Here be lions : an investigation into the origin, distribution, meaning and transformation of lion imagery

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2007
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. Access is restricted indefinitely. ----- This thesis looks at the history, evolution, transmission and transformation of lion imagery from its origins in the homelands of Asiatic lions, to its contemporary significance in global popular culture. The perspective is that of material culture studies, and makes use of extensive illustrative material. It includes the following hypotheses: • That lions have given us one of the most powerful and enduring cultural icons, central to the personal and national identity of many individuals and cultures. • That functioning on a multiplicity of conscious and unconscious levels, iconic objects such as lion images, incorporate dichotomies and polarities. • That lions are perceived as guarding and defining boundaries associated with transformative events, spaces and/or states (thresholds) and both challenge and participate in the moment of transformation. These boundaries may be physical or metaphysical, cultural, socio-political, public or personal, sacred or existential. • That Neolithic religions of the Near and Middle East, North India and the Mediterranean, originally associated lions with the goddess generically referred to as ‘Mistress of Animals’, and in this role they became associated with polarities - birth/death, sun/moon, sickness/healing, nurture/destruction, fire/water; as well as with the seasons, the zodiacal belt, and with the power of the elite. • That with the incursions of the Indo-Eurasian speakers, this association changed; initially through images/myths of confrontation between the goddess’ lions and the hero/demigod; then as a direct association between lion and (usually) male deity, leading to an association with status and the divine authority of kingship. • That lion imagery became associated with Zoroastrian/Mithraic and Judaeo-Christian-lslamic monotheisms, as well as with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, and in this way spread eastward along the Silk Road and westward with the Roman Empire reaching both China and Britain by the early 1st century. • That lion imagery became incorporated into the defining cultural icons of both China and Britain, becoming steadily more populist (while still retaining many of its complex associations) and taking on culturally specific forms such as European heraldry and the Chinese lion dance. • That with British and Chinese migration to Australia, lion imagery came as an important part of cultural ‘baggage’. • That the lion, both as paired lions delineating Chinatown spaces and as the lion dance, has become a deeply significant element in defining overseas Chinese identity. • That lion imagery continues to play an important role in the contemporary world, taking on global significance while retaining local meaning.
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