The scientific name of cacao is Theobroma cacao, from the Greek "theos," meaning "god," and "brôma," meaning "food." My boy Linnaeus probably heard all about this new fruit from the Americas which is a sacred plant and a gift from the gods. What he probably didn't hear was that it was so incredibly important that the Mayas made the coolest pyramid to worship cacao (one of the Wonders of the World).
The Mayans had a rich and complex pantheon of deities who played a central role in their religious beliefs and practices. They were also very into Math. Among their gods, the Mayans had a particular reverence for the god of cacao, my homie Kukulkan, aka Quetzalcoatl, aka Rayquaza. My man Alex DeLarge agrees.
For Mexican civilizations, cacao was (still is) a sacred gift with the power to bring us closer to the divine. Cacao was associated with fertility and life-giving energy, so it was used in rituals and ceremonies to honor the gods and seek their blessings. Important note: I'm NOT talking about modern cacao ceremonies. Those are turist traps for white people.
One of the most important Mayan gods of cacao was Ek Chuaj, the god of merchants and trade, also associated with fertility and agriculture. A protector of cacao plantations, he was often depicted with a cacao tree in his hand.
Kukulkan, feathered snake, creator of the world and civilization, associated with fertility, prosperity, and wisdom, had also the power to bring rain, which was essential for the growth of cacao and other crops. Non-important note: For the Mexicas, Tlaloc, my real G, is the god of rain, and I'm not ready to accept that Tlaloc and Kukulkan could be the same. Don't make me choose! (... I would choose Tlaloc, hands down, and I believe 70% of Mexico is with me on this one).
Kukulkan's pyramid, in the archaeological site of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, is built in such a way that the sun casts a shadow on the pyramid's western balustrade (love this word and I don't get to use it often) during the Spring and Fall equinoxes, creating the illusion of a serpent descending the pyramid's stairs. In case you needed proof of some math genius, here's one. This representation was Kukulkan bringing cacao to the humans as a token of appreciation. He (She, It?) would come down from the skies to bring cacao and a good harvesting season (in Spring) and goes back once the harvesting season is over in the Fall. Curiously enough, cacao is harvested twice a year. Duality was also something the Mayans really liked, so cacao represented a natural cycle that pleased everyone's math sense. You can read more about harvesting here.
The equinoxes are significant to Mayans, because the sun, moon, and planets are closely connected to existence and the natural world. They built pyramids and ceremonial structures aligned with the movements of celestial bodies. This pyramid is a celebration of the balance between light and darkness, a tribute to the cosmic forces that were believed to shape the world, and (in proto-democratic ways) bringing cacao to the people for mathematical perfection.
Thanks for reading!