Cone

1985 –

Theme: Religion

This essay written by Jill McLaren was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993. It was updated by Juliet Batten and other Cone members in 2018.

1985 – 1993

Cone formed as a women's ritual group, one of a loose web of similar groups which began expanding rapidly through New Zealand in the 1980s as interest in feminist women's spirituality grew. Their number was unknown, but in the 1990s each large gathering saw new groups represented.

Cone grew from a ritual course held by artist and teacher Juliet Batten. Nine class graduates attended a meeting at full moon on 28 November 1985: four were lesbian, four were mothers (three solo, one married), and all were Pākehā, aged from nineteen to their mid-forties. They included women professionally connected with the arts, social workers, a woodworker, a landscape designer, and a beneficiary. Their aims were to nourish themselves, connect with seasonal cycles, deepen their experience of ritual, and create rituals. The name they chose recalled the volcanic cones of Auckland, and symbolised the 'cone of power'—the spiralling intuitive energy raised by ritual chanting. [1]

Wheel of the Southern Year drawing

Wheel of the Southern Year drawn by Juliet Batten. The wheel moves through various stages relating to the phases of the moon and the three ages of women—maiden (waxing), mother (potential/full) and crone (waning).

The women joined for a variety of reasons. Helen, a potter, said, 'I wanted to make my spirit tangible. We make something magical together which affirms my spiritual core and has affected my work hugely—made it all real.' [2] Jill enjoyed the absence of a belief system. All Cone members appreciated the space and support the movement gave to women to 're-vision' themselves and the world.

Membership once reached thirteen, but after 1988 remained at eight, including three founders. Members celebrated the eight festivals of the Celtic solar year, reversed to match antipodean seasons: Hallowe'en, traditionally Samhain or Summer's End, was held on 30 April, when its ghosts took their rightful place as projected fears of approaching winter. Extra gatherings involved personal and political rituals, healing rituals, and short rituals with space afterwards for shared food and catching up. Refreshments ranged from herb tea and biscuits to feasts. Children and partners—married and unmarried, male and female—were occasionally included. The group spent one weekend a year away together for replenishment.

Cone took responsibility for one issue each year of the quarterly Women's Spirituality Newsletter, begun by Lea Holford and a women’s spirituality group in 1984/5. It continued as an occasional publication, with responsibility being passed among different ritual groups, until the early 1990s, when it settled down to four issues a year (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) under the guidance of Gay Harvey. [3]

Cone combined in joint rituals with the groups Flame and Aurora, and all women were welcome to its winter solstice. Tide allowing, this was held in a huge cave on Auckland's west coast. In 1991, 150 women wound their way along the sea's edge, carrying candle lanterns to celebrate the sun's turning and their aspirations for the new cycle.

Underlying ritual practice and Cone's wish to help and empower all women was the vision of setting free the great goddess within, enabling every woman to recognise and use her full power.

Jill McLaren

1994 – 2018

After 1993 Cone continued with the eight members who had been there since 1988, and from that time became a closed group of eight. After one member left to live overseas for a year, the group discussed the possibility of bringing in a new person or people, but finally realised this would not be easy as the group was so well bonded. So the perspective expanded to embrace global locations, with members often saying, ‘We are in Cone for life now’.

One member spent seven years in Switzerland working for the World Health Organisation, and another spent fifteen years living in England. But they managed to stay connected, and to join in seasonal rituals on visits back to New Zealand.

Eventually both returned to New Zealand to live (one in the South Island), and Cone continued to enjoy their more regular presence, especially for the weekend retreats held at least annually over several decades. These retreats provided a time for further deepening, as members were held and witnessed in sacred space through times of joy as well as health challenges, separations, life changes, periods of grief and loss, peak achievements, and sublime moments of stillness and envisioning. Cone continued to hold the strong intention to be of service through the spiritual work done in its sacred circles.

By 2018, even though the oldest member, aged 90, had been unable to get out at night for a decade, Cone was still able to bring rituals to her on different occasions; these gave her great pleasure and a revival of memory, as she chanted along or produced a fragment of poetry out of the blue.

Juliet Batten and other Cone members

Notes

[1] Jill McLaren, interviews with Helen Pollock, 12 March 1992, and Juliet Batten, 13 March 1992.

[2] Jill McLaren, interview with Helen Pollock, 12 March 1992.

[3] The aim of the Women’s Spirituality Newsletter was to share ideas and to support women as they developed their groups and ritual work. Depending on contributions from its readers, it included recipes for and reports on rituals, contemplations on life, personal experience, poetry, artwork, book reviews, ‘looking for a ritual group’ requests and notices for resources, public rituals and relevant workshops. It was produced for private distribution only, and the print run never exceeded 200. The last issue was No. 131, Summer 2017.

Published sources

Batten, Juliet, Power From Within, Ishtar Books, Auckland, 1988

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, Harper and Row, New York, 1979

Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics, Beacon Press, Boston, 1982

Women’s Spirituality Newsletter, 1984-2017

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