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We did a cacao ceremony in Mexico — here’s what happened

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.

Nina entering the Temple

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.

Cleaning before entering the Temple
Yor and the Goblet of Fire
Cacao Vessel
Michelle instructed us to close our eyes and hold them in front of our hearts. “Just allow the spirit and energy of cocoa to be,” she said. “What thoughts do you have? What energy is coming or going?
My mind twirled around a photographer’s constant struggle. Taking pictures or experience it yourself. Sometimes both were possible, here and today I had decided to experience it myself. But a seed began to grow inside of me, to participate in a second cocoa ceremony to capture that photographically. I finally relaxed and enjoyed the excellent cup of this aromatic drink.

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.

Michelle asked us to bring the cocoa into our hearts and set an intention for the ceremony. Mine was simple: the next lottery win should be mine. Naaaa, just kidding. I want to continue to open my heart to all people along our path, to be open to different ways of life, and to continue to meet cultural differences without prejudice. Which I succeeded more and more often, as I confessed to myself (not without a certain pride). And yet now and then the narrow-minded view in which I grew up crawled to the surface. Changing in a conscious direction requires daily exercises and visualizations of your thoughts. Is the voice in my head, mine? Or is it the voice of my parents, society, school, friends, or the media?
I was torn from my thoughts when Yor held out a colored blindfold for me. A few moments later a vibrating, slow drum kicked in and we were left to our thoughts. Now it was up to us to open our hearts and make ourselves sensitive to cocoa, as Michelle called it. Then she began to sing in a strong voice. Rhythmic drumming began slowly as she added an animal touch to the performance with a rattle. The whole thing sounded like an incantation or a prayer. I didn’t understand the words, I didn’t even know if it was Spanish or Maya. Every few seconds there was a loud “boom” from the big drum. Most memorable, however, was Michelle’s strong and determined voice. I have seldom seen a singer who could put so much emotion into a song.
Michelle singing

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.

The story was sung to the end and a drum started. “Boom”, pause, “boom”, pause, “boom”. Michelle’s wonderful voice appeared again. Loud, desperate, and strong. Someone took my hand again and held it over a candle and then leads it to my heart, only to lead it to the candle again after a few seconds back to the heart. To bring warmth to the heart. “You can’t be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with” shot through my head (or through my heart?). Self-love is so important. How can you open your heart to others and trust other people when you cannot trust yourself to do what is important to you?
Incentive Oil
Michelle and her Drum
Wind with feathers
Michelle’s voice sank again and after a few seconds of pause, she asked us to sing along. It was about the elements around us. “Earth is my body, water my soul, wind is my breath and fire is my spirit“. She started, and this time with a strength that sent a shiver through my body. How could anyone have such a voice? We joined in the chorus. Some shy, others are full of affection. And as so often experienced before, I was fascinated by how several different voices merged into one. Michelle’s voice got louder and louder without losing clarity or strength. The drum became more intense and faster and suddenly there was dancing. If I hadn’t pushed up my blindfold, this energetic and devoted, wild dance would have remained hidden from me. The two dancers, Yor, and the unknown flute player danced symbiosis. Although it seemed impossible with the many twists and turns, they kept looking each other in the eye. A wonderful spectacle.
And all of a sudden and without warning, the drumming, dancing, and singing stopped. And for a tiny moment, also the wind outside seemed to have stopped. Then everything was back. The wind and the eternal dance of the leaves on countless trees, the chirping of the crickets, and the crackling of the fire that was nearing its end. The dancers had dropped to their knees after the abrupt end of the drumming as if all energy had drained from them.

"work on being in love with the person in the mirror who has been through so much but is still standing."

Breathe,” instructed Michelle. “Breath, in and out,” she added. “Move your hands and feet. Move your head“. Then we took off the blindfolds. Some of us looked thoughtful, others disoriented as had woken up after a deep sleep, others smiled and were happy to have had this experience together. I saw a tear in Nina’s eyes. She wasn’t the only one.
Michelle asked us to get up slowly. Together we thanked the energy we were allowed to experience during the ceremony. Led by Yor, we raised our left hand and said thanks to the east, then turned west, south, and north. Yor thanked the elements for the energies that had visited and guided us. Then we thanked Heaven, and finally kneel to thank the earth. A quick drum roll accompanied the praise.
In the end, Michelle’s instructed us to stretch our arms forward, to rub the palms of the hands together, and then to send the created energy to heaven on three. “You must feel the heat,” and began rubbing her hands together. We followed. “Faster, faster,” she said. “One. Come on, rub your hands. Faster, ”she encouraged us. “Do you feel the heat?” She asked. “Yes,” replies somebody. “Two. Faster Faster. More more. You should feel the heat. Aaaaaand three,” she threw up her hands and spread her fingers. We paused for several seconds with our arms straight.
And now put your arms slowly down, veeeery slowly”. In the end, she crossed her hands and led them to the heart. We followed. “Open your heart”, she said and we all thanked each other.

We are the magic...

We hugged, known or unknown. Covid or no Covid. We were a community. Even if we had different views or opinions about this or anything, that evening we were in one alliance and united as people through this ceremony. Was there magic or a spell involved? Probably not. It didn’t matter. We are the magic, we humans. Everything that is needed to live together in a community is within us. We decide to do the right thing and not put ourselves above our neighbors. Because at the end of the day, we shape this world and our lives!
Ready to Dance?
Musik please
Like the wind

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

The temple literally presented itself in a different light during the day. He looked warm and flooded with light. The smoke that Yor lit in her goblet made the countless light rays, that entered through all the openings of the temple, visible. The temple was located in an alternative community in the middle of the jungle just a few minutes drive from Playa del Carmen. There are a few private cenotes, a kind of amphitheater, and a few other unused buildings. I had the impression that it hadn’t been used in years.
I had the opportunity to speak to Michelle and Yor during preparation. Yor proudly explained that all musical instruments, clothing, and artifacts for the altar were made using ancient methods and techniques. She explained that the different colors match each other according to the old tradition. My feeling was again confirmed that this was not the classic tourist trap. It was about tradition and respect and upholding old wisdom.
I discussed with the photojournalist that ceremony so that I wouldn’t run in front of her lens. Shortly before noon, the ceremony started, and I was able to experience the ceremony as a photographer. If only we could live every day twice, I thought. When I was thinking that, the famous saying of the Austrian Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl came to mind: “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.
At the end of this second cocoa ceremony, I noticed two things with joy: First, the photos turned out really good, and second, a second visit to a cocoa ceremony did not break the magic.

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Hi, my name is Jürgen. Most know me as Jay. I know, this can be confusing. My new name was caused by hundreds of Starbucks cups, all labeled with different names. I have never encountered life as powerfully as it has in recent years and I should not be surprised that I have left behind the realm of quick and impersonal business and conforming to society’s expectations. I swapped my jacket for hiking clothes and shorts, the aftershave for bug spray, and my car for a camper.


  • La mejor ceremonia de cacao gracias por compartir

  • May I ask where and how I could attend this ceremony? Thanks!

    • Please contact the lovely Yor directly via Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yorcobos/.

  • I just attended a ceremony in Puerto Vallarta. This was a lovely write-up describing my similar experience. Thank you.

  • Greetings, my name is David. I fell in love with the beautiful cacao tree and it's fruit for the first time while traveling in Costa Rica back in 2014. I have since been on a quest to better connect myself with this powerful plant and it's powerful medicine. I would like to own my own plot of land where i can grow it among many other things. My wife and I will be traveling to Mexico in a couple months and would love the opportunity to meet Yor and attend such a ceremony. Unfortunately, i do not have instagram. Do you know of another method of contacting her? I do have FB. Thank you for sharing this wonderful journey of yours!

  • Thank you so much for this beautiful post!

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