It's World Chocolate Day today, guys. Whilst everybody else is using this as justification to eat all the things, I'm going to permeate those sweet feels with a somewhat darker entry into chocolate's history: its association with the Aztecs and human sacrifice.
Image credit: Evan Amos / Wikipedia
As a disclaimer, the form of chocolate that we'll be exploring is entirely different from chocolate as we know it. The Aztecs made their cold chocolate drinks by brewing cacao beans, which were unrefined and unsweetened. They were then foamed up with maize and water, and ingredients such as chilies, vanilla, sacred earflower and spicy petals were included for additional flavour.
It wasn’t until the Spanish were introduced to the wonders of chocolate that ingredients such as vanilla and sugar were added. The Aztecs believed that the cacao bean had divine properties which were suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. In fact, it was utilised within Aztec culture in a variety of ways.
Cacao beans were used as the Aztec’s primary form of currency. 100 beans could buy you a slave, 10 beans bought the services of a prostitute, and four beans bought you a rabbit. Furthermore, all cacao growing areas that were conquered by the Aztecs were ordered to offer the beans as tribute to the Emperor. One estimate listed the yearly expenditure at 11,680,000 — some of which was simply used for his consumption. One Aztec ruler, Montezuma, was rumored to enjoy 50 cups of chocolate a day.
Unsurprisingly, chocolate had an incredibly close association with religion. The scientific classification for the cacao tree is Theobroma Cacao, and its literal translation is "food of the gods". This definition was taken quite literally by the Aztecs. Like most ancient cultures, the Aztecs had a variety of Gods, even one for chocolate.
His name was Quetzacoatl, and he was also the God of civilization and learning. The reason for this becomes evident when you look at the Aztec creation myth. Quetzacoatl is believed to not only have created the first humans, but to have also bestowed chocolate upon them. This sacred drink had previously been reserved for the Gods, and therefore the gift was an act of blasphemy. His punishment was to be banished from Earth for eternity.
This is of course reminiscent of Prometheus, who gave humans fire and was also punished by the Gods. Quetzalcoatl was portrayed as part bird and part serpent. During the Equinox, which was a sacred time for the Aztecs, stones were positioned alongside a step pyramid at Chichen Itza, so that as the sun set, a distinct shadowy serpent could be seen climbing the steps. At this point of religious ceremonies, the presiding priest was believed to be Quetzalcoatl incarnate.
Human sacrifice was the climax of this festival, and was performed to ensure fertility for both women and crops. Those who were destined to be sacrificed would be plied with a chocolate drink that was mixed with the blood of the previous victims.
After consuming this truly delicious sounding beverage, they too would be sacrificed at the top of the step pyramid, their blood flowing down for the next round of beverages. Some sources say that the concoction had an inebriating effect on the victims, thus rendering them less fearful of death. It’s unknown whether this was due to other added ingredients though, some historians speculating that alcohol may have been included.
Why mix blood with chocolate? The ever versatile cacao beans were also a metaphor for the heart being torn out in sacrifice – the seeds inside the pod were thought to be like blood spilling out of the human body. Also, the Aztecs believed that the sun needed a sacrifice of blood to ensure it rose again the next day. The pink colour of the sky at dawn and dusk was considered to be the blood that the sun lost in order to survive each night. It was essential that this loss was replaced by gifts, both human and chocolate.
The cacao tree with its thick, dark, blood-like liquid was ideal to complement the human offerings to the Gods. It’s also important to note that cacao beans were in themselves a symbol of fertility and life, as was blood, so it is no wonder that both were imperative when it came to ritual sacrifice.
Suffice to say, human sacrifice and chocolate are now mutually exclusive entities. Although personally I would possibly stab someone for a block of 70% Dark.