Magic or Medicine? Understanding Cacao Ceremonies & their Ancient Origins

Words: Crush

The alternative wellness industry continues to take the world by storm, with people seeking enlightenment through mindful practices such as cold therapy, sound journeys and – more recently – cacao ceremonies. Although Westerners are just waking up to the medicinal and healing benefits of this superfood, cacao ceremonies have been a ritual practised in Aztec and Mayan culture, as well as in Mesoamerica centuries long before.

What is a Cacao Ceremony?

Cacao ceremonies trace their roots back to the heart of Mesoamerican culture, where the Aztecs and Mayans recognised the power of cacao beyond its delicious taste. As a vital food, cacao ranks second to maize in these ancient societies. Cacao was considered a precious commodity, treasured for its spiritual and medicinal properties.

Cacao ceremonies were performed to bless crops and fruitful harvests; they also formed a significant part of milestone celebrations, such as baptisms and weddings, due to the belief that cacao had fertility powers. Cacao was so revered in ancient Aztec communities that at mortuary rituals, people were buried with cacao mugs, serving as an offering that would be transported with them into the afterlife.

Cacao ceremonies were performed to bless crops and fruitful harvests; they also formed a significant part of milestone celebrations, such as baptisms and weddings, due to the belief that cacao had fertility powers.

During cacao ceremonies, people would drink cacao, which was ground into a liquid form, from a special vessel. Archaeological evidence dates this ritual as far back as 430-600 A.D., with vessels found containing cacao. Furthermore, shamans often led cacao ceremonies to guide participants in this deeply spiritual and healing experience.


What Happens at Cacao Ceremonies?

Typically, people gather, often in a circle, and drink brewed ceremonial-grade cacao; this is usually followed by a guided meditation. The ceremonial brew acts as a conduit, unlocking the benefits of cacao and creating a unique experience for each participant.

As the ceremonial brew is sipped, a deep connection is formed with the ‘spirit’ of cacao, awakening the senses and opening the heart chakras; some also believe that it offers creative benefits.

The true magic of the ritual lies in the transcendent journey it offers. As the ceremonial brew is sipped, a deep connection is formed with the ‘spirit’ of cacao, awakening the senses and opening the heart chakras; some also believe that it offers creative benefits.

Participants essentially embark on an introspective exploration, where they express their intentions within a group setting. In this intimate space, individuals delve into their innermost thoughts and emotions. The heart-opening properties of cacao promote a sense of vulnerability, compassion, and connectedness – both with oneself and with others.

For those who have yet to experience one, it might sound very ‘let’s hold hands and sing Kumbaya-esque’, but there is some science to back up the linked benefits.

Cacao, known as a superfood, offers a plethora of physical health benefits. Packed with antioxidants, minerals and essential nutrients, it supports cardiovascular health, boosts mood and enhances focus. Its natural stimulants, including theobromine and anandamide, provide an energising effect, promoting a sense of well-being and euphoria – but not in a psychedelic way that is associated with other shamanistic rituals where Ayahuasca or psilocybin mushrooms are consumed.


Modern-day Cacao Ceremonies

The popularity of cacao ceremonies in Western culture can be attributed to the collective yearning for connection, self-discovery and holistic well-being. In a world that often feels disconnected and fast-paced, cacao ceremonies might offer a sanctuary for individuals to pause, reflect and reconnect. These ceremonies create a sacred space, where participants can explore their inner landscape and find solace in the community of like-minded seekers.

While cacao ceremonies are often carried out in smaller group settings to facilitate an intimate experience, they exist on larger scales too. In Ubud, Bali, cacao festivals are a massive celebration, where cacao brings huge crowds of different ages together; the experience is accompanied by singing, dancing and live music.

Today, the practice is popular in North and South America, but it has also grown in the local wellness industry in South Africa. Cape Cacao offers in-person and online ceremonies, led by Cacao Alchemist, Fran Siebrits. Yoga instructor and chakra healing expert, Nisreen Ismail, also leads guided ceremonies. Traditional Medicine Man and Cacao Kuchina, Matthew Gabriel, specialises in cellular nutrition and facilitates cacao journeys and private consultations.

Want more? Discover these 6 unique benefits of chocolate.

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