What Inclinations Leo’s Rays dispenseMarcus Manilius, Astronomica tr. Thomas Creech
Is quickly known, ’tis plain to Common Sense,
He makes Men Warm, their Passions quickly rais’d,
Like Boys soon angry, and as soon appeas’d:
But Plain and Honest all their Thoughts sincere;
Pure as the Sun, and like the Water clear.
- Element: Fire
- Modality: Fixed
- Ruler: The Sun
- Date: July 23 – August 22
- Symbol: Lion
For the first of his 12 labors, Hercules was tasked with slaying a ferocious lion terrorizing the hills of Nemea in the northwest of the Peloponnese. The lion’s hide was impervious to swords and arrows, so Hercules relied on brute force to overcome it. Blocking one of the entrances to its lair, he clubbed and strangled the beast before using one of its claws to skin it. Afterward, the hero wore the pelt as a cloak, benefitting from its supernatural strength. To commemorate this mythical feat, the ancient Greeks associated the constellation of Leo with the Nemean Lion.
First identified as early as 4,000 BC, the constellation of Leo has long been tied to the symbol of the Lion, appearing in cultures as diverse as those of India, Persia, and Syria. The Babylonians may have associated the star cluster with a great dog, or perhaps the Humbaba, the guardian of the cedar forest where the gods lived, slain by Gilgamesh. Both its prominence in important classical sun myths and its rulership over the hottest part of summer could serve as the reason for the sign being identified as the sole domicile of the Sun. Hot and dry, the part of the sky it ruled was seen as the antithesis of the wetness of its opposite sign, Aquarius.
Many ancient astrologers warned against any activity involving liquids – from the administering of medicines to sea travel – when either luminary was in the sign. The constellation’s main star, Regulus, was known as the “little king” by both the Babylonians and Renaissance polymath Nicolaus Copernicus. Once the brilliant marker of the summer solstice and one of the Royal Stars of Ancient Persia—the Watcher of the North—it is now one of the faintest first-magnitude stars in the sky.
The fixed fire sign of Leo, as the domicile of the Sun, best represents both the life-giving and destructive qualities of the diurnal luminary. Unlike the flash-in-the-pan nature of cardinal Aries or the wandering wildfire of Sagittarius, Leo is the everlasting flame, burning bright and steady during the hottest part of the year. Their fixed nature translates into a potentially rigid view of life, a moral sense that can easily trend toward the idealistic or dogmatic.
Less impulsive than the other fire signs, Leo is nonetheless choleric, its hot and dry nature giving way to a temperament inclined to charisma, anger, and enthusiasm alike. Just as the Sun emits its rays, Leonine energy is primarily directed outward; even for the more introverted Leo, self-expression and the capacity to stand out become primary drives. And, whether it is subtly or boldly expressed, many are drawn to the charismatic shine of natives born under this sign.
Leo’s glyph represents the mane and tail of the lion, and some of the sign’s significations align with the characteristics long associated with the animal. The King of Cats remains a potent symbol of pride, majesty, and power, although it is important to note that in reality lions tend to be scavengers or opportunistic hunters—and, tellingly, female lionesses typically do most of the heavy lifting—as the animals care little for the morals humans have associated with them.
Using the imagery of butchers, Manilius identifies a cruel streak or predatory instinct in this bestial sign, although he is quick to note that this bend toward violence is without malice. Always ready to protect their pride or that of their loved ones, the Lion can be devastating in its response to a perceived threat, and any victory that is not total may feel like a defeat.
Typical of felines and the buoyancy of fire signs, the Leonine native prefers high places. Another key metaphor for understanding the Leo archetype is, in fact, the ruler. Think of the kings and queens of fairytales: the good are magnanimous, dignified, and proud, while the bad are haughty, self-important, or even despotic. The ruler, however, draws power from recognition.
Some Leos may succumb to vanity and associate with people clearly beneath them, or those wily enough to shower them with the right kind of flattery. Like most cats, Leos like to be petted and are prone to favoritism. The poorly adjusted Leo might be bullying or condescending if they feel their position is threatened. They may resort to pettiness or sensationalism to secure the recognition in life they feel they deserve, be it positive or negative. At the same time, their legendary pride is easily bruised, and they will avoid at all costs being made a fool of.
Given the right respect, however, Leonine natives are generous and broad-minded, as quick to reciprocate compliments as they would be to respond to a perceived insult. Their optimism and innate sense of self free them from pettiness, granting them the sense that everything will work out for the best. Leos have a reputation for pampering themselves and can be extravagant or ostentatious. They feel they deserve the best and will act accordingly. Leo on a house cusp represents the area of life where the native may hope to exert their will as the expression of their unique self. Even Leo natives who have shaken off the need to be the center of attention need a kingdom of their own where they can reign supreme.
Both the giving and receiving of attention are of prime importance to the Leo native. In contrast to its opposite sign of Aquarius, concerned with the collective will, the main focus of the Lion is discovering how the individual can make a unique and important contribution to their world. Despite the stereotype, this fixation on attention does not necessarily result in egotistical show-stealers.
The Leo in any group might be the one in the spotlight, whether advertently or inadvertently, but just as often they are the ones cheering others on, encouraging them to reach their full potential, or making sure everyone heard that clever joke from that one friend who has a wonderful sense of humor but an unfortunate habit of mumbling. The Lion hates to be ignored and will make sure those that are important to them are always heard. In the film of their own life, however, they will always play the starring role.
The Leonine quest for self-expression may manifest in leadership roles, in the literal spotlight (Leos, like Pisces, are often supremely interested in the drama of life), in managerial or marketing roles, or even in supporting a friend when the going gets rough. Like the other fire signs, Leo natives excel at throwing themselves fully into projects—and, thanks to the sign’s fixity, they have the follow-through to see projects to their completion. They are not easily discouraged or defeated and possess the enthusiasm needed to get others to believe in a project’s importance, even if the Leo does not fully believe it themselves.
They have the capacity to rise to almost any task and are ready for the responsibility of leadership. Their powers lie in command and delegation, however, and like other fire signs may falter when it comes to the nitty-gritty of how things really get done. However, this capacity to rise above is key for leadership, as getting bogged down in the details can derail as many plans as overconfidence.
Leo rules the heart and the spine, appropriately enough for a sign that is typically both upright and big-hearted. Beyond wild cats, the sign rules any animal associated with majesty, especially peacocks and swans. Leo natives, especially those with Leo rising, tend to make bold fashion statements and value crafting a distinctive style. Planets in Leo often represent the facets of an individual that demand or appreciate attention. The Lion must be an active player in whatever drama is unfolding before them, and appreciate seeing their contributions recognized. Mercury in Leo, for example, is bold and apologetic, whereas Venus in Leo may love being showered with attention – or having a partner they can show off. Like the Leo native themselves, these planets need self-confidence to present themselves positively.
From the intense flames of the sun and the ferocity of the lion to the regality of the fairy-tale ruler, Leo represents the highest expression of the individual self. The fixed heat of summer can be overbearing and choleric, but it supports both life and inspiration. Ultimately, every Leonine native is looking for a chance to shine, in their unique way, and those around them will be sure to benefit from their magnanimous rays.
- Manilius on the 12 signs, Jim Eshelman
- The Contemporary Astrologer’s Handbook, Sue Tompkins
- Christian astrology, William Lily
- Anthologies, Vettius Valens
- Introduction to Astrology, Abu Mashar
- Leo in Wikipedia
- Leo the Lion, Deborah Houlding
- Star lore of the Constellations, Leo the Lion, Deborah Houlding
Images on this page
- leo-the-lion-heni-sandoval: Heni Sandoval
- leo-month: Engraving by A. Collaert after Hans. Bol, 1585. | Public Domain Mark 1.0
- leo-iskandar: from ‘The book of birth of Iskandar” | CC BY 4.0 International
- leo-Mikalojus-1907: Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis | public domain
- leo-constellation-sidney-hall: Sidney Hall | CC0 1.0 Universal