The labrys is less popular now that it once was, even though its connection to lesbianism and women began thousands of years ago. The labrys is basically a double bladed axe or hatchet which can be used for both harvesting and as a weapon. The first labrys is believed to have been created over 8,000 years ago. It was favored by tribes of female Amazons that roamed the area around what is now Kazakstan in central Asia. It has also been linked to the early town of Catal Huyuk in what is now Turkey around 6,000 BCE as a tool for clearing ground. Catal Huyuk was a peaceful town which worshipped the Earth goddess and prospered without conflict for 1,500 years.
An ancient civilization on the island Crete in the Mediterranean Sea also held the labrys in high standing. Little was known about the Minoan civilization (it lasted from around 3,000 to 1,100 BCE) except myths until archaeologists began excavating relics from Crete’s pre-Minoan era around the beginning of the 20th century. The most amazing discovery on the island was the palace of Knossos, believed to be the royal palace, along with a 35,000 square foot maze of rooms and hallways. This maze was prolifically decorated with a double-axe motif, especially the principal reception room. The term labyrinth is derived from labrys. This site is believed to be linked to the myth of the minotaur.
The Minoan society, although possessing both a king and queen near its end, was predominantly matriarchal. Their religion centered around a bare-breasted Great Goddess who is believed to have been a protector of women. This goddess is often shown holding snakes in her hands, a symbol of fertility and agriculture, and surrounded by female worshippers with double axes which were used for tilling soil. Preserved frescos from the time period also tend to show more girls than boys, usually in such dangerous sports as bull jumping (bulls were also a reoccurring theme in Minoan art).
The double axe quickly spread across Europe, becoming popular with the Etruscans, the Gauls, the Druids, and the Scandinavians. The labrys kept its religious connotation even when it was adopted by other cultures, having been scratched into a good many surfaces during pagan times. When the Roman Empire came along, the plow replaced the labrys as far as farming went, but it remained a formidable weapon. The labrys began to be seen less and less religiously, and soon took on the name “battleaxe” instead. From there it was passed through successive generations of war-torn Europe until it was replaced in popularity by the sword.
The labrys was resurrected as a female symbol in the 1970s by a number of lesbian and feminist organizations. It’s popularity grew when articles about its origins were published in feminist literature of the time. Today, the labrys has been superseded by other symbols, but can still be seen adorning jewelry and women’s specialty stores.