Mythology and Symbolism of Cacao

Mythology and Symbolism of Cacao

The fermented, roasted, and ground beans of the Theobroma cacao have been consumed by pre-Olmec people since 1900 BC; later, the Aztecs and the Maya used the beans as a currency and a valued beverage. Indeed, the drink called Xocoatll was employed in religious rituals because of its special aphrodisiac and strength properties.

In Mesoamerica, cacao symbolizes fertility in marriage rituals and it is also employed in agricultural ones to fertilize the earth. Specifically, cacao had stimulated a symbolic world of images associated with fish, sun, rain, blood, fertility, maize agriculture, human regeneration, and the greater cycles of death and rebirth. Such images combined in a narrative about solar burning and fish resurrection as it can be seen in the Palenque Triad representing the planet Venus and solar immolation through fish and waterbird figurative images to represent the solar and agricultural rebirth from the watery underworld (caves, cenotes, etc.). Similar imagery is present in the Central Mexican Quetzalcoatl.

Evidence about such conclusions is based on pottery and stoneware of the Maya Classic period revealing the link between cacao and maize in representing the cycle of death and rebirth paralleling the agrarian cycle of planting and harvesting. The myth represented in such iconography is based on images of self-sacrifice and rebirth to represent the cacao processing but it also includes references to the ancestral versions of the Maya creation story traditionally based on the Maize God.

In Europe, the beverage has been introduced in Spain in 1528, in France in 1615, and in England in 1662. However, chocolate, as we are used to, has been invented in Switzerland in 1874 where the addition of milk transformed the bitter compound in something tastier.

cacao beans

If you are interested in the traditional processing of the beans of Theobroma cacao, the Museo de Cacao in Cahuita, managed by natives Costa Ricans, offers a nice tour recreating the history of chocolate production from the indigenous people who mixed cocoa with maize, pepper and hot chiles to the Europeans who refined it with milk and sugar. The Museo is a nice opportunity to visit the local community and take a look at the issues of the natives who are struggling for the legal recognition of their rights, notwithstanding Costa Rica did sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.


Grofe, M. J. (2007). The Recipe for Rebirth: Cacao as Fish in the Mythology and Symbolism of the Ancient Maya 

Chocolate Was Invented In Mesoamerica 1900 B.C. Retrieved from 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *