Denise Grobbelaar:

The White Lion

Jungian Analyst, Psychotherapist & Clinical Psychologist.

A beautiful numinous dream and subsequently two waking dream visits to the Timbavati, heartlands of the white lions, led me down a path of exploration into the symbolism of the white lion, equating it with Jung’s archetype of the Self. The white lion continues to appear in many of my dreams and waking images. It has become a powerful living symbol in my psyche, like a power animal in shamanic traditions.

Throughout the ages lions have held a special place as significant symbols for humans—from the earliest cave paintings to the gods of ancient Egypt. From the dawn of civilization there has been a special relationship between humans and lions. Within mythologies and cultural narratives around the world, lions are often portrayed as guardians and protectors of good. Most of the world’s great patriarchal religions have revered the lion and equated their spiritual founders to the lion. The Great Goddess is associated with lions or other big cats in many early cultures. Many ancient cultures considered the lion to be an embodiment of the God image in its association as a sacred solar animal symbol (Cirlot 1962). For example, the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, who is represented as a woman with the head of a lioness, is often depicted with the sun disk on her head, as was the Sun God, Ra (Graves 1968). The most famous and mysterious lion relic is the Great Sphinx, a remnant of ancient Egypt. The sphinx form was an important ancient Egyptian symbol, associated with the lion-headed solar goddess, Sekhmet, one of the oldest and most powerful deities in ancient Egypt (Guirand 1968). She was the goddess of war and destruction, but she was also the goddess of healing. This is an example of how the opposites are contained in a specific archetypal image—Sekhmet was a symbol of both destruction and renewal, ultimately in the service of restoring rightful order (Tucker 2001). (Read more about lion symbolism in my paper)

I believe that our interconnectedness with nature is an integral part of the archetype of the Self as we exist in a field of intelligence beyond our ego consciousness. For me, wilderness interwoven with humankind’s ancient lived experiences and evolutionary leaps, as an archetypal pattern of the soul, constitutes the bedrock of our consciousness. Nature is sacred and invaluable to the overall well-being of human beings. When we destroy nature and the nonhuman other, we in essence destroy ourselves. I believe that the white lion as symbol of the Self - and protector of consciousness and humanity - calls us to awareness of ecological balance and the imperative of a proper relationship with the Self as embodied in the natural world and the nonhuman other.

C. G. Jung saw our relationship with nature and all nonhuman others as essential to the development of consciousness and wholeness (Sabini 2001). He linked the loss of our mystical identity and the de-spiritualization of nature with the atrophy of our phylogenetic roots, or survival instincts, which have fallen back into the unconscious psyche. Jung stated that in the “civilization” process, we have increasingly divided our consciousness from the deeper instinctive strata of the human psyche” (1964, 36). Jung believed the malaise of modern society to be a consequence of an alienation from the two-million-year-old human being in us all, our archaic original nature. Meredith Sabini (2001) believes we have placed an artificial boundary between ourselves and other life forms, the nonhuman world, thus denying the interconnectedness that was always an important aspect among so-called primitive people, providing them with a deep sense of belonging. This estrangement from an emotional participation in nature has resulted in a fatal dissociation from the more instinctual aspects of our psyche.

Through my journey I became aware of the real plight of the white lions as well as of lions in general and the terrible practise of canned hunting. I believe that hunting animals in the wild was once a sacred ritualistic act of reverence toward the animal in the context of a respectful relationship with nature. Since we have disconnected from nature, hunting no longer carries this numinosity. In exploring the symbolism of the white lion, I arrived at the significant conclusion that canned hunting of this magnificent creature is nothing less than a desecration and cannibalization of the Self.

These are extracts from my paper “The White Lion as Symbol of the Archetype of the Self and the Cannibalization of the Self in Canned Hunting”, first published in the 2020 Spring Issue of the Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche. In 2023 it was reprinted in the book “The Spectre of the Other in Jungian Psychoanalysis Political, Psychological, and Sociological Perspectives”.

You are welcome to write to me for a free copy.