ANCIENT & MODERN CACAO...
SACRED CACAO: SPIRITUAL SUPERFOOD PAST & PRESENT
THE ROOTS OF CACAO: AN ONGOING JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY..
Some groundbreaking research in 2018 suggested the roots of cacao going back to Ecuador, 5000 years ago - scientific evidence now points to South not Central America as the birthplace of cacao, though it soon spread across the continent & up into Central America, where humans cultivated the plant also for thousands of years. However, this doesn't tell us how those people used cacao and at present, the tradition of cacao being used in sacred ceremonies still seems to have Mesoamerican roots: we know for sure cacao was sacred to the Olmec, Maya and Aztec peoples and is still honoured today in that part of the world. (If you are interested I highly recommend reading this fascinating article about the latest discoveries about the origins of cacao!)
Nowadays theobroma cacao is grown in tropical regions around the world. Most commercial chocolate comes from cacao grown in West Africa, but the rare Criollo varieties from the Americas are still considered the best. (The other main varieties are Forastero, the most widely-used, and Trinitario, which is a hybrid of Criollo & Forastero.) The cacao I work with is the Criollo variety, grown in the Peruvian Amazon by the Ashaninka tribe: it is organically grown, fairly-traded, ethically sourced finest ceremonial grade cacao.
SACRED CACAO IN ECUADOR & MESOAMERICA
The Olmec civilization of what is now Mexico were probably the first to work with cacao in ceremony, from what we know at present. Little is actually known about the Olmecs; we know a lot more about their more famous successors, the Maya, who took cacao to the heart of their spiritual ceremonial culture; Ixcacao is the name of their cacao goddess. At this stage we know more about the role and use of cacao in the Mayan world than we do of ancient Ecuadorean cacao, where archaelogists are currently making discoveries around previously unknown cultures & civilisations in the area: cacao's story is vibrant & ever-evolving...
“The type of cacao that was first introduced to Mesoamerica, where the Maya are, was already domesticated, but domestication occurs along a continuum, and the Maya and other Mesoamericans most certainly continued to domesticate cacao varieties to suit their particular tastes. One can argue that the Maya turned the consumption of cacao into an art form.” - Dr Cameron McNeil, archaeobotanist quoted in the Guardian article
Traditionally, cacao was used to make a frothy, hotly-spiced bitter drink which they sometimes sweetened. Recognised as having great health benefits, it was the drink of high-ranking men- royalty & priests- consumed in sacred ceremonies, and the foamy, frothiness of the drink was highly valued. The Maya prized cacao so highly they used the beans as a form of currency: Mayan money literally grew on trees...
Contemporary cacao ceremonies can take many forms: it's probably fair to say most western cacao ceremonies are not directly rooted in the ancient traditions, but rather, are loosely inspired by them: perhaps the main essentially unchanged aspects are the cacao medicine and the spirit we connect with, since what we share in a cacao ceremony is the same drink, a very pure, unprocessed form of cacao, which Mayans & moderns alike recognise as being both a super-nutritious form of food and also a powerful, sacred plant medicine, with the ability to release blockages from the heart and connect us to more intuitive, "higher" states of consciousness when consumed in an intentional way, in a ceremonial space.
If you're interested in the history of chocolate here's a great talk: watch More Than a Drink: Chocolate in the Pre-Colombian World" by Michael Coe here.
Dates for upcoming Cacao Ceremonies here
Learn about what happens in a ceremony and why you might benefit here
Learn more about Tania's particular approach to working with cacao here
Cacao FAQs here
Learn more facts about theobroma cacao here