I ring on the doorbell of a bearded man who offers chocolate openly to strangers, but this is not trick or treat.
Seekers are drawn here throughout the year to take their many costumes off. We slowly gather in a circle on the porch where cups are poured and passed around.
Half an hour later, my heartbeat quickens, colors grow vivid, a warmth comes over me. Is it the group energy or has the sprinkle of chili pepper helped this dark Mayan elixir rush my bloodstream?
Up north in Mexico, I could chew cactus around ceremonial fire. South in Peru, I could partake of soul vine in the jungle. Here on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the sacred substance of ceremony is cacao.
Keith Wilson, a long-haired, slim-figured and from Pennsylvania, has held cacao ceremonies for over a decade when not traveling. He’s no Mayan, and he didn’t come to town as the “Chocolate Shaman” either, but he’s made home here. He tells of how the Cacao Spirit came to him, sending him to discover why cacao was an important deity (Ek Chuah) in Mayan cosmology.
It’s not a usual conversation, but few of us have come here for the usual.
Mayan culture famously used cacao 2600 years ago, predated by the Olmecs, exalting it as “food of the gods,” celebrating its divine origin, taking it as medicine and drinking it in ritual. Keith sought insight behind cacao’s spiritual utility—the why and what for? When modern ceremonial use proved elusive, he found a village selling raw cacao and turned to direct experience.
“I was aware as soon as I had cacao in my system that I was working with one of the planet’s most important medicine plants and teacher plants,” Keith tells us. He believes the spiritual potential of cacao was overlooked by 1960s seekers desiring a more dramatically altered-state.
“It’s not a psychedelic. Chocolate won’t take you on a trip,” Keith says, and a few sighs go through the group. “It’s a profound connection and partnership facilitator. It will help you connect to what you want to connect to. At least the chocolate that still has the goodies in it, not processed out.”
Keith shakes a cacao fruit. Inside are 30-40 seeds and sweet tart pulp, kept together for fermenting, before the seeds are dried in sunlight. He buys dried beans in bulk (over 7,000 pounds this year), and local families lightly toast and peel them. The roasted beans are ground, heated to melt and poured into solid bars of cacao for shipping, selling, or melting with water for ceremony.
But these are no candy bars. Raw cacao contains over 300 active compounds.
I pop some beans into my mouth and reflect on the wrinkled faces around me. The beans are so bitter and dry they make dark chocolate taste sugary. We’ve generously sweetened our drinks (each containing 1.5 oz cacao) with unrefined cane sugar.
“Let’s play.” The Chocolate Shaman raises his glass, after advising anyone with a heart condition or taking anti-depressants to pass. Cacao contains compounds associated with quickening the pulse, opening blood vessels and enhancing mood. Keith calls the sum effect “a heart-centered energy,” and my own sensations seem to attest.
In his ceremonies, Keith uses cacao to facilitate intuitive healing work, encouraging people to release inner pain that plays out as patterns in their lives and explore all relationships as spiritual.
“This is a school for getting out of your own way. When you drop the inner story, you make room for who you really are, to move in, wake up and play.”
Keith tells a woman to his right that she’s learned to take spirituality too seriously. We close our eyes for a heart-smile “Glow” meditation.
“For many people the idea they are going to smile during meditation is very strange,” he says. “They’ll get over it.”
Keith calls cacao “The Food for the Shift” and draws dozens three afternoons a week to his porch, attracting regulars and inspiring a growing cacao diaspora among travelers. Many who have experienced his ceremonies stay connected as The Cacao Tribe.
“What’s coming is more people are going to find it important to let go of the inner density,” he says, “because playing it out in reality is going to become more intense.”
As we focus inside, the Chocolate Shaman begins to work the porch, intensely jumping between people. Some laugh, some keep quiet, some break into tears. With eyes closed, I observe waves of emotions and images inside. I can’t deny they flow easily right now. I feel a presence across from me and I open my eyelids.
Keith’s eyes pierce me through small wiry glasses. “Are you ready to let go of these beliefs you’re holding onto, beliefs keeping you from your light?”
It’s not an everyday sort of probe. But nobody—including me—has come here to ask everyday sort of questions. Instead, we rang the doorbell.
Author: Aimee Hansen
Volunteer Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Renée Picard
Photos: Courtesy of author.