What is a cacao ceremony?
At its core, a cacao ceremony is any sort of ceremony in which a cacao beverage is consumed to elevate the spiritual ritual(s) being practised.
The cacao used in these ceremonies is chocolate in its purest form. Cacao beans or seeds come from the fruit of the cacao tree and have a distinctly bitter flavour. They're also chock-full of nutrients, making cacao a superfood that has been used in ceremonies dating back to the Mayans and Aztecs. Today, the bitter bean has made its way from Latin America to many corners of the world for casual sipping and ceremonies alike.
What to expect when attending a cacao ceremony
I've attended two cacao ceremonies, both a little different—and both incredibly powerful. One involved ecstatic dance, the other, meditation and breathwork. The first took place during an ecstatic dance camping retreat, and the second at a more casual afternoon workshop. My experience goes to show that no two cacao ceremonies are alike.
Moses Draper, the co-founder of Heartblood Cacao—a supplier of ceremonial cacao sourced from Guatemala—tells mbg that this is one thing that people often get wrong about cacao ceremonies. In reality, they don't have an exact format and can look a number of different ways.
"There are commonalities," Draper notes, adding, "often people start out with the cacao, and there's some kind of focused intentional starting point with consuming it."
From there, he says "there's really a lot of possibilities. Common ones are ecstatic dance, yoga, meditation, inner processing, or more specific seasonal ceremonies."
Since their itineraries vary, it's hard to know with certainty what to expect during a cacao ceremony. But I can tell you that both ceremonies I've attended started with intention setting and mindfully drinking the cacao.
The first ceremony was all about dropping into your heart space and simply dancing to your heart's content (for hours). The second was a bit more structured. We paired off with someone we didn't know and were instructed to ask our partner personal, reflective questions. Then, we were guided through a meditation and breathwork practice, before the ceremony opened up into free-flowing music and dancing.
If you're attending a cacao ceremony for the first time, the facilitator should be able to answer any questions you have beforehand. The most important thing is to go in with an open mind.
What exactly is cacao and how does it make you feel?
While cacao is most definitely stimulating, it's not considered a psychedelic. The FDA classifies cacao as "generally regarded as safe," and its effects are fairly mild, even in the higher doses that you might drink in a ceremony. It is completely legal to purchase, and shouldn't cause any adverse side effects (though those who are on antidepressants, particularly MAOIs and some SSRIs, will want to talk to their doctor before trying it).
As for how it works, Draper explains that cacao contains a molecule called theobromine, which is "kind of like a sister molecule to caffeine." Unlike caffeine, however, "its stimulating effects focus more on blood flow and the heart than on the nervous system, so people often experience [cacao] as a more grounded energy source than caffeine," he says.
I can attest to that: Sipping cacao was incredibly energizing but never made me jittery the way a cup of coffee might. On a more spiritual level, I felt very loving and receptive energy when working with cacao.
The benefits of a cacao ceremony.
- It's heart-opening.
Because of the way the theobromine significantly increases blood flow, Draper explains, people often experience a heart-opening sensation after drinking cacao. "It's easier to feel filled up with love, or open and connected to other people," he says.
So, don't be surprised if you find yourself placing your hand on your heart in a ceremony. (Think the Grinch when his heart grows a ton!)
- It's mood-boosting.
Maybe this goes without saying, but yes, cacao is mood-boosting. The compounds anandamide and PEA increase serotonin uptake, Draper notes, which contribute to an overall feeling of happiness and contentment with each sip.
- It can help you focus.
The stimulating effects of cacao can help people focus longer and deeper on the spiritual practice of the ceremony, like an extended meditation for example. (As anyone who's ever struggled to sit through meditation can attest to, that's a huge plus.)
- It can be very sensual.
The association between love, sensuality, and chocolate has been celebrated for ages. Not only does cacao have heart-opening and mood-boosting effects, but as Draper notes, with more blood flowing, there's more oxygenation happening in the body and we're more sensitive to touch. If your ceremony involves dancing, singing, or any sort of interaction with other people, the effects of the cacao can elevate that.
- It's good for your health.
And of course, we couldn't leave out all the physical benefits of this superfood. Cacao is high in antioxidants, iron, magnesium, calcium, and more. There's also research showing regular consumption of cacao (in healthy amounts) can improve heart health.
How to work with cacao in your own life.
You don't have to go to a full-blown spiritual ceremony to get the benefits of cacao in your life. This accessible superfood can be used on a more regular basis. "I think that's part of why there's been this explosion of interest," Draper says, "because so many people find it accessible to incorporate into whatever they're doing."
You could, for instance, incorporate cacao into your morning routine. Draper says that a small dose of around 1 ounce of cacao in hot water makes for a lovely, energizing tonic. "Take the time preparing it and sitting with it," he says, "and maybe even do a short meditation or some journaling. That can be a great way to start the day."
You can also use it as an afternoon pick-me-up if you hit that 3 o'clock wall, to help you refocus and finish the day strong. But really, cacao can be used in tandem with any of your favourite spiritual practices, or as a practice in itself, to help you drop into your heart space and welcome in loving energy.