Lion meanings and symbolism can be found in the folklore of cultures all over the world. Indeed, many of us are quite starstruck by these beautiful creatures. For some, the lion spirit animal is one of their power animals, while others are simply in awe of their magnificence.
Table of Contents
- Lion Symbolism and Meanings
- Lion Spirit Animal
- Detailed Lion Meanings and Symbolism
- Lion Meanings in Ancient Cultures
- Lion Symbolism in Africa
- Lion Meaning in Ancient Egypt
- Lions in Greek Mythology
- Lions in Sumerian Legends
- Winged Lions
- Lions in the Bible
- Lions in Celtic Mythology
- Lions in Hinduism
- Lions in Buddhism
- Organizations that Protect Lions
Lions once roamed throughout the African continent as well as parts of Asia and Europe. However, today, wild lions can only be found in sub-Saharan Africa, and a small population of Asiatic lions lives in the Gir Forest in India. 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.
Lions exist for themselves. They are not here for us. Yet, they have much to teach us. Hence, there are countless legends and pieces of art that have been inspired by these majestic beings.
In this post, you’ll find details on what lions symbolize in both ancient and modern cultures. You’ll also learn about the spiritual connections people have with lions. But first, here’s a quick overview of what lions symbolize:
Lion Symbolism and Meanings
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.
Some may realize the lion is one of their power animals because they’ve felt spiritual kinship with them from the time they were young. And some of you 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 they can mean in your life.
How do you know if the lion is your spirit animal?
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.
The Lion Power Animal
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 test in UniGuide’s post about spirit animals.
If you are wondering whether the lion is one of your spirit animals, consider the questions below. And as you read this post, you’ll learn more about lion folklore and meanings in cultures around the world, so it may become even more clear to you.
Questions to consider:
- Were you especially interested in lions when you were a child?
- Has a lion made himself or herself known to you, whether in a real-life experience or in some other way that captured your attention?
- Has a lion riveted your attention in the media or art?
- Do you feel a special connection to lions, and do you experience a feeling of wonder when you see them or hear about them?
- Has a lion or lions entered your dreams?
- Do you have an unwavering confidence in yourself and your convictions?
- Do you take immense pride in our family, your mate, or even your work?
- Are you incredibly affectionate with and protective of those you love but fierce with those who cross you?
If you answered yes to a majority of these questions, you may very well be a lion person!
Detailed Lion Meanings and Symbolism
Around the world, lions are symbols of royalty. In fact, in Swahili, the word for lion is “simba,” which also means king. You can read more about how different cultures share this view later in this post.
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 domains with 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, it could 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. The noble lion should inspire you to 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 spirit and is something we can all aspire to you. Even in a crazy world, with the hyenas and baboons causing a ruckus, the lion maintains their dignity as the king, of queen, of their jungle.
Exuding a fearless confidence, lions are also symbols 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 his 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, lions are the kings and queens of their domains.
Lions also symbolize a balance of power. In lion societies, the males and females both work together to keep the pride thriving.
Yet, it is 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 is faster or stronger than they are. So, they are also symbols of divine sisterhood.
Obviously, the male lion is also a symbol of great power. The male lions serve as protectors of the pride and will step in to protect the family if there is an attack 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, with the lion power symbol it’s important to keep in mind the darker manifestations of what it means to be powerful. Power alone is not a negative force, but abuse of power is.
Summon the lion spirit 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 fortifying your own self-will so that you can realize your dreams.
The lion is also a good symbol 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, governments, and other institutions all over the world. Thus, the lion is a symbol of the more enlightened souls taking back that power for the betterment of all.
Lions are extremely protective of the members of their pride. They will use the full power of their ferocity if those they love are threatened.
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.
And 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 better stand your ground, enforce your boundaries, and stay true to your convictions.
It’s no coincidence that a family if lions is called a pride. As magnificent as these animals are on their own, they are even more impressive en masse. From their flamboyant 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 because – you are here. The lioness and the lion are proud of every battle scar they gain.
Lions live in large family groups, with some lion prides comprised of as many as 40 individuals. 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, female lions 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 enters your life or captures your attention, it may be a wake-up call that you need to rally around your family or group of friends. If you haven’t gotten together in a while, the lion inspires you to take the lead and make a plan, even if it’s a Zoom call! Families can be one of the greatest blessings in life, but not everyone has a great family. In such a case, close friends can become your family. The lion spirit reminds you to keep your price 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 spirit 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 of 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, 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.
The story of Christian 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 is reintroduced to his natural habitat.
The story 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.
This video is the story of their reunion
Lion Meanings in Ancient Cultures
Today, wild lions inhabit only six percent of their historic range, yet their allure has fascinated people around the world for centuries. Here are some stories of lions from around the world.
Lion Symbolism in Africa
There are countless African fables about lions. In most cases, the lions are 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. They 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, so 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.
The Lion and the Warthog’s Wife
In other African tales lions are tricksters, but they are often outsmarted by more humble animals, as is the case in the story of the Lion and Warthogs 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 set out 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.
Lion Meaning in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians revered animals. They loved their pets as much as we do today. In fact, they would be 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, thought she had the head of a lioness. In addition, the Egyptian Nubian god Maahes, who was the god of war and protection, was depicted with the head of a lion. The god Dedun, who was the god of luxury, wealth, and incense, was also depicted as lion.
Lions in Greek Mythology
In ancient Greece, lions were associated with royalty and strength. The ancient Greeks would pit lions against gladiators for bloodthirsty entertainment. And there are a few Greek myths about lions with super powers.
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.
The Winged Sphinx
Just as in ancient Egypt, sphinxes appeared in Greek mythology. 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. (Why she didn’t flap her wings at fly at that point is beyond me.)
Lions in Sumerian Legends
In the epic Sumerian legends about Gilgamesh, like Hercules, Gilgamesh had the strength to kill a magical lion. The fact that only the strongest of men could defeat the almighty lion is a testament to historical views of the power of lions.
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.
Lions 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. Some biblical scholars theorize that the lion is symbolic for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom along with the 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 winged lion angel who visited Mark. Thus, Mark became St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice.
Lions in Celtic Mythology
Lions are associated with royalty in many Celtic stories, and were often depicted as on the side of the royals and able to distinguish the nobility from commoners. In some stories, King Arthur is 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 also welcome his lion.
Lions 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.
Lions 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 names Milarepa story tells the tale of a dog and a lion. 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 the person 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.
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.
Organizations that Protect Lions
There are roughly 20,000 lions remaining in the wild, representing a decline in their population of 43 percent in just the past two decades. Wild lions face threats that include habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, the illegal wildlife trade, and conflicts with human beings. If you care about lions, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that protect lions: