In the Constellation of Leo we meet the Nemean Lion that Hercules encountered in one of the most well known of all his 12 Tasks. By the time of the Roman Empire there were no lions in Greece, so it was assumed that there were never any. In ancient times however lions did roam the Greek countryside, but by Roman times they had been hunted into extinction.
Hercules was the son of Zeus by a mortal lover by the name of Alcmene. Hera, Zeus’ long suffering wife was jealous of Hercules, the result of her husband’s adultery and so submitted Hercules to terrible ordeals. At one point she drove him mad and in that state Hercules murdered his own wife and children. To atone for his sins Hercules went to the Oracle of Delphi who ordered that to atone he must perform twelve, almost impossible tasks in order to redeem himself, better known now as the ’12 Tasks’ or the ’12 Labours of Hercules’.
Thus Hercules set about to do what he could and to take responsibility for his actions, regardless of what or who caused him to act that way. The most famous of Hercules’ 12 Labours was the slaying of the Nemean Lion, an enormous beast that was terrorising the neighbourhood and depopulating it of people. To date all attempts to kill this lion had been unsuccessful, for its hide was impenetrable to stone, bronze or iron.
Hercules tracked the lion down in a cave, covered in blood from that day’s kill. He first shot arrows into the lion’s hide, but they simply bounced off. His sword simply bent and his club split on contact with the lion’s head. In the end Hercules used his intellect. He strung a net over the entrance to the cave and then when the lion was asleep, crept to the back of the cave. He then frightened the beast who ran at the entrance to the cave, only to be trapped within the net. Then with his bare hands Hercules strangled the lion and killed it. With the lion’s own claw, Hercules ripped the skin from the carcase and used its skin as protection for himself, wearing the skin and therefore making himself as invincible as the lion itself. The story of Nemean Lion is one of accepting responsibility for your own actions, regardless what caused you to act that way and despite the circumstances and of triumph by using your own skills and intellect. This is true courage. A similar story is found in other cultures, particularly in that of Gilgamesh, the Babylonian Sun God.
The story of how the Nemean Lion could not be killed with stone, bronze or iron weapons, but was eventually overcome using intellect is also said to represent the evolution of mankind, through the stone, bronze and iron ages and into the modern age, that of intellect and the age of reason. The lion is the most proud and passionate of all the beasts, the king of the beasts just as the Sun, ruler of Leo is king of the solar system. Since ancient times, long before the Greeks, the lion has been a symbol of masculine power, rulership and divinity. Even to this day, buildings of importance are adorned with lions on either side of the door or protecting the gates of estates.
On the Ninevite cylinders Leo the Lion is depicted in conflict with a bull. This is an ancient and archetypal symbol and represents the victory of light (Sun) over darkness (Moon). In the predawn of civilisation, religion was lunar based and feminine. At some point that switched to male domination and to solar based worship. The Egyptian King Necepsos and his philosopher Petosiris preached that at the time of creation the Sun rose near Denebola, in the Lion’s tail, a group of stars within the Constellation of Leo. The great Sphinx itself is said to be sculptured to represent the Constellation of Leo’s body and the head sculptured to represent the adjacent Constellation of Virgo. There is even a reference to Leo on an inscription on the walls of the Ramesseum at Thebes. Throughout the ages, the Constellation of Leo the Lion has always been connected with the Sun.
One story says that the Lion lived on the Moon and that he descended to earth one day as a shooting star. The Romans depicted the Lion as conquering death itself. The Chinese thought the lion took on human form and fought alongside them in their wars, only returning to the mount of Buddha Wen Shu, when victory was won. In Buddhism, the lion is the defender of the law. Hindu beliefs say that he is the destroyer of demons. The Sun moves through the Constellation of Leo at the height of Astrological summer and represents the abundant generosity of nature and life itself.
Much of the characteristics of Leo come from the beast itself. The lion is the most majestic of beasts and in the animal kingdom he reigns supreme, but it’s within its own environment that we find its characteristics. Lions are large, strong and fearless as well as being the deadliest of all the animal kingdom. Even humans bow down to its majesty. Lions are social animals. They are also ‘family’ orientated, living in prides which are made up of related females, their cubs and one or two males. The females do almost all of the hunting, while the males defend their territory against other males. Note, I said ‘other males’. They don’t defend their pride against other animals that may harm them, rather other males that may try and muscle in and take their place within the pride. Male lions are defensive and guard against other males, building up a trust with one or two other males, all of whom know their place. Females are the hunters, with powerful jaws, claws, teeth and muscles. They can bring down an animal that is larger than themselves, especially when the females of the pride gang up together, in an ultimate display of girl power.
The male lions spend a lot of time preening and making sure that they look good, for one of the main drives within the lion family is that of procreation. A male lion leaves the pride when it’s around 3 years of age, because once they reach mating age they’re seen as a threat by the existing adult males, so leave before this happens, to establish their own pride. Once they find fertile females, a male lion will allow one or two other males in, not out of good will but to maximise the chance of reproducing. For reproduction is what lions are all about and successful reproduction is dependent on the males’ ability to hold the pride together. All this sounds excessive, until you realise that it is estimated that it takes 3,000 copulations to produce one cub that survives infancy.
Leo’s ruling body isn’t a planet but the Sun itself, giver of all light and life. The Sun is the largest object in the solar system and if all the matter in the solar system, including planets, moons and asteroids were put together, it would only make up 0.2% of the Sun's total mass, with the Sun making up the remaining 99.8%. It’s interesting to note that of the 0.2% that the rest of the solar system makes up, Jupiter contains the majority of the rest. The Sun is not a solid body, nor does it move in a uniform direction. The outer layers rotate at different rates. At the equator the surface rotates once every 25.4 days, but at the poles, it rotates once every 36 days. This is because the Sun is made up of gas, but in its core it rotates as a solid mass. The Sun’s energy output is huge. It spews out 386 billion, billion megawatts of energy – a second, in nuclear fusion reactions. Each second 700,000,000 tons of hydrogen is converted into 695, 000,000 tons of helium and energy in the form of gamma rays. The Sun’s magnetic field is strong by terrestrial standards and complicated, with its magnetosphere extending well beyond Pluto.
As well as heat and light the Sun emits a stream of particles called the solar wind, which roar through the solar system at 450 km/sec. When these solar flares come near earth they have a dramatic effect, in the form of power surges, radio interference and in the form of beautiful and stunning ‘aurora borealis’, the Northern and Southern Lights. The Sun is about 4.5 billion years old and it will continue to radiate for another 5 billion years, with its luminosity doubling in that time. Eventually it will run out of hydrogen fuel, but not for billions of years.
The god that is most often associated with the Sun and with Leo is Helios, later known as Apollo, who was said to ride his chariot across the sky each day, dragging the Sun behind him. Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto, the ‘goddess of the night’. As a baby Apollo wasn’t nourished on his mother’s milk, but with nectar and ambrosia. He grew to manhood with amazing speed and it was said that he was still a newborn baby when he threw off his swaddling clothes and stood, in all his manly glory. The smith god Hephaistos gave Apollo a bow and arrow and with that he set off to find a place of sanctuary. He chose a gorge that was inhabited by a female serpent (Python), sent by Hera, to destroy Apollo. But Apollo killed the serpent and made the gorge his sanctuary and called it Delphi. This is the famous Oracle of Delphi, where Hercules himself went to have the massive weight of guilt lifted from his shoulders.
At birth Apollo was given the gifts of prophecy, music and knowledge and it was to the Oracle of Delphi that many of the gods, as well as mortals, came for guidance and prophecy. Once a year, in the autumn, Apollo left Delphi and travelled to the mysterious land of the Hyperboreans, where he could enjoy eternal light, for Apollo doesn’t endure the dark days of winter. In fact he was the enemy of darkness. He also had the power to lift the burden of guilt and shame from men, driving away illness, sadness and internal shadows.
Leo is the middle Sign of the summer triad, so is a fixed Sign. Here summer is at its height and the days are long. The earth is dry and often parched and the air itself is sometimes too hot to breathe. Energy is sapped and it is hard to work, so manual duties are light. The harvest will come next month. While the Sun is in Leo it is a time to have fun, play and celebrate, not for hard work, which is the domain of Virgo. Nature itself is celebrating in an array of colour. Everything is full and ripe. The fruit will already have been picked, if not it will be lying plump upon the trees and vines. It is a time for enjoying the bounty of the land. Food and wine are abundant. With little hard labour needed, it’s a time to party and celebrate and to indulge. Dances and celebrations took place in the home and this was when couples had the time to court.
Finding a mate was important during this time, for once autumn arrived and then winter, survival itself depended on banding together in a family unit and life would move indoors. When the Sun was in Leo, love was in the air and so was optimism and warmth, as well as playfulness, creativity and music.
In Leo we find the most regal of all the Signs. Its symbol the Lion is not only the king of all the beasts but has been a symbol of power, kingship and divinity since antiquity. The lion was seen as majestic and empowering, just as the Sun, Leo’s ruling body. Leo is a Fire Sign and is the proudest of all the Signs.
From Hercules’ struggle and eventual victory over the Nemean Lion, Leos get their sense of individuality and personal power. It is a Sign of courage, independence and inner strength. Man made tools couldn’t kill this beast, Hercules had to do it with his own hands and his intellect, but then he was able to wear the spoils of his victory as protection. Hercules owned up to his mistakes instead of leaving them in the dark, where they could have destroyed his spirit. Leo represents light conquering dark in all its meanings.
Apollo, the Sun and Leo’s ruling god, was the god of prophecy, healing, knowledge and music. Even when the Python was sent to destroy him Apollo not only killed the beast but also installed female priestesses at Delphi and called them Pythoness’. Apollo represents a quality in Leo that doesn’t avoid darkness or problems, it overcomes them and wears them with pride, just as the Sun devours the darkness.
From both the creature, the lion and the season we find the aspect of love and courtship. Leo rules the 5th House and when a planet moves through this part of the chart, it is said to bring joy, laughter, pleasure and romance. A lion’s whole social structure is built around the concept of mating and reproduction. In the Season we find a time of year when it’s hot and languid. It is a season with few menial demands. The hard work of spring has born fruit that won’t be harvested until the Sun moves into Virgo. This is a time when love is able to bloom. This is also a time of year when food is plentiful and love is in the air. There is colour everywhere, as nature adorns itself in all its finery. These are all Leo qualities. This is a Sign of joy, colour, creativity, music and pleasure and of light over dark.