|The late Mary Daly|
The expression is "the old battle axe," and its meaning is somewhat derogatory. It refers to a hard-headed, domineering woman.
For example, a man might make a reference to his wife by saying, "I'd better be getting home to the old battle axe."
And yet, the battle axe has a long history as a symbol of women's power. According to lambda.org, the double-headed axe was used for harvesting as well as a weapon. It was a favorite of early Amazons that populated what is now Kazakstan in Central Asia. It was also used in the ancient town of Catal Huyuk, now Turkey, where the Earth goddess-worshiping people used it to clear land and "prospered without conflict for 1,500 years."
The labrys figured prominently in the motifs of the ancient Minoan society on the island of Crete. According to lamda.org, the Minoan society was "predominantly matriarchal" and its religion featured a bare-breasted snake goddess, believed to be a protector of women as well as a symbol of fertility and agriculture.
Dr. Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe, a professor of art history at Sweet Briar College in Virginia confirms, "There is plenty of archaeological evidence to indicate that women occupied an important if not dominant position within the practice of Minoan religion ... the predominance of goddesses ... is attested to by the dominant role played by priestesses in religious ceremonies and the presence of women in ritual context ... Moreover, men are rarely seen in commanding positions, despite attempts to identify them in such positions ..."
The labrys was used for centuries throughout Europe until it was replaced by the sword as a weapon, and the plow as an agricultural tool.
Although not as prominent today, the lore of the battle axe made it a popular symbol of feminist and lesbian power in the 1970s. This tiger's eye and silver necklace from my jewelry box could now be considered "retro" as well as historic and symbolic.