Lots of posts on Twitter about #WorldLionDay. It’s a conversation that offers a powerful and compelling forum to denounce hunting the majestic animals as trophies.
My musings about lions don’t stop there, however.
Lions played a major role in ancient Mesopotamia throughout the empires. Sometimes they were viewed as gods. Sometimes a man’s head was featured above a lion’s muscled form.
The fierce creatures also were hunted, as seen in this possible depiction of the ancient superhero Gilgamesh:
Or, they’re depicted as adversaries during a witch hunt defeated by powerful kings, like this relief with the Assyrian monarch Ashurbanipal:
In “The Gate of Aleph,” the lions are heavenly throne guardians known as the Four Faces, and they’re more powerful than humans. They’re not hunted. They hunt. As forces of Aleph, they come to the aid of Shammah and his friends in the final battle:
The sky parted. Chariots with lion-faced steeds–similar to the ones Shammah guided that night when he appeared from the sky before Tamiym– stood next to them. The scents of almond oil, myrrh, and flowers filled the air. The air smelled like a garden.
The biblical book of Ezekiel inspired the characters. The first chapter of the book describes a vision the prophet Ezekiel experienced while in Babylon. He sees “four living creatures, entities that possess the face of an ox, an eagle, a lion and a man. Commentaries describe the entities as descriptions of God’s nature.
In Revelation 4, four living creatures are mentioned again as singing “holy, holy, holy.” They could be the same creatures witnessed by Ezekiel.
The Four Faces appear in “The Gate of Aleph” in a similar manner to the biblical references, but they war as lions seeking to free the City of Kings from the Mikana, half-man, half-dog giants led by the commander Anash:
The four lions reappeared in midair over Shammah. In an instant, the lions became the Four Faces. Unhooded, their quartet of faces–lion, ox, eagle, and man–shifted with speed, fury washing over each visage as they loomed over Anash.
Shammah tried to catch Peleg’s attention. There was no need. Peleg stared open-mouthed as the creatures flexed their bodies with a power that rocked ground beneath them.
“You trespass in this city, Anash,” the Four Faces said in unison.
“You’re wrong. Aikah is dead,” Anash shouted. “We kept the blood oath Aikah made with Livnath. We didn’t attack the City of Kings. Now that he’s dead, the city is ours.”
“Aikah killed the prophet in Nifla as Livnath demanded in her blood oath. But Aikah didn’t kill the prophet’s son,” the Four Faces said.
The hulking Anash trembled beneath the amber beads coating his body like tiny pearls, His eyes widened with horror as he stared at Shammah, who fought to stand.
Already powerful, already magnificent in appearance as four-featured creatures or as lions, the Four Faces in “The Gate of Aleph” carry cool cards as characters because they worship Aleph, the Existing One of the mysterious mountain in Seth.
Making the Four Faces even cooler is the fact that these strong and mighty creatures may war as lions, but they sing in humility to Aleph, the Creator of all lions forever.