The Lion as Leo
In modern astrology, Leo is painted as having simple wants and needs: recognition, creativity, and a pleasurable lifestyle. What this approach leaves out, however, is the deep psychological reasoning behind those desires.
If you've met a Leo, then you'll surely remember them. They make their presence known, with a dramatic flair and golden aura that both inspires and perplexes their celestial compatriots. Usually their reputation precedes them, as Leos are the performers of the zodiac. They thrive in the spotlight, whether on stage or as a leader of a team.
Leos have been lighting up rooms since ancient Babylon, where the constellation was called the Great Lion and has a countenance to match. Early astrologers relied more heavily on fixed stars for their interpretations, and Leo is home to a host of the most important fixed stars in the zodiac. Among them is Regulus, the King Star, or "the star that stands at the lion's breast". It bestows great ambition and independence, and with those, great success.
According to Greco-Roman myth, Leo's origin story -- like many of the other constellations -- comes from one of Hercules's Twelve Labors. Specifically, Hercules's first labor was to slay the crafty Nemean Lion, who took women prisoner and kept them as bait to lure heroic types from local towns for its dinner. It's unclear why it used such tactics, because its golden fur was already impenetrable to any mortal weapons! Either way, Athena spoke to Hercules, telling him that he would have to fight the beast with his bare hands. In the end he broke its back, hence the "sickle" shape in the constellation itself.
If that story seems a bit violent to you, you aren't alone: Roman poet Ovid gave Leo the Latin names of Herculeus Leo and Violentus Leo.
Leo's epithet of Jovis et Junonis, or "Jupiter and Juno", also sheds some interesting light on the nature of the sign. Jupiter and Juno are the original power couple, whose regal relationship, though central to Greco-Roman myth, is inconstant at best and turbulent at worst. Here we see Leo as the king and queen shining through again, but this time, the responsibilities that come along with power become more weighty. This also, unfortunately, displays what's possible when Leo chooses to focus only on his or her individual needs instead of projecting his abilities outwards into the group. Performance, leadership, and generosity are central to the Leo identity, and without those, the amusements one can grasp only bring fleeting satisfaction and petty irritation.
Another one of Leo's names was Bacchus Sidhus, or "Star of Bacchus". Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, revelry, and wildness, was almost always depicted with cats of the Panthera family, including lions, leopards, and tigers. Whether he wore them as clothing, rode them as his mount, or was pulled by them in a chariot, these cats symbolized his completely untamed nature. That's one thing that doesn't always get discussed with Leo: there's a desire for unadulterated pleasure that, if it goes unchecked, can spiral out into a maenad-like frenzy. For some of them, it's spiritual. For others, it's escape. Consider that perhaps what Leo -- who has at times been maligned as "selfish" or "immature" -- is really trying to unlock here is ecstasy, or oneness with the divine through experience.
The Lion as Animal
By Sara Magnuson
Lion generally brings to mind power and strength. In fact, it's hard to see Lion's weaknesses for all its grandeur and magnificence. The strengths of Lion are obvious and many; nonetheless, let's paint a clear picture of this glorious creature.
Panthera leo is the second largest Cat after Tiger and lives primarily in savannas and open grassland. Lion is an apex predator and a keystone predator. This means that Lion is at the top of its food chain and it is prey to very few. As a keystone predator, Lion plays an important role in controlling the population of its prey. Weighing in at 400-500 lbs and 6-11 ft in length (including the tail), they are formidable to say the least. They can run up to 50 mph, strike their claws with over 300 lbs of force, and bite with over 600 lbs of pressure. Like all Cats, their senses of hearing, vision, and smell are exceptional and are most acute at night. Lions rest (i.e. lay around) for 16-20 hrs a day - again, like all Cats - but that's where their similarities end.
Unlike any other Cat in the Felidae family, which includes house cats, Lions are social. They live in groups we all know as a pride, which consists of 2-4 males (called a coalition), 5-7 females, and their offspring. Each adult Lion plays a very specific role and cooperation is key. Females are the core of the pride social unit and do not tolerate outsiders. Prides are lineage-based and membership almost always only changes with the birth and death of the females within the pride. Few Lions live solitary lives and those that do spend most of the time looking for another pride to join. It is rare for females to accept a lone Lioness into the pride and males will only accept lone males after fierce battle.
Lions are also unique among Cats in the way they express gender, physically and behaviorally. In most Cats, there's no obvious difference between males and females; you have to look at their genitals to tell them apart. Lions, on the other hand, exhibit sexual dimorphism - an outward, physical distinction between the sexes beyond their reproductive organs.
The mane of the Lion is the most obvious difference from the Lioness and tells many things about him. How big or small his mane is, how thick or thin it is, and its color all tell about genetic preconditions, sexual maturity/testosterone production, and climate. It turns out that darker fuller manes are usually favored among females. The larger of the two sexes, his role in the pride is very distinct - eat, mate, defend territory, protect other members of the pride. He rarely hunts, leaving that to the Lionesses. When not patrolling the borders of his territory, he is often found looking after the cubs while the females are finding dinner. The lifespan of the Lion is about 10 years, much shorter than the Lioness' 14-15 years, and cause of death is typically injury from other Lions. He is good at defending and protecting and that's what he does.
The Lioness is an elegant and complex creature. It is within and amongst the women that the cooperative nature of Lion shines. Due to her slightly smaller size and lack of mane, Lioness is the more effective hunter - she is swifter, more agile, and aerodynamic than her male counterpart. While they can run very fast, they can only do so in short bursts, so if they miss a catch it's usually due to lack of endurance. Within their hunting groups, each Lioness plays a very specific role that is strictly observed and carried out. Some females fan out to the sides, while others flank the prey, and still others do the actual pouncing. Their maneuvers are smooth and precise because they know and trust that each Lioness will fulfill her position on the team.
The cooperative nature of the Lioness goes even further with raising their young. The females of a pride will synchronize their menstrual cycles to facilitate cooperative cub rearing. It is much easier to have groups of cubs that are around the same age rather than cubs at all different stages all the time. Females share the duties of providing the general needs of the cubs and are diligent mothers. The Lioness moves all of her cubs to a new den about once a month so their scent doesn't build up and attract predators of the babies. At 2-4 years of age, male Lions are pushed out by the females to join the other adult males, while the young females remain with the core group of Lionesses.
Lions collaborate, coordinate, and unite. All this cooperation provides many benefits - protection, maintenance of territory, less injury, and kin selection (i.e. increased survival of kin vs self). Lions are extraordinarily distinct from one another in their appearance and actions and those born under the sign of Leo contain all the qualities of both the Lion and the Lioness. One could not exist without the other. The true power of Lion is twofold - power comes from complete ownership of its strengths and weaknesses; and power comes from an unflinching trust in the pride. Each Lion knows what it's best at and doesn't try to be something it's not. Lion walks proud with its golden fur shimmering in the sunlight, daring anyone and everyone to question their identity.
During the Sun's transit through Leo, we ask all of you to draw on the powerful energy of these heavenly bodies and, no matter what you look like on the outside, own yourself in all your magnificent glory. Draw on the nature of Lion and Lioness and know that you are a strong, powerful, majestic creature.
Call on Lion when...
- You need to make an amazing impression.
- You want to reconnect with your inner wildness.
Be wary of...
- lack of endurance.
- can be lazy.
Rituals for Leo
This week's meditation is simple: do whatever will most help you connect to the divine through experience. Like Leo, ecstatic meditation is usually very active, but it doesn't have to be. A few examples include:
- singing or playing music. For some people, going to see a concert or a movie can be a very ecstatic experience!
- painting, drawing, or creating art
- taking a walk, yoga, or other exercise
- crafting a spell
Before you begin, breathe deeply. Think, know, and affirm the presence of spirit with you. You can speak your intention, but it is not required.
After you've completed your meditation, take a few moments in a quiet place to record your experience. What strengths and limits did you find within this form of connection? What did you learn about yourself and all that is? What symbols, omens, or spirits were present during your work?
You may also want to consider recording the moon's phase and sign, as well as other astrological indicators for future reference.
Sacred Sexuality Altar & Ritual
For this ritual we'll be honoring the masculine/feminine sides of ourselves individually, as well as the place where they blend - all under the shining glory of the Sun.
What you will need:
- 4 candles - red/pink, blue, purple, and yellow (any shade of these colors is fine)
- 3-5 Items that represent your masculine side and/or represent masculinity in general to you; these should be positive symbols for you; the goal is to *honor* the masculine side of yourself; suggestions - an arrow, a horn or antler, a High John the Conqueror Root
- 3-5 Items that represent your feminine side and/or represent femininity in general to you; again, these should be positive symbols for you; the goal is to *honor* the feminine side of yourself; suggestions - a pomegranate, anything in the shape of a circle, a Queen Elizabeth Root
- 1-5 items that represent the blend of masculine and feminine within you, the parts of you that are not gender specific
- Optional - if you already identify with a particular spiritual path or cultural group, use items that symbolically represent male, female, and gender-blending and/or gender-neutral within that context to further your connections
Think of your altar as a triangle, with two base points closest to you and the peak opposite.
At the right base point, place the blue candle.
To the right of the candle, place the items you have chosen to represent masculinity.
At the left base point, place the red/pink candle.
To the left of the candle, place the items you have chosen to represent femininity.
At the peak, place the purple candle.
Above the peak, place the items that you have chosen to represent the blend of masculine and feminine.
In the center, place the yellow candle to represent the Sun fueling the triangle.
Light the yellow Sun candle first.
Next, light the candle that you identify with most (it's okay to light the purple candle first) and move toward the candle that you identify with the least.
As you go, draw power from the Sun and the candle you lit first.
Moving on, use that power to honor the other parts of yourself and the knowledge within them.
Sit with candles for at least 10 minutes, meditating on the flames, the symbols, how they work together, and the everlasting Sun catalyzing the effort.
Let the candles burn as long as you can without being interrupted. If you must put them out, be sure to relight and sit with them again until they've burned completely down. Once complete, collect any leftover candle wax and bury it outside all together.
Collect the symbols you used during this candle rite and arrange them however you see fit - keep them on your altar or create separate spaces for each part of the triangle. You can also bury them outside with the candle wax, again all together.
Remember: always observe common sense fire safety when burning candles!
About Asteria & Artemis
Named for the Greek goddesses of the stars and nature, respectively, this joint blog series with Candlesmoke Chapel's Sara Magnuson investigates the magic and mythology behind each astrological sign.
Sara is a crafter of spiritual supplies, a reader of cards, a diviner of animals, and the co-founder of Candlesmoke Chapel. Her personal practice is eclectic, animistic, and ancestral. The guidance she provides is based in the messages of Nature and its role in how we move through this world.
Connect with Sara via Candlesmoke Chapel:
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