The Lion's Paw
An important form found among Freemasons is the "Lion's Paw," or grip formed by placing the fingers in the form of a cat's paw. This grip, and its attendant reference to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, has significance in several respects, both legendary and allegorical. Its message of transition and everlasting life are a critical part of the Third Degree.
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.