Here’s an excerpt from Pagan Portals – Grimalkyn, The Witch’s Cat: Power Animals in Traditional Magic Paperback by Martha Gray, published by Moon Books 29 March 2013.
Lions (panthera leo)
The second largest of the four big cats – tiger, leopard and jaguar – the only four that can roar and which are thought to have evolved into their class around 1.6 million years ago. They are muscular and stocky, which they use to their advantage in bringing down prey. Lions live in family groups, known as a ‘pride’ and are the only members of the cat family to do so, as the others are generally solitary. The males’ main function, with a thick mane to protect them when fighting, is to protect the pride from outsiders including other lions, while the females do all the hunting and rearing the cubs. Symbolically, the lion represents kingship, strength, courage, honour and valour.
There are depictions of lions all over Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, with the most famous being those of ancient Egypt. The oldest images are the paintings in the Chauvet caves in France showing a lioness hunting, which are thought to be around 30,000 years old; and paintings of two lions mating in the ‘Chamber of Felines’ in the Lascaux caves. While a prehistoric ivory carving of a lion has been found in the Vogelherd cave in Germany.
Ancient cultures used lions to decorate great buildings in order to add majesty to the design, and were widespread throughout Mesopotamia. The gates of Mycenae in Greece also show two lioness-deities flanking a column; while in Turkey, the old Hittite city of Bogazkay, they adorn the walls of the gateways. Persia also used the image of lions on their gates to project the great majesty of their cities.
The Greeks saw lions as having not just the power of strength but also of invincibility. In the myth of the Twelve Labours of Hercules, his first task was to slay the Nemean Lion. The beast’s golden fur was said to be impenetrable by any weapon, while its claws were sharper than any sword. Hercules eventually followed it into its lair and used his club to stun the lion, and then strangled it to death. He tried to remove the skin from the lion by using his knife but this did not work; the goddess Athena told him to use one of the lion’s claws and he was able to take the fur to use as a cloak of invincibility. The Greeks identified the constellation of Leo with the Nemean lion.