I've been working with Cacao in a new way of late and wanted to share what Cacao is teaching me to support your discovery of Cacao as a healing addition to your world in a ceremonial way that can remain among your more private practices. Yes, Cacao supports bonding in groups. While there are many heading to Cacao Ceremonies these days, and I for one have hosted them and attended them too, I find the deepest and most meaningful way for me to work with a plant closely is to bring this work to the personal and intimate level by inviting ceremonial work through out my life in increments of dedicated time that are so very private. Let me explain.
Where and When Did Cacao Ceremonies Start?
It’s thought cacao was first taken as a health elixir and ceremonial medicine as far back as 1900 BC by the ancestors of Central America, the Olmec people, before becoming a ritualistic medicine used by the Aztec and Mayan cultures. Signifying both life and fertility, it was ingested by Royalty in ceremonial God worship and in sacrificial ritual. Of course it depends on where you go in Central and South America for the true beginning stories change from place to place (wink wink).
Cacao Ceremony in Practice
As with many things that involve practice, we only get better with time. I suggest enjoying opening to this practice by choosing a week and drinking it daily to start. Some are drinking it daily and I do hope with much intention for something that requires such tending. For me I feel seasonal changes are a good time to engage cacao's healing for a week, or more if called, within the container of being a dedicated practice. Your experience of cacao in ceremony will likely evolve over time as you do. This is a natural and integral part of the process. The important thing is to make sure you set enough time aside to really allow yourself to dive in. I suggest anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours each day. But only you will know what time frame works best for you.
Here's the rhythm that unfolded organically for me with Ceremonial Cacao in my everyday.
My commitment is often for one week and Cacao teaches me to visit each chakra each day for this practice. I drink my Ceremonial Cacao Dose (we'll cover this below) first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This is traditional with Cacao, first thing in the morning with an empty belly. I love the seasonal pulsing to help me shift more smoothly. For me it's likened to meeting an honest lover for a beautiful romp from time to time (wink wink). So once taken in slowly, then I sit quiet for 20-30 minutes and just allow my feelings and mind to wander to see where I'm taken along with checking in with my physical state of being. Review of the previous day can filter in since I take for many days in a row. Spontaneous knowings come up usually within two hours. Visions and dreams through awake and asleep time drift in as the cumulative effect takes hold, and this begins usually by day three. I journal cryptically when taking my morning dose for the in-the-moment feelings but also for a review of the unfolding of the previous day and night that have happened. It's like reviewing a movie with a deeper seeing clearer lens. Here's the honest part. The first two to three days can, but NOT always, be really hard to bordering on down right sucking sometimes. But if you stay with the practice it shifts. Our sequestered residual emotional debris can be unearthed. But only if we want this and are willing to work with it. Pull up, and dust off if need be, your self care skills here too. I retreat to paint, drum, go to Nature, build altars and work them, medicine make, adjust my diet and sleeping, spiritual bathe, yoni steam, sauna, take other plants in as directed intuitively, and basically follow Cacao's inspiration through this process.
Are you following me on this? I hope so. It's a personal and intimate quest of sorts. Do send me questions if they arise.
A Heart-Opening Experience
Oh I laugh my friend. It IS this and more. This is so individual based on right where we are. Ceremonial cacao works almost magically at opening up the heart. For some people this will mean FEELING YOUR FEELS. So this looks different for each of us depending on where we are. Maybe what surfaces is your deep and intimate connection to Mother Earth, your guides, or what you hold as Divine. The Spirit of Cacao may present strongly from the plant world. For others, it may mean connecting with your inner-child, or with sabotaging archetypes you've created for survival that need integration, or for grief work around loss of beloveds or more, and feeling emotions that have been suppressed, avoided, or misunderstood for years. And still for others, this may mean tapping into a level of gratitude and abundance beyond that which you have ever experience before. You may make sudden decisions and abrupt life changes with precision and clarity too.
This Cacao Ceremony round that I'm just completing has brought up some of the deepest grief around the death of sweet and dear sister, more than 20 years ago, and Cacao is sweeping the cracks from that time in my life when the perceived loss of her stimulated a tsunami that changed the course of my life and all my relations on every level. Cacao is our ally for deep transformation core work. Calling in the medicine for support is our natural course of action. Cacao is there whenever I ask. We need only ask.
Whatever comes up for you to feel during your time with cacao, it's important to remember that the Spirit of Cacao is your personal partner on this journey, and being your partner, Cacao will assist you in processing your emotions when and where you invite this. Bliss can happen. And it does. But sometimes painful growth comes too in the form of grief work, release work, and expansion of our understanding. Then the bliss can rise. I have to be straight with you on this. Cacao meets us where we are and supports growth. Know you are supported even if it might seem hard at first.
These are the fermented, dried,, roasted, and peeled Cacao seeds ready for grinding into the Cacao paste we ingest for ceremony. The cacao nibs you see in health food stores are this stage and are quite therapeutic as well to nibble on. These retain all of the cacao butter (fat) and the resulting paste is better for ceremony than using cacao powder where the cacao butter is removed and sold separately. We need the full spectrum of what is offered from intact, less processed seeds for ceremonial experiences. It matters.
Setting Intentions - The Nuts & Bolts
Sometimes we do need the sort-of mundane, practical side of things spelled out for us. Drinking cacao for ceremonial purposes invites us to slow down and to intentionally set time aside for ourselves. This means stepping out of the daily 'to do' as much as you can and stepping into our self in a more expansive way. So often we rush from one experience to the next without even understanding why we're doing what we're doing. Cacao ceremony invites us to tune in to our inner-knowing, our inner-self, our inner-guidance system, and to take action from a place of inspiration rather than by habit or unconscious, even manic 'doing' places we all can fall into. Set your intentions and begin with baby steps. Choose the number of days you'll drink your Cacao (I like 7 days). Source good Cacao paste, which means you'll want 7-14oz. of cacao paste to cover this time for yourself. Make sure you have a scale to weigh your paste, a natural sweetener, and spices that resonate with you. Consider why you're wanting to do this. Make an altar dedicated to this practice, even if just a tiny one near your bed. Engage determination no matter what to see it through. Have a journal ready too and just a little retreat space of 30 minutes to two hours is good per day. Closely watch or observe yourself throughout your day to see what comes up and what needs attention. Trust Cacao has a process for you that is uniquely yours and within your own personal synchronous healing. Watch for magic to jump up too. So amazing how it truly does.
For the scope of this article I'm avoiding analyzing the individual chemicals in detail that we know of in Cacao. It's fascinating! It's well-studied thus far too and continuing to be further studied as well. Do follow this research if you're intrigued. But reducing Cacao to chemical parts is not my favorite way to introduce or speak of a beloved. Plant or human. Cacao contains a whole host of natural "feel good" chemicals known to influence the body and brain in subtle ways, so don't be surprised if you start to feel the effects of this too. You may notice feelings of warmth rise up the trunk of your body, and have feelings of calm, tranquility, peace, bliss, or others rise up. Maybe your face is hot, you feel flushed, your heart flutters a little. Relax into this. Find comfort in your body through moving to positions of comfort. Twinges and such happen. Trust and move to comfort and breathe deeply. Cacao is a great partner for journey and meditation practice too.
Here's a one pound (gorgeous hunk) of raw cacao paste I brought back from Ecuador that was made by the gorgeous, powerful Indigenous Women of the Amazon region near Coco City. Sometimes it's coined 'Ceremonial Cacao Paste' and I break this up into chunks that are kept in a jar and weighed out for dosing in ceremonial preparations.
The Recipe - Ceremonial Cacao Preparation
There are many sources for organic cacao paste so do your homework and feel into the integrity of the company. Central and South America have many beautiful suppliers and then some who are questionable but you will see this with a few questions. One good question is where are the trees from and are the people passionate about their cacao and forthcoming on how they work and tend the land around the trees? If not, move on.
A Ceremonial Cacao Dose is 1oz. per person per day.
No more than 2oz. per day if you're moved to have more but do space the doses out a bit until you understand how Cacao works with you and your body. These are adult doses so offering to children means smaller amounts please. Sometimes just a spoonful is plenty.
How do you know if you're too sensitive, at least for today, and need to slow your dose down?
Simple. Read the language of your body. I am super sensitive to meds, herbs and just about anything. It's just how I am. Know you and adjust accordingly. This is not a competition and has nothing to do with body size either. Besides, isn't it fabulous to get there with less?! I find the overdose symptom picture looks like this: shaky, sweaty, antisocial, racing pulse, racing thoughts, disconnected feeling (we are), slow moving, heart palpitations, anxious, nauseated to mild and intense vomiting. Not fun! If these symptoms begin to appear during drinking your first dose slowly, then stop for now, drink plenty of water, and lay down. I keep stronger sedating nervine plants as companions on hand such as Skullcap, Chamomile, or Kava Kava root to sip as a tea or take in tincture doses of 10-20 drops with plenty of water and rest. I've not felt these effects with 1oz. but I have with a second 1oz. dose close to the first. And this can happen to anyone and anytime for it's dependent on you and Cacao and the work together in the time you are together. One session can have you feeling this come on half way through your first dose and another session you drink the whole dose with no symptoms at all. Listen to your body as it speaks and adjust your practice. Start low and go slow is my take for safety as these compounds in Cacao are quite powerful, stimulating, bitter, and have potent detoxifying compounds. These symptoms are a strong liver and heart response and we can work with this gently, with care and awareness.
Contraindications to Consider
If you take anti-depressant medications or cardiac medications of any kind, are pregnant or breast feeding then I ask that you prepare 1/4 of the dose 1/4 oz in 2oz. or more of water will do). Take with extra water and no more Cacao for the day. Some say none at all. I have seen this very low dose to be very safe time and again. The connection is made with a very small amount to none at all and just holding the seeds will do. You decide. Pure cacao can be fatal to dogs, and possibly horses and parrots, so be sure to keep it away from all pets to be safe.
Cacao is a powerful heart-opener, increasing blood flow significantly with these small ceremonial doses. It increases focus so that meditation, yoga, and therapeutic work are more accessible. It’s gentle, supportive energy allows me to expand and experience heightened states as well as drop safely into the shadows to clear out some murky heaviness my soul just does not want to carry any longer. We always smile after some good tears fall. Thank you for witnessing what I'm exploring which is a deeper, private, ceremonial way with Cacao. I hope this inspires you to weave Cacao medicine into your medicine bag and apothecary as a healer of self who continues to be medicine for Earth too. So much love to you, Jen
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine