Aisling is the author of "Dog Funeral Evangelism." Her articles on dream interpretation and Jungian psychology have over 2.1 million views.
Whether appearing in Aesop's fables, heraldic emblems, or as figures in mythology, lions fascinate people. This is why they figure prominently as symbols across cultures and religions. In this article, we'll explore the symbolic meanings of lions, the meaning behind the actions lions take in your dreams, and the meaning of lions across several mythologies and fables.
Meanings This Article Will Explore
- Lions as symbols of courage
- Lions as symbols of protection
- Lions as symbols of strength
- Lions as symbols of aggression
- The meaning of lions chasing the dreamer
- The meaning of taming lions in dreams
- What lions roaring in dreams means
- Lions as symbols of the unconscious
1. Lions as Symbols of Courage
Lions have long been associated with courage but have you ever wondered why? It might seem like the lion isn't courageous at all, given its exceptional strength, speed, and place as an apex predator. But, in fact, lions are incredibly courageous.
Lions will fight when they are outnumbered, outmatched, and will even enter aquatic areas to chase away crocodiles lying in wait for members of their prides. In dreams, lions can also remind us that courage is not the absence of fear. It is the determination that what lies on the other side of the fear is important and valuable.
Lions also hunt and protect themselves from beasts that greatly outweigh and outnumber them. There's no certainty that will win the fight. That said, lions fight on to protect and fulfill their duties to their families. They simply can't worry about their safety.
2. Lions as Symbols of Protection
Most of us are familiar with the sphinx, the creature with a human head and a lion's body. Sphinx are noted for killing anyone unable to provide the correct answer to their enigmatic riddles. But, why do sphinx question the passersby? In mythology, the purpose for the sphinx's questions was to protect the city it looked after. The riddle was a form of password, those with authentic business in the city knew the answer, those coming to do harm found themselves harmed!
When dreaming of lions, we may be identifying with that part of ourselves that ferociously protects what we love. Alternatively, we may be longing for such a protectress.
3. Lions as Symbols of Strength
In heraldry, lions are often used as symbols of strength (and is it no wonder). Lions grow up to 10 feet in length with bodies weighing as much as 550 pounds. Once they capture their prey with their giant jaws and powerful forelegs, there is no escape.
Dreaming of lions can mean that we are either in possession of such strength, desire it, or are feeling as though we are the prey.
4. Lions as Symbols of Aggression
In dreams, lions can symbolize feelings of aggression—both our own as well as that of others. When our dream lions are prowling about, aimlessly growling, or attacking anything that moves, we should have a deep, honest look at our feelings and see if what we're feeling is actually anger or if it is something else, something more difficult to deal with.
Their's an old tale about a lion roaming the land, roaring, scaring everyone he encounters? The lion wasn't roaring because he was on the prowl. He was roaring because he was in terrible pain.
When dreaming about aggressive lions, we should ask ourselves if we're angry or if we're hurt. Either way, we should find an empathetic friend to assist us with our wounds.
5. The Meaning of Lions Chasing the Dreamer
When lions chase us in dreams, it can symbolize that we are feeling something we can't see but can feel inside us, something that's hunting us down, something that will overpower us and eat us alive.
For Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, animals pursuing us in dreams are actually attempting to draw near to us. When we run from them, we simply give them more power. Instead of running from that which is pursuing us, Jung suggested the best course of action would actually be to stand still and simply allow ourselves to be devoured!
Why? Because, in the language of dreams, animals signify some aspect of ourselves. There is no way to outrun ourselves. That which is a part of us belongs to us. We can only rehabilitate the parts of us that we find unpleasant—we cannot separate ourselves from them.
“When you dream of a savage bull, or a lion, or a wolf pursuing you this means it wants to come to you. You would like to split it off, but then it just becomes all the more dangerous. The best stance would be: ‘Please, come and devour me.'”
— Carl Jung
6. The Meaning of Taming Lions in Dreams
Dreams about taming lions are typically positive. In dreams, taming lions can symbolize our need to be courageous and face down our fears. We must confront our uncomfortable emotions and find ways to conquer them and use them as sources of strength.
These dreams can also represent issues in our waking lives—especially those that are frightening or paralyzing. Often these issues are from our past and we are still struggling to overcome them.
A dream about taming a lion could also mean that you are making friends with aspects of yourself that you previously found unpleasant. It represents that you are realizing that those parts of you aren't as beastly as you once thought. In fact, they can be beautiful, if you're willing to give them the attention they need.
7. What Lions Roaring in Dreams Means
A lion's roar can be heard from a distance of five miles (eight kilometers) at a level of 114 decibels. How loud is that? The next time you're mowing the grass, imagine a sound 25 times louder than the one you're hearing!
Lions don't always roar, but when they do, it's to make sure everything within five miles of them is aware of their presence. They want to make sure their families know where they are so they know they are safe (and to scare off their enemies).
In Dreams, a Lion's Roar Can Symbolize:
Recovery of one's voice: Sometimes we lose our voices, that is, we lose our ability to speak up for ourselves often because we have lost our confidence or our belief that we have something of value to say or that we deserve to be heard.Hearing a lion's roar in a dream might mean that we're recovering our voices, that we are, like a lion, announcing our presence to the world. The world would do well to listen to what we're saying!
- Warning: A lion roaring in a dream might indicate that there is something going on in our lives that needs addressing. We may have metaphorically wandered into enemy territory and are unaware of our error. Look at the symbols in the dream to see if this is true and to see where the enemy might be hiding.
- Messages from the unconscious: Not all messages are warnings. In a dream, a lion's roar could be a message from the unconscious that is meant to alert us to important information that can help us to attain psychic wholeness. Again, coupling the roar with the symbols in the dream is key to understanding what the roaring lion wants us to have a look at.
Lions in Fables
Lions are a popular topic in fables. Learning about them can give us clues as to what a lion in our dreams might mean.
The Lion and the Mouse
In this fable, a sleeping lion is awakened by a mouse who accidentally runs across his nose. He grabs her with his paw, intending to eat her. The mouse, however, pleads with the lion to free her, promising him that one day she will aid him in his hour of need. The lion, amused at the mouse's outrageous assertion, lets her go. Much to the lion's surprise, he later finds himself caught in a hunter's trap and the mouse answers his roar for help, gnawing away the ropes holding the lion until he is freed.
What's the moral? A kindness is never wasted.
The Wolf and the Lion
A wolf crept up on a flock of sheep and stole away with one. A lion came upon the wolf carrying off the sheep and took it for himself. The wolf, in a huff, cried foul saying, "It is not fair that you have stolen what was mine." The lion roared out a laugh and replied, "What was yours? You mean this sheep your good friend the shepherd gave to you?"
What's the moral? To truly own something, you must work to attain it and work to hold onto it.
The Lion and the Goat
During a terrible drought, a lion and a goat stumbled upon a tiny, hidden fountain. At once, they set about arguing as to who should drink first. Neither the goat nor the lion would relent to the other. As they stood locked in battle, they noticed a flock of vultures flying overhead. Immediately, they stopped fighting, deciding that making friends with one another was better than remaining enemies. Neither wanted to become food for the vultures.
What's the moral? Working together can reap more benefits than competing with each other.
More Fables With Lions in Them
"The Bowman and the Lion"
"The Fox and the Lion"
"The Kingdom of the Lion"
"The Lion in Love"
"The Lion and the Hare"
"The Lion Whose Name Was Pingala"
"Dinner of the Lion"
8. Lions as Symbols of the Unconscious
Lions are often classified as nocturnal animals, but strictly speaking, this is not altogether true. While it is true that lions, like most felines, prefer the nighttime to the day, lions are actually more rightly classified as crepuscular, meaning that twilight is their preferred time of activity.
Twilight is a liminal space, an in between place, a borderland passageway between defined boundaries. And lions, as kings who rule that liminal space, are perfectly suited to symbolize the unconscious.
In dreams, lions can indicate that we are courageously taking on the contents of the unconscious, where all manner of terrifying beasts dwell. They can symbolize that we, like our dream lions, are setting aside the fear of what we will find in our psyches. The lion demands that we confront whatever we find there so that we can achieve psychic wholeness.
More Symbolic Meanings of Lions
The power of a lion represents the ability to banish evil.
Best demonstrated by the Rastafarian flag, on which a powerful lion is seen wearing a crown, Lions demonstrate leadership and the establishment of order. This symbolic interpretation is used in Christianity, Judaism, and by several African cultures.
The courage, strength, and fearlessness of lions makes them power symbols of leadership.
This is another example of why lions are called "the king of the beasts." They are often associated with the majesty of the divine.
Lions are often seen as divine protectors by many civilizations.
The Great Mother
The Great Mother is another allusion to the lion's ability to protect.
In Christianity, Christ is often associated with the image of a lion.
Lions have long been seen in mythology as symbols of royalty and power. But, sometimes, the lion is a symbol of vengeance. No matter what the culture, the lion is never a force to be trifled with.
Any creature with a rich mythological history contains a multiplicity of symbolic meanings when they appear in dreams. Below are some of the ways in which lions manifest in mythology.
Lion Myths From Around the World
The chimera is a fire-breathing immortal lion hybrid with a goat coming from its back and a serpent's tail. The sight of a chimera was a disastrous omen.
Heracles's (Hercules) first labor was to kill the Nemean lion. The Nemean lion was, by some accounts, the chimera's progeny. It was, in all accounts, a dreadful beast with impenetrable fur and claws sharper than swords with the ability to cut through any type of armor. Heracles strangled the Nemean lion with his bare hands.
A creature with a human head, lion's body, and a tail comprised of deadly, venomous quills like a porcupine's.
Foo dogs are imperial guardian lions made of stone placed as architectural ornaments outside palaces and tombs. Foo dogs are highly stylized sculptural lions, and almost always exist in pairs.
This creature is the emblem of Tibet. It is depicted as a solid white lion with a turquoise mane. It denotes strength, courage, joy, and power.
Greek and Egyptian
A sphinx is a creature with a human head and lion's body. In the Greek myth, the sphinx is a merciless woman who eats those who cannot answer her riddle. The Egyptian sphinx was not seen as treacherous, but rather as a benevolent, although ferocious, protector of the land and its inhabitants.
Lions as Spirit Animal
This spirit animal emphasizes your:
- Personal power
It also signifies how you are the master of your own domain, and how you are the epitome of strength and power.
Biblical and Religious Interpretations of Lions
The lion references the Buddha, formerly Shakyamuni, a member of the Shakya (lion) clan. The lion is also a symbol of royalty and leadership and may also represent the Buddhist king Ashoka. A chakra (wheel) was originally mounted above the lions.
In Christianity, the lion was a symbol of God's power.
The Egyptian Warrior Goddess Sekhmet, most commonly depicted as a lioness, was the fiercest of warriors, creating the desert from her breath and believed to be a terrifying goddess worshipped as “the destroyer.”
Ethiopian Christianity and Judaism
The Lion of Judah is in both Ethiopian Christianity and Judaism. Immigrants of the Tribes of Dan and Judah that accompanied Makeda back from her visit to Solomon; hence the Ge'ez motto Mo`a 'Anbessa Ze'imnegede Yihuda ("The Lion of Judah has conquered"), included among the titles of the Emperor throughout the Solomonic Dynasty.
The Hindu half-lion half-man God, Narasimha, actually plays a similar role to the Lion of Judah. His consort Kali is "The Destroyer," and Narasimha wipes out irreligion, which is metaphorically similar to the wiping out of "The Darkness" in The Book of Revelation.
The lion evokes qualities of bravery, strength, and valor. The motif recurs in the Qur'an, the hadith (prophetic traditions) and classical Arabic poetry.
Lions are often used to symbolize authority, strength, or dominance. The lion also represents the ancient Israelite tribe of Judah.
Jamaica (following the coronation of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie)
The Lion of Judah is a prominent symbol in the Rastafari movement. It represents Emperor Haile Selassie as well as being a symbol of strength, kingship, pride, and African sovereignty.
The Lion as an Astrological Symbol
Astrology is thought to impact our unconscious minds. Leo is the fifth astrological sign of the zodiac. It corresponds to the constellation Leo and comes after Cancer and before Virgo. The traditional Western zodiac associates Leo with the period between July 23 and August 22, and the sign spans the 120th to 150th degree of celestial longitude. Similarly to its meaning in Christianity and Judaism, Leo's are thought to be natural leaders. Leo's are ruled by the sun, which is a common symbol associated with the lion.
- Ghosts in the Grass: The Last Lions of Africa
Spectacular photography of lions in the wild, including information about Carl Jung's life-altering trip to Africa.
- 92 Lion Facts You May Not Know
Symbols of strength, power, and authority, lions are, indeed, the king of beasts. Discover their secret world with our list of interesting lion facts.
© 2019 Aisling Ireland