True North

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True North is a story written by SeishinNoUwagi and illustrated by enkaiein. It originally ran in Issue 55 at, and is mirrored at


In ancient Mesoamerica the Gods demand sacrifice so that the crops will grow, the earth will turn, and the sun will always rise. When men sacrifice themselves to sustain the Gods, the greatest sacrifice of all may be the hearts of those who play the ball game.


Story Notes[edit]

- The myth interspersed with the story text is a modified version of the Hero Twin saga, part of the Mayan Popol Vuh mythos. An online version of the Popol Vuh (with annotations) can be found here, though other translations exist (see references).

- Historically there is no Mayan God of the North Star, despite an otherwise extensive astrological pantheon. During the Classic period the part of the sky that we identify as 'true North' was empty black space that the Mayans called "The Heart of the Sky." Polaris has only recently shifted to occupy its present day location. The story plays with the idea that Polaris was made and placed in the sky by a Mayan God.

- The version of the ball game shown in the story was a complete invention of the author. Very little is known about how the ancient Mayan played the sport and there were many versions of the game depending on time period and geography. Some commonalities included: Players could not touch the ball with their hands, and the hips in particular were used to 'throw' and receive the ball. Balls were made of rubber and were generally quite heavy. Courts could vary in size but were typically sunken rectangles between sloping sides (the court in True North is an oval, the only complete departure from historical fact in the portrayal of the ball game). Players likely wore leather hip guards and heavy girdles that offered protection and could lend more force in propelling the ball. Courts could include stone markers and/or rings; the purpose of these structures in unclear, however it's thought that passing the ball through a ring was a game ending event. Teams could include either 2, 3 or 4 players per side. The ball game was considered a sport for royalty, though was not limited to them; it was also highly ritualized, with sacrifices of players being a probable occurrence (though how common is not known). For an explanation of the Ball Game as it is played in True North, see section below.

- Autosacrifice (where a person offers there own blood or semen) was more common than human sacrifice in Mayan culture. Ritualized implements, such as jade stilettos, sting ray spines, certain shells, etc., were used to pierce ones own ear lobes, tongue, or genitals, especially among royalty and the priesthood. Piercing ones penis, whether flaccid or erect, had symbolic ties to fertility and virility. Women would pierce earlobes or tongues. Non-royals also pierced arms, legs, and hands.

- "Bird" is, in fact, a historically accurate euphemism for a Mayan penis.

- All other portrayals of Classic Mayan culture were taken from the literature (see references).

- The character of Cimi was inspired by The Good Life by Three Days Grace

- The character of Ts'ii (Kulal) was inspired by True North by Bad Religion

Art Notes[edit]

The illustration was done in Photoshop using default brushes. The "mist" is based on symbols and decorations found in Mayan artwork, especially the murals.

The Ball Game In True North[edit]

The ball game in True North takes the generally accepted constants of the historical game (stone markers, rings, ball handling, etc) and combines them with Mayan astrology, numerology, and theology to create a fictional version of how the game might have been played. The only true departure from what is known historically is the fact that the court in True North is oval, where actual Mesoamerican ball courts were sunken rectangles. In True North, the oval shape of the court represents the oval path that the sun follows through the sky and the underworld during its 24 hour circuit.

Ball court final.jpg

Set up:

- The ball represents the sun.

- The stone markers around the perimeter of the court represent positions of the sun. The royal team (representing the Sun God No'oh) works to move the sun from West to East, through the underworld, to end at dawn (represented by the stone ring at due East). The sacrificial team (representing the Underworld Lords) works to move the sun from East to West, through the sky, to end at dusk (represented by the stone ring at due West). To progress, players must use the ball to hit the stone markers in the proper order.

- The thirteen and nine stone markers on each side of the court represent the 9 layers of the underworld and the 13 layers of heaven.

- The court is quartered by the 4 holy directions: North, East, South, and West. Each section of the court takes the color represented by its guiding direction, North = white, East = red, South = yellow, and West = black.

- In Mayan theology, each number is associated with a patron god. The god, in turn, is associated with certain symbols and images. The stone markers take their names from these associations. Note: the Deity names below are the actual Deities known to the Maya, not the fictitious names used in True North.

    1. Xiuhtecuhtli, god of fire, time, and the calendar. Also patron of the day sign Water
    2. Tlaltecuhtli, a bisesexual manifestation of the earth. Also known as "Earth Lord."
    3. Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of groundwaters. Also patron of day sign Serpent.
    4. Tlazolteotl, a female manifestation of the moon. Also called 4 chert.
    5. God "L", a Jaguar god.
    6. Mictlantecuhtli, a Death Lord. Also patron of the day sign Dog.
    7. Centeotl, the Maize Lord. Seven is considered to be the most auspicious number.
    8. Tlaloc, a storm and rain god. Also patron of the day sign Deer.
    9. Ehecatl, the wind aspect of Quetzalcoatl. Wears a buccal (duck) mask through which to blow wind.
    10. Tezcatlipoca, an omnipotent creator god. Also known as "Smoking Mirror." 
    11. Xipe Totec, a solar god. Also patron of day sign Eagle.
    12. Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the aspect of Quetzalcoatl corresponding to the Morning Star. Also known as "Dawn Lord"
    13. Cihuacoatl, a mother goddess. Thirteen is considered an evil omen.

- There are 4 members to a team, one player per colored section of court. Players are split into raiders and guards (offense and defense), with raiders attempting to hit stone markers and guards attempting to block. The royal team's raiders would be in the red and yellow sections of the court and the guards would be in the black and white. For the sacrificial team these positions would be reversed.

- The stone markers at due South and due North are symbolic and do not need to be hit.

- Because the sacrificial team is meant to lose they must play with handicaps. The first point always goes to the royal team. The sacrificial team must hit 13 markers to the royal's 9. Because Black Thirteen is a penalty marker, the sacrificial team must conduct a successful raid on Red Maize in order to progress.


- If the ball bounces more than once it is a turnover.

- The ball can't be touched with a player's hands.

- Hitting a stone marker with the ball is a point.

- Raiders and guards cannot cross the East-West midline (though they can pass freely over the North-South line). The exception is if a player calls a raid. In a raid all four team members attack in the same colored court. The team must then pass the ball to each member within the colored section before attempting to hit a stone marker. If the ball touches the ground before a point is scored, the raid fails and the team is deducted one point (must go back one stone marker). If the raid is successful, the team earns two points (goes forward two markers).

- Black Thirteen is a penalty marker. If the ball touches it, the team in possession loses half their points.

- All markers must be hit in numerical order with the exception of Red Maize. Red Maize can be hit at any time by either team to earn a point (though for the sacrificial team this requires a raid, and they will still only gain one point if successful).

- The game ends after a team has progressed through all the markers and then sends the ball through the final stone ring at due East or due West.

Literary References[edit]

- Re-creating Primordial Time: Foundation rituals and mythology of the postclassic Maya codices by Gabrielle Vail and Christine Hernández (2013)

- An Epoch of Miracles: Oral literature of the Yucatec Maya by Allan Burns (2011)

- The Classic Maya by Stephen Houston and Takeshi Inomata (2009)

- The Memory of Bones: Body, being, and experience among the Classic Maya by Stephen Houston, David Stuart, and Karl Taube (2006) * Highly recommended!

- Ancient Maya: The rise and fall of a rainforest civilization by Arthur Demarest (2004)

- Ancient Maya Gender Identity and Relations edited by Lowell Gustafson and Amelia Trevelyan (2002)

- Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya by Victoria Schlensinger (2001)

- A Forest of Kings: The untold story of the ancient Maya by David Freidel and Linda Schele (1992)

- The Maya's Own Words (translation of the Popol Vuh) edited by Thomas Irving (1985)

- Cenote of Sacrifice: Maya treasures from the sacred well at Chichen Itza by Orrin Shane and Clemency Coggins (1984)

Art References[edit]

- Stucco portrait, Head of Pakal

- Comic Artist's Photo Reference: People and Poses by Buddy Scalera (2006)

- Pre Classic Mural at San Bartolo

External Reviews[edit]

  • "This one is about Cimi and his teammates. They play on the best team in an ancient Mayan city but there's a catch in that they are the sacrificial team, always meant to lose because they represent some evil element in a myth or some beaten foe. Even the rules of the game are stacked to make sure they lose. And the losers get sacrificed to the gods, which is where the big tension in the story comes from because Cimi certainly doesn't want to go out like that. This one is somewhat sad and has a kind of slower, thoughtful pace, if that makes sense. It also has a LITERAL Deus Ex Machina ending. There's your obligatory sex scene, but it's the last thing on your mind since you end up really caring about Cimi's plucky determination to change his fate. The game featured in the story is a doozy and there is more information on it in the wiki for the story."