•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'.
Because of colonization, cacao and the practices of sharing cacao was forcibly taken away from the original peoples. With colonization came religious indoctrination of the original peoples of the Americas. It became dangerous to have cacao in ceremony because you could be considered a witch and literally burned at the stake for simply practicing your own sacred rituals.
Until this day, there are extreme dogmatic ways of thinking in Guatemala, and many Guatemalans have lost their connection to their ancestral plant. Cacao was considered the food of the Gods to the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Olmecs before them, and was written about in their creation myth stories. Cacao was a revered plant that was typically made with spices and little sweetener and worked with as a medicine, in rituals, ceremonial practices, and even used as currency. It wasn’t until the Spanish added sugar to cacao, that they decided to take this plant and commercialize it into chocolate. And now, it has been processed into something entirely different than what it is in its essence and purity. Imagine taking a sacred plant medicine like Kava, Ayahuasca, Blue Lotus, Psilocybin, or what have you, and overly processing the plant with extreme heat to create a desired texture but keeping the flavor profile of the plant, adding sugar, and packaging it as a treat. That’s what the process of turning cacao into chocolate is akin to.
When we have cacao in its pure form, it retains its health benefits. Conversely, chocolate is overly processed, overly sweetened, it contains no naturally occurring butter, and no living enzymes; it only retains the flavor of cacao.
When we recognize the truth of something, we can bring back the sacredness of it through reverence. Cacao is a plant medicine and therefore we get to respect its origins, embracing its magic with awareness and intention.
Your intention changes everything, and with cacao, you have the opportunity to work with a powerful plant ally that can assist you in your healing and overall health for mind, body, and spirit in a way that is gentle on your nervous system.
The world is waking up and if you are reading this you are being asked to live with awareness and clarity of heart and mind. It is an honor and responsibility to be someone who stays open-hearted during these times. Enjoy your cacao in all forms, make your own chocolate, enjoy cacao balls with dates and the likes, yet maintain a deep awareness, gratitude, and reverence for this beautiful plant medicine. As is true with all nourishments given to us by our first mother — Pachamama — we get to be intentional and reciprocal in our nature to have a more harmonious and balanced life. Reciprocity can be as simple as saying a heartfelt thank you — Maltyox — and receiving with an open heart.
Thank you for being here, for trusting, for opening your heart amidst the challenges this world presents. 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.