When my friend Tina invited me to a cacao ceremony in Ubud last weekend, I did not have to even think twice before saying yes. I imagined a chocolate fondue fountain in the middle of a beautiful garden with people lounging on blankets feeding strawberries to each other while listening to Alice Coltrane. Who doesn’t love an afternoon dedicated to cacao consumption?
When we arrived at the villa where the ceremony was taking place, I thought to myself “Ah, okay, so this is how it’s gonna go down…” My vision wasn’t particularly that far off, but it has slipped my mind that Ubudians (aka new-agey folks) can be quite serious about these things. I’m not hippie-bashing by any means, but when it comes to group spiritual practices, I tend to be more light-hearted. It’s a subjective experience, though. Take what you want from it.
We sat around in a circle of about 30 people and introduced ourselves and our intentions for the experience. Surprisingly, many people were not new to cacao ceremonies. When it was my turn, I told everyone that I was there because my dad used to tell me “Life is just about showing up.” Here I am!
Modern cacao ceremonies, at least outside of Central and South America, are a relatively new phenomenon, but they are growing in number. According to what a Guatemala-based ceremony creator named Keith Wilson (who now calls himself the Chocolate Shaman) says, “in 2003 he was contacted by the spirit of the cacao plant and offered the chance to work with it and share its gifts with others.” Cacao, he learned, was used traditionally by indigenous shamans influenced by Mayan and Aztec cultures, to facilitate their journeying.
I remember when I worked at a vitamin/supplement store, we used to sell theobromine, the alkaloid constituent of cacao, in pill form. It was in the stress management section, and for good reason. “Due to certain active ingredients that help release ‘feel good’ emotions, cacao is considered a heart opener. Creating feelings of emotional intimacy and pleasure, it has long been considered a luxurious delicacy, especially with the addition of sugar and spices to suit modern palates. Without realizing, we still get to enjoy a small fraction of it’s potential when we eat cacao in a regular chocolate bar. And yes, this is why it has become associated with romantic gestures and pleasurable indulgence!” (1) Not to mention, cacao has a significant amount of magnesium, a mineral that women need more of during their periods, which is one of the reasons why we crave it during that time of month!
Because of all of this goodness, in “ceremonial doses” (meaning about 2-3 oz of powder in water), cacao can actually bring you to higher levels of spiritual connection.
Once the cacao was poured, everyone silently sipped away and started chatting like normal. Some women started doing yoga, some people started playing drums and chanting. One guy introduced his new app that he was developing called “Get Real”, which is a series of raw questions to ask people. I was enjoying myself, but my god, the cacao was really bitter and was hard to choke down. I soon discovered small bowls of palm sugar, cinnamon, and cayenne, and then all was right in my holy lil cacao mug.
The person who was leading the ceremony had forgotten to tell us the story of the cacao, which made it that much more special. Apparently he traveled to Guatemala to find this pure, rare bean from a small village. He bought 5 kilos and then proceeded to backpack throughout South America with the cacao on his back for two months. He was determined to bring it back to Bali and host a cacao ceremony here. Wow, amazing! Given my latest experience with the pigment in Sulaewsi, I suddenly felt truly honored to take part in this ceremony.
I was given a second portion of cacao drink, but this one I could not finish. I was starting to feel pretty sad, actually. One stranger must have read this and came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me that I was a beautiful person. I think the cacao was working. It really was a heart-opener.
After about two hours, the group started singing the Cranberries song “Zombie”, I turned to Tina and said “Wanna go get sushi?” She smiled and looked a little relieved.
All in all, I am super grateful I got to take part in this experience of intentionally overdosing on cacao. It was a taste of Bali I will always remember.