Ancient music, drink mark winter ceremony

Jan 15, 2023

It sounds like the perfect way to spend a cold winter’s night. 

A warm, dark, cozy room, soothing music and a warm cup of cacao — wait, cacao? Not cocoa? 

Yes, you read that correctly. In Mesoamerica, drinks made of cacao, the unroasted seed of the cacao plant, have been used in sacred ceremonies for centuries. 

One such ceremony took place at Stella Maris Yoga on the night of Saturday, Jan. 14.

“Sound healer” Lori Fitzpatrick and flutist Skip Waite brought “healing vibrations” to the Cranberry Highway yoga studio, performing ancient music as guests sipped their cacao. 

Fitzpatrick plays the shruti box (an Indian instrument similar to a harmonium), Himalayan metal bowls, gongs, crystal bowls, drums and various instruments used by indigenous peoples from around the world, mainly South America.

“It releases tension and stress in your body,” she said. “It improves immunity, decreases blood pressure and improves your overall state of health and well-being. You leave feeling tranquil.”

Fitzpatrick’s husband Mike Balonis said that cacao and music work together nicely.

“In a spiritual way, it opens you up emotionally,” he said about the drink, which has a strong, bitter flavor before sweetening is added. “In a physical way, it’s really good for your circulation. It’s a heart-opener.”

Waite, who worked at the Old Company Store for 10 years before his retirement, made flutes out of wood before he started playing them. 

“They looked like fun to me!” He said. “And here I am, still making them.”

At first, he carved the flutes from branches, splitting them down the middle and carving them from the inside. 

This was a difficult and time-consuming process. When asked how he managed to make such flutes sound good, he simply said, “Luck.”

Nowadays, he gets the pieces he needs from a lumber mill in Mattapoisett. 

He had to play the flutes in order to tune them, making sure that they produced the proper notes based on the size of their holes.

“A lot of the time you had to fill them in and start over again,” he said.

Tuning the flutes caused him to fall in love with their sound.

“It is an eerie sound, is it not?” He said. “With no amplifier.”

Waite is self-taught. His musicianship is “90% by ear,” playing tunes that he knows by heart. Albums of his Native American and Tibetan flute music were for sale.

During the ceremony, Fitzpatrick asked participants to write down what they wanted to hold onto throughout the year, as well as what they wanted to let go.

“Coming together in ceremony is a way to separate ourselves from everyday life,” she said. “We are going to honor cacao tonight.”

Fitzpatrick gave Waite a glass of cacao.

“Is there any Scotch in it?” he joked.

It was Sue Fraser’s first cacao ceremony. She felt that the ceremony would help her become more spiritual and balance her responsibilities at work and at home. She said that the cacao tasted bad until she added some sugar, but she enjoyed the ceremony and would do it again.