Mexican X Part V: Rise of the Bruxa

DISCLAIMER: By no means does the complex origin of the word “bruja” mean that non-Latinas can appropriate it. Stop that nonsense, folx.

It’s October 7, 2018. Right now, I’m hoping for an uprising of brujas to magick the hell out of the election.

So I’m doing a special cross-over thread between my two ongoing series (Mexican X & Mexican Brujx).

Wands and brooms at the ready, y’all!

At the time the word “México” entered Spanish, bruja was still spelled “bruxa” and pronounced “brusha.” Compare that to Portuguese/Galician “bruxa,” Catalan “bruixa” and Occitan “bruèissa.”

Elsewhere I’ve explained how that “x” moved from /ʃ/ to the aspirated /x/ in Spanish. But where did this word come from?

For a long time, there was significant confusion about the origins of bruja. One popularly proposed etymology takes the Vulgar Latin word “plusscius” (“one who knows much”) — which is only attested once — and proposes an evolution of its feminine form:

plusscia> *pruscia> *bruscia> bruxa

This is unlikely, however. In the evolution from Vulgar Latin into Old Spanish, the “pl” at the beginning of words (containing a palatal “l” sound) became the palatal “ll” sound.

plenu > lleno
plicare > llegar
plorare > llorar
pluvia > lluvia

Nowhere did “pl” become “br.”

No, the roots of bruja go much deeper than Latin. The word arose among the Celtic people living in Iberia before Romans arrived.

To help you understand its origins, let me introduce you to the goddess whose name is inextricably bound up with that powerful word. Her name was Brixta (or Bricta) in the Gaulish tongue, a goddess of healing springs, personification of the River Breuchin, and consort of the water god Luxovius, (for whom the city of Luxeuil is named).

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Images of pilgrims visiting Brixta’s spring.

The suffix “-ta,” found in other Celtic goddess names, like Nantosuelta, Rosmerta and Segeta, shows Brixta is a noun of action … a doer of something.

An inscription to the goddess Brixta

Brixta is related to the Gaulish word brixtom or brixtia: magic, enchantment, charm, spell. In a twelve-line magical formula inscribed on a lead tablet discovered in France in 1971 we read: brixtia anderon, “by the magic powers of the infernal divinities.”

The variants brictom and brictas appear in another magical text engraved on what is known as the Larzac tablet. The lead tablet was found in 1983 at the commune of L’Hospitalet-du-Larzac, Aveyron, southern France. Among its many lines are these two: in sinde se bnanom brictom, “the magic of the women” and andernados brictom, “the magic of the underworld.”

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The Larzac tablet

Gaulish brixta is a cognate with the Old Irish bricht, “bewitchment” (modern Irish “briocht”), Middle Welsh lled-frith, “charm” and Old Breton brith, “magic” (modern Breton breoù, “witchcraft”). They all derived from a proto-Indo-European theme *bhregh- or “to declare ceremoniously.”

Because “Brixta” ends with a suffix of action, it must have derived from *bhregh-tá or “one who declares ceremoniously” (as during ritual magic).

The evolution appears to have been …

*bhregh-tá > *briktá > brixtá

So “brixta” would mean “magical activity” and Bricta (an alternate form of the goddess’s name) might be “the woman who wields magic.”

The witch.

In Celtiberian (the cousin of Gaulish once spoken in the Iberian peninsula), the root *bhregh- gave rise not to “brix-” but to *brux-. Gaulish “brixtia” (magical powers) was *bruxtia. And “brixta” (witch) was *bruxta.

Adopted into Iberian Romance languages as “bruxa.”

This etymology means that for at least two thousand years, women who wield magic have been known as “brujas.”

Stand proud, magical beings. We stand with you, in awe of your power, ready allies in the coming fight.

La brujería del voto, de la voz alzada en protesta.

The witchcraft of the vote, of voices raised in protest.


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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