The Sacred Cosmic Ball-Game

Toltec Symbols, Names, Meaning and Numbers
Movements and Directions of Ball Game
Wooden Idols, Front and Back
Movements of Ball through Wooden Idol

'"La Filosofia del Mexico Antighuo," 2 vols.


The sacred cosmic ball-game of he Toltecs has its origin from King Netzahualcoyotl, king of Texcoco, and the greatest figure of ancient Mexico.  A ruler bearing a likeness to King Solomon, poet, philosopher, law giver, it was he who synthesized all four ball games of the Toltec civilizations:  Teotihuacan, Monte, Alban, Tula an Tenayuca.  This ingenious game has been reconstructed from different codices of ancient Mexico.   To play the game is not only to reconstruct an ancient ritual, interesting from an archaeological standpoint, but more important, to extract from one all-inclusive game physical fitness, knowledge of all the forces of nature and the cosmos, and the practical means to work in harmony with them.

The game is played on an area shaped like a large X, representing the symbol of Ollin, one of the most important symbols of the Toltecs.  Ollin represents power and movement, and the four points of the X stand for the four cardinal points and the four seasons, the sun in the center representing the primal cause of the four seasons and the four cardinal points.  The center of the X on the playing field is occupied by the symbol of man (TLA), who abides in the House of the Gods (TEOCALLI).  Spaced at intervals on the east and west axis of the X are the "realms" of the kingdom of Quetzelcoatl, representing the visible and invisible forces of GOOD.  At each realm is a wooden idol (see illustrations) inscribed with the picture of the symbol of each realm,  the Toltec name of the symbol, the english name of the symbol, and the meaning of the symbol.  The wooden idol has a dome-shaped opening at the lower end, a square-shaped opening in the middle, and a circular opening at the top.  On the other side of the wooden idol is its number and the Toltec equivalent.  Spaced at the intervals on the north and south axis of the X are the realms of the kingdom of Tezcatlipoca, representing the visible and invisible forces of EVIL.  At each realm are similar wooden idols, inscribed also with picture, name, meaning, and both common and Toltec numerals.  There are 10 realms on each axis of the X, thus 20 realms in all.  Each realm has a wooden idol, and in front of each wooden idol is a hole, one foot in diameter and one foot deep.  Both the holes and the wooden idols are used in the actual playing of the game.

To play the game, the player begins at the starting point on the beginning of an imaginary line connecting the northernmost end and the easternmost end of the X.  (see illustrations)  First, the player throws the ball toward the realm on Coatl, (1), at the easternmost end of the X.  Second, with a bat, the player hits the ball into the hole at the realm of Coatl, (1), at the easternmost end of the X.  Then, again with the bat, he hits the ball through the dome-shaped opening at the lowest end of the wooden idol.   The ball then should be on the other side, facing the side of the wooden idol inscribed with the numerals.  From this side, he now kicks the ball with his foot through the square shaped opening in the middle ot the idol, placing the ball on the same side as the hole.  From this side he now throws the ball with his hands through the circular shaped opening in the top of the wooden idol, placing the ball again on the side facing the numerals inscribed in the wooden idol.  Then, with the bat, he proceeds to throw and then bat the ball to the hole at the realm of Cipactli (2), he proceeds to the realm of Malinalli (3) at the westernmost end of the X, and then to the realm of Miquiztli (4), at the northernmost end of the X.  From the realm of Miquiztli (4) to the realm of Calli (5), and on through all the realms in succession, following the pattern of east to south, south to west, west to north, and north to east, coming successively with each realm toward the center of the X, where resides the symbol of man (TLA) in the House of Gods (TEOCALLI).  When he has performed the actions involving the hole and the wooden idol as described at the realm of Coatl (1), with each of the 20 realms, and tallied the score at the Teocalli in the center of the X, the game is completed.  The score is kept according to how many movements are required to complete the various actions.  for example, at one realm, the best score would be 4 movements, or "points": one to bat the ball into the hole, one to bat the ball through the dome-shaped opening at the bottom of the wooden idol, one to kick he ball through the square shaped opening in the middle of the idol, and one to throw the ball through the circular shaped opening in the top of the idol.  the player who completes the action with the minimum of points, or movements, wins that particular realm, and at the end, when the score is tallied at the Teocalli, the player who won the most realms wins the game, the other players occupying 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places according to their respective scores.  The game may be played alone, testing individual skill, or may be played competitively by two, three, four or more players.   Also, according to the age and fitness of the players, 4 realms may be played, or 8, or 12, or 16, or all 20.  It is interesting to note the similarity between the different actions of the game and certain modern games: the throwing of the ball is like football, the batting of the ball into the hall is like golf; the batting of the ball through the arch shaped opening is like croquet; the kicking of the ball through the square shaped opening is like soccer; and the throwing of the ball through the circular shaped opening is like basketball.

And to the ancient Toltecs, the sacred cosmic ballgame meant something more.  They used it as the basis of one of the most advanced judicial systems in the history of man.  It was a judicial system which took into account not simply the crime committed, but the entire past history of the person committing that crime.  Whenever a person violated a law, the priest of his district went to his home and neighborhood, talking to friends and enemies and family alike, impartially and objectively collecting accounts of all his past good and bad deeds.  The investigation sometimes took weeks and was handled with the utmost care to insure a full and just picture of the individual's past good and bad deeds.  Then the individual would be allowed so many moves in he sacred ballgame.  For example, if he had 100 good deeds, he had more than enough moves to reach the TEOCALLI, and he was acquitted.  If, however, he had only 42 good deeds, he would not have enough points to carry him to the TEOCALLI, and he would be punished according to how much he had accomplished in the game.  No matter how dexterous or physically skilled at the game he might be, if his past number of good deeds did not reach a total high enough to enable him in playing the game to reach TEOCALLI, he was not acquitted.  For this reason the Toltecs tried to accumulate as many good deeds as possible, and played the sacred ball-game as much as possible to gain dexterity, in view that nobody knew when the "Day of Atonement" might arise.  In this way they achieved soundness of body, a working practical knowledge of all the laws of nature and the cosmos, represented by the visible and invisible forces of the kingdoms of Quetzelcoatl and Texcatlipoca, and high ethical standards in their daily lives.  The Toltec ball-game represents in microcosmos what goes on in the macrocosms.  The large X, or Ollin, is a dynamic concept of the cosmos, representing man in the center of all parallelogram of good and evil forces.  In the Toltec concept, man is neither good nor evil, but in life has to go through both forces, and in life as in the game, man has to learn to strengthen the good forces within himself and make the good preponderant, rather than simply trying to eliminate evil, or pretending it does not exist.  the ball-game is movement: the movement of life.  From realm 1, Coatl, the Creator, in the kingdom of Good, the player moves to the realm of Cipactli, Idleness, in the kingdom of Evil.  From Idleness to Life, and from Life to Death, and so on and on the player goes, learning as he plays that each good force in the kingdom of Quetzelcoatl has its opposite in the kingdom of Tezcatlipoca, and as n his mastering of the playing field itself, which is not smooth modern asphalt, but rugged and hilly, presenting natural obstacles, he must not ignore the evil forces, but learn to handle and overcome them, actually using them to propel him to the final goal in the center of awareness, as represented in the game by the TEOCALLI, or House of Gods, in the center of the X.  In addition, there is a meaning to the actions performed with the wooden structure itself.  In each successive movement, the ball is thrown higher - from the hole to the arch-shaped opening to the square-shaped opening to the circular-shaped opening - the ball of man's power goes higher and higher to cooperate with a good force or defeat an evil force.  And from a physical aspect, different muscles are utilized in each successive movement - the leg and thigh muscles for kicking, the arm muscles for batting, the entire torso muscles for throwing.  This systematic use of the different muscles of the body makes it the most complete physical culture system, accounting for the extraordinary physical fitness of the Toltecs and Aztecs, as described by the Spanish conquerors.