanctuary or park, like elephants, lions are one of the most obsessed-over creatures that people want to see. However, for lion people, the connection extends beyond mere intellectual curiosity to a deeper spiritual connection.
If you already feel that the lion is one of your power animals, you may learn some new things in this post that further guide you in your life. And if you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take a spirit animal quiz in UniGuide’s post about spirit animals.
Lion Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can empower you with their most dynamic traits. So, if you want to transform an area of your life, mediate on the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can summon the lion power animal when you:
- Feel fear and anxiety about a situation and need to summon the courage and strength to handle it.
- Want to strengthen your relationships with those you love so you can feel more protected and supported and you can thrive.
- Are feeling less than fabulous and need to summon your inner sparkly and exude more confidence.
- Have been feeling grouchy and need to remember that inside you are an affectionate kitty cat who attracts love and affection.
An animal totem encapsulates the protective powers of the animal they represent. Thus, the lion totem serves as a good luck symbol for manifesting strength and confidence in your life. The lion totem is also a protective symbol for situations where you need more backup, whether it be physical, emotional, financial, creative, or spiritual.
Lion Dream Meaning
If a lion enters your dreams, and you’re left wondering what your dream could be telling you, consider the emotions you felt in your dream. While dream meanings and interpretations are personal to every individual, one thing we all have in common is that our sub-conscious emotions don’t lie to us.
For example, if you felt fearful, anxious, excited, or even comforted in your dream, it’s worth analyzing those emotions further. The emotions you felt in the dream can provide clues into what the dream is meant to teach you.
Lion can be sources of terror for some people. While others adore them and view them as big cats. So, your own views on lions will obviously play a role in your dream interpretation.
If you dream of a lion attacking you, it can mean that you are ready to “kill off” and transform a part of your life. It can also mean that you’re ready to be more courageous and face your fears in a certain situation. Negative emotions in a dream can be powerful reminders to take action in an area of your life. It’s your subconscious mind’s way of grabbing your attention.
Likewise, if you have a pleasant dream about a lion, it can mean that you have gained mastery in a situation and that you should have the confidence to act and achieve your desired outcomes.
Lion Tattoo Meaning
A lion tattoo is a higher power tattoo. It sends a message to the world that you are confident, strong, and protective. Of course, tattoos are deeply personal to the person who has them, and how the tattoo artists presents the lion will speak volumes. A lioness tattoo shows that you believe in female power and the balance of power. While a pride of lions demonstrates your love for your family and friends. Hopefully learning more about lion meanings, symbolism, and mythology can bring deeper meaning to your tattoo. And if you’d like even more details, be sure to check out my dedicated post on lion tattoo meaning.
Organizations that Protect Lions
There are roughly 20,000 lions remaining in the wild, representing a 43 percent decline in their population in just the past two decades.21 Wild lions face threats that include habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, the illegal wildlife trade, and conflicts with human beings.22 If you care about lions, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that are working to help the world’s wild lions:
- International Fund for Animal Welfare
- National Geographic Bit Cats Initiative
- Born Free Foundation
- African Wildlife Foundation