•The word cacao originated from the Maya word Ka’kau.
•And the word chocolate originated from the Maya words Chocol'ha. The verb chokola'j means 'to drink chocolate together'.
The history of cacao is deeply intertwined with the impacts of colonization. The original guardians of cacao and its sacred practices were forcefully stripped of their traditions and beliefs. With the arrival of colonizers, the indigenous peoples of the Americas faced religious indoctrination and persecution, making it incredibly dangerous to engage in cacao ceremonies that honored their ancestral heritage.
Even today, remnants of oppressive ideologies persist in Guatemala, causing many Guatemalans to lose their connection to this sacred plant. Cacao held profound significance for the Mayans, Aztecs, and Olmecs, revered as the food of the Gods and entwined within their creation myths. It was treated with reverence, prepared using spices and minimal sweeteners, serving as medicine, a centerpiece of rituals, ceremonies, and even a form of currency. However, when the Spanish introduced sugar and transformed cacao into chocolate for commercialization, its essence and purity were irreversibly altered. It's comparable to taking a sacred plant medicine like Kava, Ayahuasca, Blue Lotus, or Psilocybin, subjecting it to excessive processing, heat, and sweeteners, and packaging it as a mere treat.
Pure cacao, consumed in its unadulterated form, retains its inherent health benefits. In contrast, chocolate undergoes extensive processing, excessive sweetening, and loses the natural components such as butter and living enzymes, leaving behind only the flavor of cacao.
By acknowledging the truth of cacao's origins, we can restore its sacredness through reverence. Cacao is a potent plant medicine, deserving of our respect and conscious engagement.
Your intention holds transformative power, and with cacao as your ally, you can embark on a journey of healing and holistic well-being for your mind, body, and spirit, while nurturing your nervous system with gentle care.
As the world awakens, you are called to live with awareness and clarity of heart and mind. It is both an honor and a responsibility to embrace an open-hearted presence in these times. Enjoy cacao in all its forms, create your own chocolate, relish cacao balls with dates, and more. However, always maintain a profound awareness, gratitude, and reverence for this beautiful plant medicine. Just as with all the nourishments bestowed upon us by our first mother, Pachamama, we have the opportunity to be intentional and reciprocal, fostering a more harmonious and balanced life. A simple gesture of offering a heartfelt thank you—Maltyox—and receiving with an open heart exemplifies reciprocity.
Thank you for being here, for trusting, and for embracing an open heart amidst the challenges of our world. When we know better, we can do better.
•A palace scene in the Underworld, featuring God L, K’awiil, and the Maize Tree. A woman is grinding cacao. Unprovenienced vessel (K631). Late Classic period. Drawing by Simon Martin after a photograph by Justin Kerr.
From the time of its discovery by the Olmecs of Mesoamerica in 1500 B.C., Theobroma cacao has served many functions, used primarily as a source of food (Coe & Coe 34). Grown in pods attached to the trunk of a rather peculiar looking tree, the Olmecs recognized that there was more than met the eye to this peculiar plant. As they cracked open the pod to reveal a sweet, gelatinous pulp, they took more notice of the seeds within the milky substance, and began to process those seeds to create the very first iteration of cacao, or “kakawa” (Coe & Coe 35). As empires rose and fell, the subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations of the Izapan, Maya, Toltecs, and Aztecs also coveted cacao for its properties. Consumed primarily in the form of a frothed drink, it was a prized possession and available only to the elite—for it was godly potion that would grant energy and power, and was used in many rituals to appease their deities (Coe & Coe 34). These attributes were considered more than simply advantages; in these times, food and prayer were the only sources of medicine (Lippi). (Source)
•God L with merchant’s pack and cacao tree. Mural detail. Late Classic period.
Red Temple, Cacaxtla, Mexico. Drawing by Simon Martin after a photograph by Enrico
Ferorelli in M. E. Miller and S. Martin 2004
MAYA AND AZTEC MYTHS AND RITUALS
Cacao was an intrinsic part of ancient Mayan and Aztec life, not just as a beverage or food, but as a pillar of their economies and an integral part of their religions, appearing in numerous spiritual ceremonies—even death rites and sacrifices.
The spiritual link between cacao and the Maya is immediately apparent in their texts, although only a small handful remain of their bark codexes. The Popol Vuh or Book of Counsel, for example, includes many references to cacao. In one story, the severed head of a god is hung on a cacao tree. Another page depicts the maize god sprouting from a cacao pod. Cacao even features in their creation mythology: at another point in the Popol Vuh, when the gods are creating humans out of foodstuffs, cacao is one of those foods found in the Mountain of Sustenance (Coe 38-40).
In Mayan creation mythology, humans are partially composed of cacao! In the Madrid Codex, an additional ancient Mayan text, four young gods bleed onto cacao pods, mingling the cacao and their blood.
If cacao was “a sacred offering to the gods combined with personal blood-letting through the piercing or cutting of their own flesh” to the Mayans, this page is an excellent reflection of that close bond (Seawright 7).
The link between blood (or heart) and cacao was not exclusive to the Mayans: in ancient Aztec society, cacao was given to sacrificial victims, often in ways that directly linked chocolate and blood. During the annual Aztec ritual in Tenochtitlan, a slave would be chosen to represent Quetzalcoatl. At the end of forty days, during which he had been dressed in finery and given all manner of good food and drink, he was informed of his impending death and then made to dance. If the temple priests saw that he was not dancing as enthusiastically or as well as they expected him to, he was given a drink of itzpacalatl, which was a mix of cacao and water used to wash obsidian blades. These were sacrificial blades, and therefore crusted in blood. The sacrifice would be rejuvenated and joyful after drinking this mixture of blood and chocolate, and dance to his death (Coe 103-104).
Cacao was also present in Aztec mythology. The Chimalpopoca Codex includes a myth similar to the creation tale in the Mayan Popol Vuh, in which the gods created man from maize, cacao, and other plants brought from the Mountains of Sustenance (Seawright 5). Additionally, the Codex Fejervary-Meyer, depicts a cacao tree as part of the universe:
“It is the Tree of the South, the direction of the Land of the Dead, associated with the color red, the color of blood. At the top of the tree is a macaw bird, the symbol of the hot lands from which cacao came; while to one side of the tree stand Mictlantecuhtli, the Lord of the Land of the Dead” (Coe 101).
This is one of many examples showing how ancient Mesoamericans linked their understand of divinity and spirituality with cacao (Seawright 5).
It is also yet another instance in which we see cacao as intrinsic to Aztec mythology and art, as well as connected to blood. (source)
In the Aztec culture Cacao was depicted as one of the major World Trees, watching the South, representing death, blood, and ancestors in the color red. Death becomes an integral part of rebirth, the sun and the moon exist in an ever circling dance.