Mexican Brujx, Part 1: Divining Witches

Throughout October 2019, I’m going to share various kinds of (mostly indigenous, pre-Colombian) witches from Mexico. This project originally began on Twitter before becoming a Medium series back in October 2018. I’ve found people prefer reading articles, however.

Hang on to your broomsticks, folks! Here come the brujx!

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Tlapōuhqui

A general class of diviner whose Nahuatl title means “one who counts/reads.” Also called a tlapōhuani, this witch is a fortune-teller or caster of lots.

  • Rough pronunciation: “tlah POHW kee.”
  • Plural tlapōuhqueh.
  • Magic type: tlapōhualiztli (divination)

The tool of choice for tlapōuhqueh is the “tehuilotl,” a rounded sort of rock crystal in whose transparent depths they can discern the past, future, and other secret things.

These special “crystal balls” were mined from the mountains of what is now Veracruz and sent as tribute to the Triple Alliance of Anahuac (“Aztec Empire”).

From tehuilotl comes the verb “huilotlatia” or “to bewitch.”

But not all diviners use crystal. Let’s look at other types of fortune-telling witches.

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Mecatlapōuhqui.

A fortune-teller who predicts the future by casting divining cords and reading the knots.

From the verb mecatlapōhua (“to read the future in knots,” literally “to cord-read things” … mecatl “cord” + tla “indefinite object” + pōhua “count/read”).

  • Approximate pronunciation: “meh kaht lah POHW kee.”
  • Plural mecatlapōuhqueh.
  • Magic type: mecatlapōhualiztli

Mātlapōuhqui.

A palmister or palm reader.

From the verb mātlapōhua (“to read the future in/with hand,” literally “to hand-read things” … māitl “hand” + tla “indefinite object” + pōhua “count/read”).

  • Approximate pronunciation “maht lah POHW kee.”
  • Plural mātlapōuhqueh.
  • Magic type: mātlapōhualiztli

Tlaōlchayāuhqui.

This brujx casts grains of maize and then counts/reads it to determine fortune.

From the verb “chayāhua,” (to scatter) plus “tlaōlli” (grains of maize).

  • Rough pronunciation “tlah ohl chah YAHW kee.”
  • Plural tlaōlchayāuhqueh.
  • Magic type: tlaōlchayāhualiztli

Ātlān-tēittani.

Literally “one who sees people in the surface of the water,” this is a diviner who can scry people’s future in water, often poured into a shallow obsidian basin.

  • Rough pronunciation “AHT lahn teh eet TAH nee.”
  • Plural ātlān-tēittanih.
  • Magic type: ātlān-tēittaliztli

Tōnalpōuhqui.

Astrologer. Tōnalpōuhqueh were a class of diviners that used tōnalāmatl — “books of day signs,” astrological texts that spelled out a person’s likely destiny based on day or birth or baptism (pre-Colombian baptism was a thing).

Both those words come from tōnalli, meaning “day sign” or “destiny.” In Mesoamerican calendars, each day had a number and a sign. Some were good, some bad. A tōnalpōuhqui helped people navigate their destinies, compensating for being born under a bad sign, and refraining from certain activities on unlucky days.

Another name for astrologer was tlaciuhqui — “she who reads/has marks on her flesh.”

Read the other Mexican Brujx articles:

A Mexican-American author and translator from deep South Texas, David Bowles teaches literature and Nahuatl at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley.

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