The finely chopped pieces of cocoa created an intense taste in my mouth. Deep and bitter. My pottery cup was filled with liquid, brown gold. Cocoa and water. I smiled when I looked around and saw the surprised faces of the other participants. Most people are surprised when they drink or eat 100% cocoa for the first time. Cocoa is bitter. No sugar and no nuts or marzipan in the middle. No similarity to the chocolate offered on the candy shelf.
The cocoa used in today’s ceremony was ground by hand by Michelle, our ceremony leader, in the morning on a rough stone with a stone roller, then poured with water and heated over an open flame in a large pottery pitcher. Another look around. About ten people sat in the dome-like structure, which the people living in this community simply called “the temple”. I knew most of the people sitting around because this cocoa ceremony was organized especially for us. We wanted to experience a special and unique event with our friends from the USA and so we decided on a cocoa ceremony. Some tourists, staying in the accommodations near the temple area, complemented our international group.
"Most people are surprised when they drink or eat 100% cocoa for the first time. Cocoa is bitter. And is a superfood"
I could see that many styles and creative methods were combined in the construction of this temple. A large double-winged gate that was now closed seemed to have been built from the wood of the jungle. There were openings in the walls in the shape of an ear, an eye, and a Mayan cross with a heart in the middle.
Four people guided us through the ceremony. A drummer was sitting across from the entrance. Dressed in traditional warrior clothing, another younger Maya descendant, also in traditional clothing, had a drum and several flutes set up in front of him. Yor Den Cobos, our “priestess”, was wrapped in white robes, her pitch-black hair tied in a strict knot on her head fixed with colorful ribbons. Her body was painted with elegant and surely meaningful ornaments. Michelle, our ceremony leader, was wrapped in a red dress and guided us through the ceremony in English.
A small shrine had been set up in the middle of the wonderful wooden floor. A fire burned in a hand-sized vessel that resembled a stone goblet and produced an almost absurd amount of smoke. The smoke rose to the four-meter-high domed ceiling and disappeared through the star-shaped opening into the hot night. All sorts of other artifacts completed the picture of offerings.
Before we entered the temple, each and every one of us was incense with this goblet. In the words of Yor, we have been purified by the smoke and this is the first step in opening our hearts for us. Next to the incense goblet, there was a large pottery vessel from which Michelle scooped hot cocoa in small cups to serve each of us. She told us about the history of cocoa and the importance it had for her ancestors, the Olmecs when they cultivated it as a medicine and spiritual instrument over 3500 years ago.
“Cacao is more than chocolate, it is a spiritual dimension, an intelligence that we cannot perceive with the mind, but with the heart, the intuition, and through feelings. We’re happy to share a guideline, a basic blueprint, for how to invite the Cacao into your heart and in your space“, she said in a calm, firm voice.
Cacao is more than chocolate, it is a spiritual dimension, an intelligence that we cannot perceive with the mind, but with the heart, the intuition, and through feelings.
A few minutes later the acoustic scene changed. The drumming and singing ceased and a flute carried me off to a long-forgotten Mexico. The characteristic sound of this flute reminded me of the native Americans or flutes used in Peru or Ecuador. A pleasant feeling. Someone rubbed a fragrant oil into my hand and then led it to my heart. A strange intimate touch. Although it only lasted a few seconds, it felt more like minutes. It’s crazy how quickly other senses begin to sharpen when one sense was gone – in this case, my vision. When the flute stopped, I couldn’t tell how much time had passed. It could have been a minute or ten, maybe twenty?
There was silence for a few seconds, only the creaking on the wooden floor – when someone moved – could be heard. Probably someone who moved into a more comfortable sitting position. Then Michelle’s voice sounded again. This time without a drum. I couldn’t understand the words, but they told a story. Sad and hopeful. The dome-shaped building cast her voice in all directions and created the feeling of space and expanse. As if we were sitting in a cathedral.
"work on being in love with the person in the mirror who has been through so much but is still standing."
We are the magic...
Behind the scenes at a cocoa ceremony
My wish to attend a cocoa ceremony as a photographer was satisfied very quickly. Our friend Waltraud was preparing an article about a cocoa ceremony. We met Waltraud, also a long-term traveler, also from Austria, in Playa del Carmen. We quickly became dear to her and became good friends. She is a journalist, has her column in a large Austrian magazine, and is celebrating the appearance of her second book in a month. As a woman traveling alone, she deserves our greatest respect. She doesn’t have the luxuries that we have on our adventures. We can always solve any problem by two and if one of us is not doing well, the other steps in. Check out Waltraud’s website and don’t forget to buy your book (in german language)
Waltraud organized that I was allowed to take my photos next to the official photographer. (Dear Waltraud, thank you again for this great opportunity)
The plan was to have a full ceremony of their own, not just staged scenes. Besides, the ceremony would take place around noon in order to have good light for proper photos. In the evening nothing could be done without a flash, as I experienced myself. In total, we were six participants this time. We met in the morning in front of the same temple where the first ceremony had taken place. Michelle explained to us the process of cocoa grinding, which she performed again in front of the temple with her traditional stone tools. In the meantime, Yor applied fine white lines to her body with a thin brush. While I was taking photos of the preparations, the altar with the offerings as well as the drums and other musical instruments were set up. Michelle continued to work at the cocoa beans with the rough stone tools and prepared our cocoa for later.
"Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now" - Victor Frankl
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