The Inquisition persecuted women who used cacao to entice lovers and spurn enemies.
It happened, perhaps, one hot, humid night, mist over the mountains that bordered the colonial city of Santiago de Guatemala. Melchora de los Reyes, a young, mixed-raced woman, had sex with her lover. When she met him, she was a virgin, a doncella, a status that made her eligible for marriage in the strict, Catholic society of 1600s Guatemala. But whether it was a look of love in his eyes, words sweet and thick as the mist, or promises that her lover would marry her, de los Reyes chose to have sex.
He didn’t marry her. And Melchora de los Reyes was left alone, unmarriageable, shamed and possibly pregnant. So she did what many other women had done before: She consulted an hechizera, a sorcerer. There were many such sorcerers in colonial society, often indigenous women who peddled potent potions and magical incantations to women who found themselves powerless before an unfaithful lover, a violent husband, or the all-consuming ache of unrequited love.
The sorcerer gave de los Reyes special powders and instructed her to mix them in her lost lover’s morning hot chocolate in order to make him “subject to her will.” De los Reyes fed the faithless man. Then, she was reported to the colonial Inquisition.
De los Reyes is one of many women whom the Spanish colonial government in Latin America tried on charges of witchcraft—and one of many specifically accused of practicing magic through bewitched hot chocolate. Martha Few, a Penn State history and gender studies professor who has written several books about gender, religion, and medicine in colonial Latin America, first spotted the trend while poring over Inquisition archives. “I just noticed in the Inquisition testimonies chocolate coming up quite a lot,” she says.