Lion Tattoos: a brave symbology through centuries

Have you ever thought how much the Leo (aka the Zodiac symbol) is governed by the Sun and reflects its characteristics? It’s time to learn something more…

The lion (aka Panthera Leo) has been considered the king of all animals for many centuries. The idea of the super-natural powers of the lion survives still today, and in some parts of the world, people believe that using or wearing some parts of the body of a lion it is possible to regain the lost strength, treat illnesses and even obtain immunity from death. Anyway the most important aspect of this symbology is his close link to the Sun which has deep roots. Find out one by one.

Tattoo lion by Greg Nicholson, Evil Kolors, Langley, Canada
Tattoo lion by Greg Nicholson, Evil Kolors, Langley, Canada

The myth of Lion-Sun

For the Ammonites the sun was worshipped with the name of Camos, that is Lion-Sun, while in the Persian Empire it was one of the sacred animals of the Mitra cult, dedicated to Mitra “the invincible Sun”, often represented with a human body and the head of a lion. Still today in Iran, the lion is the Heraldic symbol of the State.

The Lion of Nemea

The most famous myth is that of the twelve labors of Hercules: the Lion of Nemea, a creature which lived in the forest surrounding the city of Nemea inside a cave that had two entrances, used as base for its evil raids. Armed only with his arc and club, Hercules faced the animal but his arrows do nothing because it is invulnerable to any weapon. Only after a hard fight the Greek hero is able to defeat the animal, killing it with his own hands. After having skinned it with his claws, he wears his skin and uses the head as a helmet, and from then one his forces multiples, allowing him to face eleven more labors and win.

Tattoo lion by Miryam Lumpini, On The Road, Los Angeles, USA
Tattoo lion by Miryam Lumpini, On The Road, Los Angeles, USA

Symbol of forgotten justice

For years though in history, the term “lion” was attributed to men who showed great strength and courage, but the lion, in reality, in the past was also the supreme symbol of justice, a connotation today that is completely lost. Some legends represented him as an animal which killed its preys only after a real fight and never just for the pleasure of doing it and it was believed that the throne of king Salomon was surrounded by two giant stone lions. In the Middle Ages, it was a tradition to discuss civil matters in the churchyards in front of the doors with stone lions on them: the sentences were formulated and issued according to the formula “inter leones et coram populo” (i.e. among the lions and the people is reunited).

Good or evil? Jesus or Satan?

In Christian symbology, the lion was adopted in the II century AD as symbol of the resurrection of Jesus, since the newborns of the lion, for three days never give a sign of life, and then come to life again on the third day thanks to the maternal breath (or paternal, according to the other versions of the legend). But the symbology of the lion in the Christian culture is ambivalent depending on whether its force is used for good or evil. It is interpreted as an image of Christ when it fights the snake, the dragon or other evil creatures such as the billy goat (this iconographic topic is frequently used in the sculptures of the cathedrals built between the 12th and 13th centuries), but also the symbol of Satan, of vices and heresies, besides of wild desires of flesh, of greed and anger. The Italian poet Dante Alighieri (13th –14th century) makes it one of the three creatures icon of sins that prevent it from entering paradise at the beginning of its ‘Divina Commedia’.

Tattoo lion by Jose Perez Jr, Dark Water Tattoos, Bridgeview, USA
Tattoo lion by Jose Perez Jr, Dark Water Tattoos, Bridgeview, USA

Its holiness, unfortunately, fades out

The symbology of the lion, is complex and has a long tradition, one of the oldest possible. Every art was influenced by it and the lion represents still today one of the symbols-archetypes that survive in time, remaining popular through the years, even though the dimension of the sacred gradually disappeared in the popular culture, surpassed only by the exaltation of his physical qualities. A logical consequence of this is that it is such a strong symbol as the one of the lion was used and abused from anyone who wants a profit at image level to denigrate his opponents and glorify it virtues, and this is why the heraldic is full of lion symbols, often used wrongly also out of its ancient solar symbol and defender of justice. Actually, symbolic lions seem to be in danger of extinction at least as much as the real ones.