What is a Cacao Ceremony?
Cacao ceremonies are popping up all over the world. It’s beautiful to see people honor this medicine by creating heart-opening portals to journey with cacao. Of course, part of this honoring is also respecting cacao and where it comes from. This brings us to the question: What is a cacao ceremony? In this article, we’re going to share the origins of cacao ceremonies, as well as practicing discernment of what to call your sacred cacao offering.
Disclaimer: Throughout the history of Guatemala, many practices have been lost over generations. Elders are cautious to share their knowledge because of fear of persecution or exclusion from their community. What we share in this article comes from our personal experience sitting with Mayan elders and having them retell us their way of creating a ceremony. This article can’t represent the full scope of “ceremonial practices with cacao” in Guatemala as we are only have a restricted insight to what the rich local indigenous culture contains. We are based in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala – a highland lake tucked away among indigenous Mayan cultures. For the Mayan descendants, cacao is a sacred plant. People have been practicing ceremonies with cacao for thousands of years.
What is a Cacao Ceremony according to Mayan culture?
There are several components to a Mayan ceremony that make it their own. A traditional ceremony includes invoking the 7 directions (east, west, north, south, Earth, Sky, and your own heart). Each one of the directions also relates to an element, as well as to deeper layers of the human psyche and our existence. It’s the Heart of each one of these directions and elements that is called upon. Within the center of these directions lies the Ahau, which is the energy of the Creator. A typical ceremony also invokes the energy of the day from the Mayan calendar.1 The ceremony also pays respect to the elders, teachers, and the ancestors.2
Each one of these invocations carries the potency of lineage and reverence. It’s this potency that is what makes these traditions special.
We at Cacao Source are not carriers of this tradition, though we have huge respect for the Ajq’ij, or day counters, who have been anchoring this practice, often times on a daily basis. These ceremonies are done out of respect for spiritual forces, which are believed to create harmony and balanced to the Earthly realm. The day counters also only receive permission to share this transmission after years of dedicated practice.
It is also important to note that often times, a traditional Mayan ceremony does not include cacao. If it does, it’s still not called a “cacao ceremony”. This is actually a New Age term which initiated about twenty years ago. It is not entirely clear if the ancient people practiced a “cacao ceremony”, per se, or if they had ceremonies which included cacao.
In the Western World, the term “cacao ceremony” has been spreading quickly, and often times losing most of the potency of a traditional ceremony. A traditional ceremony is crafted by a lineage, where you are initiated and you need permission to pass it down.
Is cacao meant to be shared in only one way? We believe that when cacao is shared with reverence to where it comes from, as well as an intention that comes from the heart, that this can create a very powerful container. What exactly we call these containers, however, is very worthy of discussion.
In the Mexica lineage, for example, sharing cacao is taken very seriously. Before you can be initiated to sharing cacao, your role is to sing to the cacao while it is being prepared.2 It takes many years of training – speaking the ancient language, knowing the symbolic meaning of each day of the calendar, connecting to the cacao spirit – before you have permission to share cacao. Yet, Westerners have seemingly bypassed the same respect for lineage and are creating cacao ceremonies, most often without understanding the depth of cultural relevance.
We’re all creating history together, and as we move forward, we need to be mindful. For that reason, we encourage you to be very mindful about what you call your cacao offering. Does it tap into ancient traditions that you’ve been given permission to pass down? It’s okay if it doesn’t, but for then you may want to call your offering a “cacao circle” instead of a “cacao ceremony”.
If you would like to more deeply understand the roots of a traditional ceremony, we encourage you to come visit the communities of Lake Atitlan that honor these ancient practices and to learn from an experienced guide!
1 In the Mayan calendar, there are 260 days, which are made up of the combination of 20 archetypes and 13 tones (20×13=260). Each one of these days in honored as a sacred contribution to the whole.
2 Xochitl Sandee Budreau, Mexica elder, carrier of the don, and connector to the Mayan wisdom.