(includes Cougar, Mountain Lion, Puma)
If the lion is the King of the Beasts (in western culture) then lion tattoos must be King of the Animal Tattoos. Sharing the genus “King Cats” category with the tiger, this is an animal that weighs up to 400 lbs. (181 Kg.), can leap 20 ft. (6 m.), eats 60 lbs. (27 Kg.) in one sitting, and whose roar can be heard for 5 miles (8 km).Everything about the lion is regal, powerful, and strong – in fact, kings used to keep lions as a sign of their power - and those themes will be conveyed in any kind of lion tattoo design.
Historically, the male lion has been connected with the sun. Not surprising, since the lion’s mane surrounds the face like the rays of the sun. Some lion tattoo designs capture this, with the lion’s mane replaced with sunlight or flames.
Other fascinating legends surround this fierce jungle cat. Ancient stories claimed that the lion slept with its eyes open, and therefore is a symbol of watchfulness. Other tales state that lion cubs are born dead and remain so for three days. When they are breathed on by a parent, they come to life. This tale has a strong Christian corollary, and is sometimes used as metaphor for the Resurrection. In Buddhism, the Lion Throne, called Simhasana, is a symbol of wisdom. The lion is also associated with healing.
Lions are displayed prominently in Eastern art, and are associated with martial arts. The city of Singapore translates to “city of the lions,” so a lion image would be appropriate in an eastern influenced tattoo design, e.g. with dragons or kanji lettering.
One of the most popular lion stories is the tale of St. Jerome, who removed a thorn from a lion’s paw and then lived peacefully with him (a related legend, from Aesop’s fables, lists Androcles as the thorn-remover). Another popular lion character is King Aslan, from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. His most famous book of the series, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” has been made into several films. In the stories, Aslan is murdered and then resurrected – another Christian resurrection allegory. The lion was also made quite popular in the Disney movie “The Lion King.” Audiences around the world enjoyed the exploits of Simba as he made his way to replace his father as King of the Beasts. Ironically, that story lacks fidelity, as real lions are actually egalitarian. While there may be the occasional scuffle between males coming from different prides, there is no alpha male – no Lion King.
But there is no media lion more well-known than “The Cowardly Lion,” played by Bert Lahr in the 1939 movie classic The Wizard of Oz. This is an important piece of symbolic history, because it helps to solidify what we really think of lions. The one word that defines “lion” to modern culture is one the characteristic that Dorothy’s friend lacked – COURAGE. Parody only works if there is something to make fun of. In other words, we don’t assume lions are fastidiously neat, and then laugh when we encounter a “Messy Lion.” Doesn’t work. But, because we believe that lions are courageous, we can make a joke and a comic character by showing one that is not. The lesson from this example is simple – a lion tattoo will connote courage to anyone, anywhere, who sees it.
And let’s not forget about the lioness. The female lion, in contrast to her maned counterpart, is associated with the moon. In ancient Egypt, she was a symbol of maternity, and linked to the mother goddess who gave birth to all that exists. In the legends of King Arthur, the lost city of Lyonesse (i.e. “she-lion) is said to lie just beyond the city of Cornwall.
Cougar, Mountain Lion, Puma
Visually, it’s easy to get the female lion confused with the North American mountain lion (otherwise referred to as a cougar or a puma). Though physically resembling the lioness, this muscular feline is more closely related to the lynx (known as the “bearer of secrets”) and the domestic house cat than it is the lion family. Those choosing the mountain lion as their tattoo totem have selected an animal described as having perfect movement, symbolizing the link between mind, body, and soul. In Native American lore, the mountain lion represents leadership, and is related to both war and healing.
For more information on Lion tattoos and Animal tattoos, see the resources listed on our
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