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Brujería is the Spanish word for witchcraft. Brujeria also refers to a mystical sect of male witches in the southernmost part of Argentina. Both men and women can be witches, brujos and brujas respectively. Brujos is the plural term that can mean either a group of male witches or both male and female witches.
There is no sound etymology for this word, which appears only in Portuguese, Catalan, Galician and Spanish (other romance languages use words derived from Latin strix, -igis, originally an owl or bird of evil omen). The word may be inherited from a Celtiberian substrate or it may derive from the Latin plusscius, -a, um (> plus + scius), a hapax attested in the Cena Trimalchionis, a central part in Petronius' Satyricon. Pluscia could have arisen from rhotacization of the /l/ and voicing of the /p/, pluscia> pruscia> bruscia> bruxa (Portuguese)> bruja (Spanish).
Cultural variants and history
The brujería of Hispanophone America is a combination of Spanish and the indigenous people of those regions (predominantly Mesoamerican and other South American indigenous regions), so it is heavily influenced by ancient paganism.
Further south of that region, brujería is diverse, from a similar mix of indigenous and Spanish culture, to the European styles found in Argentina and Uruguay. In these latter countries, brujería often takes on Christian, specifically Catholic, influences.
However, the term bruja/o has just as many negative connotations as does its English counterpart 'witch'. To refer to somebody as a bruja/o is often to label them an 'evil doer'. So most South Americans of European descent refrain from using it in reference to themselves. Some of these people have adopted the term curanderos (healer), a family reference, or simply no term at all. Interestingly, the term "curandero" actually means 'quack or charleton'. In Spain and European descendant South Americans, the witch is considered by many to be fictional. In contrast, brujos from Central America or the north of South America are usually respected. They are sought for healing, divination and spellwork, and can often be found selling amulets and such curios openly.
Curanderismo is also a practice that is distinctive from witchcraft, in that they do not use spells or divination but rather, work as psycho-spiritual healers doing such things as soul retrievals.
The brujos from Spain are either Christian or pagan-witches. The first group use folk magic and combine it with Catholic ritual and beliefs. This group includes priests and nuns. This group usually informs the person that they are performing a hex or, that they are responsible for the consequences of said spell. The latter group are not Christian and either practice secretly or veil their practices under Catholic ones. Non-Christian brujería from Spain is predominantly influenced by the ancients, either Greco-Roman, Celtic, Phoenician or a combination. This latter group does not tend to use folk magic, but instead practices what is commonly known to English people as traditional witchcraft.
With the large Hispanic emigration into North America, brujería has naturally gone there as well. The brujos of America are either traditionalists, combine brujería with vudú, or have reconstructed a modern style where one does not have to be of Spanish descent.
So essentially there are three distinct forms: ancient pre-Christian form, Christian or modern form, and a contemporary reconstruction.
Beliefs and practices
Beliefs vary between traditional and modern brujos. Traditional brujos hold core beliefs that are similar to or identical to the witchery around the world. Modern brujos are diverse and can resemble faith healers, be shamanic, spiritualists, or pagan.
Practices are greatly diverse and are dependent upon the locale and the form of brujería. Ancient forms tend to reflect the religions of the indigenous cultures, whilst modern forms tend to be syncretic and use the current dominant religion (usually Catholic).
The most well known practices are similar to English witchcraft: spells (hechizos), charms, amulets, divination, and use of plants (usually herbs). Other practices might include phenomena similar with traditional English witchcraft; namely shapeshifting, glamoury and hedgeriding of the hedgewitch, including use of entheogens. Brujos paganos (pagan-witches) might participate in ritual or ceremonial ecstacies.
Among certain Hispanic and Native American cultures of the Southwest, the practice of brujería is feared as a manifestation of evil. Those who use rituals, spells, incantations, potions, and powders to work ill against others are known as brujas (witches), who are primarily female in number (the male witch is known as a brujo). All the negative facets of witchcraft feared by people throughout the world are practiced by the brujas: manifesting the evil eye, casting spells to cause physical or mental illness, bringing about bad luck, even death. The brujas create dolls in which they insert bits of the victim's hair, fingernail clippings, or pieces of clothing and focus their evil intent upon the miniature representative of the person to be cursed. If a professional doctor with modern medical techniques cannot cure someone who has fallen suddenly ill, a bruja is suspected as being the cause of the problem. Shamans or 'Curanderos' may be used to 'undo' the power that has been taken over the individual in order to protect them and bring them back into balance.
Brujas are also thought to be accomplished shapeshifters, possessing the supernatural ability to transform themselves into owls, coyotes, or cats. As animals, they may spy upon victims and administer a potion into their unsuspecting quarry's food or water or hide a bad-luck charm on their premises. There are certain amulets or rituals that claim to offer protection from the brujas, but one way to rid oneself of their evil deeds is to employ the services of a curanderos or Shaman.
In popular culture
- In the third season finale of popular supernatural series True Blood, the character Jesus Velasquez reveals to boyfriend Lafayette Reynolds that he is a brujo.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum Bane refers to Dr. Young as a bruja constantly after all the venom is extracted from him.
- The 2003 film The Missing features a Brujo as the main antagonist.
- In Modern Family S02E06 - Halloween, Gloria dresses up as a Bruja for the Halloween night.
- The second season of the television series Kung Fu features an episode entitled "The Brujo", in which the main character Caine defies the power of the brujo, thus breaking the hold of his curse upon the inhabitants of a small Mexican village.
- The 1987 John Schlesinger horror movie The Believers is about a murderous brujeria cult in New York City.
- In Volume 2 of The Invisibles, one of the main characters refers to herself as a bruja.
- In the manga series Bleach, the release of Zommari Rureaux is called brujería.
- In a trilogy of novels by Louis de Bernières set in an imaginary Latin American country, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts (1990), Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord (1991) and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman (1992), a recurring character is Aurelio, an Aymará Indian, a powerful brujo/shaman who can shape-change and is a master of herbal medicines.
- "Brujo" is an album by the American musical group New Riders of the Purple Sage.
- Paul Simon mentions a brujo in the song "Spirit Voices" on his album "The Rhythm of the Saints."
- The Brujeria featured in Alan Moore's run on the comic Swamp Thing as evil antagonists bent on the destruction of heaven. John Constantine claims they own the world.
- Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford. Clarendon Press: 1968
- "sunt mulieres plusciae, sunt nocturnae",63.9
- Ali, Said, Investigações Filológicas, 1975, pag. 275
- Ankarloo, B. & Clark, S, (2002) Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: the period of the witch trials
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1989) The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, New York: Facts-on-File.
- Spence, L. (1994) The Magic and Mysteries of Mexico
- Christian, W.A., Jr. (1989) Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain
- Henningsen, G. (1980) The Witches' Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition (1609-1614)
- Castaneda, C. (1968) The Teachings of Don Juan
- Romberg, Raquel (2002) "Witchcraft and Welfare: Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico"
- Chatwin, Bruce In Patagonia
- Kinnie, Ernest The Brujo....2-Act Play