Ariadne's Tribe: Minoan Spirituality for the Modern World

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan family of deities. Ariadne's Tribe is an independent spiritual tradition that brings the deities of the ancient Minoans alive in the modern world. We're a revivalist tradition, not a reconstructionist one. We rely heavily on shared gnosis and the practical realities of Paganism in the modern world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

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The Secret Identity of the Labrys

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

When I tell people I follow a Minoan spiritual path, one comment that regularly comes up involves “those massive double-axe weapons.” Sometimes Wiccans will compare the labrys to the athame or the coven sword – a strong, sharp weapon that’s meant to signify the practitioner’s will, strength, passion and so on.

But that’s not an accurate comparison. Yes, there have been cultures that used double-bladed axes as weapons, and very effective ones at that. And we know the Minoans made all sorts of bronze weapons for export.

But if you look carefully at the actual labyrses found in the ruins on Crete, the first thing you notice is that they’re incredibly flimsy. They're made of sheet metal (bronze, silver, or gold) that’s not very sturdy and in many cases isn't much thicker than tinfoil. Many of them have bent and crumpled over time simply from the weight of dirt accumulation on them. That doesn’t strike me as a way to make a weapon.

If you're looking for actual Minoan double axes, they do exist - and wear patterns show that they were used for chopping wood, just like modern axes. Minoan art shows us that animal sacrifices were performed with daggers and knives, not axes.

So if the labrys isn't a weapon, what on earth is it?

Among other things, it's a representation of wings. Specifically, it is a butterfly.

Carol Christ came very close to this idea in a blog post she wrote. She understood the idea of wings, but she assumed wings meant ‘bird’ since birds are a prominent symbol of the divine in Minoan art.

If you look carefully at the overall shape of the labrys, you’ll see that it doesn't mimic a bird’s wings at all, but it does a remarkable job of looking like a butterfly, right down to the ‘body’ section in the middle. On some Minoan ceramics, the comparison is direct, with short-handled labryses fluttering over fields of flowers.

So why would the Minoans want to use giant butterfly symbols as the focal point for their worship? Because of the wonderful, layered, magical symbolism of the butterfly. Let’s look at those layers.

First there’s the basic transformation that every school child knows about, from egg to caterpillar through the cocoon stage to the butterfly. Nature is magic!

Now consider the possibility that the Minoans, like many other people in the Bronze Age, didn't think of death as evil but simply as another phase of existence. To them, death was just a transformation from one state of being to another.

Butterflies have long signified the human soul in cultures around the world. As I googled my way around the internet to research this blog post, I was amazed to discover that these beautiful insects are still linked with the beloved dead today, and in a truly unique way: they often appear as a sign of after-death communication from loved ones. The ancestors are always with us.

There’s one more layer of symbolism to the labrys that brings the process full circle.

In addition to looking like a butterfly, the labrys looks like a vulva – the external female genitalia. The ‘wings’ are the labia, and the ‘butterfly body’ in the center is the clitoris. Why is this important? Because it's through the vulva that we're born into this world. The butterfly is the soul, and the vulva is the gateway through which it enters the world, to return to incarnation among the beloved.

I find it interesting that when labryses are shown in Minoan art being carried by humans, those people are invariably female-presenting.

You can look for further symbolism, if you like, in the pole that many labryses were mounted on. A pole that's inserted into a vulva – what do you think that might be?

While the Victorian-era archaeologists who dug up the ancient ruins on Crete might have been titillated by this idea, we should recognize that to the Minoans, as in other matrilineal societies, sexuality was most likely a sacred and joyful subject and would have been regarded with respect, not embarrassment.

The metal labryses that adorned Minoan shrines and temples may have been mounted on poles, but there are many more representations of labryses that are ‘poleless,’ especially on pottery.

So the next time you see a labrys, instead of picturing some ancient warrior wielding it, try imagining it coming to life and taking flight, its butterfly wings flashing gold in the sunlight, reminding you that there's more to life than first meets the eye.

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She's the founder and Temple Mom of Ariadne's Tribe, an inclusive Minoan spiritual tradition. When she's not busy drawing and writing, you can find her in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


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