Τετάρτη, 12 Ιανουαρίου 2011

Lion as a symbol


Largest of the cat family and feared by most wild animals, the lion is almost universally known as the “king of beasts.”  Its  physical  appearance,  size,  strength,  dignified movements,  and  fierceness  in  killing  other  animals  have,since early times, left a deep imprint on the human psyche.

Associations with the concept of royalty (i.e., power, majesty,control of others) have elevated the status of the lion as symbol; such figures as Richard the Lion-Hearted; various Catholic  popes  who  have  taken  the  name  of  Leo;  the  Buddha,who was known as the “Lion of the S´akya Race”; and Christ,called the “Lion of Judah,” have all been identified with this animal  through  their  imputed  possession  of  certain  heroic qualities.  Sekhmet,  Gilgamesh,  Herakles,  Samson,  David,Daniel, Aeneas, and Aphrodite all share some of the “lion-like” qualities of ferocity, strength, valor, dignity, and nobility.

In astrology, such connotations of royalty were taken a step further: The lion was equated with the solar principle,which  is  often  identified  as  the  illumination  of  consciousness.  The  constellation  of  Leo  was  assigned  the  sun  as  its ruler, and the zodiacal sign of Leo appearing during the hottest  time  of  the  year  (July–August).  This  relationship  between the sun and Leo is central to an undeurstanding of the major role played by the solar principle in this complex symbolism.

In  early  Western  mythology,  sun/lion  attributes  were identified as powerful cosmic forces, eventually replacing the moon/bull  themes  that  had  dominated  earlier  myths.  In Sumer  and  Crete,  the lion was associated with the blazing sun, which slays the moon and parches vegetation. In Egyptian  art  and  mythology, representations  of  lions  were  frequently stationed at the end of tunnels and placed at palace doors and tombs to protect against evil spirits. Sekhmet appears as a lion-headed woman holding a sun disk. She was known  as  a  war  goddess  and  became  associated  with  the Temple of Mut during the reign of Amunhotep II (1450–1425 BCE).
In his study The Great Mother (New York, 1963),Erich Neumann sees Sekhmet as a symbol of fire—the devouring, negative  aspect  of  the  solar  eye  that  burns  and judges.

In the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), the lion appears as a symbol of strength and power and an object of fear intended as a catalyst in humanity’s relationship to God. The allusion in Judges 14:18—“What is stronger than a lion?” and the story in Daniel 6 of the prophet who was sent into the lion’s den as a test of his faith in God exemplify the aweinspired associations of the lion with God’s power to judge humankind.

In Christian iconography Mark the evangelist is depicted as a winged lion, perhaps because the first chapter of  the Gospel of Mark refers to “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Mk. 1:3), a voice that reputedly resembled a lion’s roar. The lion is also symbolic of Christ’s royal dignity. The Book of Revelation contains a
reference to the lion as symbolic of Christ, particularly his ability to conquer evil and overcome darkness: “Weep not, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (Rv. 5:5). The lion also came to symbolize resurrection. According to popular legend, lion cubs,when  born  in  litters  of  three,  were  stillborn;  they  were brought back to life by their father, who after mourning for three  days,  revived  them  with  his  breath.  Similarly,  Jesus,three days after his death, was resurrected by God the Father.

Royal and superhuman qualities are also reflected in the portrayal  of  the  Hindu  Great  Mother  goddess,  S´akti, who rides upon a lion. In one of Visnu’s many incarnations, he manifests himself in the form of Narasimha, the “man-lion,”to defeat the demon Hiranyakasipu. Numerous references in the Bhagavadgıta demonstrate the importance of the lion as a symbol. In battle scenes, Bharata, chief of warriors, is compared to Indra and described as an “invincible lion of a man.”

Well-known representations of the lion in Indian Buddhist  art  include  the  Asoka  pillar,  capped  by  a  four-faced lion, and the Sarnath pillar, crowned by a lion upholding a great wheel or disk indicative of the solar principle. In Tantric   Buddhist   art,   the   bodhisattvas   Avalokite´svara   and Mañjusrı  are  seated  on  lions,  and  the  fierce  goddess Simhamukha is depicted as having the head of a lioness. The stylized posture called the Buddha Entering Nirvana is also known as the Lion Posture and forms part of the ritual for disciples being initiated into certain ceremonies. 

In  addition  to  its  function  as  a  representation  of  the solar principle, the lion symbol has also been variously used to depict contemplation and the solitary life. These qualities are best illustrated in the lives of certain Christian saints, especially Euphemia, Ignatius, Jerome, Paul the Hermit, and Mary of Egypt.Rebirth  motifs  have  also  focused  on  the  lion.  In  the Mithraic  cult,  the  lion-headed  god  Aion  (Deus  Leontocephalus) is associated with time and the shedding of light so that rebirth may ensue. C. G. Jung regarded the lion, as discussed in alchemical literature, as a “synonym for mercurius .  .  . or a stage in  transformation.” “The fiery lion,” he concludes,  “is  intended  to  express  passionate  emotionalitythat precedes recognition of unconscious contents.” 

According to Heinrich Zimmer, the insatiable qualities of the lion as devourer are demonstrated in S´iva’s creation of a lion-headed monster. The Book of Job (4:10) also notes the  destructive,  fear-inspiring  characteristics  of  the  lion  in epitomizing its roar as the “voice of the fierce.”


Bleek, W. H. I., and L. C. Lloyd, eds. Specimens of Bushman Folklore (1911). Reprint, Cape Town, 1968.

Goodenough, Erwin R. “The Lion and Other Felines.” In his Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, vol. 7, Pagan Symbols in Judaism, pp. 29–86. New York, 1958.

Gray, Louis H., et al., eds. The Mythology of All Races. 13 vols. Boston, 1916–1932. Consult the index, s.v.

Gubernatis,  Angelo  de.  “The  Lion,  the  Tiger,  the  Leopard,  the Panther, and the Chameleon.” In his
Zoological Mythology,or  The  Legends  of  Animals,  vol.  2,  pp.  153–161.  London,1872.

Thompson,  Stith. Motif-Index of Folk Literature. 2d ed., rev. & enl.  6  vols.  Bloomington,  Ind.,  1955–1958.  Consult  the index, s.v. Lions.

New Sources
Stith,  D.  Matthew.  “Whose  Lion  Is  It,  Anyway:  The  Identity of  the  Lion  in  Amos  3-12.”  Koinonia  11  (Spring  1999):103–118.

KATHRYN HUTTON (1987)  Revised Bibliography

Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition
Lindsay Jones, Editor in Chief 
© 2005 Thomson Gale, a part of The Thomson Corporation.

In yet another picture the spirit and soul are represented by a lion and lioness, between which an union must  be effected before the work upon the body can be accomplished. It is an operation of great wisdom and even cunning, and he who performs it has merited the meed of praise before all others. I suppose that rough allegory could hardly express more plainly the marriage in the sanctified life between the human soul and the Divine Part. From : The Pictorial Symbols of Alchemy by Arthur Edward Waite

 Twelfth Key

An alchemist in his laboratory searches for the legendary philosopher's stone, 1618. An engraving from 'Tripus Aureus', published in 1618 by Michael Maier, from the original 1599 work 'The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine'. The lion devouring a serpent represents the process of changing matter into something new. The symbol under the window is the alchemical symbol for mercury. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
From : Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine From Musaeum hermeticum, Frankfurt, 1625

Revelation 5:5
Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."

Και εις εκ των πρεσβυτέρων μοι λέγει· Μη κλαίε· ιδού, υπερίσχυσεν ο λέων, όστις είναι εκ της φυλής Ιούδα, η ρίζα του Δαβίδ, να ανοίξη το βιβλίον και να λύση τας επτά σφραγίδας αυτού.
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