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Cacao is the natural and unprocessed seed of the Theobroma cacao tree. Cocoa refers to the powder left behind after the beans have been winnowed and processed, and the butter removed. In layperson’s terms, cacao is the more highly concentrated or natural version of chocolate. For comparison’s sake, most mass-produced chocolate, even the good varieties, contain only 20 to 30 per cent cacao. The rest is milk, sugar, and solids.

By contrast, the cacao used in spiritual ceremonies and for consumption by enthusiast, is almost pure ground cacao bean mixed with cacao butter, water and maybe a few spices to temper its extreme bitterness.

Using cacao as a catalyst for healing has gained popularity in the West in the past decade or so, but it has been used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes for thousands of years. Cacao was considered sacred, and the ritual of drinking it as an elixir for good health has its roots in the ancient Olmec, Mayan and Aztec traditions in Central and South America. Both cacao and chocolate are derived from Olmec and Mayan languages.

Even the most modern mention of cacao dates back to a letter to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1520. In the centuries since, hundreds of documents extolling the virtues of cacao have been published in English, Spanish, French, German and Latin. Healers in many cultures have traditionally used cacao to alleviate a host of mental and physical afflictions. Science backs up many of these claims and has established that cacao is a rich source of theobromine, caffeine, iron, magnesium, tryptophan, B-complex vitamins, and flavonoids.

Cacao’s health benefits aside, one of the biggest reasons for its rise in popularity is its adoption by new age spiritual healers. In 2003, Keith Wilson, a cacao ceremony creator who lives in Guatemala, claimed to have met the “Cacao Spirit”, who offered to help him understand cacao, and unlock and share its secret powers and gifts with the rest of the world. His experiments with cacao in group ceremonies with friends led to a network of people who facilitated the custom across the world, adding personalised touches along the way.

Cacao ceremonies now often include one or a combination of healing practices such as reiki, sound, dance, yoga and meditation. A typical ceremony involves a group of people sitting in a circle, setting intentions (what they hope to achieve and what they hope to get rid of during the exercise), drinking cacao, sharing intimate confidences without judgment, and allowing cacao to guide them to an elevated meditative state. This can last between two and six hours. 

Most good health food stores will sell a organic raw unprocessed cacao powder from Peru  or Ecuador suitable for cacao ceremonies! So next full moon, grab some friends and drink some velvety rich cacao under the moonlight!

Lots of recipes can be found on the web! Find one that best suits your needs or choose a more traditional recipe!

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