28 Mythical Lions: Exploring Lions in Mythology from Ancient Cultures

Winged Lion

Few creatures capture the imagination as fiercely as the majestic lion. Hence, the mythical lion is a figure in the mythologies of cultures around the world. With their regal presence, powerful bearing, and awe-inspiring beauty, mythological lions have battled heroes, guarded treasure, and given messages to prophets. In this post, we’ll take a look at both famous and lesser known mythical lions from cultures around the world.

1. Aker

Aker, Two-Lion Deity
Hieroglyph featuring Aker, the double-lion (yesterday and tomorrow) Egyptian deity who guards the sun god Ra and the eastern and western horizons. The sun touches the twin-peaked mountain top of the Earth where it leaves and re-enters the underworld. Source: Unknown.

Culture: Egyptian

Aker is a double-lion deity. He is depicted as facing opposite directions, symbolizing his protection of the eastern and western horizons. He is associated with the god Ra, whom he guards and protects as the sun journeys through the underworld at night.1

2. Anzu, or Imdugud

Anzu (Imdugud)
Anzu, or Imdugud, the Sumerian symbol of the God Ningirsu. He appears to grasp two deers, simultaneously. The panel was found at the base of the temple of Goddess Ninhursag at Tell- Al-Ubaid (southern Mesopotamia, now Iraq). Ca early dynastic period, 2500 BCE. Source: The British Museum, London. Photo:
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin.

Culture: Sumerian

In Sumerian mythology, Anzu (also known as Imdugud) is a fearsome creature, depicted as a lion-headed eagle. He was conceived by the pure waters of the Abzu and Earth. Sometimes he is described as the son of Siris (the goddess of beer.) As a hybrid monster, he represents thunderstorms and divine retribution. Anzu is also notorious for stealing the Tablet of Destinies – an act that challenged the gods. 

3. Arensnuphis

Culture: Egyptian and Nubian

Arensnuphis is a lion-headed deity who was revered in both ancient Egyptian and Nubian cultures. He is an amalgamation of Egyptian and Nubian mythological elements, reflecting a blend of these two cultures. Although his Egyptian name, Ari-hes-nefer, suggests a benign nature, specific details about his role and attributes are unknown.2

4. Bastet

Culture: Egyptian 

While she is often depicted as a domestic cat goddess, Bastet was originally a fierce lioness warrior goddess. She has been worshiped throughout most of Egyptian history. 

Bastet was the daughter of Ra and Isis, and the consort of Ptah, with whom she had a son, Maahes. She was also the defender of the king and her father Ra.3

She is a protector of women, children, pregnancy, and childbirth.

5. Bes 

Bes, Egyptian lion-face god. Photo: Dosseman.

Culture: Egyptian 

Bes was a dwarf god in Egyptian mythology. He is associated with Bastet and was depicted with the face of a lion. Like Bastet, he was a protector deity and was associated with childbirth, music, and dance

6. Chimera

Bellerophon, Pegasus, Chimera
Cover for the musical score of the opera The Bellerophon Tragedy featuring Bellerophon and Pegasus battling the Chimera. Ca. 1714. Source: Royal Conservatory Antwerp and Brigham Young University.

Culture: Greek

In Greek mythology, the Chimera is a giant monster who possesses a lion’s body, a goat’s head, and a serpent’s tail. A fearsome amalgamation, he represents chaos and destruction.

7. Chnoubis


Culture: Egyptian

Chnoubis is another Egyptian deity (related to the Egyptian creator god Khnum) who is depicted as a lion-headed serpent. He represented protection and creation. The Egyptians placed Chnoubis on jewelry, amulets, and other treasures because of his protective powers.

Later, the Gnostics, a sect of Jewish and Christian mystics who believed in a direct relationship with God, also revered the Chnoubis, incorporating him into their symbology.4

8. Dedun

Culture: Nubian 

Dedun was a lion-headed deity in Nubian mythology, He was associated with the flooding of the Nile River, a period of abundant crops and prosperity. 

9. Gilgamesh’s Magical Lion

Culture: Sumerian

In the epic Sumerian legend of Gilgamesh, the hero was strong enough to defeat a magical lion. The fact that only the strongest of men could defeat the almighty lion is a testament to how ancient people revered the lion.5

10. Griffin

Griffin. Source: Unknown.

Cultures: Greek, Persian, and others

With a lion’s body and an eagle’s head and wings, the Griffin is an iconic mythical lion who is famous for his immense courage, strength, and power. As a symbol, the Griffin has withstood the test of time, appearing in Christian and European heraldry, and even modern-day corporate marketing.

11. Lamassu

Mythical lion deity Lamassu. Source: The Louvre. Image: Alemazzi.

Culture: Sumerian

The Lamassu is a winged lion in Sumerian mythology. He served as a protective deity, embodying strength and guardianship.

12. Winged Lions in the Bible

Winged Lion

Culture: Judaism and Christianity

Winged lions appear in the Bible, such as in the seventh chapter in the Book of Daniel. In the passage, 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. 

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) were strong, none were as strong as God.6

13. The Lion of St. Mark

Culture: Christianity

A winged lion is also associated with Jesus’ apostle Mark. 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 your body will rest.”7

14. The Lion of Yvain the Knight 

Culture: Celtic

A mythical lion also appears in the King Arthur legends. In the story of Yvain, the knight 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 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 and the two become traveling companions.8 

15. Manticore

The Manticore
A manticore in Historiae naturalis de quadrupetibus, 1657. Source: Johannes Jonston.

Culture: Persian, Greek, and others

The Manticore is another mythical lion. In this case, the creature has a lion’s body, a human head, and a poisonous tail. The Manticore is a ferocious monster who appears in a few different legends.

16. Maahes, also Miysis

Culture: Egyptian

Maahes was an Egyptian deity with a lion-head. He was a god of war and the son of the lioness goddess Bastet. He was also a god of protection, the weather, knives, and lotus flowers.

17. Mehen

Culture: Egyptian 

Mehen is another mythical lion deity in Egyptian mythology. (He was also depicted as a serpent.) He was a protective force, guarding the sun god Ra during his journey through the night. Mehen is sometimes compared to an ouroboros.

18. Menhit

Culture: Egyptian 

Menhit, an Egyptian goddess with a lioness head, is associated with warfare and protection. She represented both lunar and solar energy.

19. Milarepa’s Lion

Culture: Tibetan 

In Tibetan Buddhism, the monk Milarepa teaches that a lion doesn’t simply chase sticks when you throw them as a dog does. Instead, the lion turns to see the source of the stick. The analogy teaches the difference between unconscious or avoidant behavior vs. facing the source of one’s thoughts, which leads to mental freedom and enlightenment.9

20. Narasimha

Hindu Lion Deity Narasimba

Culture: Hindu 

Narasimha is an avatar of the god Vishnu. He is depicted with a man’s body and a lion’s head. He represents divine power, the destruction of evil, and the restoration of Dharma.

21. The Nemean Lion

Nemean Lion
Hercules battling the Lion of Nemea. Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). Image: Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Culture: Greek

In Greek mythology, the strongman Heracles battles a giant lion, called the Nemean Lion. The formidable creature has magical golden fur, but is nevertheless defeated by the hero in one of his twelve labors.

22. Pazuzu

Mythical LIon Deity Pazuzu
Pazuzu, the Mesopotamian lion demon, bronze statue. Source: Ancient Oriental Collection, University of Tübingen. Image: Museopedia.

Culture: Mesopotamian 

Pazuzu was a Mesopotamian demon who is depicted with lion-like features. He embodies a dual nature. At once, he represents destructive winds; at other times, he is a protector against evil spirits.

23. Qilin

Two Qilian
Pair of qilin, porcelain from the East India Company, China, ca 1750, Nantes History Museum. Image: Koreller.

Culture: Chinese

In Chinese culture, the Qilin is a mythical lion creature who has scales and a single  horn or horns. He is a benevolent creature who brings good fortune and prosperity.

24. Sekhmet

Lion deity Sekhmet on a relief from the Sanctuary of Khonsu Temple in the Precinct of Amun-Re at Karnak Temple.

Culture: Egyptian

The ancient Egyptians loved felines, and the lion was no exception. With a lioness head, the goddess Sekhmet embodied the sun’s destructive as well as healing powers.

25. Shishi Lions

Culture: Japanese

In Japan, Shishi lions (or dogs) guard temples, ward off evil, and have protective and purifying powers.

26. Simurgh

Persian Phoenix Simurgh
The Flight of the Simurgh. ca. 1590, Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection. Artwork: Basawan.

Culture: Persian 

The Simurgh is a mythical creature that looks like a peacock with a dog’s head and a lion’s claws. Monstrous as she sounds, she represents wisdom and protection in Persian mythology. Mythologists often compare her to the phoenix bird

27. Sphinx


Culture: Egyptian and Greek

One of the most iconic mythical lions, the Sphinx is a creature with the body of a lion, sometimes having the wings of a bird, and the head of a human. A protector, the sphinx stood outside of temples as the guardian of pharaohs, such as the Great Sphinx of Giza, which faces from west to east on the Giza Plateau in Egypt.

In Greek mythology, the Sphinx was a monster who would terrorize people. 

28. Yali, or Vyala

Yali or Vyala
Yali, or Vyala, guarding the Sri Ahobila Narasimha Swamy Temple, Upper Ahobilam, Nallamala hills, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Culture: Indian, South Asian 

The Yali is a mythical lion- and griffin-like creature with the body of a lion, the trunk of an elephant, and other strange features. With placements on temples and pillars, the Yali represents strength and protection.

Closing Thoughts

Powerful in their own right, lions don’t need any embellishment. Yet it’s undoubtedly due to their beauty, awesome strength, and regal bearing that lions have sparked the imaginations of people from diverse cultures, including in places where lions are not native. Representing power, messages, lessons, and divinity, the mythical lion is a beautiful reminder of the timeless connection between humans, wild animals, and the magical world of our imaginations.

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Kristen M. Stanton

Hello. Thanks for visiting UniGuide. My name is Kristen and I started UniGuide as a tribute to nature, animals, and spiritual exploration. I hope you enjoy your experience here!