As a symbol, the lion has been a favorite subject prior to the Christian era as well as during the Middle Ages. As a result, there is some confusion regarding its symbolism in Freemasonry. The lion has in all ages been noted as symbol of strength and sovereignty. The "King of the Beasts," whose mighty roar brought fear to the hearts of all, was known and respect by many ancient cultures. The lion's head and mane were placed on many Egyptian hieroglyphs, idols, and the famous Sphinx, recognizing this animal as the ruler of the animal kingdom. Having the "heart of a lion" was, and is today, deemed an acknowledgment of strength and character. Medieval knights adorned their shields and coats of arms with representations of lions, lion's heads, manes, and paws. Richard, the Lion Hearted, and his famous shield of three lions are well documented, both in history and legend, signifying his sovereignty over England.
As a symbol, the Jews sometimes used the lion as an emblem of the Tribe of Judah as they expected the Messiah to descend from this tribe. This reference carried over to Christianity where the Lion of the Tribe of Judah refers to Jesus Christ, the Messiah. To the ancient craft, this symbolism was seen further in the death and the resurrection to life of man. Legend had that a lion's cub, or whelp, was born dead and brought to life by the roar of its sire. As such, the reference to the lion may be applied to the Messiah, who brought life and the light of immortality to the tribes of Israel, through the roar of God's word.
The Freemason is introduced to the symbolism of the lion's paw during the Master Masons degree during the portrayal of the Hiramic legend where the reference is to the spiritual resurrection and immortality. The symbolism of resurrection clearly is an important part of a Freemason's journey and quest for Light. In moving from darkness to Light, the Freemason recognizes his personal transformation and improvement, but the great step forward is made in the Third degree. From the hand of a trusted Brother one is raised to a higher level of spiritual understanding and with the strength so gained, may become a better man and Freemason.
Albert Pike, in his "Morals and Dogma", gives this interpretation of our legend, saying "The Lion of the House of Judah is the strong grip, never to be broken, with which Christ of the Royal Line of that House, has clasped to Himself the whole human race and embraces them in His wide arms as closely and affectionately as Brethren embrace each other on the five points of fellowship."
Applying this symbolism to the candidate, it means that he entered the Lodge as a natural man, lost in sin and spiritually buried. By the strong Grip of the Lion's Paw, he is raised again to a new life, or born again to spiritual righteousness, standing, again in a living perpendicular with a purified inner self accomplished through the direct action of the Redeemer, who was the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
Its connection in the legend of Masonry is that, as Solomon was the Chief of the Tribe of Judah, the symbolism of the Lion represents the achievement of that Tribe in producing the Christ who brought all of us the promise of light and the immortality of our soul.
Just as Solomon built the beautiful Temple unto the Lord, so the candidate is raised to the living perpendicular of righteousness by the Lion's Grip. Symbolically he has been resurrected by restoring the purity of his soul. The candidate now bears the responsibility of building his spiritual temple here on earth which will be worthy of eternal life.
It is a lesson to each of us to so live our lives here on earth that, as Mackey said, "when man shall have passed the gates of life and have yielded to the inexorable fiat of death, he shall be raised, at the omnific Word of the Grand Master of the Universe, from time to eternity; from the tomb of corruption to the chambers of hope? From the darkness of death to the celestial beams of life; and that his disembodied spirit shall be conveyed as near to the Holy of Holies of the Divine Presence as humanity can never approach to Deity."