A Practical Guide to Cacao Ceremony
A cacao farmer once told me: "Cacao is the wisest plant of the rainforest"
We've created this guide to share how we approach cacao with the intention of actively relating with a plant spirit elder, rather than purely consuming cacao for a desired physical or emotional effect.
Often times a relationship will deepen by asking the right questions. So what could we ask of cacao? Here is one example:
"The cacao tree is native to the rainforest ecology, a place of thriving life. How can our human systems encourage the thriving of all life? Ancient mythology shares that the cacao tree helped humans come into balance with nature during a historical time of great imbalance. Facing similar challenges now, can cacao can teach us how to honor life and re-establish ecological balance?"
- GIVING GRATITUDE
- CLEARING SPACE
- CHOOSING DOSAGE
- CEREMONY - Individual
- CEREMONY - GROUP
I have heard gratitude referred to by an indigenous elder as “the words that come before all else.”
Having the opportunity to prepare cacao for ourselves and others is an incredible gift; that’s why I always begin working with cacao from a place of gratitude.
The duration of gratitude can vary – anything from the bare minimum of just thirty seconds, to an elaborate ritual of several hours. Often once I begin giving gratitude, it is self-reinforcing, and I find I want to keep going because I have more things to give gratitude for. It’s good to spend time giving gratitude – the writer Martin Prechtel calls giving praise as one of the two great skills of life.
Giving gratitude effectively has two components: the formulation of grateful thoughts and words, and bringing these into physical form.
I begin by speaking out loud or pausing to give thanks internally with my thoughts for the blessings in my life and for the good fortune bestowed upon me. As I articulate my gratitude, I always challenge myself to truly feel it, with the gratitude as a felt sensation throughout all of my body. As this does not always come readily, I sometimes give a symbolic offering to help bring the gratitude into physical form.
For example, I will frequently hold a pinch of sacred tobacco as I speak gratitude, infusing it with good words, and then I scatter this gratitude in nature.
Gratitude can be given far in advance of working with a particular preparation of cacao – there’s no limit to how much gratitude we can give. For example, when I’m preparing to facilitate a cacao ceremony, I begin “setting the container” with gratitude days to months in advance, even if I don’t begin working with the actual cacao until the day of. This has the powerful effect of creating a high resonant field for the cacao ceremony, so that when I show up to share cacao in my community, a lot of the "work" is already done, and I can simply relax knowing that the cacao is now in an optimal setting for sharing its healing.
If it does not come easy at first, that’s okay. Feeling and speaking gratitude is an art form that develops with practice. Preparing cacao is a great excuse to hone that skill. Giving gratitude together with other people also makes it easier, because I am reminded of things I am grateful for in the eloquent words of my friends and family.
When working with cacao, I always pay attention to clean and clear the space I am working in.
Fundamentally, I work with both “physical” clearing of space, and “energetic” clearing of space – together these create a clean working environment for welcoming ceremonial cacao. Physical cleaning of space, such as removing clutter and having clean tools, reflects my own understanding that my physical surroundings are a reflection of my internal state of mind and heart. When I take the time to make my location beautiful, I am also cultivating the beauty within.
For energetic clearing of space I receive help from various sacred herbs, such as sage, palo santo, sandalwood, or sweetgrass. Each one of these has particular uses and you can find extensive literature on them. Advanced energetic space clearing techniques also include the use of sounds, such as Balinese clapping, playing chimes or gongs, or playing sacred music, to increase the vibration level in the space that we are working with. Similarly, engaging in a mindfulness practice such as meditation, can increase our internal energetic vibration in preparation for working with cacao.
I have seen again and again that the diligence I bring to my gratitude and clearing space practices are reflected in the outcome.
There are certain occasions on which more extensive preparation is needed or warranted than in other occasions – you inner guide will help you judge this. The good thing is – you can’t do it wrong – by bringing a light heart and mindfulness to working with cacao you are on the right track and these practices will grow with time and experience.
A good place to begin working with cacao ceremonially is approximately 1 oz. of pure cacao -
and this is a good guideline when preparing cacao for others.
Yet "dosage" with cacao is highly nuanced, and here's why...
I spent many months consuming only small amounts of cacao, such as 0.5oz or less, in order to better understand it’s physical and mental effects. This is easiest with pure cacao, or a chocolate with 85% or darker content. If there is sweetener involved, my recommendation is to avoid cane sugar, as its strong energy rush is similar to caffeine and can make it much harder to discern the effects of the cacao alone.
"My studious consumption of relatively small amounts of cacao helped me understand that cacao interacts with my body and mind differently depending on time of day, energy levels, and internal state. This will be unique for each person, so if you are truly called to working with cacao on a regular basis, I recommend taking the time to discover your own relationship with it. When sharing cacao with others, I always emphasize that each person's inner guide is the highest authority on how much cacao to drink, and that there is no one size fits all approach."
After a period of consuming small quantities, I consumed much larger quantities of cacao, up to 2oz per day or even a little bit more. It was through these amounts that I began and continue to discover cacao in its full potency. The magic of a full dosage of ceremonial cacao is a beautiful thing to experience, and has become part of some of my most treasured memories. I don’t approach consuming large doses of cacao like this lightly – it is a powerful plant medicine, and I only began my solo work with cacao at these higher levels after more fully developing my own understanding of the cacao and receiving guidance to consume larger quantities. If you are interested in consuming large amounts of cacao, I highly recommend directly seeking the guidance of someone who is experienced in working with cacao.
On a regular basis, I consume about 1oz of pure cacao a day. Yet the effects will vary widely – sometimes that’s just enough to keep me alert through a long day, and other days it’s a tool for emotional processing and ecstatic experiences.
To me that is evidence that gratitude, clearing space, and intention have a far greater effect on my experience of the cacao than just the dosage alone.
I also recommend these essential guidelines: no coffee or alcohol six hours before ceremony, and be well hydrated. If possible, drink a lot of water the day before the ceremony.
My morning routine is to prepare a cup of ceremonial cacao and to drink it, the same way that Maya cacao farmers do.
When I am on my own, I incorporate the following elements:
- I find a beautiful space, either by an altar in my home or outside in the garden, and settle in with a ritual gesture, such as lighting a candle or ringing a chime.
- I use a "clearing space" practice as described previously to set a container for the cacao ceremony.
- Holding the cup of hot ceremonial cacao, I smell it's aroma, and for several breaths, focus on taking full deep in-breaths and exhales.
- Still holding the cup of cacao, I focus on something that I am deeply grateful for. I give it a moment time, to let the physical feeling of that gratitude enter my body, and transmit it into the cup of cacao.
- If you are musically inclined, a song or musical piece can be wonderful here.
- With attention, I sip my first sip of cacao.
- With each following sip, I pause to speak out loud or internally a gratitude, intention, or request for help. This dialogue helps me articulate and clarify what I am experiencing in my life, and to set clear direction.
- Once I'm at the bottom of the cup, I close the ceremony with another ritual gesture. This completes the active ceremony, although I carry attentiveness into the rest of my day, as I know the cacao will continue working with me over the course of the next many hours. Keeping a journal nearby is a great tool for harvesting spontaneous insights.
- If I have time, a solo cacao ceremony can become a much longer intentional experience. For example, I can drink cacao before a hike in nature, before going dancing, or creating art. As the cacao is active for several hours, having the open space to interact with it will only deepen your relationship.
Sharing cacao in a group can be a powerful shared experience, deepening our relationship with each other.
For any group cacao ceremony, I ask myself what my intention is for the group.
Clarifying this helps me select the activities and plan the flow of the evening.
My favorite practice in a group is to all drink our first cup of cacao together. Once we are all holding our cups of cacao, I ask everyone to raise their cups of cacao to the sky together. Doing so has three effects: 1) it brings the energy of the group together with a shared action, 2) it honors the cacao by physically elevating it above our heads, 3) it prepares our nervous systems for drinking cacao, as raising our arms is a gesture of celebration.
Hand peeling lightly roasted whole cacao beans is a ritual action that serves to deepen our connection with the cacao tree. Forming small groups to peel beans is a group activity that almost always results in an excited chatter in the room, as people have an opportunity to informally share in a new experience. Simultaneously, I invite people to give gratitude with each cacao bean they peel, and of course, to snack on as many as desired as we do it! This is also a great opportunity to taste cacao beans from different origins, as pure cacao has many flavors!
For all groups sizes, also read "ceremony - on your own", as many similar elements can be incorporated into the ceremony. For example, in cacao ceremony for two, taking turns taking sips of cacao and speaking gratitude or intention can be a beautiful way to get to know each other better and to share in a space of prayer. And two is not the limit ... even a large group can split into pairs, and I have done this activity quite effectively in group sizes as large as 40 people!
Any sort of group activity can lend itself well to cacao ceremony. For example, meditation, song circle, dancing, or music are all actions that activate the cacao, both through mindfulness and moving energy through music and motion. Anything is possible - pull on your curiosities and interests as a facilitator, and collaborate with others! I've had a friend lead a tantra workshop, and then we followed it with a kirtan performance. Another time we practiced partner yoga in a group, and then gave a Thai massage workshop.