Curious about Cacao ceremony for self-care?

ancient Mayan illustration of two men having chocolate
Ancient Mayan cacao ceremony

Is a cacao ceremony something you might be interested in for an adventure?  Maybe the first question you may be asking is – what is cacao?  Why would chocolate be considered a wellness product?  And, as it’s possible you’ve never heard of it before, what is involved in a cacao ceremony? All excellent questions, and are ones I’ve asked in the past!  Those questions led me to attending four cacao ceremonies over the past four years.  Each one was different, with the most recent being online.  While this may seem to be a “follow your curiosity” adventure, it also falls under “self-care is not selfish” as it can be a way to become more self-aware!

What is cacao?

open cacao pod
While in Costa Rica I was able to taste a raw cacao bean!

Basically, cacao is the plant and the fruit with seeds/beans that become processed into chocolate.  Cocoa (aka coco) is the powder form of chocolate, often associated with hot chocolate drinks.  Cacao is grown in certain temperate zones – from Vietnam across South America to Africa.  Mesoamerica (northern Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and central to southern Mexico) is where the trees first grew thousands (or more) years ago.  The beans were highly valued, and used for money, medicine and spiritual practice – until the Europeans came and took over the lands in the 1500-1800s. 

Why is it healthy?

These days, cacao is making a resurgence as seen by the growth of the craft chocolate industry, and as a wellness product.  Cacao, minimally processed (the beans are usually dried, roasted, de-shelled and crushed into a paste) is one of the highest sources of magnesium in nature, full of antioxidants, calcium, iron, zinc, copper and selenium.  The best part is the ‘feel-good’ ingredient of theobromine.  When presented without sugar, it’s considered a top “Super Food.”

All the bliss chemicals and the way cacao interacts in the body has helped it grow as a mental wellness product.  Don’t mistake the sugar rush that comes from many chocolate bars as the “lift” that people are talking about.  Looking back at how ancient civilizations used cacao as medicine and in spiritual ceremonies has led to a new interest in this plant medicine as a regular practice.

Origins of the cacao ceremony

The cacao ceremonies I’ve attended, and generally the ones you find in modern times, are unlike those of ancient times.  If you have 10 minutes, check out this video that is amazing at showing the basis for many cacao ceremonies.

Cacao: Food of the Gods – a film about the origin of cacao ceremonies

My Cacao Ceremony adventures

Having been told by an Intuitive that the cacao bean is my “spirit animal” I decided that following chocolate would be fun.  (Wouldn’t you?)  I experienced my first chocolate euphoria at a cooking class conducted by the daughter of the founder of Baci Perugina Chocolate.  When I heard someone mention a tidbit cacao ceremonies, I thought I would try it to reach that chocolate high again.  Finally, through a friend of a friend, I discovered a woman offering a ceremony I could join.

What I’ve discovered is that cacao is considered a plant medicine.  Practitioners refer to the plant in the feminine tense, a goddess to be revered.  Cacao, with its blissful properties, opens your heart space and the general energies you feel are of love, unity and being “present.”  Supposedly if you do it with a group, it becomes a bonding experience and you feel more connected with the community. 

After drinking the mixture (each leader had a different combination), it takes time for the cacao to affect you.  In this space, some leaders create activities such as meditations and/or dancing.  The dancing helps get your blood moving, and the cacao going through your veins faster.  Some will ask you to journal.  To create a stronger sense of community, some leaders have everyone share information – the first round about themselves, and afterwards about any visions or experiences they felt due to the cacao.

Brooklyn

My first cacao ceremony was all women held in a small yoga studio in Brooklyn. At this event, there was a lot of insightful sharing and creating sacred art with flowers.
After the whole event was over, I was feeling very elevated. I also felt like a hippy (or hipster?) wearing a crown of flowers. Overall, a warm & fuzzy time.

Burning Man

parachute tent at Burning Man with cacao ceremony on seminar listing board
At Burning Man attendees can participate by offering seminars and events. We went to a cacao ceremony with 80 other people.
In the middle of the ceremony, there was a huge dust storm! With so many people, we saved the parachute tent from flying away!
The leader of the event is a DJ from England. She had us do ecstatic dancing instead of a quiet meditation.

Manhattan

The cacao ceremony I attended in Manhattan was also held in a yoga studio. The young woman who ran the event had studied in South America.
After drinking the cacao, the leader led us on a shamanic journey. Afterwards we were partnered up to share our visions. These are the crystals she had set up in the room.

Zoom

woman drinking cacao at a computer
Recently, due to the pandemic, I tried a Zoom version of cacao ceremony. While the meditation part was interesting, the connection with the group energy wasn’t the same. It did inspire me to want to buy ceremonial grade cacao and adventure out on my own.

Want to try it?

Are you up for the potential to feel expansive, blissful, connected to self and/or others, inspired, connected to your intuition and vision, connected to spirit, grounded, have emotions arise, and have stuck energy move on? Are you open to opening your heart through this form of medicine?

Until we can get together in intimate groups with others, or travel to other countries safely, going to a cacao ceremony in person is a challenge.  However, there are other ways.  Beth, a valued client and friend, mentioned she found someone in Guatemala who conducted a ceremony with her as a one on one session over a video call.  Another option is to go to the companies who sell ceremonial grade cacao and sign up for their video sessions.  The one I attended was through Firefly Chocolate (on their “ceremony” page https://ceremonial-cacao.com/pages/virtual-cacao-ceremonies )

You could also try it alone at home.  This is like taking mindful eating, or a chocolate tasting meditation (see Chocolate Tasting for this), one step further.  You create your own ritual.  You decide what intention you want to set for the experience.  Don’t rush the preparations.  Offer up love, gratitude, your intentions, and add music as you mix your drink (she loves being sung to, and is a powerful way to activate your heart as you get ready to receive her medicine).

How to hold your own cacao ceremony

I have yet to do this, but plan to in the future.  The following is sourced from “How to hold your own cacao ceremony” by Jordan Cohayney in Cacao magazine.  I added some info from my own experiences and research.

Step 1

Set your space.  Take the time to create a special, comfortable space for your ritual and remind yourself you are worth carving the time out for this.  Show up for yourself.  Honor the four elements to remind you of your innate connection with nature and the world around.  For example – Fire: a candle. Water: a small cup of water (also good to help cleanse your palate). Earth: a crystal or two.  Air: your favorite incense.

Cacao activates our emotional and physical body, so the most important thing is to feel safe and comfortable in your space.  Warm, low lighting can provide that feeling of relaxation and ease.

Set an intention.  An important part of the process is getting clear on your ‘why.’  What is it that you want to achieve by sitting with this medicine (a specific goal or desire for healing)? Your intention could be absolutely anything, but the more specific you can be, the clearer your answers will become.  Sometimes simply asking “what is it I need to know right now?” can be incredibly insightful.

Step 2

Prepare your ceremonial cacao. The place you bought your ceremonial grade cacao will have instructions on how to do this.  Some offer discs, some sell whole blocks that need to be shaved.  Some suggest using a molinillo to whisk it.  You could use a high-speed blender (though that does take some of the slow process out of the equation, but does get your drink done faster).  Try adding spices (such as cinnamon, cardamom, or red pepper – which are common and complementary) or other superfoods (such as dried mushrooms or maca).  You could even add a sweetener (not cane sugar, but the alternatives are okay). 

Step 3

Drop in/get grounded in your body.  Find a comfortable position, either lying or sitting down.  Close your eyes and begin to focus your awareness on the breath.  Use your breath to guide you deeply and mindfully within, as you allow yourself to connect with your heart.  If you have a preferred way of using breath-work to become aware of your body, use it.

Step 4

Connecting with the Spirit of Cacao. Acknowledging the sacredness of cacao is one of the fastest ways to achieve your goals when working with this medicine.  Invite her into your body and thank her for the blessings she brings.  Take a moment to acknowledge and give thanks to the land, the growers and suppliers who played a part in allowing this medicine to be with you in this moment.  Plants respond when we speak to them and when we open ourselves up to their wisdom.

Step 5

Drink.  Consider this a mindfulness practice.  Take your time to drink with complete presence (turn off your phone!). Feel the warmth of the cup, smell the aromas, look at the froth or bubbles you created by mixing the cacao on the surface.  Feel your own energy before your first sip.  Notice every little flavor note and the texture. 

Step 6

While you wait, try these options. Cacao takes about 10-20 minutes to take effect, though some people will feel the medicine working as it touches their lips.  As you wait (go for the minimum of 20 minutes), try journaling – free flow what comes to you.  Meditate – sit in silence or use a guided meditation.  Play music, experimenting with your favorite songs or try Tibetan flutes or shamanic drums.  To get things moving, you could try dancing (as if no one is watching).  Some like to try ecstatic dancing at this phase.  After the 20 minutes, notice how you feel and any experiences you may have had.  Journal your feelings, visions, decisions, phrases or persistent thoughts that came to you.  Write down the physical reactions too.  It is said cacao will show you where to place your focus.

Step 7

Complete the ritual. Put down your finished cup of cacao.  Take a few deep breaths into the belly.  This is the time to reflect on and give thanks for the experience, and any new wisdoms you have received.  Some give thanks to the medicine and to yourself – it takes courage to show up for yourself in this way, with a willingness to uncover that which lies deep within your soul.

Chocolate for Self-Care & Curiosity

Cacao to open your heart for deep self-awareness

Have I answered your questions about cacao ceremonies?  Satisfied your curiosity about what one is like, and how you can act and try it too?  Were you surprised that chocolate could be something you could use for self-care (beyond a yummy bar or fancy face mask).  If you’ve participated in a ceremony, leave a comment and share your experience! 

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