The big cats, and lions in particular, have always been a popular design. But the past couple of years have seen a resurgence in the number of people roaming the streets of Toronto & Vancouver with lion tattoos.
Lion tattoos are awash with meaning and offer endless design possibilities. In this article, we take a look at some of the meanings and cultural significance behind them. As well as taking a look at some inspiration for lion tattoo designs.
What Does A Lion Tattoo Mean?
In some parts of the world, humans and lions have shared territory for up to 200,000 years. So it’s no surprise that there’s all sorts of symbolism and meaning ascribed to the king of the jungle. We take a look at some of the common meanings behind lion tattoos.
From the shields of medieval warriors to the flag of Gryffindor, lions are synonymous with courage throughout history and culture. Even in the Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion was a juxtaposition of two opposite concepts.
As such, one of the most common meanings of a lion tattoo is to convey the bravery and courage of the bearer. These tattoos often signify a fearless individual or mark overcoming a challenge through courage.
Power & Masculinity
Weighing up to 190 kg and over 2.5m long the lion is a big, powerful beast. There are accounts of lions killing with a single paw strike. One account by an early European explorer describes having his horse killed, “ by a single blow of a lion’s paw.”
The sheer power of a lion has made it a common symbol of power, strength and masculinity. In Tanzania, killing a lion was a rite of passage for Maasai warriors. Killing the epitome of strength and power symbolized one’s own power and masculinity. Although declining lion populations are leading to an end to this practice, lions remain a symbol of strength & power.
King of the jungle is an appropriate moniker. Lions are a longstanding symbol of royalty and nobility. In fact, we call a group of lions a pride because of their regal appearance and mannerisms.
For many, a lion tattoo symbolizes one’s own connection or aspiration towards royalty, nobility, or leadership.
Peace (Hakuna Matata)
Despite their power and ferocity, the lion is a popular symbol of peace. In part, this lends itself further to the royalty image as the lion can choose peace even though they have the might to succeed through their strength alone.
The peaceful lion long predates Simba’s friendship with Timon & Pumba. Tattoos depicting the winged lion, or the lion and the lamb are signs of peace dating back to biblical times.
Life & Vitality
It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all. While many of us learned about the circle of life from The Lion King, lions have been synonymous with life and vitality for thousands of years.
The lion’s connection to life goes beyond their place atop the food chain. Their strength, power, and energy are symbolic of youth and liveliness. They are healthy, strong, and bold – all things our culture ascribes to youthfulness.
Their masculinity and vitality exemplify virility, creating new life. They are often a symbol of, or of having a connection to, the sun – the source of all life and energy on Earth.
Cultural Lion Tattoo Symbolism & Design
Lions play in important role in the symbology of cultures and religions across the globe. From ancient astrology to the birth of Rastafarianism, the lion is a symbol of importance. We take a look at some of the designs and meanings of lions in different cultures.
The bible depicts lions in a number of its stories and teachings. But the most notable use is a lion representing Jesus. These representations are a common theme in both art and literature.
For example, take the popular series Narnia, Aslan the lion is a blatant representation of Jesus – from his to demeanour to his sacrifice and (spoiler alert) resurrection.
While in Judaism the Lion of Judah is a national and cultural symbol, in Christianity the lion is Christ himself.
Some common Christian lion tattoo designs include the lion and the lamb, a lion with a halo, a lion with a crown of thorns.
Rastafari culture runs some parallels to Christianity. Rastafarians worship Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, as the second coming of Jesus. The belief is that Haile Selassie’s lineage traces back to the Tribe of Judah. So, as in Christianity, the use lions as a representation Christ. The difference is that they use the Lion of Judah to depict the second coming of the Messiah.
In Rastafari tattoos, the lion is often shown alongside cannabis. There is a belief that cannabis is the Tree of Life from the bible. Its use is a gateway to understanding, rather than a drug for getting high.
Popular Rasta lion tattoos designs include: the Rastafari flag, Bob Marley and a lion (or as a lion), a lion with or smoking marijuana, and a lion wearing Rasta colours.
Buddhism & Asian Lion Tattoos
In Buddhism, the lion is a very spiritual animal. It is wise and knowledgeable. Much like Asian dragon tattoos, the Chinese lion is often depicted holding an orb. In China and Japan, these guardian lions possess mythical protective powers and are often shown in pairs.
In the West, Chinese lion tattoos are commonly known as foo dog tattoos. Despite the name, these aren’t dogs but guardian lions. They are symbols of protection, strength, luck, and masculinity.
Foo dog tattoos are common on the chest, back, upper arm and leg. Chinese lion tattoos are often inked as traditional Asian tattoos, possessing an orb to represent the duality of life, or alongside flowers to represent the balance of fragility and strength.
In ancient Greek and Roman culture, the lion was a popular symbol of masculinity, fertility and love. Lions were commonly connected with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and procreation, as well as Dionysus, the god of fertility.
In addition to these symbols, the lion also had significance in their mythology. One of the most well-known is the Nemean Lion. Hercules battles the Nemean lion, the embodiment of strength and power.
Greco-Roman lion tattoos often depict the lion battling with Hercules, Hercules with the impermeable lion skin, a terracotta lion, or in connection with the pantheon of gods.
Lion in Astrology
The lion is the fifth astrological sign of the zodiac. It is the astrological sign of Leo, which encompasses July 23rd through August 22nd. It is the fire element and has a strong connection to the sun.
In astrology, the lion represents adventure, leadership and justice. The belief is that these traits pass on to those born under the sign of the Leo. Like the other zodiac signs, Leo is a constellation of stars. In fact, the lion is one of the largest and earliest documented constellations, dating back to Mesopotamian culture.
Astrological lion tattoos are often depicted as a representation of the Leo constellation or its minimalist horoscope symbol.
Get a Lion Tattoo in Toronto & Vancouver
When choosing a lion tattoo, communicate the meaning you want to convey to your artist. There are a lot of potential meanings for these tattoos, and you want to make sure your ink displays what it means to you. The best tattoo artists in Toronto & Vancouver work with you to design a tattoo that is both beautiful and meaningful.
Contact our Downtown Toronto tattoo shop today to schedule an appointment for your lion tattoo.