Balché, the sacred drink of the ancient maya

Each civilisation has its own rituals for connecting with the sacred, and nearly all cultures also have herbal teas, drinks and food to help them reach a trance like state and open the spirit for a mystical encounter.

In Mayan culture, balché is consumed to reach this state of consciousness. This sacred and magical drink is the product of an intersection between medicine and food that cleanses and prepares the body for the ceremony. Before beginning, the drink is offered to the gods and then those present drink the sacred mead from a jícara (a drinking vessel made from the fruit of the calabash tree). The ancient Maya used to use this drink in important ceremonies like the Ch’a’chaak rituals and request favours from Chaac (the rain deity) when they began to sow crops or at the beginning of the new Mayan calendar year.

Reference to the use of this exilir can be found in the Book of the Enigmas that is part of the Chilam Balam from Chumayel. Chilam Balam is the name given to several books about facts and historical circumstances related to the Mayan civilisation that were penned by anonymous writers during the 17th and 18th centuries in the Yucatán peninsula. The Chilam Balam from Chumayel complements its name with that of the place where it was written.

Balché has an exotic combination of sweet and sour tastes and is made from the bark of the balche tree. Once the bark is cleaned, it is boiled in water. The first boil is discarded to remove the bitter taste and then it is boiled again and left to cool. Melipona honey, cinnamon and anise are added, and it’s left to ferment for at least two days.

In addition to its ceremonial use, balché also has medicinal properties, and is said to help in cleansing the digestive system and restoring one’s appetite.

Because of its mystical use, the Spanish banned its consumption once they arrived in the Yucatán peninsula and conquered the Maya people.  The ban was observed until a Maya named Chi convinced the Spanish that balché had many health benefits. The ban was lifted, the balché ritual resumed, and the people of the land could return to enjoying the medicinal benefits of this drink.

Today it is still used by guides in important ceremonies in Maya communities in the Yucatan peninsula.

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