Leo resonates with the element of Fire, and is a fixed sign. The Sun is in Leo from July 22nd through August 22nd. Leo is the 5th sign in the zodiacal wheel, marking the point of the deep Summer moving into late Summer in the Northern Hemisphere and deep Winter moving late Winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Represented by the Lion, Leo speaks to creativity, boldness, influence, luxury, Kingship/Queenship, and self-expression.
by Briana Saussy
Like its preceding sign of Cancer, Leo is strongly associated with the legendary figure of Hercules and his first task, defeating the Nemean Lion. But the story of Leo starts long before that. Like the sign of Taurus, the constellation of Leo has been recognized almost universally as that of a lion. It is one of the oldest constellations of record recognized in both Sumeria and Babylon and has always been associated first and foremost with royalty and kingship. One of the original 48 constellations described by 2nd century Ptolemy, Leo is now among the 88 recognized constellations today and a beloved site in the sky for star gazing due to its uniquely bright stars.
These two initial features of an association with royalty and bright star clusters already give us a sense of how Leo works. Often one of the more maligned signs of the Zodiac, best expressed in the unkind statement “All ego Leo,” Leo is actually the point within the Zodiac, and within our own natal charts, where we discover what hidden talents we have that support us in rulership and also in shining brightly.
Kingship has long been associated with this sign and it is worth noting that to be a King or to be a Queen did not always mean seizing power unlawfully and lording it over the peons. Many ancient traditions had various ways of electing or appointing their royal rulers and in many places the mark of a good King or Queen was the health and well-being of their people and land. Along the same lines, just as Cancer is associated with the Mother and the Mothering qualities that we all possess, Leo is associated with the Father and the Fathering qualities that we all carry within us. While working with Cancer we were encouraged to get clear about our relationship to our Mother, our ability to Mother and the connection between Mothering and nourishment, Leo supports us as we meet our inner Father and work on our relationship to power.
The story of the Nemean lion is clearly a tailing of a much older story that involves the wild God Dionysus and his rock and roll ways. Dionysus is the God of the Grape, Wine, and the Wild. He is described as a “foreign” God meaning that he was not Greek originally and most likely much older. He is also a dying God, one who dies back and then resurrects again each year, just as the grapes and other greeneries do. In the legends that surround Dionysus we see a powerful and charismatic deity who is charming and persuasive, especially to women.
Flirtation, charm, enthusiasm, and fun are all classic traits that Leo shares with the God of the Grape. But Dionysus was not interested in women in a sexual manner for the most part, he was interested in having a party and the more influential the people who showed up were, the better. In this way too Leo is invoked, for as Leo situates us with respect to our personal power one of the natural questions that comes up is where do I, and where do I not, have influence?
Dionysus was strongly associated with the Lion and is often depicted wearing a Lion skin (and little else). Cut to the tale of the Nemean Lion – a Lion who held women captive in order to persuade their men to come and attempt to rescue them, and then, when the men did arrive, would devour them.
In actual history the rites that honored Dionysus were in many cases open only to women and men were strictly prohibited from participating. One notable exception to this are the tragic and comedic dramas that were performed in Athens every year as part of the rites in honor of Dionysus. Leo, of course, is the sign most strongly associated with the theatrical arts.
The Nemean Lion was defeated by Hercules and the women were set free, but in a curious move, Zeus, the headsman of the Gods (and the father of Dionysus), elevated the Lion into the heavens and created a constellation of him. Some say this was to honor the heroic feat of Hercules but others find this move to be telling that the Nemean Lion was a stand in for Dionysus – a God who wielded a very different kind of power, just as Leo can.
by Sara Magnuson
Lion – King of the Jungle. Except Lions don’t really live in the jungle, but we’ll get to that.
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 at 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 best 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 this heavenly body 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.
- You want to cultivate a sense of power and authority.
- You desire to shine bright and bold!
- You are ready to take your creative life and vision seriously.
- You wish to bring more luxury and quality into your life.
- You need more fun!
- You wish to express yourself more sincerely and authentically.
- You are ready for the spotlight.
- You are excited to bring more play into your life.
- You need more enthusiasm in your life.
- You would like to take more care with your physical appearance.
- You want to associate with power brokers and influential people.
- You want more passion!
- Arrogance – There is a fine line between Pride and Arrogance and Leo often has trouble spotting exactly where that line is. This is a wonderful area of the chart to work with when you need to develop a sense of healthy pride and ownership, but watch out for that pride turning into the kind of arrogance that can result in the loss of friends, allies, and so much more.
- Selfishness – Wherever Leo occurs in your chart is a place where you are very much meant to be seen and heard. Well and good but this can easily turn into a feeling that you and ONLY you are the figures that matter. Leo rules the heart of the body so it is a good idea to keep it firmly in mind that when we come from our heart we make room for everyone and nip any selfish “me and only me” attitudes in the bud.
- Superficiality – Leo can encourage us to take more pride in our personal experience – to look and feel glamorous (whatever that means to you). When we are in the high Leo vibe we often love to get shiny jewelry, a new hairdo, and some nice makeup. There is nothing wrong with that but Leo does well to remember that outer appearance and inner essence really are two different things, they can speak to each other, but don’t mistake one for the other.
Leo, the Lion, shows up in everyone’s chart – there is no such thing as “I don’t have Leo” because it is a cluster of stars in the sky and it is always there. Wherever Leo occurs in your chart these questions will help you get to know it better.
- What is my relationship to power and authority?
- What is the realm that I “rule” over?
- Where do I have a special ability to carry more influence and clout?
- What is the role of play in my life?
- Where do I love to spoil myself?
- What have I learned from my relationship to my father?
- What luxury am I ready to indulge in?
- What am I creating?
Active Imagination Journey:
Ground, Center, and Anchor in the ways that feel good and right to you.
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel that you are standing in a great savanna under the blazing sun. The light around you is golden and the sun’s warmth feels good on your skin and a soft breeze blows through your hair.
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel the golden light all around you and the beat of your own heart. As you are ready, see, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel the appearance of a great golden Lion that is running towards you in time with your own heart’s rhythm. Affirm and acknowledge that the proud beast means you no harm.
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel its golden presence and it comes ever closer to you. When you are ready look into its tawny eyes and feel its hot breath on your skin. Affirm and acknowledge that you have come to this place at this time to learn a new teaching about your life, one that is gifted to you from the stars; you have come to encounter the celestial Lion, Leo.
Acknowledge that it does not matter where Leo occurs in your chart or whether you were born under this Sun sign or not – we all have this constellation present in some portion of our natal chart and so we can all learn from it.
As you are ready, close your eyes and take a deep breath in. See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel, the presence of the Lion before you. Affirm that its powerful form is part of its message. Note what the initial message is for you at this time.
When you are ready, breathe in a blessing on yourself and your Lion familiar, exhaling in gratitude.
Then, ask the Lion what you need to know about power and creativity right now.
Listen to the answers you receive and it begins to lick your palm with its sandpaper tongue.
Affirm and acknowledge the answers and, as you are ready, ask the Lion any other questions you have at this time.
Take time to listen with care.
Then, as you are ready, breath a blessing onto the Lion’s face and then see, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel as it retreats back into the tall grasses. Affirm and acknowledge the blessing you have received.
As you are ready, bring awareness back to your present place here and now, and then set about your work of claiming your deep power once more.
Altar and 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 ok 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 re-light 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 the authors:
“Leo Major and Leo Minor,” plate 20 in Urania’s Mirror, a set of celestial cards accompanied by A familiar treatise on astronomy … by Jehoshaphat Aspin. London. Astronomical chart, 1 print on layered paper board : etching, hand-colored. 1825.
Credner, Till. Photography of the constellation Leo, the lion. 28 March 2004.
“Antalya Archaeological Museum. Ancient Roman sarcophagus (2nd century AD): Heracles fighting the Nemean lion.” Photograph by Sauber, Wolfgang. 2 April 2010.
Pluck, Kevin. Lion (Panthera leo) lying down in Namibia. 26 July 2004.
Keats, Derek. African lion, Panthera leo at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape, South Africa. 21 April 2017.