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Cacao refers to the raw bean-like seeds of the theobroma cacao tree. The magic this seed can hold often becomes diluted when it is unfairly traded and made into processed chocolate. Unlike conventional chocolate bars or even raw cacao powders, ceremonial cacao preserves the spirit, active ingredients, and nutrient rich butter are preserved. Instead of being mechanically processed and reconstituted, the beans are gently fermented and ground into a smooth rich paste, traditionally on a stone block. For cacao to be ceremonial grade, it should be grown, dried, and prepared in a way that respects its biochemical and energetic qualities. The beans should be lovingly grown, fairly traded, and sustainably sourced (which much of the chocolate found in the confectionary industry isn’t).
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 (thought to be 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, which may help soothe 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. Anandamide is known as the ‘bliss chemical’ as it is linked to feelings of joy. Ceremonial cacao also contains the ‘happiness hormone’ and biogenic amine 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 may induce, cacao contains Phenylethylamine (PEA), known as the ‘love molecule’, and Oxytocin, the ‘bonding hormone’. Cacao increases blood flow to the brain and heart, which can encourage heightened mental agility, awareness, and focus. It can also be an aphrodisiac and energy-enhancer. It’s thought to help stimulate the liver and detoxify our physical (and emotional) bodies. Cacao is also being studied for it’s efficacy in 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 might be wondering what on Earth cacao has do with spirituality. You’ve probably eaten your fair share of chocolate and not once been overwhelmed by divine inspirations and otherworldly connections! Surprisingly, cacao has a long and mystical history. The sacred use of the plant was almost forgotten, but 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 can be considered one of these teacher 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, it is thought that the cacao tree served as a metaphorical conduit by which souls could travel between worlds. The drinking of a frothy spiced cacao drink 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 help heal ourselves and our ecosystems. When in deep meditation I received guidance that one of the reasons that plant medicines are activating so many people now is that real change is needed now to change our trajectory from one of devastating ecological crisis. A more fruitful vision of the future may be humanity collectively expanding our awareness, taking responsibility for our actions, and evolving sustainable ways of living. In my experience cacao is offering to help us on this potential journey.
The Sacred Seed
When mindfully consumed in ceremony, cacao can work a unique and subtle alchemy of inner and outer transformation. 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 nature.
A Teacher of Balance
In my 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.
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.