Cacao Ceremony: Heart Opening Medicine
Cacao ceremony has mythical beginnings. An ancient tolteca legend says that the cacao drink belonged only to the gods. Quetzalcoatl —the feathered-serpent, and the most revered divinity in Mesoamerica— betrayed his own kind and came to the earth with cacao seeds hidden in his beard for humanity to benefit from the wonders of this fruit. After the gods realized what their brother had done he was severely punished, but the tree was already among us.
Cacao was held in such a high esteem by the ancient cultures of Mexico and Guatemala , that they consider it as a gift from above. As with everything that was sacred, they developed ways for honoring the spirit and energy behind the plant, enhancing its properties through cacao ceremonies.
Various groups had their own ways of honoring this spirit. Generally speaking, a cacao ceremony would center around drinking large amounts of highly concentrated dark chocolate to feel the psychoactive effects. Normal cacao doses are quite beneficial for the body, but they are very subtle. Thus, the purpose of a cacao ceremony is to induce a greater sensitivity to these benefits on different levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Although it was in ancient Central America where the most outstanding traditions around cacao were born, the oldest remains of this plant were found in the Ecuadorian Amazon and date from 5,500 BC.
Theobroma cacao is a tree native to the Amazon basin. It is believed that it spread around the continent due to the commercial trade between ancient civilizations, and from there to the rest of the world after colonization. It is mostly known for being the raw material for elaborating chocolate bars and cocoa, but its pulp is incredibly tasty and the main ingredient of a fermented drink that was consumed traditionally.
The main alkaloid found in the beans is Theobromine, a component also present in plants such as Yerba mate, Ilex guayusa, and tea. Some of its main benefits are:
- Stimulating the central nervous system in a delicate and long-lasting way, producing happiness and relaxation.
- Stimulating the cardiovascular system, which helps with the dilation of blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.
- Improving digestion and bowel movements.
- Stimulating the urinary system.
Aztecs used to mix the dark chocolate drink with hallucinogenic mushrooms during cacao ceremonies — a practice that is still alive in some communities. Furthermore, in different cultures of Mesoamerica, the drink was traditionally shared in the most important moments of people’s lives, such as spiritual celebrations, weddings, funerals, and births, and as a welcome symbol when someone visited.
The consumption of cacao also included aphrodisiac and body tonic purposes. But beyond its physical benefits, it was esteemed as a highly sacred plant, that still to our days it is used by the Mayans as one of the most precious elements for preparing offerings to the spirits, and by the Cuna people from Panama as a tool for soothsaying and powerful incense.
Modern Cacao Ceremonies
Nowadays, cacao ceremonies are one of the most fashionable spiritual practices in western society. Many of them don’t follow a traditional way and combine all kinds of beliefs and artistic practices, due to the versatility and gentleness of the drink.
In that context, a regular cacao ceremony will consist of people gathering together in a circle, usually around the fire, and sharing the drink along with some prayers, mantras, or devotional songs. Once the feelings of peace, love, union, and excitement start to come, the energy of the group rises and people can dance freely, share their feelings, and express themselves in unique and beautiful ways.
An important thing to know about the preparation is that the foamy part of the drink is considered to have great spiritual significance. It is believed that this substance cleanses the body and allows a sense of purification and well-being. This is why the old ways of preparing the cacao drink included standing on a high place and pouring the liquid from one container to another until the foam became prominent.
For ritual purposes, other types of plants and ingredients such as black pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, and cloves, among others, can be added to the preparation. In reality, since there is no single way to do a cacao ceremony, the list of compliments is infinite and depends on the knowledge and intention of the person who guides it.
So whatever the context is in which you join one of these events, be prepared for an experience of much joy, love, and sensitivity in a community vibe.
By Camila Franco • 27 April 2023