This analysis of the 1994 film “The Lion King” establishes the esoteric symbolic meaning of its story using Mark Brahmin’s REM theory. An interesting and uncommon aspect of the movie, as I contend, is the inextricable and deliberate use of biology principles as part of its symbolism.
I dedicate this article to my dad for Father’s Day 2023. The 1st time I watched this with him as a young child is when he revealed to me that, like Mufasa, he will likewise not be here forever. This is how I learned of death and we both shed a tear over this revelation. This is a very fond memory of mine.
1. Name Meanings
I begin with the relevant character names. Their meanings alone are highly informative insofar as establishing the consumer and the consumed:
- Mufasa: means “King” in Swahili. One might speculate that the name may allude to “my father”. Such allusions are not an uncommon practice in works of REM; e.g. Darth Vader alludes to Dark Father. Mufasa is identified as an eldest son – an Indo-European identifier.
- Saraabi: means “mirage” in Swahili and is a reference to the Hebrew “Sharab” which means burning or scorching heat. If we follow the Hebrew nomenclature applied to the words “Israel” and “Israeli” (i.e. “of Israel”), we can establish that “Sharabi”, therefore, means “of that which burns” or “of scorching heat” and, by extension, “of fire”. This is a reference to Semitic fire gods such as Yahweh who appears to Moses as a consuming fire.
- Sarafina: means “bright star” in Swahili and “burning ones” in Hebrew, i.e. that which is consumed by the fire (Yahweh). This symbolically identifies her as an Indo-European. Her name is related to the Hebrew “seraphim” which refers to burning celestial beings. It is disputed whether they are angels, but what is agreed upon is that they are symbolically Indo-European (as they are being consumed by fire) and that they surround the throne of Yahweh making Yahweh their king. The following is neither here nor there with respect to this analysis but, given what is known about the seraphim, I hypothesize that they are a biblical reference to the Greco-Roman pantheon. Originally, the Gods (celestial beings) surrounded the throne of Jupiter. I suspect that the Seraphim comprise a neo-pantheon where Jupiter has been overthrown by Yahweh and the Gods are the seraphim being burnt and consumed by the fire that is Yahweh. If true, this may represent an emasculation of Jupiter and his pantheon.
- Rafiki: means “friend” and essentially plays the role of a Rabbi, as evidenced by his Rabbinical practice of spreading anointing oil upon baby Simba’s forehead. The purpose of this practice is to sanctify, cleanse, or make holy the person in question. Biblically, cleanliness is understood as that which is suitable for sacrifice to Yahweh.
- Simba: means “Lion” in Swahili. He is the symbolically admixed son of the Semitic Saraabi and the Indo-European Mufasa.
- Nala: means “gift” in Swahili and this will be relevant to the symbolic interpretation. She is the symbolically pure-blooded Indo-European daughter of Sarafina and Mufasa. Whereas her paternal lineage is omitted from the movie, I demonstrate in this analysis that her paternity can be definitively established by means of lion biology.
- Scar: concord in the Hebrew bible with “tsarabeth” or its masculine form “tsarab” which means scab or scar of a sore. Its literal use is meant as “burning” or “scorching”. This, like Saraabi, is a reference to Semitic fire gods. In addition, Scar identifies himself as being “genetically different” from Mufasa and describes himself as being physically weaker than him but more intelligent or wiley – a clearly Semitic archetype.
It is also of note that, in Hebrew, the proper name “Ariel” means lioness (Ari) of El (Yahweh) and the common word “ariel” means hearth or fireplace. Thus, Ariel is yet another symbol of the Indo-European as burnt offering.
2. Lion Biology
The story is set around a rocky mountain called “Pride Rock”. This is a real place in Hell’s Gate (Kenya) and houses a very specific subspecies of lion known as Panthera Leo Melanochaita of the Masai variety. Masai lions are unique in that their males possess tufts of hair on their elbows and that the size of those tufts are positively related with testosterone levels. Like the size of their tufts, the general darkness of the male Masai lion’s mane is also positively related with testosterone levels. From this alone, we can establish that the Semitic Scar is the alpha male of Pride Rock and that his claim to the throne is biologically legitimate. It will later be relevant that while Scar is the darkest and hairiest, the Indo-European Mufasa (unlike the Semitic Simba) has no elbow hair whatsoever which indicates that he is the meekest of the three – a clear use of biological symbolism to convey a message of Indo-European emasculation.
Mane darkness indicates nutrition and testosterone and influences both female choice and male-male competition. Mane length signals fighting success and only appears to influence male-male assessment. Dark-maned males enjoy longer reproductive life-spans and higher offspring survivalWest PM, Packer C. Sexual selection, temperature, and the lion’s mane. Science. 2002 Aug 23;297(5585):1339-43. doi: 10.1126/science.1073257. PMID: 12193785.
In general, lions are synchronously polygynous; this means that a few alpha males live as part of a harem of females and all other males live a life of involuntary celibacy either in solitude or male-only coalitions (with their brothers and cousins). Lions have evolved such that when males reach the age of puberty, the alpha male of the harem exiles them from the pack. This is precisely what Scar did to Simba and what Mufasa would have done had he remained king. This is an evolutionary adaptation meant to prevent incest and male-male competition with the alpha male.
Moreover, of the lions which are exiled, a very small minority of them will successfully invade another pack as Scar conquered Pride Rock and as Simba did the same, later on. Upon invasion, the new alpha male kills all of the males, in which case, the females (many of whom are the mothers of the murdered sons) almost immediately become sexually aroused by the new alpha male. This counter-intuitive behavior is an evolutionary adaptation which ensures that the mothers pass on their genes. In any case, the implication that Scar inherits the females of the pack is yet another symbol for the emasculation of Mufasa. Furthermore, the fact that Scar exiled Simba instead of killing him was actually an act of mercy. Symbolically, Scar’s mercy can be understood as a clemency offered to a fellow Semitic figure.
3. The Story
The movie begins with animals of Mufasa’s kingdom gathering around Pride Rock for what is ultimately a religious ceremony. Fariki rubs a nectarine or fruit juice-like mixture on Simba’s forehead which is a clear reference to the rabbinical practice of rubbing anointing oil on the forehead of a priest or king. This explicitly religious practice takes place on an elevated structure within Pride Rock and, thus, that structure can be understood as an altar.
On that altar, Fariki then lifts Simba unto the air to which the animals respond with excitement and hope. This response along with the fact that the animals are gathered there for this occasion evidences that Simba represents something more than just an infant to these animals. Later, we will see that their behavior is explained by the fact that Simba’s role in this story is that of a Messianic figure who brings salvation.
In the very next scene, Scar is seen aloofly lying down and playing with food as he ponders of how unfair life is with his chief grievance being that he will never be king. He is then interrupted by Mufasa’s messenger Zazu who informs Scar that Mufasa is on his way and implies that Mufasa is unhappy with Scar’s absence from the ceremony: “you’d better have a good excuse”, says Zazu. Distracted by Zazu, Scar’s lunch (a mouse) escapes: “Now, look, Zazu. You made me lose my lunch.”
This response is explicitly passive aggressive. Not only does Scar not share the significance of Simba’s ceremony as the other animals do, he implies with his response that his immediate lunch is of greater importance than Mufasa’s concern. Firstly, this scene establishes a religious / tribal division between Scar and the rest of the animals. Secondly, it also establishes Scar’s contempt for Mufasa and his authority. Zazu then attempts to warn Scar of the consequences of his insubordination in light of Mufasa’s fury, Scar responds mockingly: “Oh, I quiver with fear!” Here, the Indo-European Mufasa is being tamed and ridiculed.
When Mufasa finally appears, Scar grants us insight into his worldview: “Why, if it isn’t my big brother descending from on high to mingle with the commoners”, says Scar as he shows Mufasa his back. From this, we are to understand the religious dichotomy that will dominate the entire movie. On the one hand, we have Mufasa and his followers who support the dominion of an Indo-European royalty – an elitist worldview. Opposed to them is Scar who rejects Mufasa’s elitism in favor of populism – a slave morality.
Unhappy with Scar’s nonchalant attitude, Mufasa warns him not to turn his back to which Scar retorts: “Perhaps you shouldn’t turn your back on me”. Enraged, Mufasa correctly interprets this as a challenge but Scar, being the wily and duplicitous character that he is, preserves the underhandedness of his aggression: “I wouldn’t dream of challenging you. […] As far as brains go, I got the lion’s share, but when it comes to brute strength, I’m afraid I’m at the shallow end of the gene pool”. Here, we our to understand that Scar self-identifies as being genetically different and, symbolically, as a different racial type than Mufasa.
3.3 Simba’s Education
At the peak of Pride Rock, Mufasa and Simba sit for a father-son talk. “One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here and will rise with you as the new king”, says Mufasa. As this movie progresses, we come to understand this lesson as more than just education, but a religious messianic prophecy.
In the next scene, Scar baits Simba into venturing beyond the borders of Mufasa’s kingdom and into a dark elephant graveyard – an anarchic no man’s land roamed by resentful discontents as represented by hyenas. As Simba and Nala are being hunted by hyenas, Mufasa intervenes to save them.
Soon after, he gives Simba another religious sermon. “Simba, let me tell you something that my father told me”, says Mufasa; we are to understand that what follows is an ancestral transmission of information – information which Mufasa’s forefathers felt is relevant for their offspring and descendants to know for their benefit. He continues: “Look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars. […] So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.” From this, we can establish coherent elements of an implied religion, namely that of ancestor worship and the continuity between mortal life and the pantheon that is the stars.
3.4 Revolt of the Underclass
Meanwhile in the elephant graveyard, the hyenas share their grievances as they pertain to Mufasa and lion supremacy, unaware of Scar’s presence. “Oh, surely we lions are not all that bad”, interrupts Scar. Startled, the hyenas respond with a sense of relief: “Oh, Scar. It’s just you. We were afraid it was somebody important. […] You know, like Mufasa.” Evidently, Scar is displeased with their reaction has he labels them idiots.
Perhaps with the intention of defusing the situation, the hyenas flatter Scar: “Now, you, Scar, I mean, you’re one of us. I mean, you’re our pal”. “Charmed”, responds an unimpressed Scar. The hyenas continue: “I like that. He’s not king, but he’s still so proper. […] Hey, did you bring us anything to eat, Scar, old buddy, old pal?”, thereby revealing an insincerity to their flattery which we can assume Scar to be cognizant of based on his demeanor. In turn, Scar acquiesces to their request as he throws them some meat, but not without revealing the transactional nature of his relationship with the hyenas and that the hyenas’ hunt for Simba and Nala was a premeditated plot which Scar was a part of.
Looking to excuse their failure, the hyenas ask: “Well, you know, it wasn’t exactly like they was alone, Scar. […] What were we supposed to do? Kill Mufasa?”. “Precisely”, confirms Scar. The musical which follows fully reveals Scar’s master plan – a populist revolution. More importantly, this is the beginning of the sunset (the decline of the Indo-European Apollo), as predicted by the messianic prophesy in Simba’s first religious sermon. Conversely, Scar’s revolution symbolically represents the rise of the moon, i.e. the Semitic Yahweh. Therefore, it is not coincidental that the implied hierarchy of Scar’s regime is with himself at the top and only a crescent moon (Yahweh) behind him. In Scar’s own words:
- “I know that your powers of retention are as wet as a warthog’s backside. But thick as you are, pay attention. My words are a matter of pride.” Here, Scar identifies the underclass he is speaking to. He makes no qualms about letting his contempt for the underclass be known. He demands their attention because he says so thereby implying himself as their authority.
- “It’s clear from your vacant expressions, the lights are not all on upstairs. But we’re talking kings and successions. Even you can’t be caught unawares.” This is a warning to the underclass to be on the right side of this conflict.
- “So prepare for the chance of a lifetime, be prepared for sensational news.” the Semitic Scar lures the underclass with a gospel (good news) in exactly the same way the Semitic Jesus did.
- “A shiny new era is tiptoeing nearer. […] I know it sounds sordid but you’ll be rewarded when, at last, I am given my dues and injustice deliciously squared. Be prepared.” Scar reveals the gospel to be one of salvation. The hyenas must prepare themselves for what is to come (the death of Mufasa).
- “Stick with me and you’ll never go hungry again.” A universal message of all populist ideologies, be they communism or christianity.
Scar then initiates the “coup of the century” by inviting Simba to wait for Mufasa on a rock located in a valley which wildebeest stampede through, in reaction to the threat of Scar’s hyenas. Looking to save his son from the juggernaut, Mufasa dives in and successfully brings his son to safety. However, Mufasa is that blasted back into the stream of wildebeest; looking to save himself, he manages to climb up the valley but calls for Scar’s help to make it all the way up. “Long live the king”, proclaims Scar as he throws Mufasa down to his death.
This is when Yahweh rises and ushers in a new era for Pride Rock: “out of the ashes of this tragedy, we shall rise to greet the dawning of a new era in which lion and hyena come together in a great and glorious future”. Again, we must pay special attention to Scar’s choice of words because what rises from ash is fire, i.e. Yahweh, and he is the new era represented, once again by a crescent moon, above Pride Rock.
The term “new era” is analogous to a Ragnarök or a biblical post-messianic “new era”. One of the Semitic gods within the Roman pantheon is Saturn (whose Greek equivalent is “Kronos”, meaning “time”).
By Saturn they seek to represent that power which maintains the cyclic course of times and seasons. This is the sense that the Greek name of that god bears, for he is called Kronos, which is the same as Chronos or Time. Saturn for his part got his name because he was “sated” with years; the story that he regularly devoured his own children is explained by the fact that time devours the course of the seasons and gorges itself “insatiably” in the years that are past. Saturn was enchained by Jupiter to ensure that his circuits did not get out of control, and to constrain him with the bonds of the stars.Quintus Lucilius Balbus. Recorded by Marcus Tullius Cicero and translated by P.G. Walsh, De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), Book II, Part ii, Section c. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 69-70
Therefore, time (fire / Yahweh) consumed an Indo-European era (ash) from which a new one rises (fire / Yahweh). We can clearly see here the maintenance of the temporal cycle, mentioned by Balbus in the quote above. This temporal cycle may be metaphorically alluded to in the term “cirlce of life” which is used throughout the movie.
3.5 The Desert
Due to Scar’s gaslighting, Simba comes to believe that he is responsible for Mufasa’s death. As such, he exiles himself to the desert where he lives the “Hakuna Matata” (worry-free) lifestyle for a number of years. The desert is a biblical symbol of consumption, as the Hebrew word for “desert” is the same as “mouth”. Where Indo-European figures find themselves in the desert, they are the resource to be consumed.
Yahweh’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation who had done evil in His sight was gone.Numbers 32:13
In the case where a Semitic figure, such as Jesus or Simba, is to be found in the desert, we are to understand its aridness as a draught of reproductive resources, namely of Indo-European blood (whereas fertile soil represents a desirable Indo-European female).
While in the wilderness, Simba grows into adulthood and, ostensibly by chance, encounters a now-adult Nala who is in search of food. Learning of the starvation and suffering at Pride Rock, Simba contemplates his return. While wandering on the open plane, Mufasa appears in the sky and tells Simba to remember who he is: Mufasa’s son and the one true king. “You must take your place in the circle of life”, says Mufasa.
Finally, Simba agrees to return and face his past. It is likely that Mufasa’s appearance as the father in the sky is a metaphor for the Indo-European Deus Pater (Sky Father), the ancestral God of the Yamnaya and the cultural precursor to Zeus and Jupiter in the Greek and Roman pantheons respectively.
3.6 Simba’s Return
Simba returns and challenges Scar upon the altar at Pride Rock, at which point lightning (presumably from Deus Pater) strikes the bushes at the base of Pride Rock thereby sparking a fire; reminder that Yahweh appeared to Moses as a burning bush. As Simba wins the challenge against Scar, the fire erupts and consumes the entirety of Pride Rock. Simba and his pack are left unscathed, just like the many examples of Jews escaping furnaces.
You shall build the altar of Yahweh your God with uncut stones and offer upon it burnt offerings to Yahweh your God.Deuteronomy 27:6
Predictably, the battle between Scar and Simba ends exactly as Yahweh commands with a burnt offering which ushers in… a new era (under Simba’s rule); thus, the fire that consumes Pride Rock is symbolically synonymous to time itself. Hence, the original messianic prophecy has been fulfilled. The great trickery of this movie is that the conflict is between two Semitic types – a caduceus (false dichotomy). Yahweh is victorious either way.