What is a cacao ceremony?
Cacao ceremonies are gaining popularity locally – here's why.
We know cacao to be the essential ingredient that all chocolate is made from. However, it is also the centre of ancient Mayan healing ceremonies that have harnessed its medicinal, spiritual and ritualistic capabilities for centuries.
With the active ingredient theobromine translating into “food of the gods”, cacao got its sacred status from the Mayans who also viewed it as a medicinal plant used in their communal rituals. Because of this history, cacao ceremonies are popular in conscious communities of central and southern America and they’re now starting to gain popularity locally.
Ceremonial grade cacao as a superfood
Raw, unprocessed cacao is used, often as a drink, in cacao ceremonies. Its medicinal properties now enjoy a superfood status. Cacao is rich in antioxidants, iron, magnesium and calcium.
“Antioxidants are essential for slowing down the aging process and help fight diseases and illness. Cacao has the highest amount of antioxidants in any food (50 times more than blueberries),” says Johannesburg cacao kuchina and traditional healer Matthew Gabriel.
In these ceremonies, cacao is often referred to as a heart opener and this has both physiological and spiritual connotations.
Matthew explains: “Cacao is heart medicine because it literally opens up the heart by allowing the muscles to relax and allow more blood flow. More blood to the heart means more to be pumped around the body.”
We love chocolate for the feel-good endorphins that it gives us. In raw cacao, this mood-elevating stimulation is amplified, with more brain chemicals.
“There’s also anandamide (the bliss chemical), phenethylamine (the love chemical) and dopamine (the pleasure chemical), among others. All these chemicals make you feel so very good. The more we feel good, the more we are inspired to be and do good,” Matthew says.
Cacao ceremonies form part of shamanic healing practices, which are often linked to hallucigenic experiences. However, Nisreen Ismail, who facilitates cacao ceremonies in Cape Town, notes that cacao is very gentle.
“Cacao works in your neuro pathways, so you will feel it, but it is super gentle. You will not hallucinate,” she says.
What to expect from a cacao ceremony
“My ceremonies are usually three hours long,” Nisreen says. “I want to make the best of it, especially when working with a group. I usually advise that you don’t have a heavy meal at least two hours prior to the ceremony. This is to give the cacao the space to do what it does when it gets digested in your body. I also advise that you be well hydrated. This is because cacao is extremely rich and dense in nutrients. It can make you feel nauseas, but this depends on quantity, where you are emotionally and spiritually, and how the cacao serves you in the ceremony.”
Ceremonial grade or raw cacao is very bitter. Once melted down and infused with water, some people like to add nutmeg, cinnamon, maple syrup or natural sweeteners to help with the bitterness.
“While I prepare the cacao I usually sing medicine songs to prepare the cacao with intention and open up the space. Before people drink their cacao, I usually ask them to say their intention to themselves,” says Nisreen. “Cacao is used spiritually as a heart opener and helps you connect to what your heart really wants. A lot of us think and act according to our minds. We struggle in the moment due to past traumas, previous patterns of behavior or acting from the ego. If you’re seeking clarity and you’re looking to do some inner work and processing, cacao really helps with that deep connection. You may feel a small or big shift and you may access what your heart has been trying to communicate to you. Cacao is also known as the food that shifts and unblocks, and helps release stagnant energy and negative emotion, helping us rediscover love in its different forms.”
Attendees are usually positioned in a circle and drink the cacao from small cups. And because the ceremony is deemed sacred, crystals, cleansing herbs and sentimental personal items are often included. Some people like to have cacao ceremonies at different times to mark different things like the new year, new moon or being a new mom. The ceremonies are often intertwined with meditation, dance or sound journeys to help facilitate the ritual.
Have you tried a cacao ceremony? If so, let us know about your experiences in the comments below!