What is cacao?
Cacao is simply the raw bean-like seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. The true magic of most cacao becomes diluted beyond recognition when it is processed into chocolate with added fat and sugar. Unlike these conventional chocolate bars or even raw cacao powders, the active ingredients and butter are preserved in ceremonial cacao whilst the bean is gently fermented and ground into a rich paste. For cacao to be ‘ceremonial grade’ it must be grown, dried, and prepared in a way that preserves it’s biochemical and energetic qualities. Ceremonial cacao usually comes from the rare and delicate Criollo (wild/native) variety, rather than the much more common and hardy Forastero. This means it should be fair-trade, sustainably resourced, and lovingly produced (which much cacao used in the confectionary industry certainly is not).
Cacao as Medicine
Cacao is deeply nourishing for our physical bodies. It is loaded with beneficial antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and neurotransmitters, to the point that the line between food and medicine becomes blurred. Raw cacao has the highest concentration of antioxidants known in any food, 40 times that of blueberries. The small beans are packed with magnesium, chromium, manganese, calcium (more than cows’ milk!), zinc, copper, iron (the highest plantbased source!), and potassium, as well as vitamins C, E, B2, B1, B5, B3 and B9, omega-6 fatty acids, and more. Cacao also potentiates the effects of other superfoods such as medicinal mushrooms and spirulina.
Cacao triggers the release of dopamine, soothing symptoms of PMS, fatigue, and depression. It is the only plant found to contain anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid that fits into the cannabinoid receptor sites of cells in the nervous system, which is known as the ‘bliss chemical’ as it is linked to feelings of joy. It also contains the ‘happiness hormone’ serotonin, as well as the mood-enhancing amino acid tryptophan that is essential for serotonin’s production in the body. Further enhancing the feelings of euphoria it induces, cacao contains Phenylethylamine (PEA), known as the ‘love molecule’, and Oxytocin, the ‘bonding hormone’. It significantly increases blood flow to the brain and heart, creating heightened mental agility, awareness, and focus. It’s also an aphrodisiac and energy-enhancer, helps to stimulate the liver, and detoxify our physical (and emotional) bodies. Cacao is effective for lowering high blood pressure, and has been used to treat high cholesterol, heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, bladder and kidney disorders, asthma, diarrhea, low weight, poor digestion, and many other conditions.
Cacao and Spirituality
You’ve likely heard about the physical benefits, but you might be wondering, what on Earth does cacao have to do with spirituality? You’ve probably eaten more than your fair share of chocolate bars and not once have you been overwhelmed by divine inspirations and otherworldly connections. But cacao has a long and mystical history. Though the sacred use of the plant was almost forgotten, it is returning. Although the concept of animism seems foreign to most people today, many ancient and indigenous cultures considered plants to have spirits or consciousnesses associated with them, referred to as devas in Sanskrit. Certain plants with strong medicinal benefits were known to be master or teacher plants (now often referred to as entheogens) and included Ayahuasca, Chakruna, San Pedro, Peyote, Tobacco, and Salvia. These plant devas were respected and approached with humility and offerings by shamans seeking their help with healing and divination. Cacao is one of these plants.
History and Mythology
Cacao has been used ceremonially for thousands of years and is deeply rooted in ancient Meso-American culture and mythology. The first evidence of cacao cultivation comes from the Olmec tradition around 4000 years ago in the region known today as Mexico. Later, for the Maya and Aztecs, the cacao tree would serve as a metaphorical conduit by which souls could travel between worlds. The drinking of frothy cacao played a central role in rituals of birth, death, and rebirth on Earth, and was used by warriors for sustenance, courage, and fortification before battle. Cacao was associated with the gods, as well as healing, fertility, and ecological harmony. Some of the spiritual names of cacao from various cultures include ‘food of the gods’, ‘rainbow medicine’, ‘medicine of the heart’, ‘wisdom keeper’, and ‘sacred seed’. Knowledge of how to prepare, roast, and press the beans was originally entrusted to women, and the spirit of the plant was often considered feminine and associated with the goddess Ixcacao. There are many myths and legends surrounding cacao, but they all seem to have a common thread telling of how, when man becomes careless with nature, cacao comes to help restore balance.
Myself and many others who work with the plant today heard a call from Cacao to raise humanity’s consciousness and heal ourselves and the environment. Now, I have become a servant of the Earth, with cacao as my ally. One of the reasons that plant medicines are activating so many people is that as our planet evermore rapidly approaches a devastating ecological crisis, there isn’t time for people to spend their lives waking up in ashrams or monasteries: real change is needed now. We must collectively expand our awareness, take responsibility for our actions, and evolve sustainable ways of living. Cacao is offering to help us on this journey.
The Sacred Seed
Cacao can have beautiful spiritual effects. When respectfully consumed with the intention of self-transformation, cacao works a unique alchemy. It can act as a powerful heart-opener, connecting us to our intuition, the natural world, and unseen guidance. It can show us the way forward when we’re feeling stuck, transform fear, aid us in recognising and releasing blockages, patterns, and limited buried deep in the subconscious, and balance emotional turbulence and self-care issues. Cacao can also awaken powerful creative energies and enhance our celestial inner vision. Ultimately, cacao teaches us about cosmic balance, and how to begin to live more in alignment with the laws of the Universe.
A Teacher of Balance
Cacao wants to show us how to heal ourselves and create more sustainable, conscious ways of living for the good of all living beings, including the Earth. Some controversy exists regarding the consumption of large amounts of raw cacao, though there is no scientific evidence suggesting cacao is toxic for the liver, and studies showing the opposite may actually be true. Moreover, I share Keith’s view that many of the concerns raw foodists report may be caused by the emotionally detoxifying qualities of cacao. However, Cacao is a sacred plant medicine and it should be used with respect and not overexploited or taken in an addictive energy. The key is cultivating a balanced relationship with the plant, which is a powerful lesson we humans need to learn and apply more widely.
More cacao love…
This article is inspired both by personal experience and the rich knowledge kindly shared by several other close friends of the Spirit of Cacao. Most notably, I must thank my teacher from whom I have learned so much, Serap Kara, and who facilitated a beautiful deepening of my relationship with Cacao. I must also thank Rebekah Shaman, Jordan Cohayney, and Keith the Chocolate Shaman, for sharing so much, both in their ceremonies and online. I am grateful for the historical scholarship of Meredith L. Dreiss, Caermon L. Mcneil, and Allen M. Young. And for the nutrition research compiled by Dr Michael Greger, David Wolfe, and Chris Kilham. Most of all, I am deeply grateful to the Spirit of Cacao, Mama Earth, and my own guides, who work through me and support me with incredible patience and tenderness.
Dreiss, M. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. University of Arizona Press. 2008.
Mcneil, C L. Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao. University Press of Florida. 2009.
Sathyapalan, T, Beckett, S, Rigby, A S, Mellor, D D, Atkin, S L. ‘High cocoa polyphenol rich chocolate may reduce the burden of the symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome’. Nutr J. 2010 Nov 22; 9:55.
Wilson, PK, Jeffrey Hurst, W. Chocolate, and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy. Royal Society of Chemistry. 2015.
Wolfe, D. Naked Chocolate: Uncovering the Astonishing Truth About the World’s Greatest Food. North Atlantic Books. 2008.
Young, A M. The Chocolate Tree: A Natural History of Cacao. University Press of Florida. 2007.