The Esoteric Meaning of Lions

Lion statue, NaplesIn their natural habitats, lions are courageous beasts that will fight to the death to protect their pride.

But they are also playful with their cubs and prefer to live a simple and peaceful life.

Essentially, this is the lesson we learn from the lion, one of the most used animal symbols in esoteric iconography.

Sculptures of the male lion are often found guarding the doorway of important civic buildings and the entranceway to city gates, together with adorning water fountains.

When you see a lion statue decorating a water fountain, it represents the element of fire. The other three elements, water, air and earth are present in physical form.

Strength, courage and willpower

Ancient sages also assigned the four elements with meaning, fire being passion and personal power. It can also be used to burn away delusions of the conscious mind and replace them with higher values that serve us better in life.

In shamanic traditions, the lion represents creativity, intuition and imagination, all of which are required for self-fulfilment, or enlightenment in the sense that you adopt a greater understanding of something.

It is often the case that we are not aware of the innate powers within us and at times we lack assertiveness and courage when in pursuit of goals. This is because we have a natural fear ingrained into our sub-conscious.

During the course of our lives, we face personal struggles. The lion reminds us to summon strength in order to achieve our goals.

Courage and willpower are one of the first things we need to succeed at whatever you set your mind to, which is why you typically find lion statues outside state buildings, and the gateways of historical cities.

You will also find lions at the entrance ways of palaces as King’s wanted to reflect the power and courage like the lion – hence the animal’s moniker, “King of the Jungle.”

The kings of Europe and Assyria were keen to remind their subjects of the lion-like courage and often used the beast as a coat of arms. The Assyrian king, Adad Nirari II declared “I am all powerful…I am lion-brave.”


 In alchemical symbolism, the lion is interchangeable with the sun, it’s large, fiery mane bearing a strong reflection to the solar star.

The ancient Egyptians also used young lions to symbolise the rising sun. The Sphinx on the Giza plateau probably had the head of a lion before it was carved into the head of the megalomaniac pharaoh, Khafre. Note how much smaller the head of the Sphinx is in comparison to the rest of the body, particularly the outstretched legs.

Sphinx on the Giza plateau
               Image credit: eviljohnius

The lion is also associated with ancient sun gods, such as Amen-Re in Egypt and the Persian sun-god, Mithra, considered by some researchers to be a pagan Christ, the forerunner of Jesus.

Mithra performed the miracle of resurrection, so too the Egyptian sun-god Osiris, who was raised by Aker, a lion-headed deity who protects the living as they enter the Underworld.

In the Bible’s book of Revelation, John describes Jesus as the “lion of Judah,” the only living being capable of breaking the seven seals of the scroll. Christ also has 12 disciples, each of which represent a sign of the zodiac (around the sun) and traits of personality.

The lion then is also a symbol of overcoming weaknesses to become enlightened. It takes courage and willpower to overturn the habitual mind and perceive the world with a broader perspective.

In Buddhism and Hindu, the lion is typically pictured with a Bodhisattva, a wise man that withholds enlightenment in order to teach others transcendental wisdom and help guide them towards nirvana.

Half-man, half-lion

Essentially, the lion is Hinduism has the same meaning as fire, which can burn away the delusions of the habitual mind that do not serve us. We find a similar comparisons in both the Old Testament and ancient Sanskrit writing.

Psalms 7:1-2 “Deliver me from all who chase me! Rescue me Otherwise they will rip me to shreds like a lion; they will tear me to bits and no one will be able to rescue me.”

Lokeshvara, a Bodhisattva riding chariot pulled by lion
Lokeshvara, a Bodhisattva riding chariot pulled by lion

In Hindu mythology, the Hindu god Narasimha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, destroys demons by ripping out their hearts.

But as with all symbols, there is a negative aspect, thus the lion represents two opposing aspects of man’s nature; ferociousness and affection.

The lion is seen to dominate other animals and is a skilful predator. In Peter, 5:8 Satan is referred to as a lion, ruthless, stealthy and aggressive.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Whilst hunting, the male lion roars at its prey to scare it off and steer it towards the female lions laying in wait to pounce. When we are not of sober mind, we become easy prey for people that intend to dominate and manipulate others.

The lion therefore is symbolic of both illumination and the dark side of our habitual mind, the programming that deceives, deludes and defiles.

Hence the lion is a reminder that we are charged with mastering our emotions to ensure we do not fall victim to our own weaknesses.

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