compiled by Dee Finney

5-30-00 - DREAM - I saw a large golden-tan letter K in the air and it began flying around in the air. I was told that there were 5 Mayan games and I should work on them.

The dream then went into a people dream and I was working for a man who sold toys and games to people. This was my first day on the job and I didn't know where any of his stock as located in the storeroom. I had no previous training to do this. The first 5 people came in and I waited on them all at the same time. I had had management experience so I was prepared with 5 clipboards with the sales paperwork on them and was able to write up the orders efficiently.

However, then I had to start hunting for the games and didn't know where they were. The choice game was numbered D17. The others all had numbers from 227 or 427 or so. They were not kept together. Finally, exasperated, after the customers even tried to find the D17 game, I saw a woman friend sitting at a long table playing with the game. It was a plastic hamster and a toy man who was barely taller than the hamster.

I asked the woman where she had found the game and she said they were kept in a special cabinet in the corner. I looked where she pointed and the cabinet was the same color as the letter K was earlier - golden/tan and was 5 sided. It had a wooden door on the front.

I saw where she meant, but there were so many people in the place by now, I didn't know where the customer was that wanted it. I looked into the storeroom and saw that there was a bakery shop attached to this store and that it was now 10 p.m. and found out that the bakery workers had been producing loaves of bread since 5 a.m. without a break. There were hundred of loaves of fresh bread available because sales on Sunday of fresh bread was always the treat of the week when people went home from church.

The Ball Court at Chichén Itzá

The Mayans were great sportsmen and build huge ballcourts to play their games. The Great Ballcourt of Chichén Itzá is 545 feet long and 225 feet wide overall. It has no vault, no discontinuity between the walls and is totally open to the sky.

Each end has a raised "temple" area. A whisper from end can be heard clearly at the other end 500 feet away and through the length and breath of the court. The sound waves are unaffected by wind direction or time of day/night. Archaeologists engaged in the reconstruction noted that the sound transmission became stronger and clearer as they proceeded.  (See Comments)

Legends say that the the winning captain would present his head to the losing capitan, who then decapitates him. While this may seem a strange reward, the Mayans believed this to be the ultimate honor.The winning captian getting a direct ticket to heaven instead of going through the 13 steps that the Mayan's believed they had to go through in order to reach heaven..

The sacred Ball Court was the site of a brutal Mayan sport. The field, approximately the size of a football field, is bordered by two imposing walls 26 feet tall. Seven combatants on each team tried to get a small rubber ball to go through a small stone hoop 23 feet above the ground  supposedly without using their hands or feet to touch the ball. Virtually all descriptions of the native Mexican ballgames stress that hands were not allowed to touch the ball. Yet two 8th century Maya sculptures and several Peten Maya vases show players with their hands on the ball.It is believed that the losers of this game were often sacraficed to the Gods. These Mayan games predate the olympics by about 500 years!

The games played in the ballcourt were sometimes played to the death.

The Maya central city area was built for religous reasons. Almost every Mayan city had a ballcourt to play the ball game Pok-A-Tok. Pok-A-Tok games were often played as parts of religous ceremonies. Besides this large court, Chichen-Itza has 22 other courts, testimony to the importance of this (blood) sport.

Serious injury could be inflicted on a player with the hard ball which was mainly struckwith the elbows, knees or hips, but was not to be hit with the hands, feet or calves. Playerswere known to throw themselves on the ground to hit the ball properly. The full impact of the ball was in this case absorbed by the body. Participants wore equipment for protection, including chin pieces and half masks for cheeks, hard leather gloves, quilted cotton elbowpads, knee pads, belts or yokes made of leather or basketry for the waist a protruding palmate stone, and a leather apron.

Copan Ballcourt

Many 8th century Maya vases show entire teams at play: five carved vases are now known for the Yucatan area, several polychrome vases for southern Campeche, and at least ten polychrome vases for the Peten area of Guatemala. Also, the 7th century stucco roof comb statues of Labna once displayed a complete game. This fantastic scene on the Labna flying facade even reveals how the stairways of the ballcourts were used. Several vases also show the role of the stairways for the ceremonies associated with this ritualized sport. The ball court in Copan does not have the rings we normally think of in a Mayan ball court. Instead there are 6 macaw heads (the sacred bird) which were the "goals" to be aimed at. In the official games here the losers were sacrificed — other Mayan areas (with the rings) supposedly sacrificed the winners.


The most recent discovery in ballgame iconography was by Vincent Phillips, who recognized that Stela 66 at Calakmul pictured the dynastic ruler dressed as a ballplayer. This fact had not previously been listed in any publication on Maya stelae. An unexpected discovery from most vases and some sculptures was that many Maya athletes wore the same headdresses as did deer hunters. Several athletes even wear the same rare type of pants that Maya hunters wear. In other cases, ballplayers wear headdresses of warriors. It seems that hunting (whether hunting deer or hunting other men) was one ritual association for ancient ball sports in Mexico.

Even more fascinating (and unexpected) is that several vases picture captives playing the game. These vanquished warriors were most likely captured in battle with neighboring Maya cities. These doomed individuals were then sent into the ballcourts for their final combat, as gladiators.

The crucial thing when working with the Maya ballgame is to remember that the Maya played two main kinds of game: handball and "big ball". Their "big ball" game had two main variations, that played by dynastic rulers and that played by other members of the elite. Each variant could be played using either stone yugos low around their waist or wooden ball deflectors high on their chest. There seem to have been three classes of "goals".

At the on top of the slanted sides of the ball court are three parrot head markers - these markers were used as scoring devices for the game. The public watched the games from the stairs in front of Stela 2, which lead to the playing field, or the huge staircase that forms what looks like a wall.

Different symbols are brought together in the ball game. Archaeologists think the ball symbolized the sun and the game re-enacted its apparent orbit around the Earth. The sun was worshipped as a god and by playing the game, one became somewhat akin to the Sun-God. But the game might also have signaled a changing season, so that it served a purpose as well. Since agrarian societies require a timekeeper to regulate agricultural tasks, these rituals were vital to the Mayan society's survival.

Pre-Columbian ball courts and other buildings functioned both as religious temples and observatories. The architecture was used to define orientations and mark the passage of time. When Orion appeared through a designated hole or the sun shone directly on a specific spot, it meant spring was near. The pyramid of El Taj’n in Mexico, for example, is made up of 365 niches, one for each day of the year. A niche here is the equivalent of a box in one of our calendars.

Not knowing evil, their actions were completely innocent and their pleasure was to play ball, the ancient Maya Game. On one level the ball game is an allegory for the movements of the celestial bodies. Perhaps this is why they could play the game in any combination of seven, up to three on one side and four on the other, representing the five closest planets plus the sun and moon, depending on their position in the night sky.

Smaller calendars were sculpted into stone and gold. It is no wonder then that artists were highly regarded and given special status in Mayan society. Without artists there would be no calendars, no way to tell time, bad crops and eventually famine. For the Maya, astronomy was enmeshed into one thick fabric with art, agriculture and religion.

Illustration of ballplayers

John Montgomery - CHINKULTIK BALL COURT MARKER: This drawing is of the circular ball court monument produced for Nicholas Hellmuth of the Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research (FLAAR) of Brevard Community College, Cocoa Beach, Florida. The central image portrays a ball player in traditional ball game equipment­arm, chest, and knee protectors­facing a large-size ball. The figure is down on one knee, ready to strike the ball with his chest. An Initial Series date in the inscription running around the marker's rim records 11 Ix 7 Sots, an Early Classic date that works out to May 19, 591 AD (Julian). The full image can be seen in forth-coming publications by FLAAR.

Bul (pronounced like 'Bull' ) is an ancient Mayan war game. The dice game is named HAXBIL-BUL and is derived from HAXBIL (drill) and BUL (riddle game), however BUUL is also assigned to grains and we already know how the grains were related to fortunetelling and mathematical calculations that the Spaniards called superstitions.

Stewart Culin, an ethnologist and curator of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, included it, as observed among the Kekchi Maya by two different observers, in his great 1907 anthology of Indian games. R.C. Bell included yet another observer's report of the game among the Kekchi in his anthology of the world's great board games. Lieve Verbeeck, a modern Mayan linguist, stumbled across the Belizean version of this game and observed it played by today's Mopan and Kekchi Maya. In a private communication, Lieve wrote:

There is no hard evidence that the corn game, as it is now still played by the Mopan and K'ekchi' Mayans, was known in the ancient times. However, there is linguistic evidence that the ancient Mayans used to play games of chance. The name of BUL occurs in several Mayan languages and always means to play with dice. Sometimes, by extension, it means "to lose with gambling". There is archaeological evidence that the Mayans knew the square- and oval-shaped patolli boards. There are many sites throughout the Maya area where archaeologists found patterns of patolli boards carved in floors or benches.

Only three Maya manuscripts were safeguarded from the Spanish conquerors. Up till now no reference to Maya board games was found. There are a few pictures displaying priests throwing corn or seeds for divination. See (

Culin's version of BUL is quite accurate. I observed the game being played by 10 men. They placed 25 grains of corns in a row. The game lasted for 3 hours, because they played 5 variants.

Bul seems to reflect ancient Maya warfare

  Games of chance were quite popular in a number of Mesoamerican cultures; the Aztecs' addiction to the game of Patolli is well known. The stakes they played for sometimes rose so high that the loser lost not only his wealth but his freedom too, selling himself into slavery to pay his debt. Religious people fiercely disapproved of Patolli because the players invoked the names of Aztec gods during the game.

Similar games were played by the classic Maya. "Game boards" have been found scratched into the stone of building floors and the bases of stelae. The Mayan game of Bul is a relative of the Aztec Patolli, with which it shares many common features.

In Bul, a "board" was made by placing 15 grains of corn in a row, the 14 spaces between grains being used for play. Four flat grains of corn with a black mark burned into one side served as dice. When the grains were tossed the count was based on the number that fell with the burned side up (1 burned side and 3 unburned = 1, etc.). But if all the kernels came up blank, the count was 5.

Bul can be played with any even number of participants. The example used here is the simplest arrangement, with only 2 players. Each player has 5 game pieces; these could be any readily available item: seeds, sticks, bits of cloth, etc. I've represented the pieces as warriors because the language the Maya used while playing Bul seems to have been a metaphor for warfare: game pieces were described as being taken captive or killed.


The ancestral use of grains of corn to make their counts seem to be corroborated from diverse sources: Sánchez de Aguilar (3) said that the Mayas "throw their luck with a fistful of corn" and it is very suggestive to read in the Popol Vuh a paragraph where our cosmic grandfathers, Ixpiyacoc and Ixmucané before the formation of the human race, they make an augury based on mysterious calculations using corn grains and tzité. Recinos (4) identifies the tzité as the Erythrina corallodendron - Arbol de Pito, in Guatemala, and "colorín" in Mejico, and states that the fruit is a shell that encapsulates red grains similar to beans which the natives Mayas still use for magical spells.


Patolli - This board game was found among the Aztecs. It is said that it may have developed from the Maya

Illustration of the Patolli Game Board

Approx year: 1500 AD |
Type of game: strategy

According to Spanish annalists that documantated qonquer of Mexico it was one of the favourite Aztec games. They were playing it with a great passion. Patolli has a clear religious meaning to Aztecs and thus it was destroyed by European catholic invaders. It was first mentioned in XVIth century. In 1521 as a result of Fathers of the Church efforts a law prohibiting playing Patolli was enforced. All found boards and acessories together with Aztec's writings were burnt. They survived in places distant from Spanish settlements.

The ancient Mexica Aztec game of "patolli" has ancient roots extending into the Classic period of Mesoamerican history and civilization (ca. AD 250-900). The Mexica version of this game consisted of a cruciform pattern like that illustrated with individual units representing the playing area. The game pieces were entered by each of either two or four players as the result of the toss of five dimpled beans or dice-like stones. In order to enter the game, the participant must land a number one (as in one bean of five with a single dot on its face) during the "dice" throw". Once entered, the player advances in a clockwise direction around the board from the point of entry...which lies within one of the four squares located at the juncture of the cruciform pattern. The player then tosses the "dice" and the number of spaces that the player is permitted to advance is dependent on the total number that results from the toss

Patolli was connected with Aztec's calendar. It was treated as a mystical practice in which periods and moves of heavenly bodies were imitated.

The game is very similar to Pachisi and to Korean game Nyout. Some historians suggest it might develop from the Maya game.

Rules of the game: The game for 2 players or 2 teams

It uses a board and 4 dice. The goal is: to lead the pieces back to the starting positions - the four center ones.

Rules: The pieces are moved according to the result of throwing dice. Originally beans with painted points were used insted of dice. Players has to move their pieces on three of the four arms.

Magical connections

It is probable that Patolli symbolized 4 direction of the world and 4 seazons since many four numbers can be found in the board appearance. There are 4 arms, 4 central positions, which are starting and destination points. Also 4 dice are used in the game. Possibly 5 has a magical meaning too. There are 5 spaces from the center to the crossed positions. 52, which is the number of positions that each player has to pass along is the number of days in each period of the year, that has 260 days according to Aztec's calendar.

One of the most solid antecedents in the use of boards is the placement of grains as tokens in a game known as "patolli," whose main players were the Aztecs. Says Mena and Jenkins (1) that ". . . Over a mat, e.g., rug made with hemp, a square is painted and it is crossed with two doubled diagonals, and in the point of intersection a square is centered and divided by for equal parts. Each one of the X-shaped cross is divided in twelve boxes. Near the extremities of each arm, within a wider box than the others a sign Nahui Ollin is painted . . ."

The players are seated in small chairs, one in between every two arms as they throw drilled grains, shaken with their hands, before they are thrown. The grains must fall in the boxes. If they fall outside the boxes, the game is lost. As noticed, the number of total boxes is 52, 48 boxes in each arm and 4 boxes in the center, that are the years contained in the Mayan cycle. The number of plays must match the astronomical cycle calculation. The game is absolutely astronomical, in a literal sense."

The players of patolli visited some Mayan festivals with a rolled mat under their arms and perforated grains linked by a thread . . ."

The codexes Durán and Magliabechi show explanatory drawings of the patolli game. Attention is called to the numerous coincidences with the Mayan techniques of calculations. Then, we get to the conclusion that the patolli game, chess and checkers were originated from the mathematical calculations as it could happen in the near future we develop intelligence games supported by pocket electronic brains.

The Florentine Codex (2) shows a drawing where Cipactonal and Oxomoco, the couple of Aztecs cosmic progenitors who have been identified with Ixmucané and Ixpiyacoc of the Mayas-Quichés, invent the calendar. While Oxomoco appears manipulating some corn grains, Cipactonal has in his hands a bow with knots, that is a quipu. The significative detail is that Oxomoco is not throwing the grains on the ground but over a mat. It seems logical to assume that the mathematical boards of Mayas were mats. It has always been an intrigue that a mat, "póop" in maya, plays a role so prominent in their symbolism and considered as synonym of the throne. In fact, "to sit over the mat and in power," as expressed in the books of Chilam Balam, is the act of taking the command and government of Mayan people, and, in occassions, is given the rank of cosmic domain by suprahuman entities. The first month of the Maya civil year is called Poop. How do we compare a mat with such important functions?

It is evident that the mat contains a symbolism of great importance and it was believed to be found in the woven fabric that forms a repetition of crossed bands denominated "nahui ollín." This symbol, an admirable synthesis of the philosophical thinking of Mayas, occupies a preeminent place in the iconography of Tajín and in the Altiplano cultures. Therefore, it is not an speculation to think that the Mayan mats had a meaning directly related with the complex web of their society and dynamic of the Universe.


Tlachtli - From images on murals and pottery, archaeologists believe the ancient sport was similar to tlachtli, a game documented by Spanish conquistadors in 1519 A.D. Without using their hands or feet, players tried to keep a grapefruit-sized, solid rubber ball in play by bouncing it off their thighs, hips and chests. In later-period ball courts, hoop-like stone rings have been found mounted to the walls at center court. Photo of Chichen Itza ball court in center photo above.

"The game was variously called called pok-a-tok, pitz, tlachco and ulama, but the basic layout of the court remained almost unchanged over the game’s 3,000-year history. When hoops were introduced (hanging downward, not sticking out like basketball hoops), the game’s objective changed to knocking the ball through the hoop."

The paraphernalia used in the game, or in symbolic enactments of the game, are bizarre - if regarded as strictly sports equipment. The "yoke" worn around the waist was carved of stone, which certainly would not lend itself to typical strenuous athletic exertion. Perhaps it had another purpose.

Mayan Board Game Shaped Cuffs on Clothing

The Checker Board came to represent the mathematical plot of the universe on which the human knowledge is placed. For this reason, it appears on floors of masonic and rosicrucian temples as well as in the reticle that covers the internal walls of the Quadrangle of Las Monjas and the Governor's House in Uxmal. Also, it represents the crest of Mayan temples and observatories as an architectonic element through several thousands years of civilization.

The stelas of Yaaxchilán, Piedras Negras, Copán y Quirigua show mantles and flaps of Maya priests with designs including squares and inscribed numbers. In Palenque exists several altarpieces dedicated to persons of high hierarchy where the most relevant feature is a shawl with squared designs and dots in the center of each square. This fact suggests the recognition of a title or rank where the mathematical knowledge is preponderant.

It is not a surprise that the Mayas used boards to make their calculations, however, it arises the question of why these wooden or stone boards are not found in the Mayan zone as it happens in Perú. It exists in some mysterious squared designs on the floors of the Palace of Zacuala, in Teotihuacán, in the Chamber (closed) of the pyramid of Uxmal, in the castle of Chichén, and probably in other places but not in enough quantity to bring the attention of archaeologists. There are some explanations to the point. The floors have experienced an intense wear and tear by traffic and any painted square or line on them has the probability of have being raised. It could also be thought of the fact of poor durability of wood in a wet climate and did not have the advantage of being placed on doorways such as Tikal. We need to add that no one has been concerned in looking for boards on the floors, and probably now we will have more frequent reports of such findings.

Volador" or high pole,

The volador is still in use in some places like Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico. We know it from India and Siberia too. In Bohuslaen folk-memory have saved the place-name Ruangstungur, i.e. wind-pole. Then associating it to Windmill Hill is natural although the connection is weaker. The same is the case at a feast place at Kinnekulle Vaestergautland where a big stone with a whole is spared.

From the Aztecs we know that the volador was used at astronomical events and the flyers wore bird-feathers. On the zodiac it is the Eagle and the Swan and thus birds of autumn. In some places we find symbols that could be interpret as birds and it is also possible that some tumblers are the image of birds.

Precolumbian ceramic models that show variousa ctivities taking place around these structures, and some ethnographic data. The activities depicted in the ceramic models include a pole-climbing ceremony that appears to be a direct correlate of that found in contact period Aztec society and even Classic period Teotihuacan. The significance of these rites in agricultural terms is discussed, and the organization of the architecture into upper, middle, and under worlds is presented. At this point, we can draw anumber of cosmological parallels between public architecture in Jalisco and in selected areas of Mesoamerica. The paper concludes with a discussion of maize symbolism in the Teuchitlan Tradition architecture and how this compares to maize symbolism commonly found elsewhere in Mesoamerica.


Drawing from 'Popol Vuh'
translated by Dennis Tedlock

Probably from 1000 C.E. - The gods of the ancient Maya are close to the people and very demanding. At the turning of the katun, the time comes for fasting and drinking balche, for cleasning the sacred books, for dancing on stilts and burning incense. At that time, the people gather at the Sacred Well at Chichen Itza, a city fifty miles from Dzibilchaltun. The well is a place of power, home of many gods. At the turning of the katun, priests fling jade ornaments, gold bells, copper rings, painted bowls, and incense into the Sacred Well.

With these gifts, they send messengers to the gods. If the messengers do not wish to visit the gods, they are sent - hurled over the edge by muscular priests who only wish to do them honor. "

JAI ALAI - It was believed that the Mayan Indians invented this game which was then imported into Spain by returning colonists. Even in Manila, the Basques still make up the majority of the players (pelotaris). Since this strenuous game is played several nights a week, it is hardly surprising that the players are incredibly fit young men in their early 20s or 30s.

Jai alai, a version of the Spanish handball (pelota) played between pairs of players is one of the most popular national sports. The basic idea of the game is for the server, armed with a cesta (wicker basket) tied to the right hand, to hurl the hard-rubber ball against the granite wall. The ball must land back in what is known as fair territory. The opponent must then catch the ball in one motion and hurl it once more. When a player fails to return a service, either by missing the ball entirely or mistakenly hurling it into the wrong zone, points are scored.

It is the shattering speed at which the ball is hurled and returned that makes the game so exciting. Traveling at speeds of up to 240km an hour or 150 mph, the ball becomes almost a deadly missile. That is why the players now put on helmets to protect themselves. Besides the helmet, players also don traditional colored shirts.

More on the ballgames

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Thirty courts were found in Yucatan, the regioninhabited by the Mayan King, Topiltzian, who is said to have introduced the court.Heretofore, the earliest known formal court, found in Copan, Honduras, is of the EarlyClassic period-dating around 200-300 A.D. Because this court is far from primitive, it isassumed that the first courts pre-dated this one by several hundred years. The form of thecourt resembles the letter "I," yet the overall dimensions varied from court to court,ranging from one to two hundred feet long and twenty to fifty feet wide. Along the maincorridor were smooth sloping stone wails of roughly fifteen to thirty feet, embellished with carved decorations, e.g., parrot heads; along the base were benches for substitutes. Avertical stone ring, diameter commonly two feet, was attached midway and toward the top of the wall. The court acoustics created echos from wall to wall of sounds of the ball near the rings. Human skulls of victims, and game losers, were stacked and displayed on the court surroundings. Landscaped with palms and other trees, the courts were a magnificent sight,while functionally providing a powerful defensive against the Spanish and alien Indiantribes.The game ball was made of solid rubber, with a diameter ranging from three to twelve inches, and weighing about five pounds.

Sculptures on temple walls represent the ball tolook like a large, dimpled golf ball. The dwarf plant "guayule," found in Vera Cruz andNorthern Mexico, produced the rubber for the ball. The Spanish conquerors were particu-larly intrigued by this rubber ball since Spanish balls were traditionally made of leather andhair.

Early Spanish writers, who witnessed the ball games as played by the Aztecs, were amazed at the speed of play. Judging by their description, the game was a combination ofbasketball, soccer, volleyball, and as thrilling as ice hockey or jai alai. Professionals,nobles, and the general public played, with the teams normally ranging from two to elevenplayers. Public mobs did play the game, though "en masse" with each individual playing towin. Description of the rules and method of play are vague. Emphasis was placed on moving the ball quickly and keeping it in the air with the elbows, knees and hips. Points were scored if the opponents were unable to return the ball causing it to fall to the ground, by driving the ball from one end of the "I" shaped court across the center line and into the opposite "endzone." If the ball was hit through the stone ring the game was automatically won.Great skill was required to keep the ball in play, with players often hitting the ball off the side wall. Requiring even greater skill was the feat of hitting the ball through the ring.Players guarded the rings in order to block ring attempts. If one failed at an attempt. faults were awarded; but if one was successful, the scoring team won regardless of how many previous points had been scored. While the captain of the winning team was deemed a hero.the captain of the losing team was often sacrificed to the gods to insure fertility of the land and abundance of harvest.Games were attended by spectators, including nobility, with betting of gold, feathers, homes, and slaves typical. As the crowds spectated they enjoyed tortillas, and maintained asemblance of spectators of an English cricket match-watching in a "reserved sacred silence. "Religious, political, and social customs played an integral role in the game. Tribal quarrels, or personal disputes were often settled by the outcome of a ball game. Religious ceremonies accompanied every game, with courts having a sacred temple. and special priestly ceremonies conducted before, and midway through the game.Aspects of the ancient ball game of the Aztecs and Mayas did influence the modern ballgames of Europe and America. The adoption of the rubber ball into European sport altered existing rules of their games, and the seemingly original Indian nation of a cooperative team effort, and highly competitive team play very well could have affected the development of the team concept in Europe.