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Cacao - Commune with the Food of the Gods! by Clara Tilve-Lyon & Anja Bock

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

Have you heard all the hype these days about raw cacao and even about cacao ceremonies being performed around the world? Are you wondering what it’s about? Read on to find out more about this food of the gods…

Few people on the planet have not heard about chocolate. But what is so special about it? (Besides millions of people around the world being hooked on it, it’s presence at almost every festive occasion and its mysterious ability to make any bad moment better the instant our senses connect with it).

By 2023, the chocolate confectionery industry has grown to be worth 127.9 billion US dollars! But this delight is far from being a new trend. It only became popular in Europe and North America as recently as the 18th century. Genetic evidence, however, dates the use of cacao to 5,300 years ago, originally by the pre-Columbian civilisations of the tropical regions of South and Central America, where it was revered for its benefits and used in ritual. It is mentioned extensively in the Popol Vuh, the sacred creation story of the Mayan people who inhabited the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It can also be found in engravings depicting ceremonial events, so we know that for the Olmec, Mayans, and Aztec, for example, cacao was a plant of great importance, and still is in Mayan culture today. However, we know very little about actual rituals performed in those times because of the loss of indigenous populations and of ancient artefacts. Cacao ceremony in the Western context today has no relationship with ancient cacao rituals, except for the desire to engage in a conscious way with this sacred plant.

So what is Cacao?

Theobroma cacao—which translates as ‘food of the gods’—is a tree native to the tropical regions of Central and South America. It is also grown in West Africa, where 70% of the world’s current cacao production comes from. Chocolate comes from the seeds, or beans, of the cacao tree, which are fermented and ground into a paste. Dark raw cacao is considered a real superfood, as it is known to have incredible health benefits for our physical, emotional and spiritual bodies—as you’ll discover when you read on.

We sometimes see the words cocoa and cacao used interchangeably, but let’s set this straight: they’re not the same thing! Although they both come from the seeds of the cacao tree, processing makes the difference. The cacao beans are dried and, in order to derive cocoa, they are heated at a high temperature and refined for a sweeter taste. However, the heating process eliminates much of this amazing food’s nutrients and antioxidants. Therefore, the health benefits we hear of are linked to raw cacao and not as much to cocoa. Cocoa loses as much as 4 times the antioxidant power in the processing. Cacao nibs are also a processed form and some of their nutrient values are lower than raw cacao. For the greatest health benefits, raw cacao (in powder or paste) is the way to go.

There is much more to cacao than meets the eye. For a long time it has been overlooked as the teacher and medicine plant that it is, a sacred medicine also known as the ‘blood of the heart’. Its subtle yet potent magic has now come back into focus, and back into our consciousness, to support us in these times of great shift. As Keith Wilson (the Chocolate Shaman) explains, ‘an indigenous myth tells us whenever the balance between humans and nature becomes threatened, cacao comes from the rain-forest to open people’s hearts and return the planet to a state of harmony.’

The Amazing Health Benefits of Cacao

This miracle plant benefits our body and our mind! Cacao not only offers incredible benefits to supercharge our health, but what a wonderful natural remedy for a moody day it can be! Cacao contains anandamide, also known as the bliss molecule, and it is a gentle energy booster thanks also to its magnesium. Its anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects work on improving our mood and restoring balance in the brain. It encourages the release of serotonin and boosts endorphins and other hormones for that feel-good factor that often comes with eating chocolate. Cacao also contains an alkaloid known as phenethylamine, a powerful chemical found naturally in the body that acts as a central nervous stimulant and increases dopamine and serotonin, those ‘happy hormones’ involved in the bliss of feeling in love. Yep, it feels that good! In our personal experience, however, we’ve found that in small doses, this plant can also soothe (rather than stimulate) the nervous system, and can really encourage deeper connection with heart, body, mind, health and spirit.

When it comes to nutrients, cacao is very rich in magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese, among others. Not only that— it brings benefits like carotene, protein, thiamine, antioxidants, essential fatty acids and flavonoids. Flavonoids are a kind of antioxidant that protects the cardiovascular system by improving circulation and strengthening your artery and vein walls, taking on the duty of lowering bad cholesterol levels. They also contribute to a glowing, healthy-looking skin and shiny hair. Cacao is actually full of powerful antioxidants that can protect the cells’ DNA from mutations and therefore support strong, healthy cells that can resist cancer.

Other benefits, thanks to all its nutrients, are also easing pre-menstrual syndrome, helping with weight control and slowing down ageing, as well as being immune boosting and anti-inflammatory. Studies have also found that cacao has an extract that is more effective than fluoride in protecting teeth from cavities! And that polyphenols, such as those in cacao, may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases by improving brain function and blood flow. Cacao is also a prebiotic, which means it supports gut health! It also contains theobromine and theophylline, which are highly beneficial to those who suffer from asthma.

Why engage with cacao in a conscious way and with sacred intention?

So now we know that cacao is a revered heart medicine, known as ‘the blood of the heart’. Scientifically, it has been found to support cardiovascular health. And this brings us to the ritual use of cacao in sacred ceremony.

Cacao has been used through the ages by indigenous tribes to open the heart on a spiritual level. The intelligence of this plant supports the alignment of heart, body, mind and spirit. It awakens within us an ancient wisdom, the knowing of who we truly are; it reconnects us to our vital life force energy and sets a safe, open-hearted field for intimate connection with ourselves, each other and all our relations. It has the power to heal and guide; when we are aligned in heart, body, mind and spirit, we live coherently and can create a strong foundation for intention-setting. We can tap into freedom, fully participate in life and express ourselves deeply through dancing our experience of it.

Ceremony is a space for us to step out of our usual frame of mind, connect with the Divine and open up to experience new insights & perspectives. At the very heart of ceremony lies intention, setting the field for our truest and clearest desire. This is held with integrity and passion as we go within to listen deeply and to connect with ourselves and those around us— when we come together to hold dear what it is we want to create. Ancient cacao rituals quite possibly arose from intuitive listening and self-inquiry with the plant. Similarly, modern cacao ceremony involves inquiry and building a relationship with the spirit of cacao. Sharing cacao in ceremony brings a group into the same frequency. The energy of the group is shifted into the same vibration— a healing experience for the body, mind and spirit. The spirit of cacao connects all the parts of our being through the heart space, to sense the deeper layers and bring us into a state of awareness where we can meditate on the vision of what we long to create.

Cacao, this healer plant being, allows us to bring together the ancient ways with the new ways in authentic practice as we connect the deepest part of ourselves to the grand design, to creating what it is we want to see in the world. This all starts from within, and when we come together for sacred ritual as a community, we lay a potent foundation for our relationship with ourselves and those around us.

Let us come together in sacred celebration, allowing this ancient medicine to work through our hearts, to expand our inner knowing and bring us back to community, to our divine essence and into balance and perfect harmony with one another and our planet.

This month you have the opportunity to engage in Cacao ceremonially, as part of a one night retreat at The Space Between – Coming Home to Ourselves. A Heart-Opening Journey through Embodied Dreaming. On 15th April, you’re invited to join Anja Bock and Clara Tilve-Lyon for this overnight journey of sacred ritual, conscious dance and dreamwork, as tools for personal and collective transformation.

Check out The Space Between schedule on our website, our app and social media for more info.


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