Yesterday I went to my first cacao ceremony hosted by my friend, Rachel. I have used cacao previously in smoothies and baking and was vaguely aware of the health benefits and “superfood” status but I had no idea that cacao was used thousands of years ago by the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations for its healing and spiritual properties. I love chocolate so I was excited to find out more!
What are the benefits?
One of the key benefits of raw cacao is its heart opening properties. On a physical level, it is a vasodilator meaning that it increases blood flow around the body and improves circulation. On an emotional level, it aids deeper emotional connection and feelings of love and openness towards those around us. Even in modern society we associate chocolate with love and romance and this may be because we know this intuitively on a deeper level..
Raw cacao powder is a nutritional bombshell containing essential minerals such as iron and magnesium – 77% and 124% of the recommended daily allowance per 100g. This helps maintain healthy nerve function and energy levels in the body. Cacao also contains a ton of antioxidants (even more than dark chocolate) and is a great source of healthy fats and fibre. It also contains 20g protein per 100g which was a surprise to me! Any kind of chocolate will provide some of these benefits but the less processing the cacao goes through, the better.
What is it used for?
Cacao can help on all sorts of emotional and spiritual journeys. The beans contain a compound called theobromine which is a compound similar to caffeine in structure with stimulatory effects but on a much weaker, more mellow level. It is known to stimulate pleasure receptors in the brain and can be used to help relieve symptoms of mild anxiety and depression. It can be a great tool to use in therapy as it encourages awareness of emotions and understanding of thought patterns and habits.
Cacao is also said to boost creativity and help to overcome creative and emotional blocks making it excellent for those at a cross roads in life and looking for some inspiration. Traditionally, cacao is also used to access higher dimensions in shamanic journeying. It can also be used as a tool to aid with spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga which is something I definitely want to try!
Our cacao ceremony
The ceremony we had was more of a gathering and an introduction to cacao than a traditional ceremony but it was great fun and I learnt a lot. First we tried the raw beans, previously soaked in water to soften them a little. Rachel warned us about the horrible taste beforehand but I was pleasantly surprised! The beans where quite bitter but it wasn’t overpowering. After this we drank a drink prepared using blended beans with water and a bit of coconut sugar for sweetness. In the traditional way we had 2 cups, with a 30 minute break between.
Rachel advised us to drink a lot of water to “activate” the beneficial compounds in the cacao and we went out for a walk in the park as being in nature also helps to boost emotional and sensual awareness. When we came back to the house, we sat in a circle and shared some things people had brought with them. One lady, Shabnam, brought some instruments including a “HAPIdrum” from Thailand which was the most beautiful, relaxing sound. Another, Jess, brought aromatherapy oils which we passed around and she explained the benefits of each of them. Another lady, Karen, brought some raw chocolate for us to try that she had made at home. Other than that we spent time getting to know each other, sharing stories and listening to relaxing music.
At first I wasn’t sure if I really felt the effects of the cacao and thought it was because I had a smaller dose to try it out for the first time (typically a ceremonial drink contains approx. 50g of raw cacao). A few of the other women agreed but later on we realised just how much we had chatted and shared about our lives. The effects were so subtle that we hadn’t even noticed! We all felt a low level contentment and openness with each other, considering most of us had only met for the first time that evening. I left feeling happy and with a bunch of new friends that I hope to stay in touch with. I definitely plan to try cacao again in the future!